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Benny Hill, because students are too young to remember this, just google them. Just don't do it here. Benny Hill stayed closer to its populist roots with its relentless parade of naughty innuendos and physical comedy. Monty Python mixed juvenile raillery with decidedly more analytical kinds of comedy reflecting the Oxford smarty pants satire beyond fringe and even the influence of European absurdist [inaudible ] in Italics? Yeah, good. Those are mine [inaudible ].

Similar comparisons could be made between the classic American comedies of the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges and many others. You can all think of your own perhaps more up to date examples. All such examples would be classified as popular genres by journalists and cultural theorists, but Monty Python or the Marx brothers would be additionally characterized by a host of refining and limiting adjectives less easily applied to their lower brow counterparts, sophisticated, cerebral, clever, things like that.

The same qualities conventionally used to distinguish the high brow from the low brow in non-comic works. These are qualities designed to claim, for at least some comedy, what we call a thinking audience, an audience in other words not merely devoted to laughter as a bodily reflex, but as a knowing intellectual response to a kind of humor accessible only to those with proper education and taste. The conditions of modernity and perhaps especially post-modernity might seem to take us far away from the conditions of classical Athens.

That is to say that 5th to the 4th centuries BCE. But in the case of the arts and comedy in particular, this is what I want to argue here today, the basic aesthetic and the sociocultural dynamics that I just described were operative in remarkable similar ways. The scale of dissemination may have been different for each Greek artist, in fact it was, but the fundamental distinction between producing art for mass and elite audiences was very much current, even if the variety of available media, geographical scope, and social fluidity of contemporary western culture makes this distinction far more complicated today than it was in Greek antiquity.

When it comes to the comic theater of classical Athens, so again I'll be referring to this as old comedy in case your not familiar with that, again the 5th century and into the 4th century BCE, we'll find that the mass elite high brow low brow question continually framed many of the aesthetic pronouncements about the genre, made both by authors themselves and by theorizing critics and philosophers.

Ultimately as I'd like to show, the same paradox's intentions we see today between different conceptions of popular comedy not only drove much of the ancient discourse about old comedy, but also played a significant role in shaping the content of plays, their plots, their type of humor, and the genre's conventional discourse of self aggrandizement.

It should be clear by now that the kind of popularity that I'm talking about in the case of old comedy has more to do with how audiences were conceptualized than how many people were in the audiences.

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That's not completely unimportant, but I'm not really talking about that. There's a temptation to refer to both tragedy and comedy in Greece as popular, insofar as they were presented at public civic events. This merely means that Athenian drama had a more or less captive audience. Citizens attended the plays as part of the entertainment of the festivals of Dionysus, where they were treated to a program by various authors and styles across multiple dates. Greek drama, tragedy, and comedy was certainly public art, and we might say that the medium of performance of Greek drama is in some sense popular.

This tells us very little about notions of aesthetic popularity that were prevalent at the time and which I think for me is more interesting. The very structure of Athenian dramatic festivals as competitions clearly meant that not all playwrights were successful or equivalently popular, no matter how many people watched your plays.

There were however different ways in which a poet could be popular, from casual approval to intense fandom. Now there's good evidence for the latter, for intense fandom. In the 5th century, Aristophanes alludes himself in his play Frogs [inaudible ]. Aristophanes alludes to a crowd of crazed Euripidean fans in the underworld [inaudible ].

This is a kind of popularity that probably involved relatively few people I think, and if Plato is any guide, made critics within the culturally elite especially uneasy. It was he, Plato, who famously mocked this group of people some of you remember from Republic 5, the lovers of sights and sounds I guess it's the lovers of sounds and sights [inaudible ] first, the fanatics who became obsessed with spectacle and sensation of the theater.

Fan to me seems like a good translation of that. At the other end of the spectrum, these are fans in the sense of the novel and movie high fidelity, people in record stores or train spotters who are At the other end of the spectrum, we find the self righteous democratizing of tragedy that Aristophanes has Euripides claim, the character Euripides, just in case you don't know this play, has a character the playwright Euripides claim as his goal in Aristophanes' play Frogs.

I'm referring here to a famous scene in the play here where Euripides contrasts his poetics to Aeschylus, so this is the famous debate between two great poets, between Aeschylus and Euripides in the underworld. Who is going to be the better [inaudible ], so they have a contest.

He stages domestic scenes, this isn't all in this passage, but it's in this area. I fit the whole thing on it. Domestic scenes, which he calls [inaudible ] for those of you who know the Greek, and he avoid pretentious unintelligible language. He further characterizes his tragedies as rational and reflective.

He uses words like [inaudible ]. He calls his efforts, and here we do have it It's hard to know how to Actually the word here is [inaudible ], an adjective related to our democratic. This is exactly the kind of line that would have occupied at least an hour and a half of the seminar that I was referring to. We didn't do this play. I don't think we would have gotten this far in the play, so who knows.

