Differences between Old Comedy and New Comedy
Old comedy known through the works of Aristophanes represents the initial phase of the ancient Greek comedy. It began after the contest was initiated in 486 BC at Dionysia city and ended when Aristophanes wrote his last play in 388 BC. There are about 25 known authors of this phase. The structure of old comedy was in five sections namely, prologue, parados, agon, parabasis, and episodes. On the other hand, new comedy began after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC and ended in 260 BC. It is best compared to the comedy of manner and situation comedy. New comedy provided a mildly satiric outlook of contemporary Athenian society. This essay demonstrates how new comedy differs from old comedy in which Aristophanes wrote. Further, it uses How I met your Mother, a current television sitcom to explain the difference.
Old comedy is characterized by the high-spirited and exuberant satire of affairs and public persons. The plays were composed of dance, song, buffoonery, and personal invective and also included sections on outspoken philosophical topics and political criticism. During Aristophanes’ time, old comedy began to shit. Ordinary human beings took the role of the most heroic characters. Heroes and Gods played the role of buffoons. Additionally, the actors put on masks and had padding back and front. The costumes also included giant phalluses. Noteworthy, Aristophanes employed the use of cranes and ekkylkema, also known as platforms. At times Aristophanes would make up long, compound and complicated words such as cloudcuckooland where appropriate (Reckford, 2017). Old comedy plays that consisted of loosely related episodes were first performed for a religious festival in Athens. Gradually, old comedy adopted a six-part structure as opposed to the previous five structures.
On the other hand, New Comedy which came after old comedy was filled with characters of all manners. New comedy employed satire in its domestic and familiar aspects. Unlike Old comedy which made parodies about public figures and events, New Comedy featured average and fictional citizens and did not have heroic and supernatural overtones. New comedy deals with conventionalized situations of thwarted lovers. Further, it had stock characters such as the wily merchant, cunning slave, cruel father, and boastful soldier. Although new comedy does not depict contemporary life, it is an accurate reflection of the disillusioned spirit. An example of a modern-day sitcom that falls under this category is How I Met your Mother. The series revolves around Ted who narrates to his daughter and son how he met their mother in the year 2030. The narrative also involves his circle of best friends including eccentric womanizer Barney, news anchor robin, and long-lasting couple Marshal and Lily. The script explores several storylines including a love triangle between Barney, Ted, and Robin and Marshall and Lily’s relationship through the use of flashbacks from the future. In essence, How I Met Your Mother is about the day-to-day world and did not employ political criticism just like the New Comedy did in 323 BC.
Old comedy was a satire of public persons and events while new comedy provided a mildly satiric outlook of contemporary Athenian society. Old comedy had five sections on outspoken philosophical topics and political criticism. New Comedy featured average and fictional citizens and did not have heroic and supernatural overtones. It dealt with conventionalized situations of thwarted lovers. How I Met Your Mother is an example of a new comedy and is about the day-to-day world and did not employ political criticism.
Reckford, K. J. (2017). Aristophanes’ Old-and-New Comedy: Volume I: Six Essays in Perspective. UNC Press Books.
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