The comedies of the Aristophanes ( 444-380 BC ) include eleven that survive: Acharnians, Knights, Clouds, Wasps, Peace, Birds, Lysistrata, Thesmophoriazusae, Ecclesiazusae, Frogs, and Plutus. And the missing twenty-nine which remain at large, literary and poetic works of the Absent With Out Leave variety. Much sought after, they are fugitive plays, furtive comedies, wandering and inhabiting the souls of comic geniuses from time to time, then resuming a caravanic, nomadic pilgrimmage, or waiting patiently for the opportune moment to manifest themselves in the splendor of their entirety, a permanent resting place and not abode of brief sejourn.
Aristophanes wrote what is known as old comedy, or attic humour; in todays lexicon, garage or grunge humour with a dose of hubris would be apt. Its a general masquerade of the world, beneath which there passes much that is not allowed by the common rules of propriety; a private language with its own rules and legal system that is amusing, clever, and even instructive in a destructive sense.Often, of the low-brow variety, these old comedies stem from early Greek religious ritual and appear rooted or complementary to Dionysiac rites, whose origins may date from Babylonia or Egypt. think of the 11 comedies as the ten plagues on Pharaoh Amenhotep’s Egypt and one talisman of chance.
Of the 29 unaccounted for, and over the last 1500 years , fragments, like newly found parchments of the Dead Sea Scrolls comes forward into the light, taped and stapled together before mysteriously vanishing only to resurface for brief, fleeting moments.The ghosts of Socrates and Plato gleefully teasing and tormenting the experts. Aristophanes may have written up to fifty comedies spanning the end of the period of Old Comedy and bringing the genre into its next stage, Middle Comedy, the former differentiated by the absence of dramatic criticism.
Stylistically, middle comedies contrast from the biting, personal satires of Old Comedy. They are characterized by a more introspective poetic narrative, gentler and almost meditative in nature. The obscenity being largely confined to brief, but intense passages, but not central to the development or structure of the play.
Lysistrata is about the women’s sex strike to bring about peace.Thesomophoria is about Euripides planting a male in the secret rites of women for Demeter.Peace is a comedy about war profiteers.It is these modern themes under the pen of Aristophanes that the old Attic comedy received its fullest development. A form of comic entertainment not unlike that witnessed in American style Vaudeville or variety shows that employ the use of slapstick violence and creation of the archetypes easily identifiable in a contemporary context.
‘‘ Dignified by the acquisition of a chorus of masked actors, and of scenery and machinery, and by a corresponding literary elaboration and elegance of style, comedy nevertheless remained true both to its origin and to the purposes of its introduction into the free imperial city. It borrowed much from tragedy, but it retained the Phallic abandonment of the old rural festivals, the license of word and gesture, and the audacious directness of personal invective. These characteristics are not features peculiar to Aristophanes. He was twitted by some of the older comic poets with having degenerated from the full freedom of the art through a tendency to refinement, and he took credit to himself for having superseded the time-honored can can and the stale practical joking of his predecessors by a nobler kind of mirth. But in boldness, as he likewise boasted, he had no peer; and the shafts of his wit, though dipped in wine-lees and at times feathered from very obscene fowl, flew at high game.”
On certain points, the ancients had a different morality from ours, and certainly a much freer one, or one they felt more confident to expose. This likely arose from their religion, which was a real worship of Nature, and had given sanctity to many public ceremonies which grossly violate decency by logging into the erotic sensuality to be found in nature as well as the subtext of romanticism.
The old comedy of the Greeks would have been impossible under any other form of government than a complete and unrestricted democracy; for it exercised a satirical censorship unsparing of public and private life, of statesmanship, of political and social usage, of education and literature, in a word, of everything which concerned the city, or could amuse the citizens.
Lysistrata was one of Aristophanes best known and staged production due to the battle of the sexes narrative. Written twenty-one years into the Peloponnesian War, the play revolves around the women of Athens who finally tire of losing their sons on the battlefield and conspire to deny their husbands sexual intercourse until they make peace with the Spartans. Lysistrata, who leads the revolt, is one of Aristophanes’ most completely realized characters. Although the play is light-hearted, it was written out of the poet’s grief over the thousands of Athenians who had recently lost their lives in the terrible defeat at Syracuse.
‘‘The ancient komos (comedy ) often involved masks and costumes, as does Mardi gras, but was marked by another practice foreign to most festivals in modern North America: aischrologia or the ritual abuse of individuals. Another distinctive feature, found in many Dionysiac rites and no doubt in some komoi, was the phallos: an imitation penis, often too large for one person to lift with ease, carried on a pole or cart.” Soupy Sales, is a fictional metaphor for a character in one of Aristophanes missing plays:
”No true fan can forget the New Year’s Day 1965 live broadcast on WNEW.
Sales, miffed at having to work the holiday, signed off by encouraging his young viewers to tiptoe into their still-sleeping parents’ bedrooms and remove those “funny green pieces of paper with pictures of U.S. Presidents” from their pants and pocketbooks.
“Put them in an envelope and mail them to me,” Sales instructed. “And I’ll send you a postcard from Puerto Rico!”
He was then hit with a pie.’
In the 1950’s, early 60’s programs for children were essentially the expression of the Walt Disney blueprint for culture and value formation in postwar America. technically and commercially advanced, designed for export, culturally nihilistic and devoid of risk and incapable of self critique. Sales re-introduced and refined aischrologia within the medium of children’s television.
Soupy Sales ( 1926-2009 ) brilliance was that he created a comic world resembling that of ancient Athens. A throwback to Aristophanes time, a missing link connected to, and a clue to the other comedies. A zombie comedy from Aristophanes, which to borrow the phrase from Monty Python’s Dead Parrot sketch, was” not really dead just resting”.The same ethos and zeitgeist of tweaking authority in the nose that could only persist and be tolerated in a democratic society willing to fall victim to self-deprecating humour. Physical comedy with an irreverent social edge. Ostensibly for children, it was the imagination of adults who were most easily captured .
” Offstage noises, wise ass puppets popping up in the window, eight foot dogs, sound effects, girlfriends with hairy arms, old film clips, lip syncing songs, classic comedian monologues, zany props, a barrage of corny jokes, slapstick sight gags, and plenty of pies in the face – that was the world of Soupy Sales, coming at you in rapid succession from every which angle. It was so unrehearsed and spontaneous that half the time he didn’t even know what the hell was happening. You could hear the crew offstage laughing, … ”( Ken Levine )
“Our shows were not actually written, but they were precisely thought out,” he explained in his memoir. “But the greatest thing about the show, and I think the reason for its success, was that it seemed undisciplined. The more you can make a performance seem spontaneous, the better an entertainer you are.” ( Richard Goldstein, N.Y. Times )