Old Comedy

Definition

Theater

  • The early Greek comic tradition of the 5th and 4th centuriesBC. It is thought to have derived from the komoidia,the song accompanying the komos or revel at the festival ofDionysus; the use of a large chorus, masks, and costumesimitating the phallus and female genitals probably reflects theseorigins (see comedy). Fragments exist from severalOld Comedy writers - Magnes, Cratinus, Crates, Eupolis, Pherecrates,Ameipsas - but the only major works extant are the 11 playsof Aristophanes. They are full of obscene language, extravagantmockery, personal abuse of politicians (as in The Knights;424 BC), and attacks on contemporary life and philosophy(as in The Clouds; 423 BC).

    The tradition of Old Comedy was sufficiently confident forAristophanes's violent attacks to continue to flourish even in thedesperate days of the Peloponnesian War. Other writers addressed similarthemes, with Ameipsas ridiculing Socrates in one of his plays as Aristophaneshad in The Clouds.

    Aristophanes's later works sometimes omitted the choral lyricand his last two plays were noticeably less confident and powerful(see Middle Comedy). Old Comedy faded away after thetragic conclusion of the war in 404 BC, probably becauseAthenian society had become too fragile for such harsh attacks. TheNew Comedy of Menander would be gentle by comparison.

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