In his Letter to Can Grande Della Scala, Dante distinguishes comedy from tragedy:
“[Comedy] differs, then, from tragedy in its content, in that tragedy begins admirably and tranquilly, whereas its end or exit is foul and terrible. . . whereas comedy introduces some harsh complication, but brings its matter to a prosperous end.”
These definitions are best expressed in the salutation, “I wish you a tragic beginning and a comic end.”
In “The Monk’s Tale” chapter of The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer describes tragedy in similar terms.
“Tragedie is to seyn a certeyn storie,/ as olde books maken us memorie,/ Of hum that stood in greet prosperitee,/ And is yfallen out of heigh degree/Into myserie, and endeth wrecchedly.”