The Lasting Influences of the Classical World on Other Cultures across Time
Drama and dramatic performances have consistently been present throughout human society, both as a medium for entertainment as well as a forum for education and critique. Aristophanes, the “father of modern drama”, was the first to really successfully amalgamate these two ideas together within his dramatic pieces, as can be seen in his works Wasps and Frogs. Shakespeare was the next great dramatist, and arguably the great dramatist, and he has evolved Aristophanes’ ideas and methods and developed them to greater extent. These can be seen in works such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, King Lear and Hamlet, but are present in the large majority of his works. And with the invention of cinema and eventually television, drama diversified so drastically that the different forms of drama vary an astonishing amount. But even within modern comedies, such as Bro’town, South Park and Blackadder, we still find elements of the Aristophanaic drama. Aristophanes and Shakespeare:
Both Aristophanes and Shakespeare used conventions common to comedy to entertain the audience, and sometimes even used them to convey serious messages. Both were great fans of the Poneros, or loveable rogue: In Wasps, Aristophanes uses Philocleon to great effect, as while he is essentially the antagonist, the wrong-doer in the play, the audience is drawn to his dim charm and his incessant escape attempts. For example, when he attempts to escape Bdelycleons clutches, he first attempts to climb out the chimney as “a puff of smoke”, and then by clinging to the underside of a donkey, with his head in its rear. When Philocleon declares himself “No-man”, the amalgamation of visual humour (Philocleon’s head up the asses behind), parody (the hiding underneath/inside the donkey parodies the escape Odysseus and his men made, avoiding the Cyclops by hiding underneath a flock of rams; and the use of “no-man” parallels the name Odyssseus gave to the Cyclops) and our Poneros Philocleon would have had the audience in stiches. Much like Shakespeare, who in A Midsummer Night’s Dream crafts Bottom to the same effect. A loud, energetic character, Bottom is very much a more modern Philocleon. He spends much of his time on stage with an asses head (the donkey is obviously a common comedic device), which becomes very amusing when Puck causes the fairy queen Titania to fall head over heels in love with him. And during the mechanical’s play Pyramus and Thisbe, Bottom overacts the part of Pyramus so much that it takes him minutes to deliver his dying speech. Like Aristophanes, Shakespeare has cleverly combined the humour devices of hyperbole (Bottom overacting Pyramus) with caricature (The mechanicals awful imitation of a respectable story) and again our loveable rogue, Bottom, to create humour within the play. This is exemplified with his line: “I see a voice: now will I to the chink, To spy an I can hear my Thisby's face.” But both Aristophanes and Shakespeare used their plays for a much more serious purpose; as highlighted in Aristophanes’ Frogs: “We chorus folk (and thus the playwright, for in the parabasis the chorus speak the thought of the writer) two privileges prize; to amuse you, citizens, and to advise.” And both of these magnificent playwrights do advise, educate and critique, though to serve a different purpose according to the customs of their societies. In Aristophanes’ times, playwrights were seen as the educators of the adults: children had tutors and adult had playwrights. So each of Aristophanes’ works aims to enlighten the audience, to teach them something new or advise them on a current issue. This can be seen in both Wasps and Frogs: In Wasps Aristophanes shows the Athenian people the truth about their demagogue Cleon, whom Aristophanes describes as a “rapacious-looking creature with a figure like a whale and a voice like a scalded sow.” He criticises Athens for her following and support...
Bibliography: Aristophanes: Wasps, Frogs
Shakespeare: Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Blackadder Goes Forth, Episode 6: Goodbyee
Rangitoto College Level 3 Classics Aristophanes Workbook
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