The Art of Greek Comedy

The Art of Greek Comedy

The Art of Greek Comedy

The Art of Greek Comedy

Excerpt

Comedy no less than tragedy is concerned with the fundamental problems of human life. The problems the dramatist chooses for comic or tragic treatment differ in nature rather than in importance. The tragic poet is concerned with the relations of human beings to those forces which lie beyond their control: God or the gods, fate, chance, prophecies, immutable laws of religion and morality, inheritance, a man's own passions or the diabolical wickedness of others. The characters in tragedy are caught in circumstances in which they must make choices, bringing their wills and desires into conflict with these uncontrollable forces. Often this conflict becomes internal when the character recognizes the superior power or reasonableness of the force while at the same time he believes in the goodness of his own desires. So Oedipus recognizes the power of Apollo's prophecy even as his moral nature rebels against it. The result of the tragic conflict is inevitably the defeat of the protagonist, although his nobility in suffering, his insight into reality, and sometimes his perception of goodness may lead to a spiritual victory.

The comic poet, on the other hand, is concerned with the relations of human beings to forces or conditions which do lie within their control: political corruption, social and economic injustice, aggressiveness in individuals and countries, war, sexual desires and romantic yearnings, degeneration of literary taste, petty vexations and tensions, foibles and eccentricities of character. In the world of comedy, man has no need to fear. The supernatural world is beneficent. The natural world is amusing and friendly. The authorities who rule over us-- officials, teachers, parents, 'people'--are strong and evil in appearance only; in the dramatic fray they show themselves weaker or kinder than we first thought. Our own worries can be resolved without permanent harm. Nor need man pity himself or others. We all have within our control powers of reason, will, and imagination strong enough to extricate ourselves from our difficulties. The protagonist in comedy thus . . .

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