What kinds of humour does Aristophanes use in his plays? Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 11 July 2017

What kinds of humour does Aristophanes use in his plays?

What kinds of humour does Aristophanes use in his plays? To what extent would a modern audience find his plays funny?

Points you may like to include:

* Description, analysis and classification of the humour in the plays.

* Definition of a “modern audience”

Comparison of the appeal of the plays you have read

In the course of the three plays we have studied, Aristophanes adopts various types of humour in reaching out to the audience in different ways. For instance satirical humour, sexual humour, visual humour, slapstick humour and various other types. These various kinds of humour are used to echo the themes, which are explored in these three plays. An example is the satirical humour in the Acharnians, which represents the exploitation in the city of Greece by the so-called foreign ambassadors. These various types of humour will appeal depending on their background generations. For instance, the same elements of a comedy that were found humorous by an average Athenian citizen would not be the same as a member of today’s modern audience. In reference to a “modern audience”, I mean the generation of today, who are presently alive in my country, Nigeria.

The first classification of humour in the plays are the satirical humour. Aristophanes adapts the use of this to portray the situation of Athens. It is from this form of humour, all the other classifications of humour are rooted. In other words, the satirical humour brings about all other forms of humour in the play, as it makes fun of the true situation of Athens. For example, in the Archanians, the ambassadors represent the ways in which Athens exploits other nations for their resources in the name of assistance.

“You sent us, gentlemen, to the great king, with a salary of two drachmas a person per day, in the year when Euthymenes was archon. And may I say we had a very hard time of it”. This illustrates that Athens has located such representatives out of self-interest who have been away for eleven years, which means they have earned 8000 drachmas each, doing nothing but receiving presents and entertainment in various Kingdoms. This example portrays elements of the general themes of the play such as exploitation and greed. It is important that I note that a modern audience would have enjoyed such element of humour, as satirical humour is one of the great elements of comedy used in the world today.

Another form of humour is sexual humour, which also plays an important role in Aristophanes’ dramas. Sexual humour is classified into two aspects- Heterosexual humour, which means jokes rooted in sexual acts between a man and a woman, for instance, “Say one of the slave girls leaves the door on the latch- you can bend her over. I mean bind her over. That’s the usual procedure, isn’t it?” and homosexual humour, meaning jokes rooted in sexual acts involving two people of the same sex; in this case, mostly two men. In Peace he says, “Another, another! From a boy with lots of lovers. He says he likes them friction-treated”. Aristophanes adopts sexual humour to create a stronger comic effect.

He is also able to make evident by mockery, the individuals who are popularly known to be involved in such sexual acts. An example is the mockery of Ariphrades’ sexual propensities in “The Wasps and Peace” by Aristophanes. In “Peace”, though it may not have been the intention of Aristophanes in his play, he is able to make evident the repercussions of negative acts. My opinion can be exemplified by referring to the act of war and peace. War is represents a form of sterility and infertility in the play, as its end means is not beneficial and brings about no advantage for the people in the society. A valid quote to justify such an opinion is

“At last! As Datis said one fine day when he was fucking himself”. On the other hand, when Peace is achieved in the play, a sense of Fertility is brought back to life. This can be made evident by the personified characters, Peace and Harvest who eventually marries Trygaeus. Judging from my background and upbringing as a Nigerian, such humour would be found very inappropriate, offensive and degrading, especially by the older majority, but due to the fact that I have personally been influenced by the norms of other cultures, such jokes are found very funny.

Aristophanes also adapts the use of verbal humour in the course of the three plays we study. This means jokes that are rooted in vocabulary and speech. This presents him as a very contemporary playwright as it is the most popular form of humour used the world today. The verbal humour used in his plays are represented by puns, tragic parody, sarcasm, irony and his ability to create a few words of his own of a humorous nature. The puns in his plays make evident, his knowledge of many words and his understanding of their meaning, as he is skilfully able to put them together to give a comic effect. For example, “Very agreeable too it must be, especially if there’s also music”. This is a pun as in the Greek, the misunderstanding is based is based on the similar sound of the words peinames, ‘we go’ and pinomes, ‘we drink’.

