Classical Drama and Society
Curiously, there is remarkably few overt references in surviving Old Comedies to what would be for modern audiences a very distracting feature of the costuming. To judge from extant texts, the phallus seems to have been unremarkable, standard fare in comedies written during the Classical Age. It merits little or no attention as such from playwrights or viewers. One of the few Old Comedies that actually plays on the phallus is Aristophanes' Thesmophoriazusae ("Women at the Thesmophoria Festival"), in which an elderly man is dressed up as a woman and in one scene tries—ultimately unsuccessfully!— to hide his protrusive masculinity from being detected.
All in all, such an extravagant appendage would seem to call for more frequent and immediate focus on the stage—or perhaps it is only our modern sensibilities which call for such a response—but the plays themselves do not support that conclusion and the reason is unclear. Had the phallus run its course comedically by the end of the Classical Age to which all surviving texts of Old Comedy date? That is, was it an "old joke" by the 420's? Or perhaps, to look at it another way, the playwrights by this late date had come to trust their actors to play up the humor inherent in the phallus without having to write the jokes into the script as such. Whatever the reason, the phallus receives remarkably little attention in and of itself among the extant remains of Old Comedy.
Return to Chapter 8
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