Romantic comedy is a form of dramatic or literary art which seeks to encourage laughter at the foibles of people's sexual attraction, typically without denigrating the act of love itself. This distinguishes romantic comedy from "raunchy" sexual comedy, such as the comedies of the ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes or many modern films marketed as "teen humor". The emphasis on laughter also distinguishes romantic comedy from romantic tragedy, such as William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, where the frailty of human understanding of sexual passion may be alluded to (as in Romeo's crush on Rosaline prior to meeting Juliet, and rapid disposal of his affection for Rosaline after meeting Juliet), but the validity and genuineness of sexual passion is accepted to ennoble the tragic result. Also, raunchy sexual comedy often serves as comic relief in romantic tragedy (as in the role of Juliet's Nurse in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet) but is almost never found in romantic comedy.
Frequent elements of romantic comedy are mistaken identity (as in Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors), romance between a man and a woman who seem to hate each other (as in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing and The Taming of the Shrew), and the failure of someone obsessed with unrequited love to recognize their "true love" (Shakespeare's A Midsummer-Night's Dream and Twelfth Night).
A modern variation of romantic comedy is the "screwball comedy" popular in Hollywood films of the 1930s and thereafter. Popular directors of screwball comedies include Frank Capra and Preston Sturges. Screwball comedies sometimes used the standard elements of romantic comedy, but tended to use them less explicitly. Much of the humor of the screwball comedy was based on the role reversal between the leading man and woman. In such comedies the leading man is usually passive and naive, and frequently fails to recognize the leading lady's affection for him. By contrast, the leading lady is often worldly-wise and cynical, and rediscovers herself and her decency through an acceptance of the leading man's sincerity. Typical screwball comedies include Capra's Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Sturges's Palm Beach Story and The Lady Eve.