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Athenian comedy during the war

The stresses of everyday life during the exceedingly trying times of the Peloponnesian War were reflected in Athenian comedies produced during this period. Comic plays were the other main form of dramatic art in ancient Athens besides tragedies. Like tragedies, comedies were composed in verse and had been presented annually since early in the fifth century B.C. They formed a separate competition in the Athenian civic festivals in honor of Dionysus in the same outdoor theater used for tragedies. It is uncertain whether women could attend. The all-male casts of comic productions consisted of a chorus of twenty-four members in addition to regular actors. Unlike tragedy, comedy was not restricted to having no more than three actors with speaking parts on stage at the same time. The beauty of the soaring poetry of the choral songs of comedy was matched by the ingeniously imaginative fantasy of its plots, which almost always ended with a festive resolution of the problems with which they had begun. The story of the Birds by Aristophanes1, for example, produced in 414 B.C., has two men trying to escape the hassles of everyday life at Athens by running away to seek a new life in a world called Cloudcuckooland that is inhabited by talking birds, portrayed by the chorus in colorful bird costumes.

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