The ironies in Aristophanic comedy are also built in a structure that brings about comic effect. An example is when Trygaeus travels all the way to heaven on his dung beetle to secure peace for the Athenians to deliver his offerings rather than the normal procedure of sacrificing on earth and praying that it would be recognized. Sarcasm, which means an ironic comment intended to hurt a person, is also evident in Aristophanes’ plays. For example, “O mighty hero Lamachus! What crests, what cohorts!” Tragic parody is another element of verbal humour that is very hilarious. This form of verbal humour mocks the true seriousness and skill of the language of tragedies.

For example, “Thou’lt rob me of the whole damn tragedy! Take this, and go”. In addition, Aristophanes includes what is regarded as a comic catalogue for comic effect. The ability to put together related words makes him a commendable playwright because this is feature is known to very respectable playwrights in Nigeria. An example is “I sigh and yawn and stretch and fart what to do, and then doodle on the ground or pluck my hairs or count to myself…” Aristophanes knowledge and skilful writing is also portrayed by his ability to create or coin out his own words, which always arouses a comic effect. For instance, ” He’s what they call a trialophile or litigious maniac”. I think this very form of humour would be appealing to people from different backgrounds regardless of the different cultures, as it is usually of a very neutral nature.

Furthermore, Aristophanes adapts the use of visual humour in his plays to create comic effects. This sector of humour deals with actions of people, which create a comic effect. This form of humour in his plays are mostly explained with the descriptive notes in the plays, as we are studying written work. It is therefore left to our imagination due to the fact that various people will have their different interpretations of how the humour should be brought life through the acting.

For instance, “He strikes, but the sword becomes entangled in his clothing, and then in his beard”. It is important that I note that this form of humour might have been edited in the passing generations and definitely, the translation of the text of the play into other languages. I personally think that a Nigerian would definitely enjoy the nature of visual humour as it the easily understandable, regardless of their language and tribes and also, people who have the disabilities (deafness and dumbness) are also given a chance to join in and pass their own judgements. The extent of the comic effect would depend on the quality of the production.

Also, scatological humour contributes prominently to the structure and story lines of the plays. This is because Aristophanes uses this form of humour to mock and ridicule the characters in his plays, which accounts for a great amount to the comic effect. In reference to this, we mean jokes that deal with human wastes- mainly urine and faeces. This sorts of humour present Aristophanes’ society a very crude, as they obviously see no shame or disgrace in making jokes out of such things.

For example, “And how did it long did he take to close up his arse? Was it at the full moon?” This form of humour also gives us information on the life style of the Greeks. For instance “Your dream stinks like a tanner’s yard”. This particular quote gives us knowledge on two issues. Aristophanes is attacking Cleon, who is obviously Aristophanes’ enemy deals with leather and that urine was a form of softening treatment in the process of making leather. From my perspective, a typical Nigerian would find this form of humour very funny because its main elements of humour (urine and faeces) are things that can be discussed with less embarrassment, rather than sexual humour, which is considered an issue of private discussion.

Finally, another division of humour is slapstick humour. This means a boisterous form of comedy marked by chases and collisions. Aristophanes makes this evident in the course of the three plays we study. From my point of view, this form of humour can be considered as a division of visual humour as it has to do the actions of people. An example of slapstick humour is “hastily drops to the ground. Procleon follows him down, but Xanthias seizes him and uses him as a shield”. The main factor that would determine whether a Nigerian would find slapstick humour funny depends mainly on the quality of the presentation of this form of humour and the ability to keep it limited and not too much.

In conclusion, the creative works of Aristophanes present him as a commendable playwright, considering the age or century to which he belonged. Through this he is able to win over my support in agreeing that he is a great writer. On the other hand, his presentation of an excessively opened sexuality is an aspect of his work, which will be disapproved by most Nigerians. I also think that Aristophanes ability to still present his opinions through his characters, despite the use of heavy comedy portrays him as very contemporary, as that is popular amongst many political satire playwrights. For example, Wole Soyinka, who is popularly known in Nigeria as a political satire playwright. I therefore think that that the extent to which Aristophanes’ plays are seen as humorous depends on each individuals view on various factors, such as your cultural background and ability to communicate with the audience.


The Wasps (Aristophanes’ The Frogs and Other Plays), Penguin Books Ltd, London, 1964

The Acharnians (Aristophanes’ Lysistrata and Other Plays), Penguin Books Ltd, London, 2002

Peace (Aristophanes’ The Birds and Other plays), Penguin Books Ltd, London, 2003

Free What kinds of humour does Aristophanes use in his plays? Essay Sample


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  • Date: 11 July 2017

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