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Political Comedy in Aristophanes

By M. Heath


This paper argues that Aristophanic comedy, although it takes contemporary political life as its point of departure, is not political in the sense of aiming to influence politics outside the theatre. Brief discussions of Clouds, Knights, Lysistrata and Acharnians are used to cast initial doubt on interpretations that attribute serious intent to Aristophanes. It is then argued that Aristophanes’ treatment of the poet’s role as adviser, abuse of the audience and of individuals, the themes of rich and poor and the power of the dêmos, support this conclusion. In general, the assumptions of Aristophanes’ comedy are too closely attuned to those of the majority of his audience to warrant inferences about Aristophanes’ own political attitudes. This conclusion throws light on the democracy’s exercise of control over the theatre. An appendix argues that the main unifying element in Aristophanic comedy is not theme, but plot, and that Aristophanes took more care over coherence of plot-structure than is sometimes recognised

Publisher: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht
Year: 1987
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