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Initially, comedy was differentiated from drama by having a happy ending. There were three periods of Greek comedy.

The three periods were Old Comedy, Middle Comedy, and New Comedy--no joke--those are the categories.

Not much is left of Middle and New Comedy but there are 11 complete plays of Aristophanes from Old Comedy.

Interestingly, Aristophanes was not joking.

His caricatures of public figures were influential. Several playwrights wrote comedies ridiculing Socrates but Plato singled out Aristophanes.

Plato claimed that Aristophanes’ play, The Clouds, was slander and in part led to the trial and execution of Socrates.

No happy ending there.

Not much is known of Aristophanes outside his plays. It is clear that he used politics as a subject of his satires.

His favorite target was an Athenian statesman and general named Cleon.

Cleon had accused Aristophanes of writing a play that was slander against the Athenian polis.

From its earliest days, comedy was used to criticize politics. As Comedy evolved it incorporated lighter themes and stock characters.

When Shakespeare wrote his comedies, he still used what we might consider serious themes. However, the comedies are much lighter than Shakespeare’s tragedies and they have happy endings.

Comedy has come to be anything that has humor in it and is meant to entertain.

At its origins, comedy wasn’t about making people laugh or even about entertainment. It seems to be concerned with chastising and criticizing public figures.

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