Humouring the masses: The Theatre Audience and the Highs and Lows of Aristophanic Comedy

Robson, James (2017). Humouring the masses: The Theatre Audience and the Highs and Lows of Aristophanic Comedy. In: Grig, Lucy ed. Popular Culture in the Ancient World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 66–87.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781139871402.003

Abstract

This chapter explores the idea of Old Comedy as popular culture, by examining (i) the size, make-up and seating arrangements of the original audience, (ii) the ways Aristophanes’ plays interact with different social groups within this audience, and (iii) Aristophanes’ distinction makes between ‘good’, sophisticated comedy and ‘bad’, phortikos (‘vulgar’) comedy. The conclusion is that Old Comedy displays both popular and elite – inclusive and exclusive – tendencies. That is, while Aristophanes acknowledges and caters for a broad audience, his comedies are nevertheless geared towards various ‘elite’ in-groups: the ‘auditorium elite’ (those who, owing to their civic roles, occupy the front rows of the theatre), the ‘social elite’ (the rich and powerful), and the ‘cultural elite’ (those who identify as sophisticated spectators).

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