The Comic Hero in Aristophanes and Charlie Chaplin

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The Comic Hero in Aristophanes and Charlie Chaplin

The comedic works of both Aristophanes, a fifth-century ancient Greek playwright, and Charlie Chaplin, an actor of the early twentieth century, center around one character. Aristophanes' play Clouds, first produced in 423 B.C.E., concerns Strepsiades and his many debts; he plans to learn from Socrates the art of the Inferior Argument so that he may convince his creditors that he does not have to pay them anything after all. In his later play Birds, first produced in 414 B.C.E., the main character is Makemedo, a man so determined to get out of Athens that he convinces a collection of birds to defy the gods, establish themselves as the rulers over the earth, and build a brick city in the sky from which they can reign and where he can also live. In each of Chaplin's films The Immigrant (1917), The Count (1916), and Easy Street (1917), he acts as a kind of "tramp" who overcomes his low status in society and achieves what he wants, even if only for a short time. Strepsiades, Makemedo, and Chaplin all shamelessly pursue their desires with little regard for the rules and standards of society around them.

In his published lecture concerning Aristophanes' plays, Cedric H. Whitman discusses what he considers as the general template of all of Aristophanes' main characters: the comic hero. Whitman defines a comic hero as possessing great individualism, a good deal of poneros, meaning wickedness, and striking a balance of eiron and alazon, which translates into being a mixture of an ironical buffoon, who makes fun of himself for his own amusement, and an imposter, who disguises his true identity or feelings. He sees the comic hero as one who is extremely self-motivated and self-centered: "whatever is heroic is individualistic, and tends toward excess, or at least extremes. It asserts its self primarily . . ." Whitman also declares that poneros is necessary in the character of the comic hero, that this person is villainous, manipulative, and very convincing. The comic hero is shameless in expressing his desires, and he has no shame in pursuing them by any means necessary, whether such acts would be considered right or wrong. Whitman also recognizes the mixture of eiron--ironical buffoonery--and alazon--being an imposter--in the comic hero of Aristophanes' plays. "The mere buffoon, says Aristotle, makes fun for the sake of getting a laugh for others; the ironical man makes fun for his own amusement, which is more worthy of a free man.

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