comic relief

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The interruption of a serious work, especially a tragedy, by a short humorous episode. The inclusion of such comic scenes, characters, or speeches can have various and complex effects, ranging from relaxation after moments of high tension to sinister ironic brooding. Famous instances are the drunken porter's speech in Macbeth (Act II, scene iii), and the dialogues between Hamlet and the gravediggers in Hamlet (Act V, scene i). Other playwrights of Shakespeare's time made frequent use of this technique, which can also be found in some prose works like Malcolm Lowry's tragic novel Under the Volcano (1947). See also satyr play, subplot, tragicomedy.

Subjects: Literature.

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