Comedy: Greece and Rome to Hollywood
Remember that an oral report is a performance. In other words, you need
to be sensitive to your audience:
Be organized. Listening is a different skill than reading. The
opportunity to go back over what you read is not available to someone
listening to a report. Tell your audience what the main points are right
from the start of your talk. Let them know that you are moving to a new
topic. Then conclude by summing up what you just told them.
Be brief. Audience attention span starts to wane after the first
10-15 minutes. Each report, therefore, should be timed to last no longer
than 15 minutes. That will leave plenty of time for discussion (15 minutes)
after each report and allow us to make connections between each topic.
Be visual. It is a lot easier to follow a talk if there is something
visual. It could be that you wish to write important terms or an outline
of your talk on the board. You may wish to create a handout for much the
same reason. Finally, you will want to show pictures of what you are discussing
(e.g., costumes, masks, theater buildings, vase paintings). Be sure to
check the plates and photographs in the books you are using from reserve!
Be prepared. Performance often offers performers unexpected surprises.
You may have less time than you planned. You may be asked unexpected questions.
You may present your material as a follow-up to another report instead
of as part of the report you had originally planned. If you are familiar
with the material, it will be easier to be flexible and will make discussion
more fluid and fruitful.
Costume and Gender in Aristophanes
read: Gwendolyn Compton-Engle, "The Comic Body as Costume" (16-58) and "Success and Masculinity" (90-94) from Costume in the Comedies of Aristophanes (Cambridge 2015) and Bella Zweig, "The Mute Nude Female Characters in Aristophanes' Plays," in Pornography and Representation in Greece and Rome (Oxford 1992) 73-89. How does costume in Greek Old Comedy reflect gender? What social norms are enforced by these costumes? To what extent does costuming break away from those expectations? What difference does it make that all the actors in Greek comedy are played by men?
Obscenity and scatological humor in Aristophanes
read: Kenneth Reckford, "Aischrologia," 461-467 from Aristophanes' Old and New Comedy; Sigmund Freud, "Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious," 831-36 from Dukore, Dramatic Theory and Criticism; Jeffrey Henderson, "The Dramatic Function of Obscenity in the Plays of Aristophanes: Acharnians and Peace," 56-66, from The Maculate Muse. Is Freud correct in saying that humor is the release of pent-up sexual drives and aggression? What is the effect of obscenity in Aristophanes? Where do we find it in his plays? Any patterns in Aristophanes' use of obscenity?
The Comic Hero
read: C. Whitman, "Comic Heroism," in Aristophanes and the Comic Hero, 21-58. How does Whitman define the comic hero? Does his theory hold for the plays we have read? For Charlie Chaplin?
read: Noel Carroll, "Notes on the Sight Gag," in Andrew S. Horton, ed. Comedy/Cinema/Theory, 25-42. How do sight gags differ from verbal jokes? What are the major recurring types of sight gags? What are examples of each type from Chaplin and from Aristophanes?
Women's Roles in Lysistrata
read: Helene Foley, "The Female Intruder Reconsidered: Women in Aristophanes' Lysistrata and Ecclesiazusae." Classical Philology 77 (1982) 1-21 (esp. section about Lysistrata) and Christopher Faraone, "Priestess and Courtesan: The Ambivalence of Female Leadership in Aristophanes' Lysistrata," in C. Faraone and L. McClure, eds., Prostitutes and Courtesans in the Ancient World (Wisconsin 2006) 207-23.
Mae West and film censorship
Ramona Curry, "Goin' to Town and Beyond: Mae West, Film Censorship and the Comedy of Unmarriage," in Classical Hollywood Comedy, pp. 211-37. Is Mae West merely an object for men to gaze upon or a woman subverting the role of men in establishing romantic liaisons? How does she compare to women in Lysistrata?
Masks and Characters
read a) Richard Green and Eric Handley, "Menander and the Comedy of Manners," in Images of the Greek Theater, pp. 71-85
b) David Wiles, "The System of Masks," The Masks of Menander (Cambridge 1991) 68-99.
In both selections, focus on the masks and characters of Dyskolos and Epitrepontes. What effect does the use of masks have on the audience as they view the play? Do they stereotype the character or allow for the personality of the character to be developed? What advantages do masks have? Are there any modern parallels?
Chance and the Wheel of Fortune
read: **Leo Salingar, "Fortune in Classical Comedy," from Shakespeare and the Traditions of Comedy (Cambridge 1974) 129-145, 149-152 and
T.B.L. Webster, "Menander and Philosophy," from Studies in Menander (Manchester 1950) 198-209.
What role does chance (tyche) play in Menander's comedies? In Aristophanes? Do people have any freedom to act as they choose? How should people respond to the events in their lives, according to the philosophers? How do they respond in Menander's plays? Is Menander a philosopher? To what extent is he acting as teacher (didaskalos)?
Love and Friendship in Romantic Comedy
read Madeleine Henry, "Ethos, Mythos, Praxis: Women in Menander's Comedy," Helios (1986) 141-149, and Tina Olsen Lent, "Romantic Love and Friendship: The Redefinition of Gender Relations in Screwball Comedy," in Classical Hollywood Comedy, pp. 314-31. What parallels do you see between Menander's Athens and America in the 1930's? What parallels do you see between women in Epitrepontes, Samia, and It Happened One Night?
Stage Conventions and Metatheater
read: Niall Slater, "Convention and Reaction," Plautus in Performance (Princeton 1985) 147-67 and Timothy Moore, "Prostitutes and Lovers: Truculentus," The Theater of Plautus: Playing to the Audience (Texas 1998) 140-57. What are the conventions of the Roman stage? How does Plautus use them? How do they differ from the conventions Menander used?
Verbal Humor in Plautus
read Duckworth, "Language and Style," in The Nature of Roman Comedy. Find examples of Plautus' verbal humor in Trculentus and the Marx Brothers.
Plautus' Plots and Screwball's Scripts: Narrative Structure in Romantic Comedy
W.S. Anderson, "Plautus' Plotting: The Lover Upstaged," in Barbarian Play, and
Kristine Brunovska Karnick, "Commitment and Reaffirmation in Hollywood Romantic Comedy," in Classical Hollywood Comedy (on reserve). How does Brunovska Karnick's general framework apply to Menander and Plautus?
Comedy, race, and socio-economic class
read: Banner, Lois W. "Creature from the Black Lagoon: Marilyn Monroe and Whiteness." Cinema Journal 47.4 (2008) 4-29 (JSTOR); and Rosenbaum, Jonathan. "Gold Diggers of 1953: Howard Hawk's Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism. Berkeley: California, 1995. 94-103.
Father Knows Best: Fatherhood in Roman Society and Comedy
Matthew Leigh, "Fatherhood and the Habit of Command: L. Aemilius Paullus and the Adelphoe," in Comedy and the Rise of Rome (Oxford 2004) 158-91
Women-Centered Comedy in Hecyra and Moonstruck
Kathleen Rowe, "Comedy, Melodrama, and Gender: Theorizing the Genres of Laughter," in Classical Hollywood Comedy (on reserve)