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Name: J. Donelan

PhD: Classics

Thesis Title: Funny Violence - a study of verbal and physical violence in the comedies of Aristophanes


Thesis Description:

Aristophanic comedy is violent. Insults, threats and physical assaults are standard in Aristophanes’ repertoire. Sexual exploitation and coercion, arson, war and torture also appear in plays ranging across all periods of his career. In addition, these acts are very often trivialised and commonly even endorsed by the on-stage characters.

This project will explore both interpersonal and general themes of violence in the plots of Aristophanic comedy, how the poet characterises fictional figures through violent acts and language, and to what extent violence can be considered typical of the comic genre. The focus throughout will be on linguistic and dramatic aspects of violence, i.e. on how violence is expressed by the characters and how it informs the plays’ plots. 

Key questions include: What constitutes hostile language? Do expressions of violence or hostility differ linguistically, structurally, or regarding their content according to a character’s functional role in the plot and/or their status (male vs. female, free vs. slave, young vs. old, etc.)? Are violent utterances more prevalent in the speech of comic ‘heroes’ or in that of their adversaries? What was the 'entertainment value' (to use a modern expression) of such behaviour?

In terms of staging: How was extreme violence handled? Are there differences between the violent acts perpetrated by characters acting alone and those carried out in groups? Can we identify any stereotypical victims of physical violence in the plays? Is physical violence merely a sort of slapstick humour exploited for entertainment value or is it more serious than that? 

A concluding analysis will reveal if there are differences in the treatment of violence according to plot types, the dates of the plays, the characters, or other factors. Alongside Greek drama per se, the study also has implications for linguistics, theatre studies, ancient history and comparative literature, and should be of general interest to classicists.


Supervisors: Prof. Patrick Finglass; Em. Prof. Alan Sommerstein


Other Research Interests:

  • Greek prose
  • Greek drama
  • Performance conditions of ancient Greek drama





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