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Dramatic Comedy: The Hairy Ape Essay


The play was written in 1922 by Eugene o’ Neill. “The Hairy Ape” is considered Eugene O’Neill’s greatest work and is admired by multiple readers all over the world. It has particularly deep contents and is full of hidden meanings. The play can be looked at from many various angles and many layers can be discovered in it.

This philosophic work encourages a lot of thinking and research. The issues raised in the play are universal, many generations could relate to them. The problems Eugene O’Neill bought up in his play “The Hairy Ape” are common for the whole humanity of all times.

This is why the author called his play “A Comedy of Ancient and Modern Life”. This essay will be researching the relationship between the play and its genre by means of comparing the points of view of great thinkers of the past and their ideas about comedy and tragedy genres.

Eugene O’Neill clearly called his play a comedy, but for the readers it might be unclear why such dramatic creation could be seen as a comedy. Obviously, the play explores sufferings and a heavy depression of one person so, naturally, it belongs to a genre of tragedy, but it has some hidden elements of comedy in it.

Starting from the times of Ancient Greece the two main genres have been distinguished: a tragedy and a comedy. Aristotle wrote that a tragic play has to make the audience experience feelings of pity and fear.

The main character was supposed to be a great outstanding man, most often a king or a general and the tragic play would describe his losing all his greatness (Hairy Ape as a Modern Tragedy). This was expected to make the audience feel compassion and be worried for the main character.

In the plays of Shakespeare main characters all belonged to a higher society, they were royal families or famous politicians. To make the plays even more tragic – Shakespeare normally would kill all his main characters by the end of the play – this was done to increase the feelings of pity and fear in the audience.

If we take a look at “The Hairy Ape” – we notice that the main character facing all the sufferings is not an outstanding man, neither is he a celebrity. The main theme of the play is all-consuming human struggle to find the place in the world. Yank, the crude fireman, is in the search for identity.

He is confused by the complicated social system where the society is divided into classes, groups and layers. Yank is desperate to fit in somewhere, he wants to belong to at least one of the social groups, but he does not, and this devastates him. This is an element of a modern tragedy.

To my mind, O’Neill called his play a comedy because from the point of view of the higher and richer social groups Yank’s trouble to find his place in the society would really be ridiculous. Besides, I think the main trait that makes this play a tragic comedy is that the social problems Yank is struggling with are self-inflicted.

They have existed in the society for centuries, as soon as humans realized the price of property – the class division has appeared. Another unusual element of this play is its main character.

Normally tragic plays depict a very spiritual, educated man, a poet or a philosopher looking for the sense of life and being bothered by such deep questions as belonging. O’Neill has portrayed a rather primitive character, “an Ape”, looking for same answers.

Works Cited

. StudyMode. 2013. Web.

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IvyPanda. (2019, July 1). Dramatic Comedy: The Hairy Ape. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/dramatic-comedy-the-hairy-ape/

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"Dramatic Comedy: The Hairy Ape." IvyPanda, 1 July 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/dramatic-comedy-the-hairy-ape/.

1. IvyPanda. "Dramatic Comedy: The Hairy Ape." July 1, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/dramatic-comedy-the-hairy-ape/.


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IvyPanda. "Dramatic Comedy: The Hairy Ape." July 1, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/dramatic-comedy-the-hairy-ape/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Dramatic Comedy: The Hairy Ape." July 1, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/dramatic-comedy-the-hairy-ape/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Dramatic Comedy: The Hairy Ape'. 1 July.

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