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The Comedy: From Aristophanes - Essay Example

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The comedy as theater genre developed in Athens in the early 4th century when Athens was locked in a war with Sparta. As such this theater form may be said to have grown out of a desire to ease the tension and depression brought by that long-drawn conflict on the Athenians…
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The Comedy: From Aristophanes
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The Comedy: From Aristophanes

The comedies of Aristophanes, in effect, provide a diversion from the grim business of war by treating it lightly.
In that sense, the comedies of Aristophanes are deemed relevant to the present-day world where there are shooting wars everywhere occasioned by a greater variety of causes - revolution, secession, terrorism, religious conflicts. Aristophanes' satires on war in fact find parallels in many contemporary comedies, notably Annajanska, the Bolshevik Empress by George Bernard Shaw. Hailed as Shaw's bravura play, Annajanska tells the story of a troubled land whose people are tossed from one inept government rule to another. The consensus is that a revolution is called for to effect much-needed change but no suitable leader would come forward except the Grand Duchess Annajanska herself.
But there is more to Aristophanes than satirizing war. After Athens lost in the Peloponnesian war, the new rulers stifled democracy and war lost its attraction as subject for comedy plays. Public taste also changed. The playwrights then turned to social themes, in the process ridiculing politicians and offering political advice, instruction or solutions. At first Aristophanes was reluctant to adapt to this new trend but resigned to it at the end. Instead of experiencing a decline in the quality and quantity of his work, Aristophanes attacked his new role with gusto and "marked out the path to be followed by ancient and even contemporary comedy." (Flashar, H., 1996)

In this different milieu, Aristophanes earned himself a new distinction as a "fanatical conservative" and an "enemy of new ideas." His vintage plays attacked anything new, science was quackery, religious practice was atheism. Philosophical discussions were to him attempts to "substitute grammatical subtleties with open-air gymnastics" and any new philosophical thought a reflection of moral laxity and the presumptuousness of youth. (Bates, A., 1906)

This whole attitude showed in The Clouds (420 BC) which generated the most interest partly because Aristophanes in this play makes a caricature of Socrates that is patently libelous in today's world. Socrates is believed "to have lived the purest and noblest life that the pre-Christian world ever saw." (Bates, A., 1906) Did Aristophanes disparage a good man out of pure malice or just for good clean fun

Mark Twain, one of the contemporary masters of comedy, seems to have this question in mind when he came up with the one-act play An Encounter with an Interviewer. In this play, Twain acted as himself the accomplished writer being interviewed by a young newspaper reporter. He finds the reporter nice and wants to treat him the same way but he gives confused and convoluted answers, in effect putting himself to ridicule as a man rendered incoherent by old age. In it, Twain is saying that even geniuses like himself are subject to the ravages of time. The point Twain seems to be making is that if a playwright can thus depreciate himself in public he can also ridicule other people in the spirit of fun - and theater.

Modern theater features such satirical plays that run for 20 minutes or so and enable some celebrity performers to make a brief but dazzling appearance. There was just such a custom in Aristophanes' time, although an Athenian law forbade anyone under 30 to ... Read More
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