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Friday, April 29, 2022

The Frogs-Critical Analysis-Aristophanes

According to Gilbert Murray, “The Frogs” is perhaps the funniest of all Aristophanes’ comedies. There is a fine blending of literary criticism and a serious moral questioning. Aristophanes reformative zeal is unveiled in the comedy “The Frogs”. It is a satirical comedy in which Aristophanes has attacked Euripides.   

In “The Frogs”, Aristophanes has denounced Euripides and has patronized Aeschylus. "The Frogs" was produced a year before Athens was defeated in the Peloponnesian war in 405 B.C. During that time, the city of Athens was dominated by and afflicted with the worst and corrupt elements. This fact is symbolized in the play “The Frogs”.

The Frogs-Critical Analysis-Aristophanes
The Frogs-Critical Analysis


Most of Aristophanes’ comedies comprise personal criticism, parodies, obscenities, songs and hymns with views on poetry, religion and politics. He has been deemed as an exponent of the Old Comedy. Aristophanes influenced many great writers such as Ben Jonson, Thomas Middleton, and Henry Fielding. 

At that time, demagogues and tyrants misruled Athens and they were against maintaining peace and harmony between Athens and Sparta. Aristophanes has artistically handled social, political and literary issues in the play. But as a comedy “The Frogs” has a special feature that is literary criticism.

The ‘parabasis’ or Chorus appeals the Athenians and leaders to discard their lethargy and save their motherland from degeneration and degradation. The Chorus also wants the city state to be governed by the experienced older generation and the warriors.


The Frogs as a Satiric Comedy

The first part of “The Frogs” deals with a fanciful journey of Dionysus- the patron god of poetry and drama. Dionysus wants to bring Euripides back from the underworld: Hades. He finds life empty and meaningless after the death of the tragic playwright, Euripides. So, Dionysus obtains a club and lion-skin, the traditional costume of Heracles who has been to Hades. 

Dionysus disguises himself as Heracles. He sets out for the kingdom of Pluto on the back of a donkey. Xanthias, the slave accompanies him in the journey to Hades. Their journey is full of humour and even crude jokes. After the fantastic adventures, Dionysus is carried across the Acherusian lake by Charan, the ferryman of Hades. Xanthias is not with Dionysus now. Dionysus has already given the lion-skin and the club to Xanthias and sent him forward. Xanthias and Dionysus are carried to the court of the king of Hades. 

The second part of the play “The Frogs” takes place in the court of Pluto where Dionysus and Xanthias are presented. They hear a noisy quarrel raising inside the court. The reason of the quarrel is informed to them. In Hades, there is a chair of honour for the greatest master of arts. Aeschylus had already held the chair of honour of tragedy for fifty years.

But Euripides claimed the Aeschylus’ chair after his death. He appealed in a strong manner and demanded a contest to settle the issue. As Dionysus is an expert in drama, Pluto appoints him as a judge, in order to solve the issue. Dionysus is also given complete freedom to choose either Aeschylus or Euripides to be taken to the earth. 

There is a heated argument between Aeschylus and Euripides; each one describes his own merits and demerits. They quote lines from their works to find faults with each other. In this way, the debate continues. Dionysus finds it very difficult to choose between the two great dramatists. Finally, he decides to take Aeschylus back to the earth. The judgement of Dionysus surprises Euripides. But Dionysus says that the need of the hour is Aeschylus. 

I.R.A. Scott-James states: “Aristophanes makes Aeschylus say that the poet should chase a great subject and sentiments which lend themselves to magnificence of language. The language of poetry, according to the traditional view, was not the language of daily life. But Euripides was an innovator. He criticized the conventional morality and religion, and the conventional view of the women. He made his characters think in the ‘modern’ way, and use the realistic language of common speech, Aristophanes holds him up to ridicule.” 

In “The Frogs”, Aristophanes has displayed his conservative spirit. His rivalry with Euripides is based upon the sophistical nature of his art. He looked upon the demagogues, the Sophists and Euripides as three kinds of the same poison which was spoiling the moral character of his nation. Euripides was one of the renowned Greek tragedians like Sophocles

Aristophanes’ play, “The Frogs” is imbues with humour and irony but it creates a great controversy. The play is first of all the document about literary criticism. For the first time, literature was debated and the criteria for literary judgement were suggested. Aeschylus asks the question: “Pray, tell me on what particular ground a poet should claim admiration?” 

This is a fundamental issue associated with literature. So many answers have been given through ages and yet no final judgement or last word has been said. The serious problem of literary value becomes comical. In the end, Aeschylus is declared superior to Euripides. 

Though Euripides was not selected as a winner, the virtues and the merits of the poetry are found in him. Euripides criticized conventional morality, blind beliefs and bombastic language in literature of Aeschylus. Euripides gives reasons in the following manner: I put things on the stage that come from daily life and business.” 

Euripides is modern and he does not believe in verbose style and the sublime and bombastic language. He is much concerned about the contemporary social conditions he does not give value to legends. He asserts: “Oh, let’s at least use language of men.” 

Aeschylus presents his point of view differently. He demands that a poet should choose a grand and noble subject. He further adds that nobility of the subject naturally results in the sublimity of language. The diction, the imagery and figures of speech are organs of poetry. In this way, the quarrel or debate is a clash between the traditional and modern techniques. 

The old literature had a different function, audience and purpose while the modern method is bound to realistic and based on real life situation. It important to note that, no final judgement is passed by Dionysus. He only chooses Aeschylus because the time demands it. He selected Aeschylus because because the need of time is moral orientation and patriotism. The conditions are not conducive to the artist like Euripides. It is interesting to note the judgement of Aeschylus about his selection. He says: 

“For my dramas live on earth above, 
But his died with him and here is witness.”

Dionysus gives the reason why Euripides has not been selected by him. He states: “It was my tongue that’s swore not my heart.” It is important to note that, the defective passages of Euripides are deliberately selected by Aristophanes because he hated him and the best passages of Aeschylus are presented in the play “The Frogs”. 

Gilbert Murray remarks, “His most characteristic quality, perhaps, is his combination of the wildest and broadest farce on the one hand, with the most exquisite lyric beauty on the other.” 


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