Anyway, the word is democraticon, democratic. Again, it's hard to know how to translate this, but you see how it's done here. In the sense of empowering to the people, or perhaps you might make an argument to just say that it means popularizing in a way. The rest of the exchanges here with Dionysus and Aeschylus make it clear that the popularizing of poetry of any sort, tragedy or comedy, is fundamentally about the interaction of class and taste, the way that reminds of strikingly of cultural theorist [inaudible ].

Laughter and logic: Ancient Greek comedy | What's On - City of Sydney

Some of you may know his work. For Aeschylus, Euripides' democratizing meant pandering to the riff raff. For Euripides, Aeschylian obscurity and stylistic [inaudible ] restricted admission to a cultural elite whose values were shaped by notions of manliness, property, and a shared educational background. There comes to Greek comedy, of course that's referring to tragedy.

When it comes to comedy of the 5th century, the same tension was played out, first in its relationship with tragedy, and second within comedy itself. On the one hand when compared with tragedy, comedy was regarded as the more popularizing as the two and as such was felt to appeal to more inferior sorts of people. On the other hand, even comedy had its own hierarchies, and the same polarity between elite and popular could be mapped on to these authors as well, much along the lines sketched out in the Aristophanic contest between Aeschylus and Eurpides. Now several passages elsewhere in Aristophanes attempt to distinguish his own type of comedy that is Aristophanes' comedy from others according to the criteria of high and low or sophisticated, refined, and then vulgar, and suggest at least a pretense or a conceit that Aristophanes' comedy was not popular in the sense of popularizing, but rather strove to appeal to people of refined elite tastes.

The opening of Frogs then, the beginning of the play, lays out the issue clearly, foreshadowing in its lighthearted way what will eventually become the play's theoretical concern. As Dionysus and his slaves make their way to Hades in their effort to retrieve Euripides to be the savior of the city and hard times, Xanthias slave asked his master if he should make the kind of jokes that always get a laugh from the audience.

The conversation develops into an opportunity for Dionysus to articulate exactly the kind of joking he claims to repudiate. We call this a [inaudible ] in the classics club. When Xanthias then asks if he can tell a really funny one, Dionysus gets to tell him not to say that he don't say that one that says that I need to shit. Of course he's saying don't do those vulgar jokes, but he says it.

Everyone in the audience is laughing, and you get it. Then at 13 towards the end down here, Xanthias laments how unfair it is that he's forced to carry luggage but isn't allowed to make the kinds of joke that such comic characters are typically expected to make. He cites three other comic playwrights, [inaudible ], who he claims all included baggage carriers making such jokes as he was doing.

Not fair, not fair. Of course, you've had 30 lines or 15 lines making all the jokes that he's not supposed to do. This passage is straight forward enough, but it's worth a few moments of analysis I think. The main contrast developed here is between what justifiably call popular comedy and something different, something supposed to be better.

Xanthias wants to tell jokes that everyone will laugh at, but Dionysus claims to prefer a kind of joking that's more refined and will presumably garner fewer laughs or at least fewer spontaneous unreflective laughs than the joking Xanthias has in mind. Once again, the association between popular humor and the body is evident. Dionysus is objecting to jokes about backs, necks, farting, and shitting. Both characters recognized that such jokes seem to be universally appreciated, and Xanthias is happy enough to work in this comic mode at least for this scene.

The stance shifts from low brow to high brow as need be throughout the play. Xanthias is of course a slave, and his social status maps on to the kind of joking he claims to favor. The polarities come into focus now. Popular comedy here is slavish, coarse, and low, while the god Dionysus by definition of a higher class and status presents himself as interested in something in better, more clever, and sophisticated perhaps, although the scene moves quickly on in a typical fashion.

We don't get any further elaboration on the topic here. There's so much irony in this scene of course that it's unlikely Aristophanes is trying to make a serious point.

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For one thing, Dionysus seems to be enacting what we might call a middle brow aesthetic. He thinks he knows the kind of comic aesthetic he's supposed to endorse to be a member of the cultural elite, but he's not yet managed to shed all of his low brow tastes, as his occasional comments elsewhere in the play make clear. The scene does highlight however an awareness in classical Athens that even within popular genres such as comedy, the concept of popularity was invoked for quite specific axiological purposes, namely to establish a scale of value for comedy where value increased in inverse proportion to perceptions of popularity.

Now if any of you had been in Martin's Greek drama seminar, you would by now be thinking of another passage from Aristophanes where Aristophanical comedy is similarly invested with poetic value explicitly, because it does not strive for popular, which is to say mass or vulgar appeal. I'm referring to a section of his work Clouds, his play called Clouds, where the chorus leader speaking on behalf of the poet This is one of these scenes we call [inaudible ] in case you are not familiar with that.

It's this kind of rupture or break that you often, not in all the plays, but in many of the Aristophanic plays, where the chorus leader comes out, takes off the outer garden, and says, "Okay now, forget the play for the moment. I'm going to talk to you about, about the poet, about [ventriliquilizing ] the poet and voicing all of his concerns through the chorus [inaudible ].

