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Utopianism

Ruffell, I.A. (2014) Utopianism. In: Revermann, M. (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Greek Comedy. Series: Cambridge companions to literature and classics . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 206-221. ISBN 9780521760287

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Publisher's URL: http://universitypublishingonline.org/cambridge/companions/ebook.jsf?bid=CCO9781139015356

Abstract

Among the many paradoxes of Old Comedy, perhaps the most striking is that it combines acute social commentary and political interventions with the expression and realization of wishes of the most thoroughly impossible kind, in the creation of a transformed world or an alternative society. A golden age returns or is found elsewhere or integrated into Athenian society or politics; nostalgic visions of the recent past are (re-)constituted; a good life is sought with the birds or the fishes; protagonists seek equal distribution of wealth and absence of labour; women achieve power; there is an end to war. Such comic utopianism poses in a particularly sharp fashion the problem of the individual aims and actions of comic characters, the problem of the politics of individual authors or of the genre as a whole, and the problem of humour, as Athenian realia collide with culturally, historically or logically impossible worlds.

Such collisions of worlds afford the opportunity to explore both social/political critique and aspirations. They are a key source of humour and rarely systematic, but by playing with, representing and developing social, political and economic ideals, the transformations of comedy play a distinct role in the speculative thinking of the period. In being prepared to contemplate and explore, however humorously, notions such as economic equality, women as political agents, or, from a modern perspective, perhaps the most laughable of all, a world at peace, Old Comedy seems in its own way to have been at the forefront of public speculation, going beyond and perhaps even leading the radical edge of Greek ideas. Over the course of its development, however, Greek comedy proceeded to move decisively against these sorts of transformative plots and worlds. In place of flagrant impossibilities, novel social or political schemes and the enactment of change that an audience can choose to believe in, Middle and New Comedy ushered in a stable, apparently realistic world in which the comedy of manners and morals takes place. And yet, as I shall argue, this comic world of Menander, in its own way, is just as utopian as the self-consciously extravagant worlds of Aristophanes and his contemporaries.

Item Type:Book Section
Status:Published
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Ruffell, Dr Ian
Authors: Ruffell, I.A.
Subjects:P Language and Literature > PA Classical philology
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN2000 Dramatic representation. The Theater
College/School:College of Arts > School of Humanities > Classics
Publisher:Cambridge University Press

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