The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Comedy

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Edition of 1920. See also Comedy on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

COMEDY, a dramatic representation of a light and amusing nature, in which are satirized pleasantly the weaknesses or manners of society and the ludicrous incidents of life. Comedy took its origin in the Dionysian festivals, with those who led the phallic songs of the band of revelers (Gr. kōmos) who, at the vintage festivals, gave expression to the exuberant joy and merriment by parading about, dressed up, and singing jovial songs in honor of Dionysus. These songs were frequently interspersed with extemporized jokes at the expense of the bystanders. Comedy first assumed a regular shape among the Dorians. The first attempts at it among the Athenians were made by Susarion, a native of Megara, about 578 B.C. Epicharmus first gave comedy a new form and introduced a regular plot. That branch of the Attic drama known as the Old Comedy begins properly with Cratinus. It lasted from 458 B.C. to 404 B.C. The later pieces of Aristophanes belong to the Middle Comedy. The chorus in a comedy consisted of 24. The Middle Comedy lasted from 404 B.C. to 340 B.C. and the New Comedy till 260 B.C. Middle Comedy found its materials in satirizing classes of people instead of individuals. New Comedy answers to the comedy of the present day. The most distinguished of Roman comic writers were Plautus and Terence, whose plots were mainly derived from the Greek. See Drama; Literary Forms.