Comedy, Seriously: Old Comedy: Aristophanes

Okay, so this is where he speaks on the poet's behalf. He famously complains here how unfair it was the chorus leader speaking on behalf of the poet to the audience, unfair it was that the original production of the play failed to win the prize. Original [inaudible ] 23, the play that we have is a 2nd edition. We don't know when it was written exactly. People say , but the dating is really not very clear. We also don't know interestingly whether it was actually performed, but we're going to leave all of that aside for now. He complains in this section that it wasn't fair, that he should of won the prize last year. It's a long passage, but I think I'm going to put it up. You can follow along. I crammed it in, and I emboldened certain key things that I'll be referring to either indirectly or directly. The first and most obvious feature of this passage is that it shows Aristophanes claiming to seek an elite rather than a popular audience.

I emphasize claiming here, because once again it's very difficult to judge how seriously the audience is supposed to take his complaints, especially since so much of what he says in this passage is quite generic for satirists, not to mention the fact that things are mentioned that are not supposed to be Aristophanic which then you can find elsewhere in Aristophanes.

That's a classic conundrum for Aristophanes scholars. Let me just have a quick sip of water. This problem, the question of seriousness or not or irony, this is the problem that's occupied as some of you will know, particularly in some of my earlier work, where I argued probably [inaudible ] to some of you, that abject posturing and indignation at being misunderstood and underappreciated are all common satirical tropes from then to now I would say, as are the claims, "I don't get no respect. We'll leave aside for now the problem of Aristophanes' tone here, whether it's playful and ironic or dead serious, we're not going to get into that, and concentrate simply on the ways in which he portrays the chorus leader's understanding of the options available to a comic poet at the time.

The polarity between the high and low, the sophisticated and vulgar, once again maps on to the polarity between elite and mass, which in turn implies contrast between what we would call serious good and popular bad art. The chorus leader, speaking for Aristophanes, offers plenty of detail here. Now you've had a chance to digest all of this, to describe each type of comedy on the serious or good side. We find you can lay it out like bullet points really.

You've got the poet will appear intelligent and sophisticated. The comedies themselves will be very sophisticated and are written for sharper clever spectators. Very marked language here, even in the translation. A good comedy will usually be very difficult to compose [inaudible ], "I spent all this effort making it, and you didn't even give me the first prize.

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The judges, they were vulgar, whoever cast the votes which made him lose. It's their fault. The kind of comedy he claims to be avoiding in the new version of Cloud, which this is embedded, is comedy that stresses the physical and the bodily. That's what he's saying, "I don't do that. I don't do physical comedy. Pretty much all of these go to any commentary and say that wasn't that interesting. You can find examples of this [inaudible ] that in place. At the end of the passage, Aristophanes' objections to his rivals involved not just plagiarism, but corrupting what they've allegedly already stolen by adding vulgar physical comedy [inaudible ] at the end.

Leaving aside the perineal question of whether any of these accusations are fair, accurate, serious, or ironic, they make it clear that in 5th century Athens, there was already in place a critical discourse for establishing aesthetic hierarchies that take as their foundational premise the inferiority of the popular, with its emphasis on the physical and ease of comprehension.

At the other of the scale, we see the privileging of diversification that's in their relying on my words or my verses he says in Novelty, I've brought in very clever new things he says. The desire to limit intelligibility to an educated minority who shared social standing and background are understood to be coterminous with share of tastes.

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In the passage from Clouds, which I just used to draw out such conclusions, the hierarchies Aristophanes has in mind refer to different kinds of comedy. Editions introduction, Greek text, translation, commentary of all the eleven surviving plays of Aristophanes, plus a comprehensive index volume. Volume 11 "Wealth" , published in , includes addenda to all the previous volumes. Aeschylus: Eumenides more. Tragedy, Comedy and the Polis more. Twenty-nine papers, presented at a conference held in Nottingham in July , on relationships between the Greek dramatic genres of tragedy and comedy, and especially between both of these and the society and politics of the world in Twenty-nine papers, presented at a conference held in Nottingham in July , on relationships between the Greek dramatic genres of tragedy and comedy, and especially between both of these and the society and politics of the world in which they were produced.

Aristophanes: The Birds and Other Plays more. Co-authored with David Barrett. Samian questions more. Ate in Aeschylus more. Publication Name: D. Cairns ed. Tragedy and Archaic Greek Thought Swansea, The third father in Menander's Samia: Moschion and the baby more. Publication Name: G. Bastianini et al.

Harmonia: Scritti Sophocles the sensationalist, or tragic one-upmanship more. Publication Name: Athenaeum Sophocles: fragments and lost tragedies more. Publication Name: A. Markantonatos ed. Brill's Companion to Sophocles Leiden, Why Hades was crammed with Persians more.

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    Search my Subject Specializations: Select Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Sommerstein Abstract This book brings together fourteen studies on Aristophanes and his fellow comic dramatists, some of which have not previously appeared in print while others were published between and in out-of-the-way journals, collections, or conference volumes.

    More This book brings together fourteen studies on Aristophanes and his fellow comic dramatists, some of which have not previously appeared in print while others were published between and in out-of-the-way journals, collections, or conference volumes. Authors Affiliations are at time of print publication. Print Save Cite Email Share.

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