Although the history of ancient comedy is usually viewed as a series of disjunct episodes, Dana Sutton demonstrates the continuity both of the ancient writers' inner motivating spirit and their chosen subject matter, since Aristophanes and later comic writers are capable of taking a comic look at the war between the generations, especially between fathers and sons.
In a useful overview chapter, Professor Sutton describes the origins of ancient comedy in Dionysiac festivals and the development of the form from Aristophanes' episodic plots to the artful plot construction of later comedy. In subsequent chapters, lively descriptions of these often rowdy plays are combined with thoughtful analyses in which historical context continues to illuminate the distinct characteristics of each playwright's treatment of intergenerational conflict. Although this theme remained a constant throughout the centuries, it was also bound to political life: Old Comedy, we learn, deals with the Athenian city-state, whereas New Comedy is firmly centered in the realities of bourgeois domestic life.
Roman comedies have often been dismissed as superficial, simple presentations of stock characters in stereotypical situations. This perceptive book shatters that image. Plautus' adroit, individualistic adaptations of the Greek plays comment revealingly on patriarchal Roman society. The growing social significance and emotional power of ancient comedy culminates in the innovative plays of Terence, who uses traditional comic situations to explore the ironies and ambiguities of life's problems and human nature.
A chronology of major events and works and an index complete this concise, comprehensive genre study.
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Dana F. Sutton is Professor and Chair of the Department of Classics at the University of California, Irvine.
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