Character types

Ruffell, I. (2014) Character types. In: Revermann, M. (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Greek Comedy. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, pp. 147-167. ISBN 9780521747400 (doi: 10.1017/CCO9781139015356.010)

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In a famous fragment of Antiphanes’ Poetry (fr. 189), a character compares the resources available to tragedy and comedy in terms of inherited characters and stories. Mention Oedipus and the audience knows what will happen to him and who the other main characters are; comedy needs to invent everything – names, back-story, situation, crisis. ‘If some Chremes or Pheidon leaves any one of these out, he's whistled off stage’ (20f.). The main focus here is plot, but embedded in this are claims about the use of recurring characters, the audience's knowledge of those characters, their stories and associations. Comedy supposedly lacks these advantages and is forced to rely on its own devices. This is, at best, a half-truth. Middle Comedy, the period of Antiphanes, was a time when Greek comedy was increasingly rooted in typical or ‘stock’ characters – the use of Pheidon and Chremes as shorthand for comic characters is itself an indication. The trend develops further into the strongly type-based drama of Menander and his contemporaries, where stock characters were married to a relatively circumscribed set of plots in which love and/or paternity were a central element, with the overcoming of personal and social barriers the main concern. Such stock characters have been held to be either directly or indirectly, spiritually or actually, the ancestor of character types in one broad strand of popular Western comedy, through Roman comedy on into commedia dell’ arte into (among other things) modern British pantomime and Punch and Judy shows (and other European puppet traditions). Analogies have also been drawn with domestic situation comedy on television.

Item Type:Book Sections
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Ruffell, Professor Isabel
Authors: Ruffell, I.
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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