Features of Ancient Comedy

Including Aristophanes, Plautus and Menander.

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  • Created by: Gemma
  • Created on: 30-04-12 17:35

Features of Aristophanic Comedy (1)

Loose plotting (subordination of plot to other features)

  • Crab dance in 'Wasps' provides no satisfactory or coherent ending- there is no consequence for Philocleon's actions
  • Reason for going to Underworld in 'Frogs' changes- first because Dionysus loves Euripides' work, then to save the city, ending with saving Aeschylus

Fantastical plot elements

  • In 'Wasps'- talking dogs, net over house, wasp chorus in costume, animated utensils, crab dance
  • In 'Frogs'- Dionysus as god on stage, Heracles as hero on stage, travelling to Underworld, corpse, Charon and his boat, Pluto and his palace, dead poets, parody of psychostasia, bringing dead poet back to life

Degree of seriousness (political/social/cultural message)

  • In 'Wasps'- attack on Cleon, corrupt demagogues exploiting jurors
  • In 'Frogs'- saving Athens during the war against Sparta, war-mongering Cleophon, the question of the return of exiled general, Alcibiades, bringing back the oligarchs
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Features of Aristophanic Comedy (2)


  • In 'Wasps'- Philocleon's escape attempts, the flute girl scene, fight (pre-Agon) with wasp chorus, and Bdelycleon, Philocleon punching Bdelycleon
  • In 'Frogs'- Xanthias carrying the luggage, Heracles falling over laughing at Dionysus, Theatre of Pain

Low humour

  • In 'Wasps'- references to '*******', flute girl scene, 'stiff...sentence', Philocleon's escape under the donkey
  • In 'Frogs'- Dionysus soiling himself (sponge scene)

Role of the chorus

  • Frog chorus, chorus of ragged initiates, wasp chorus


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Features of Aristophanic Comedy (3)


  • In 'Wasps'- mock trial parody of judicial system, wasp chorus mocking old men, Cleonymus dropping his shield, Alcibiades' lisp, Philocleon's mock-tragic cry, parody of 'The Odyssey' with donkey
  • In 'Frogs'- parody of psychostasia with lines, mocking of each poet's work e.g. 'flask of oil', mock-tragic ode to a rooster, mocking Dionysus, Cleisthenes' sexuality
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Features of Menandrian Comedy

Domestic setting

  • Shrine of Pan, Knemon's home, wedding

Moral message

  • 'Don't hate us because we're poor'
  • It is better to have friends than to live alone
  • Surround yourself with friends, not with money

Stock characters

  • Knemon- grumpy old man, Daos- suspicious slave, Gorgias- hardworking peasant, Sostratos- rich, love-struck young man

Stock situations

  • Romantic problem, eavesdropping- Daos on the girl and Sostratos, comings and goings (servus currens)- Pyrrhias running from Knemon, misunderstandings- Daos with Sostratos
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Features of Plautine Comedy

Stock situations

  • Romantic problem, eavesdropping- Pseudolus on Callipho and Simo, misunderstandings- Ballio with Harpax, deception- Simia with Ballio, Pseudolus with Harpax

Stock characters

  • Ballio- evil pimp, Phoenicium- unobtainable girl, Calidorus- love-struck young man, Pseudolus- crafty, lying slave

Mockery of Greeks

  • As a Roman comedy, the audience can laugh at the role reversal between Pseudolus as the slave and Calidorus as the master, as these are Greek characters
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