Comedy: Timeless or of its own time?

‘Comedy is both timeless and of its own time.’

To which of the plays in this unit do you think this statement most applies?

In your answer you must include discussion of both playwrights

What is the question asking?

Timeless: Doesn’t get old. Same techniques used today?

Own time: Current figures, jokes at foreigners expense etc

Argument: Every audience, Athenian, Roman and modern would all perceive this differently as they had differing expectations of comedy: which have changed over time. Lysistrata is the play that fits the statement most as it encapsulates many humorous techniques such as scatological humour, mock violence, sexual innuendo and puns that are still used in modern comedy, making it timeless, as well as in other ancient plays. Furthermore, Lysistrata is of its own time because of the unique flavourings given by criticising political, contemporary figures.

Political Satire

Lysistrata: full of it

  • Wool working metaphor: criticises democratic factionalism
  • Attacks Cleisthenes: Spartans threaten to have sex with him in desperation
  • Attacks Sicilian expedition: Lampito’s husband is keeping an eye on the generals over there. Also joke about Samos being heavily fortified with generals.
  • References mutilation of the Herms: men don’t want their erections to be cut off
  • TIMELESS: So much political satire exists in todays world: HIGNFY, Russel Howards Good News etc.
  • OF ITS OWN TIME: Unique cultural references produced by that period

Clouds: some satire

  • Attacks Cleon for being voted back in
  • Attacking Cleonymus

Plautus: Very little…very subtle

  • Menaechmus rant on patron and client relationships-  complains about obligation. But is he just playing to a character?
  • Swaggering Soldier message is not to be deceived…
  • Timeless? For Roman Audiences maybe…they didn’t expect Political satire and so there wasn’t any
  • Of its own time: Definitely…very distanced from ancient greek comedy

Verbal humour: inappropriateness

  • Lysistratra full of inappropriateness: Victorians even wanted to tone it down. Stratyllis to mens leader “no bitch will ever grab your bollocks again”.
  • Timeless: found in all other plays…and even today, perhaps more prevalent recently where taboo’s are being broken.
  • Of its time: Verbal humour intensified by fact that it was men vs men dressed as women and so this was the humour.
  • Clouds less sexual, but still inappropriate: Strepsiades compares gnats arse to a trumpet
  • Swaggering Soldier: Periplectomenus talks about not being dried up…hardly as rude…verbal humour more revolves around “hang yourself” and verbal abuse…bebtween Sceledrus and Palaestrio
  • Brothers Menaechmus: Very little verbal inappropriateness…more just inappropriate situations: abusing Erotium’s lunch,,,jewellery, finery etc

Dramatic aspect

  • All 4 plays use masks and similiar stages to create a dramatic illusion
  • Clouds makes use of mechane and ekkeklema, no other play does. Of its own time? Timeless…such stage props are used today.
  • Aristophanes Phalli perhaps less common today: of its own time? Not found in Plautus..
  • Aristophanes costume much more extravagant cf Plautine comedy…quite of its own time because of the funding by choregus for victory. Plautus perhaps more timeless because the misidentity created by costumes is a common trope found nowadays.



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