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Aristophanes' idea of comedy

The period of Old Comedy at Athens began in 486 BC, when comedy first became part of the festival of the Greater Dionysia and by convention it ended in 388 BC, when Aristophanes produced his last play. During this period some 600 comedies were produced. We know the titles of some fifty comic poets and the titles of some 300 plays. We have eleven complete plays by Aristophanes, the first one (Acharnians) dating from 425, and several thousand fragments of their plays by Aristophanes and other poets, most of them only a line or so long and very few deriving from plays written before 440.
Aristophanes' idea of comedy

Old Comedy aimed at direct political, personal, and social satire. It ridiculed everything and every person with the purpose of producing humorous laughter. It dealt with things in a manner not allowed by the common rules of propriety. However, Old Comedy was not all for laughter; it also meant for education, ie. educating the people to be better citizens. There was also advice for the rulers of the country. On the whole, Old Comedy prompted both laughter and serious thought to make its satire a success.

Aristophanes was the unrivalled master of Old Comedy. He skillfully dealt with the comic issues that ranged from political dishonesty through the corruption of literary taste to idiosyncrasy of character. His plays are both farcical and witty. His comedy is brilliant; one wild fantasy leads to another. However, with its main emphasis on political and social satire, Aristophanes wrote to persuade the Athenians to modify their state policies and correct certain tendencies in their social life. In this sense, his plays are built around local problems and local persons. In other words, his plays are topical rather than universal. Although his plays are topical, they are not dated. His commentaries on war and political corruption, his criticism of demagogues, and pretenders to learning, seem all too pertinent today.

Old Comedy was based on a set of formal conventions. However it was less bound by formal rules than tragedy. Its form was composed of varied structural elements. The core elements were: (a) a parodos, or entry of the Chorus; (b) an agon, or contest; and (c)a parabasis, or address by the Chorus to the audience. In the parodos the Chorus presents itself in the character chosen for it by the poet- birds, wasps, women of Athens, initiates, or whatever-and performs a series of songs and dances in which it retains this character more or less consistently. In The Frogs, the Chorus is composed of the Chorus of the frogs, and the Chorus of certain Initiated Persons. The parodos here is a passage as much dramatic as lyrical-a mixture of song, recitation, and simple dialogue. The agon, as handled by Aristophanes, usually takes the form of a debate or dispute culminating in the decisive defeat of one of the parties. Here we have a literary contest taken place between Aeschylus and Euripides, where the former wins over the latter. In the parabasis, the Chorus wholly or partly abandons its assumed character, and addresses the audience directly, speaking as the mouthpiece of the author. They come forward and address the audience in the person of the poet, introducing advice, or complaint, in a tone of moralising or of satire.on current events, e.g, the famous political parabasis in The Frogs. The parabasis of The Frogs is the poet's fervent plea to the people of Athens to abjure faction, partisan spirit, party allegiance, social and economic jealousy, personal enmity, and malicious bickering at a time when the city is at the brink of ultimate peril after twenty-six years of war.

This basic pattern of parodos-agon-parabasis involved a set of other scenes with the spoken language as its centrepiece. Written in an iambic metre similar to, but less strict than, the metre of tragedy, the scenes consisted of (a) a prologue, enlivened by various forms of verbal humour, in which the protagonist is introduced and his predicament explained; (b) (after the parodos) a series of comic episodes arising out of, or leading up to, the agon; (c) a further series of episodes, in which, as a rule, a succession of more or less unwelcome characters are discomforted and driven away. The episodes, when not already separated by the agon or the parabasis, are often marked off from each other by brief choral lyrics, and the play ends with a choral finale (exodos). With all these elements, Aristophanes' The Frogs is an exquisite example of an Old Comedy.

