The Mask of Comedy

The Mask of Comedy: Aristophanes and the Intertextual Parabasis

Thomas K. Hubbard
Volume: 51
Copyright Date: 1991
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 284
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    The Mask of Comedy
    Book Description:

    A choral interlude distinctive to Greek Old Comedy, the parabasis treats a variety of literary and political topics that critics have generally considered tangential to the themes of the play in which it appears. Reading closely each of Aristophanes' comedies, Thomas K. Hubbard here demonstrates that, far from being a digression or a relic of long-forgotten rituals, the parabasis provides a critical link between the identities of the poet, chorus, and protagonist, and between the play and its audience.

    The parabasis, according to Hubbard, offers an interesting theoretical problem: the seeming intrusion of autobiographical allusion and literary dogma into the poetic text. He argues that the parabasis is not in fact intrusive, but presents the poet's role and identity as a paradigm for the satirical concerns of the play. After a review of ancient theories of the comic and their modern counterparts, Hubbard examines the parabasis within the framework of Greek traditions of poetic self-awareness and self-citation.

    He shows that the function of the parabasis is primarily "intertextual," echoing not only other poets but also the comic poet himself. Hubbard maintains that the parabases of Aristophanes' plays, taken together, form an important autobiographical subtext, which allows readers to trace the poet's career as he wished it to be seen. The poet, in his various struggles with Athenian society, is himself revealed to be a comic hero on a par with many of his protagonists.

    Analyzing Aristophanes' plays sequentially through the lens of the parabasis, The Mask of Comedy gives us a new perspective on the significance of his entire dramatic corpus. It will be welcomed by classicists and by comparatists and literary theorists interested in the development of comedy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6691-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
    Thomas K. Hubbard
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  5. CHAPTER 1 Comedy and Self-Knowledge
    (pp. 1-15)

    The phenomenon of the self-referential parabasis is unique to Attic Old Comedy, although it has various analogues in the traditions of European comic drama: one need only examine the prologues of Plautus and Terence, Jonson or Dryden to find many of the same apologetic topoi and attitudes that appear in Aristophanes’ parabases.¹ But a prologue is by its nature a different entity, in a sense standing outside of the dramatic enactment. What is distinctive about the parabasis is its simultaneous digressiveness and integration with the dra- matic events; as we shall see in the course of our investigation, the comic...

  6. CHAPTER 2 The Intertextual Parabasis
    (pp. 16-40)

    Central to the self-cognitive processes of the comic imagination, as we have observed, is the choral parabasis of Old Comedy. This form is unique to Old Comedy and, because of its apparently digressive character, it has often been treated by critics as either a curiosity or an embarrassment. Gilbert Murray termed it “an unassimilated nugget of ritual embedded within the play,” and Francis Cornford used similar language to describe it: “With its stiff canonical structure, it has all the air of a piece of ritual procedure awkwardly interrupting the course of the play.”¹ The Cambridge anthropologists had special theoretical grounds...

  7. CHAPTER 3 The Mask of Dicaeopolis
    (pp. 41-59)

    Few plays of Aristophanes make the connection between the poetic and political realms more evident than the Acharnions, in this respect rivalled perhaps only by the Frogs.

    At the opening of the drama we behold the farmer Dicaeopolis sitting alone before the deserted Pnyx, awaiting the entrance of the Prytanes and the start of the belated Assembly, even as the theatrical audience only seconds ago was waiting for the start of the present play. Like Dicaeopolis, many members of the audience were country folk and had no doubt been present in the theater since dawn (see v. 20).¹ This parallel...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Aristophanes and the Poetry of Hate
    (pp. 60-87)

    As we have seen, the Acharnians is in many ways constituted as a complex play on identities, with Aristophanes speaking through Callistratus, who speaks through Dicaeopolis, who in turn assumes the guise of Telephus dressed as a beggar. In the parabasis of the Knights (vv.512–19) Aristophanes announces through the Knights his decision to come forward and produce his own plays without the aid of an intermediary like Callistratus.¹ It is no accident that the Knights is the play with which the young Aristophanes introduces himself directly to the Athenian public. More clearly than the Acharnians or Babylonians, this play...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Misunderstood Intellectuals and Misunderstood Poets
    (pp. 88-112)

    In many respects the Clouds is the most troubled and self-questioning of Aristophanes’ plays. Critics have often commented upon its atypical plot structure and lack of a sympathetic comic hero.¹ One is also struck by the absence of the “happy ending” and communal festivity which we usually find at the conclusion of a comedy;² instead we have an ending that is violent, discordant, unforeseen, and far more at home in Tragedy than in Comedy. Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the play, however, is its portrait of Socrates and the exact nature both of Aristophanes’ attitude toward the philosopher and...

  10. CHAPTER 6 A Quarrel with the Jury
    (pp. 113-139)

    The defeat of the first Clouds was a profound disappointment to the young Aristophanes, as seen not only in his extensive rewriting of the play and his artfully manipulative self-defense in the new parabasis but also in the reproach he addresses to his audience in the parabasis of the play presented the year after the defeat. In both parabases (Nub. 546-48, Vesp. 1044, 1052–53) Aristophanes declares the Clouds to be an attempt to elaborate “new ideas”; its failure understandably provoked the author’s critical revaluation of his developing aims and methods as a comic poet. Aristophanes reacted to his disappointment...

  11. CHAPTER 7 The Flight of the Dung Beetle
    (pp. 140-156)

    With the death of Cleon near Amphipolis in the summer of 422 and the ensuing prospects for a peace accord, Aristophanes abandons the self-questioning and alienated pose of the Clouds and the Wasps to reaffirm his solidarity with the Athenian public in a collective celebration of peace and the Peace.

    More than any other Aristophanic hero, Trygaeus embodies the average Athenian¹ and at the same time the spirit of Comedy itself. His very name implies the sort of small farmer we have seen before in Dicaeopolis or Strepsiades (note the play on the verb τρυγâν = “to harvest fruit” in...

  12. CHAPTER 8 From Birds to Frogs
    (pp. 157-219)

    The Clouds revision, dating to sometime around 417, is the last extant play in which Aristophanes uses the anapests for the purpose of explicit self-defense.¹ Concomitant with the decline of the personalized parabasis is an abandonment of the “autobiographical” thread in the plots and characters of the later plays. We no longer see the protagonist speaking or acting as a symbolic surrogate for the poet or for Comedy in its social function, although the Frogs is a partial exception in this regard, inasmuch as one of Dionysus’ many functions within that play is as the patron god of Comedy; even...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Comic Autobiography and the Mask of Aristophanes
    (pp. 220-226)

    As we have observed, the parabasis offers a self-reflective interlude in the middle of the play, in which the identities of both chorus and poet are displayed, thematic threads relevant to the play are drawn together, and the play’s significance within its social and historical context is often clarified. This moment of poetic self-analysis is both aloof from the dramatic action and at the same time part of the dramatic structure, as well as the intellectual framework of the play. We have further observed that those early parabases which defend the poet himself help set up a parallelism between the...

  14. APPENDIX 1 Aristophanes and Callistratus
    (pp. 227-230)
  15. APPENDIX 2 Ben Jonson and the Clouds Parabasis
    (pp. 231-240)
  16. APPENDIX 3 The Identity of the Chorus in the Peace
    (pp. 241-242)
  17. APPENDIX 4 Political Allusions and the Chronology of the Lysistrata and Thesmophoriazusae
    (pp. 243-245)
  18. APPENDIX 5 The Death of the Parabasis
    (pp. 246-252)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 253-270)
  20. General Index
    (pp. 271-276)
  21. Index of Passages Discussed
    (pp. 277-284)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 285-287)