I wish you'd go back to your horses.

This quotation is spoken by Strepsiades near the end of play as he is being physically and verbally abused by his son Pheidippides. He sent his son to Socrates's school of sophistry hoping that he might learn the rhetorical tricks necessary of dodging their creditors in court. Strepsiades had run into debt because of Pheidippides's expensive tastes in racehorses. Strepsiades believed that Socrates's fancy, esoteric education was the answer to his problems with his fussy son. Instead, the arguments that Pheidippides has learned at Socrates's school have enabled him to cause his father further pain and torment. The situation has a kind of irony that can best be described as "tragic-comic," containing elements of both tragic irony and comic irony.

While The Clouds is undoubtedly a comedy—full of sight-gags and broad physical humor—much of its narrative arc is tragic: the play chronicles the down-fall of Strepsiades, the anti-hero, whose tragic flaw was his desire to cheat his creditors out of the money he owed them. Much of what befalls Strepsiades appears tragic because of its "fittedness" or sense of karmic response—that he deserves what he gets. Throughout much of the play, for instance, the audience watches Strepsiades pummel hapless minor characters—first his Slave, next a Student, and finally the pathetic Second Creditor. Therefore, when Strepsiades himself is beaten by his son Pheidippides, his suffering feels just and fitting.