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About the book
  • Published: 17 October 2006
  • ISBN: 9780140449822
  • Imprint: Penguin Classics
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 352
  • RRP: $19.99

Classical Comedy


Formats & editions


From the fifth to the second century BC, innovative comedy drama flourished in Greece and Rome. This collection brings together the greatest works of Classical comedy, with two early Greek plays: Aristophanes' bold, imaginative Birds, and Menander's The Girl from Samos, which explores popular contemporary themes of mistaken identity and sexual misbehaviour; and two later Roman comic plays: Plautus' The Brothers Menaechmus - the original comedy of errors - and Terence's bawdy yet sophisticated double love-plot, The Eunuch. Together, these four plays demonstrate the development of Classical comedy, celebrating its richness, variety and extraordinary legacy to modern drama.

  • Pub date: 17 October 2006
  • ISBN: 9780140449822
  • Imprint: Penguin Classics
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 352
  • RRP: $19.99

About the Authors

Aristophanes Aristophanes

Aristophanes was born, probably in Athens, c. 449 BC and died between 386 and 380 BC. Little is known about his life, but there is a portrait of him in Plato's Symposium. He was twice threatened with prosecution in the 420s for his outspoken attacks on the prominent politician Cleon, but in 405 he was publicly honored and crowned for promoting Athenian civic unity in The Frogs. Aristophanes had his first comedy produced when he was about twenty-one, and wrote forty plays in all. The eleven surviving plays of Aristophanes are published in the Penguin Classics series as The Birds and Other Plays, Lysistrata and Other Plays, and The Wasps / The Poet and the Women / The Frogs.

Menander

Menander (341-290 BC) was the most distinguished author of Greek New Comedy. An Athenian of good family, he wrote over a hundred plays, although only one survives intact today: Dyskolos or Old Cantankerous. This won the prize in 316 BC and was recovered from an Egyptian papyrus as recently as 1958.

Many more fragments of his plays have since been discovered, and some sizeable pieces from The Rape of the Locks, The Arbitration and The Girl From Samos have been known since 1907. These confirm Menander's skill in drawing humorous or romantic characters and making good dramatic use of a limited range of plots with stock scenes of disguise and recognition. Menander's plays were revived in Athens after his death and some of them were adapted for the Roman stage by Plautus and Terence, through whom they strongly influenced light drama from the Renaissance onwards.

Plautus

Titus Maccius Plautus was born in Sarsina, Umbria, in about 254 BC, and was originally named, after his father, Titus. Little is known of his life, but it is believed that he went to Rome when young and worked as a stage assistant. His potential as an actor was discovered and he acquired two other names: Maccius, derived perhaps from the name of a clown in popular farce, and Plautus, a cognomen meaning 'flat-footed'. Somehow Plautus saved enough capital to go into business as a merchant shipper, but this venture collapsed, and he worked (says the tradition) as a miller's laborer, and in his spare time studied Greek drama.

From the age of forty onwards he achieved increasing success as an adaptor of Greek comedies for the Roman stage. Much of his work seems to be original, however, and not mere translation. He was rewarded by being granted Roman citizenship. According to Cicero he died in 184 BC.

Terence

Terence (c. 186-159 BC) was born at Carthage of Libyan parentage, and was brought to Rome as a young slave. According to Roman tradition his talents and good looks won him an education, manumission, and entry to a patrician literary circle, with whose encouragement he wrote six Latin plays, modeled on Greek New Comedy, all of which survive. Only one, The Eunuch, was a popular success in his lifetime, but he was read and admired in Roman times and throughout the Middle Ages, and became the main influence on Renaissance comedy.


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