TRAGICOMEDY, notoriously difficult to define, is fundamental to early modern Spanish theatre, and especially to the period of its greatest success, which corresponds closely with the writing careers of the three best-known playwrights: Lope de Vega (1562–1635), Tirso de Molina (real name Gabriel Téllez, 1583–1648) and Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600–81). However, the often vague classification given on printed editions means little, for the general term for plays was simply comedia, a term which did not preclude tragic content, and a play could be referred to simultaneously as comedia and tragicomedia. While this is comprehensible, there are also more confusing references to the same play as both tragedia and tragicomedia. Even if they are described simply as comedia, one reason for considering many plays as tragicomedies is that they combine danger, laughter, grief and happy endings, while juxtaposing high and low social orders with correspondingly high and low linguistic styles to produce an artform which appealed to a wide cross section of the public, but appalled prescriptive theorists of theatre. As Melveena McKendrick points out, the failure to classify Lope de Vega's Fuenteovejuna as tragicomedy simply shows the inconsistency of seventeenth-century classification.
As in other countries, classicising critics objected to the crossing or muddling of generic boundaries and what they saw as the pandering to popular taste. Lope de Vega responded to his critics in the New Art of Writing Plays in This Age (Arte nuevo de hacer comedias en este tiempo, 1609).