The easiest way to know whether one of Shakespeare’s plays is a comedy or a tragedy is to skip to the end. Supposedly, tragedies always end with a death… comedies, with a wedding. Have you ever noticed how many contemporary “romantic comedies” end with the happy couple getting together? Lingering kiss and sentimental song included, of course.
Too many profound, realistic films are cast aside by modern audiences simply because they do not have a “happy ending.” Just the other day, a friend was expressing her disdain for Casablanca, because the hero doesn’t get the girl at the end. That, however, should not be the definition of a satisfying conclusion to a story. I love the end of Casablanca because Rick lets Ilsa go! He actually does the right thing and then moves on. After all, “the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”
Our culture has become too Disney-fied for its own good. Sometimes, there really is no Prince Charming and the bad guys really do win. The Little Mermaid is a perfect example of this. In the original tale (transcribed by Hans Christian Andersen in 1836) the prince marries another princess and then the mermaid sacrifices her own life to save his anyway. Today, however, children grow up believing that they’ll live happily ever after and have everything they ever wanted—just as soon as they can get a credit card.
Life is neither a comedy nor a tragedy. Sure, you can dream of a magical kingdom, but do not compromise yourself to attain it. At the end of the day, it’s better to be alone and know that you did the right thing, than to have all your dreams come true and not be able to look at yourself in the mirror. That’s not a dream, that’s a nightmare that too many people live every day.