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Study information

Ancient Comedy

Module titleAncient Comedy
Module codeCLA3016
Academic year2019/0
Module staff

Professor Matthew Wright (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks



Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

Comedy, like so much else, originated in the classical world; but what is it? How can comedy, as a dramatic genre, be defined and understood? How does ‘comedy’ (in our sense) relate to the Greeks’ komoidia or the Romans’ comoedia  How did ancient comedy relate to the society that produced it? How and why did comedy change over time? Can we still find ancient comedy funny?  How do we translate ancient jokes? In this module we attempt to answer these questions through close study of selected ancient comedies in the medium of English translation, including plays by Aristophanes, Menander, Plautus and Terence.

Module aims - intentions of the module

Are the plays of Aristophanes, Menander or Plautus 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.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Describe and analyse the origins and character of the first European comic drama, and trace its development and transformation within the differing societies for which it was produced

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 2. Place a genre such as comedy in its cultural context and follow cross-cultural changes to form a theoretical framework for the understanding of specific plays and analyse closely primary source material

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 3. Research material and organise it into succinct and logical form; deliver a confident and closely-argued oral performance in defence of your own viewpoint and challenging the viewpoint of your peer group; demonstrate leadership skills and co-operative problem-solving

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following 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 characterisation
  • 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 teaching44Seminars (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 oral
Essay203000 words1-3Mark and written comments
Essay203000 words1-3Mark and written comments
Examination503 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
EssaysEssays1-3Referral/Deferral period
ExaminationExamination1-3Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Re-assessment is not available for oral presentations.

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Prescribed texts:

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

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.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Credit value30
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites

The successful completion of at least 90 credits at Level 2, at least 30 credits of which must be in Classics & Ancient History

Module co-requisites

Students taking CLA3266 Greek V: Comedy cannot also take this module

NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date