Comedy's and Satire's Evolution

        The origins of comedy, like most major literary genres, lie in the classical era.   Greek comedy, which heavily influenced Roman comedy, went through two distinct eras.  The Old Comedy (e.g., Aristophanes) boldly attacked contemporary persons, including people likely to be in the theatre during the performance, making fun of pretensions, follies, and pomposities, while issuing fairly scathing attacks on more serious mistakes (crime, sin) that might be dangerous to the city-state.  The New Comedy (e.g., Menander) often was called a comedy of "types," sparing individuals but representing commonplace types of human folly or crime.  The character types became so conventionalized that they acquired standard names like "Senex" (the Jealous but Foolish Old Man) and "Miles Gloriosis" (the Braggart Warrior).  We can see survivals of them both in John the Carpenter ("Miller's Tale") and Corbaccio in Volpone, and in Falstaff (1 Henry IV) and Moloch (Paradise Lost).

        Notions of what was properly considered comic (vs. taboo or deserving of more serious treatment) have shifted a great deal since that time.  Here are some people who have articulated their era's notion of the proper subject of comic poets: