30 Pages

The Comedies

WithVictor Ehrenberg

Each of the comedies is a curious compound of very incongruous elements, of traditional forms of cult and religious festival on the one hand, and on the other of dialogue scenes which, being theatrical in a narrower sense, are dramatic and full of action. The whole, however, which emerges, has far less unity than tragedy, which developed on somewhat similar lines. The history of the development of the various parts of comedy, whether it is a matter of proof or conjecture, is irrelevant to our discussion. Aesthetic evaluation of the whole is also out of place. What matters to us is this: each play of Old Comedy is a loose structure in which much is incorporated for pure fun, the derision of well-known persons or farcical situations from which the last ounce of absurdity is extracted. Yet in this richness and variety a certain coherence can be detected. This is supplied partly by the idea and tendency of the play, partly by the general atmosphere, that is to say, by social circumstances and problems, but not by the events of the plot, which frequently lacks any proper coherence. There must be a trunk for the creepers to cling to. Fabula docet, not, it is true, as the close unity and architecture of tragedy does, but by way of a general picture. On closer inspection there is revealed no scarlet thread running through the incidents of the plot, but the observer becomes aware of a multicoloured fabric into which the comic play is worked.