Culture and Recreation


How old is comedy?

Like tragedy, comedy as a form of drama dates back to ancient Greece. While tragedy was meant to engage human emotions, thereby cleansing spectators of their fears (according to Aristotle), comedy’s intent was simply to entertain and amuse audiences. Athenian poet Aristophanes (who flourished circa the fifth century B.C.) is considered the greatest ancient writer of comedy. His plays, written for the festival of Dionysus (the god of fertility, wine, and, later, drama), were a mix of social, political, and literary satire. Performance vehicles included farce, parody, and fantasy. During the fourth century B.C., this old comedy evolved into a new comedy, which was less biting and more romantic and realistic in nature. New comedy, which was marked by strong character development and often subtle humor, includes the works of Greek playwright Menander (flourished during the fourth century B.C.) and those of Roman comic writers Plautus (flourished third century B.C.) and Terence (flourished second century B.C.), all of whom were influences on Ben Jonson, William Shakespeare, Jean Molière, and other writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.


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