Here are four plays from Classical Greece that should delight you with their ribaldry and make you laugh even today, 2500 years after they were written. Women in Power is a look at feminine usurpation of power, in a time that was not so kind to women, but not as bad as some others. The women steal out in their husbands’ robes and finish the business of handing over power to themselves in the guise of men before the men have awakened. Under the new rules, the women get to choose their sexual conquests, and all laws and courts are abolished in favour of communal rules. The play breaks the fourth wall towards the end, with the judges being addressed in cajoling tones to award the best prize to this play.
Wealth sees Pluto, the god of wealth wandering the Earth blinded by Zeus for his altruistic motives. Using logic and persuasion, something the Greeks were superb at, Pluto is convinced that he is superior to Zeus himself, since people tire of everything but wealth in the end. Pluto accepts his eyesight back and all hell breaks loose when people accept that they don’t have to sacrifice to the gods any more, since sacrifices cost money and Pluto will now decide who gets riches and who doesn’t. The situation is defused by Hermes in the end, and Pluto is resigned to spending the rest of his life in the Treasury.
The Malcontent is by Menander and deals with a grouch who despises everyone and is a pretty solid misanthrope. However, he has a pretty daughter and sure enough, her comeliness ensnares a farmer, who sends his friend over to plead his case for the crotchety man’s daughter. When the old man falls down a well, the young suitor has a chance to win his hand, and does so through his friend, who actually hauls the crabby coot out of the well. The old man is convinced that cantankerousness is ill-deserved and is castigated for his sourness, as the play ends.
Finally, we have The Woman from Samos, a funny play about a man who gets his neighbour pregnant and then persuades his father’s mistress to nurse the baby instead, to avoid the wrath of the girl’s father. To make matters worse, his father had ordered his mistress to get rid of her child and when he returns from his trip and sees her with a child, he assumes that the child is theirs. Further misunderstandings follow and several comic scenes ensue, with a happy ending after all.
These plays mark the boundary between old comedy and new comedy, with Aristophanes being the last of the Old Guard, passing the torch to Menander of the New Guard. The Peloponnesian war had ended and Aristophanes had successfully bridged the gap between pre-defeat Athens and the new Athens. Menander carries on a much more jocund fashion, with the gods receiving lesser emphasis than before. These are more great classics that you should read.