From the thematic perspective, the concept of 'happy idea play an important part in the overall design of Old Comedy. The 'happy idea is the prop on which Old Comedy balances. It is an initial concept or a plan developed by one of the characters to improve his personal lot or the lot of all mankind. The first part of The Frogs ends with the adoption of the 'happy idea,' after all arguments have been disposed of and the of and the latter part deals with scenes showing how the 'happy idea' works out in practice. As for example, the 'happy idea' of The Frogs is as follows: Inspired by a reading of Euripides' Andromeda, Dionysus desires to take on the journey to Hades to bring back to earth Euripides, the famous  ded tragic poet of Athens, because the current writers of tragedy are of very poor talent. Incidentally the play is also an attack on Athenian political and literary decadence. The play has a parabasis, which recommends amnesty for past offences, particularly in the affairs of the Four Hundred, and unitý among all the citizens to avert the ruin of the State. This political advice is separated in two parts: first, the adventures of Dionysus on his journey to Hades in search of a good poet, Sophocles and Euripides being lately dead; and secondly, the political contest of Aeschylus and Euripides, and the final victory of Aeschylus.

In the Comedy, the characters, whether they were taken from real life or were the personification of abstract ideas, were mere symbols or caricatures, not morally responsible human beings. Aristophanes has created no character at all, comments Dr. Norwood. His personages are mere types. His characters, though brilliant as types, lack individuality. But a critic is of the opinion that, "it is untrue to say that Aristophanes creates only types. New Comedy dealt in types; Old Comedy notoriously dealt in individuals, real or invented. This critic opines further that the problem of the individual is of the utmost importance to Aristophanes whole idea of drama; it is the individual who embodies the poetic core of his greatest plays.

There are fifteen characters worth mentioning in The Frogs. There is only one character, namely, Dionysus, who is present throughout the comedy. In The Frogs Aristophanes has "stripped Dionysus of all his divine attributes; he has made him a vulgar and ridiculous man, a brash tricker who is present like a stranger at the rites celebrated before him." Dionysus, the god of wine and revelry, is, indeed, very roughly handled in this comedy. But to wonder at this impious drollery is to fail to understand the privileges of Old Comedy and the very nature of the Athenian society. The comic poets of Old Comedy enjoyed unbounded rights of making fun; there is no record in annals of a single one of the class having ever been called to the bar of justice to answer for the boldness of his dramatic efforts. The same liberty was extended to religious issues; the Athenians were very keen to witness joke and warm-hearted laughter for its own sake, although the poet spoke against the people themselves. The people were of the view that the God enjoyed raillery just as well as men did.

Indecency abounds in Old Comedy as a natural part of the original fertility ritual. Aristophanes exploits it frankly.As for example, he writes in The Frogs: "Men: A girl 1 did spy as we sported and played:/A really remarkably pretty young maid./ She winked and she giggled, but what I liked best/ Was the little pink titty that peeped from her vest. Notwithstanding this, Aristophanes was not pre-occupied with indecency, and in time, he toned down the worst excesses if only because they were a feeble form of humour. Although ribald, Aristophanes is never offensive; the bodily referenees that occur constantly in his comedies are always amusing, and they are rather incidental and recall the ritual obscenities of the phallic fertility rites from which Greek Comedy was derived.

In Old Comedy, the dramatic Unities unity of place, time and action were by no means hard-and-fast rules. No one disputed with the comic poet's action. He was given every liberty to adapt any means to amuse his audience. Unity of place and time were not so understood as to fetter the poet's imagination. He could, if he so liked, conceive his heroes in the sky, transport them to the Internal region (as for example in The Frogs), or call clouds in the sky.

The costume of the comic actors in Old Comedy admitted a variety of extravagances harmonising with that of the situations and personages represented. Tragic costume was often ridiculed on the comic stage. Dionysus (as for instance in The Frogs), the patron god of Tragedy, "appears in an attempted disguise, wearing the lion-skin of Heracles over his tragic robes and buskins." Artificial lighting was not necessary, neither it was possible in Old Comedy. However torehes were often used to get spectacular and professional effects, as for example, the torch procession  of the chorus of Initiates in the Frogs. The presence of a lamp on the stage indicated night.

Considering all the aspects mentioned above, it is quite clear that the Frogs is a very good example of an Old Comedy. It deals with a serious issue in such a humorous way that it provokes laughter, at the same time, serious thought among the audience in the theatre and the readers. On the one hand, the play directs satire at the poor- skilled contemporary playwrights of Athens by equating their erformances with the croakings of the frogs, and on the other hand by advising the Athenians on how to think better.


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