Theatre: Tradition & Ritual III

After the introduction of Tragedy in the Dionysia in 534 BC, the Dithyramb in 508 BC, and the Satyr play in 501 BC, it would be comedy in 501 BC. IT would be the last major form, and is divided into two periods: the period of old comedy and the period of new comedy.

Five comic writers would present a single play, each perhaps on one of the five days of the Dionyisia. The structure of comedy, like that of a satire, was similar to that of tragedy. Plays were episodic, with bottled episodes alternating with a chorus rhythmically. The chorus was no longer the satyrs, the half-beast, half-human companions of Dionysus, but wasps, frogs, even clouds. As tragic actors wore elaborate costumes, like priests and musicians, comic actors were not to be outdone: they wore padded breasts, padded asses and stomachs, and to top it off, was a long, floppy phallus for the male characters, but not for the chorus.

Note: all characters, female included, were still played by males, in this instance, the case is that the men playing female characters were denied the dick costumes. The masks of old comedy were distortions, caricatures intended to ridicule, and sometimes ridicule real people, priests, politicians, other playwrights. Especially Euripides, for writing strong female characters and questioning the Gods. No from Plato on whether not Euripides has apologized.

On preserved vases and pottery you can still find scenes of old comedy depicted. It is thought that the origin of old comedy may be found in the old Dionysian phallus song. It could be found from without, as well, in the city of Doran on the island of Sicily. The only comedies of the 5th century known to history are the work of a single comic poet, Aristophanes, and though he is believed to have written forty or more plays, only eleven have survived. His comedies were largely political-social satires. They still took the form of the most extravagant of the burlesque. Aristophanes was brutal in his abuse, skewering the politicians and celebrities of Athens.

The circumstance of it being a part of the tradition of the Dionysia allowed him to get away with saying things he would normally be unable to say. A choral ode, the parabasis, was a choral ode, but unique in that the playwright could take to the stage and discuss, at liberty, anything he so desired, and it needn’t have anything to do with the play. At the height of the Poloponessian War between Athens and Sparta, Aristophanes produced an anti-war comedy Lysistrata – in it, two women swear an oath to deny all men sex until the end of the war. Motivation. Athens, perhaps, capitulated for this reason, knowing a true defeat for Sparta was the end of battle and the recommencement of married life.

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