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152

COMEDY.

had reached its highest development. These three masters had many rivals, who fell, however, on the whole beneath their level, among others Pherecrates. Hermippus, Teleclldes, Phrynichus, Ameipsias, Plato and Theopompus.

A good idea of the characteristics of the Old Comedy may be formed from the eleven surviving plays of Aristophanes.* The Greek tragedy has a meaning for all time; but the Old Comedy, the most brilliant find striking production of all Athenian literature, has its roots in Athenian life, and addressed the Athenian public only.

Dealing from the very first with the grotesque and absurd side of things, it was the scourge of all vice, folly, and weakness. The social life of Athens, so restless, and yet so open, offered an in­exhaustible store of material; and the comedian was always sure of a witty, laughter-loving public, on whom no allusion was lost. The first aim of the Athenian comedy was, no doubt, to make men laugh, but this was not all. Beneath it there lay a serious and patriotic motive. The poet, who was secured by the license of the stage, wished to bring to light and turn to ridicule the abuses and degeneracy of his time. The Attic comedians are all admirers of the good old times, and, accordingly, the declared enemies of the social innovations which were beginning to make their way, the signs in many cases, no doubt, of ap­proaching decline. It was not, however, the actual phenomena of life which were sketched in the Old Comedy. The latter is really a grotesque and fantastic carica­ture ; the colours are laid on thick, and propriety, as we moderns understand it, is thrown to the winds. These plays abound in coarseness and obscenity of the broadest kind, the natural survival of the rude license allowed at the Dionysiac festival. The choice and treatment of the subjects show the same tendency to the grotesque and fantastic. Fancy and caprice revel at their will, unchecked by any regard either for the laws of poetical probability or for adequacy of occasion. The action is gene­rally quite simple, sketched out in a few broad strokes, and carried out in a motley series of loosely connected scenes. The language is always choice and fine, never leaving the forms of the purest Atticism. The metres admit a greater freedom and movement than those of the tragedy.

* Only eleven have come down to us complete : the rest are in fragments.

A comedy, like a tragedy, consisted of the dramatic dialogue, written mostly in iambic sen&rii, and the lyrical chorus. The division of the dialogue into prQKgQs, fpeisddlon, and exudSs, and of the chorus into pdr&dds and stasima, are the same as in tragedy (see tragedy). But, while the tragic chorus consisted of fifteen singers, there were twenty-four in the comic. A peculiarity of the comic chorus is the pdra-bfisis, a series of lines entirely unconnected with the plot, in which the poet, through the mouth of the chorus, addresses the public directly about his own concerns, or upon burning questions of the day (see parabasis). Like the tragedies, the come­dies were performed at the great festivals of Dionysus, the Dionysia and Lensea. On each occasion five poets competed for the prize, each with one play.

For a short time, but a short time only, a limitation had been put upon the absolute freedom with which the poets of the Old Comedy lashed the shortcomings of the government and its chief men. The down­fall of the democracy, however, deprived them of this liberty. The disastrous issue of the Peloponnesian war had, moreover, ruined the Athenian finances, and made it necessary to give up the expensive chorus, and with it the parabasis. Thus deprived of the means of existence, the Old Comedy was doomed to extinction. In its place came what was called the Middle Comedy, from about 400-338 b.c. This was a modification of the Old Comedy, with a character corre­sponding to the altered circumstance of the time. The Middle Comedy was in no sense political; it avoided all open attack on in­dividuals, and confined itself to treating the typical faults and weaknesses of mankind. Its main line was burlesque and parody, of which the objects were the tragedies and the mythology in general. It was also severe upon the lives of the philosophers. It dealt in typical characters, such as bullies, parasites, and courtesans. The writers of the Middle Comedy were very prolific, more than eight hundred of their plays having survived as late as the 2nd century A.D. The most celebrated of them were Antlphanes of Athens and Alexis of Thurii; next to these came Eubulus, and Anaxandrldas of Rhodes.

A new departure is signalized by the dramas of what is called the New Comedy. In these, as in the modern society drama, life was represented in its minutest details. The New Comedy offered a play regularly

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