Dyskolos the Play's Genre Plays Written After


The Play's Genre

Plays written after the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C. were generally termed as the New Comedy. Menander's Dyskolos, having been written and played in 317-316 B.C. may therefore belong to the New Comedy genre. However, there are particular factors of this genre that identify Dyskolos in this field. The prominence of a prologue is one of the most obvious features of this highly acclaimed play of Menander. The prologue's function was to basically inform the audience about the situation when the action begins. The play was composed of five acts that were divided by interludes which were performed by a chorus with whom do not play any part in the play proper, unlike other comic genres. Dialogues in the play were spoken, which makes the Dyskolos more realistic to the audience. Simple and ordinary words and speeches were used such that it becomes easy for its audience to understand. Events and characters in the play were realistic such that it represents a more realistic picture about the society for which it depicts. There is at the same time Menander's creation of fictitious characters that were vivid parodies of the different social types present in the society during that significant event in Greek history. Another factor why Menander's Dyskolos had become one of the bases of New Comedy genre was that the costumes worn by the actors on stage were more down-to-earth. Actors were dressed up in decent conventional contemporary clothes, although masks were still worn to separate the different social status in the society. The play was concerned with the individuality of characters and their relations to each other. The plot of the play continues to evolve which were determined by the reactions of these characters to the initial circumstances presented in the play. Love and marriage, family, and social status were of the same issues concerned by the play. There were still the presence of the poor and the rich, then of servants and slaves. Traditional features were altered such that allusions were created to make it more delightful for the audience http://www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1984/2/84.02.07.x.html, para 13).

As a brief synopsis of the play, Pan, the God of woodlands, made the well-off Sostratos fall in love with a peasant girl he had seen when he went hunting. The girl (who has no name in the play) was the daughter of Knemon who is an unsociable and morose farmer who was left by his wife, Myrrhine, and his stepson, Gorgias. Sostratos sent his servant to see Knemon and let him know about his intentions to his daughter. However, as a misanthropic man as he is, Knemon he became infuriated at anyone who comes near him and his land, especially his daughter. The servants meeting with Knemon had become unpleasant that he swears not to go back to his place (Balme, 2001).

When Sostratos meet Knoemon's steposon, Gorgias offered to help him in his pursuit in marrying his stepsister. He informed Sostratos that the only man Knemon will permit to marry his daughter is a man like himself. Thus, Sostratos began tilling the land as a farmer. He had done this willingly to prove his honest interest of marrying Kenmon's daughter (Balme, 2001).

Suddenly, a cry goes up that Knemon has accidentally fallen down his own well. Georgias and Sostratos immediately jumped in to rescue him from his imminent death. These acts of Sostratos and Georgias have made Knemon see his own faults in treating them badly. Upon realizing this, he granted Georgias his farm and the right to decide for his daughter's marriage. Georgias looked no further and introduced Sostratos to Knemon, who eventually gave his approval to Sostratos of marrying his beloved daughter. (Balme, 2001)

The delighted Sostratos tells his own father, Callippides, of the wedding plan and suggests a second marriage between Georgias and his sister. Although drawn back for a moment of the idea, Callippides was immediately persuaded when Sostratos reminds him that immortality comes through generosity, not through the hoarding of wealth. (Balme, 2001)

Knemon's choice of man to marry his daughter is a clear representation of the different social status concerned in the play. Sostratos, being a member of a wealthy family was not welcomed in Knemon's house. However, an honest love of which Sostratos has felt for Knwmon's daughter did not prevent him from hanging on to finally marry her, even if he had to step down and left the convenient life his parents had provided him since.

The idea of love at first sight which was prominent in the play had its own political significance for the Greeks at that time. Sostratos' character represented the native Athenians whom at that particular period in the Greek history were limited to marrying native Athenians. The idea of an arranged marriage between two Athenians from 450 B.C. onwards was an implicit social norm. In Dyskolos, Sostratos eagerly desires to obey the norms of civic matrimony and membership, not out of a sense of civic duty or conscious intention, but purely for reasons of personal romantic preference. In this way, the play passes off the arbitrary juridical conventions of Athenian marriage as no more than human nature. (Lape, 2001)

Production Values of the Original Production

Initially performed during the Lenaean Festival in Athens, Dyskolos had won Menander first prize for the competition. (Balme, 2001) Usually staged in the end of January or the beginning of February, the Lenaean Festival chooses three comic writers to compete. The production of these plays were entirely in the hands of the state, thus, the expenses were shouldered by them. An archon were assigned to formally handle this part of the festival may assigned a wealthy Athenian to put up all the required money for the chorus. However, the expenses spent on the actors were handled solely by the state for which these actors were also awarded for their best performances (www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1984/2/84.02.07.x.html).

The shift from the Old and Middle Comedy genres, the costumes in Dyskolos were more realistic. Property phallus and padding were no longer used and the characters were dressed like the average Athenian of the day. The use of masks was still implemented though to emphasize the varying expressions of the actors (www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1984/2/84.02.07.x.html).

Colors were also used to represent classes in the society in the New Comedy genre. Old men and slaves wear white costumes, young men wear purple, and parasites in the play were asked to wear black or grey. White was worn by old men and slaves, purple by young men, black or grey by parasites. Bright colored tunic and multicolored mantle were worn by pimps. Old women were dressed in green or light blue, young women and priestesses in white. Procuresses wore a purple band around the head. Old men carried a staff with a bent handle. Rustics were dressed in a leather tunic and bore a wallet and staff and occasionally a hunting net. Pimps had a straight staff and carried an oil flask and a flesh-scraper. Heiresses were distinguished by fringes on the hems of their dresses. Finally, the covering for the foot was the same for all the characters and consisted of a light shoe similar to a flat slipper, which was simply drawn on, without being tied in any way http://www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1984/2/84.02.07.x.html, para 20-22).

Menander's use of stage was, however, patterned to his predecessors. He created a contrast between the imagined domestic interior, composed of the private place of women, slaves and family, and the exterior which may be the streets where people meet, talk and share conflict the audience. The use of the stage was maximized such that they provide a distinction between the "inside" and the "outside" space in the different scenes in the play (Milnor, 2002).

Theatrical plays in the ancient times had very limited sceneries such that the scenes were very few. Menander's Dyskolos were one of which that has few scenes used. However, there were unlimited sceneries used in the play. One very important element of the scenery was the well beside Knemon's house that has witnessed all the significant scenes in the play. It is in the well where the climactic event in the play had happened - when one of the main characters, Knemon, nearly died, if not for the help of two people whom he had despised. In the Greek mythology and literature, dark, enclosed watery places such as the wells are symbolisms of a womb which is related to the symbolism of a maze for which Sostratos and Georgias had been blocked by a father figure in the character of Knemon (http://homepage.usask.ca/~jrp638/abstracts/cody.html).

The doors of Knemon's house were of important aspects of the play's scenery.

This interpretation of the well is reinforced by an extensive complex of similar meaning that leads up to this moment in the play. Its use and emphasis in the play clearly represents the access towards Knemon's personality with whom he had kept closed for other people. It was also a representation of his daughter's virginity…