Ancient Comedy (CLA3016)

StaffProfessor Matthew Wright - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Pre-requisitesThe successful completion of at least 90 credits at Level 2, at least 30 credits of which must be in Classics & Ancient History
Co-requisitesStudents taking CLA3266 Greek V: Comedy cannot also take this module
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks; Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

Most students have read some of the plays of Aristophanes, Menander or Plautus. Are these plays typical of Greek and Italian comedy? How do they relate to Greek and Roman society? Where did they come from and why does the form of comedy change? What is comedy and what did the ancients think it was? What is the significance of something comic? This module will explore and attempt to answer these and other questions.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. On completion of this module, students will be able to describe and analyse the origins and character if the first European comic drama, and to trace its development and transformation within the differing societies for which it was produced.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 2. Students will eb able to demonstrate an ability to place a genre such as comedy in its cultural context and to follow cross-cultural changes; an ability to form a theoretical framework for the understanding of specific plays; and an ability to analyse closely primary source material.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 3. In seminar presentations, students will be able to demonstrate an ability both to research mateial and to organise that material into succinct and logical form; they will also be able to deliver a confident and closely-argued oral performance in defence of their own viewpoint and challenging the viewpoint of his/her peer group. Through group seminar activity, they will also be able to demonstrate that they have developed leadership skills and co-operative problem-solving.

Syllabus plan

Indicative topics:

First semester: 
Comedy and the comic: approaches and theories 
Theatre history and the origins of Greek comedy 
Parody and hypertextuality 
Metatheatricality and audience awareness 
Comic politics 
Irony and polyphony 
Fragments and their uses 
Comic characterization 
Rivalry and competitive poetics 
Religion and ritual 
Fantasy, utopia and big ideas 

Second semester: 
Chorus, music and dancing 
Continuity and change 
Love, sex, and marriage 
Rape and other crimes 
The family and society 
Prologues and plot 
Comedy in a Roman context 
Religion and ritual revisited 
Identity and related problems 
Remakes, repeats, and rehashes 
The mother-in-law (and other old jokes)

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching activities44Seminars (1 x 2 hours per week)
Guided independent study256Independent study

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Presentation1010-15 minutes1-3Written and verbal
Essay203000 words1-3Mark and written comments
Essay203000 words1-3Mark and written comments
Exam503 hours1-3Mark and written comments

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssaysEssays1-3August ref/def period
ExamExam1-3August ref/def period

Re-assessment notes

Re-assessment is not available for oral presentations.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

1. Prescribed texts: 
(a) Aristophanes, Acharnians, Knights, Clouds, Wasps, Birds, The Poet and the Women, Frogs, Assemblywomen, Wealth (Penguin Classics, tr. Barrett and Sommerstein). 
(b) Menander, The Bad-Tempered Man, The Girl from Samos and Aspis (The Shield), from The Plays and Fragments (Oxford World's Classics, tr. Balme). 
(c) Terence, The Girl from Andros and The Mother-in-Law, from The Comedies (Penguin Classics, tr. Radice). 
(d) Plautus, The Brothers Menaechmi, The Pot of Gold and Pseudolus, from The Pot of Gold and other plays (Penguin Classics, tr. Watling). 

2. Introductory Reading: 
M. Leigh, Comedy and the Rise of Rome (Oxford 2003). 
P.E. Easterling and B.M.W. Knox (eds.), The Cambridge History of Classical Literature (Cambridge 1985). 
M. Silk, Aristophanes and the Definition of Comedy (Oxford 2000). 
A.M. Bowie, Aristophanes (Cambridge 1993). 
M. MacDowell, Aristophanes and Athens (Oxford 1995). 
R. Hunter, The New Comedy of Greece and Rome (Cambridge 1985). 

A full secondary reading list will be supplied.

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