The last LitCrit I wrote was on Tragedies, and although it was almost two months ago, I wanted to continue in the same dramatic way, and write about comedies. Not comedies in the way they are presented in today’s media, but instead as I did with tragedies, how they originated in ancient Greece.
Aristotle also described comedies, and how they differed from tragedies. Comedies tend to show men as being worse than they actually are, whereas tragedies show them as being better than they are. Tragedies use real people in their stories and comedies use stereotypes. Now there are general rules and it will be possible to find dramas which are comedies or tragedies while still deviating from this.
The greek comedies can be split into three types: Old-comedy, middle-comedy and new-comedy.
Old-comedy commonly refers to comedies written in the 5th century BC. Old-comedies were characterized by a high level of satire of public persons and happenings. The plays included political criticism as well as critisism of philosophical schools and literary topics.
The plays were built on a six-part structure:
- An introduction: The fantasy is developed
- The parodos: Entry of the chorus
- The agon: A ritualized debate between opposing principles, made using stock characters
- The parabasis: The chorus addresses the audience, usually on a timely topic
- A series of farcical scenes
- A final banquet or wedding:
The main player in the old-comedies was Aristophanes. His play Archanians, is the first documented comedy we have today. 11 complete plays from him have survived to this day with The Clouds, The Frogs, and Lysistrata being some of the most well-known.
Middle comedy is marking by the comedies written between the death of Aristophanes and the first plays by Meander. Middle comedy tended to be seen as a kind of transitional period, and oftentimes was just a simpler version of Old comedy. The chorus no longer plays a big part, and no attacks on actual people, instead stock characters were used.
New Comedy, much like Middle Comedy, did not care for political comments. Nor did it utilize the chorus much, and it didn’t put specific people on the spot. Instead what New Comedy did, was that it wanted to find the humor in everyday life. The plays were set in Athens and had common people as the main characters. New comedy most closely resembles the kind of comedies we find in modern time, with situational comedies such as Friends and Seinfeld.
Some greek comedies are:
- Clouds by Aristophanes
The satire in this, one of the best known of all Aristophanes’ comedies, is directed against the new schools of philosophy, or perhaps we should rather say dialectic, which had lately been introduced, mostly from abroad, at Athens.
That is what we do each time we see someone who falls in love with evil strategies, until we hurl him into misery, so he may learn to fear the Gods.
- The Frogs by Aristophanes
This riotous play from ancient Greece’s greatest comic dramatist blends fancy dress, earthy slapstick and political debate.
You have all the characteristics of a popular politician: a horrible voice, bad breeding, and a vulgar manner.
- Dyskolos by Menander
Menander comes alive with subtle philosophy and vision. His world of troubled lovers, scheming servants, and foolish old men, with its witty dialogue and quick turnabouts in plot, offers friendly advice on life as we still experience it today and insightful commentary on the shortcomings of humanity.
He whom the gods love dies young.