Comedy as a dramatic form dates back to ancient Greece and the lively festivals honoring Dionysus, the god of fertility, wine, and drama. Unlike tragedy, which aimed to bring out sympathy and the pain of human suffering, comedy was based wholly on farce, criticism, and mockery of humanity's peculiar habits and mannerisms. The first comedies were highly imaginative, boisterous, and lyrical. The Greek poet Aristophenes (c. 450–c 388 B.C.) was the most famous comic playwright of this ancient era, which became known as old comedy. New comedy evolved around the fourth century B.C. and was more romantic and realistic in nature than old comedy. This new style, which involved subtle humor and stronger character development, was evident in the works of Greek playwrights Menander (third century B.C.) and Terence (second century B.C.). The works of these new comedic poets later influenced English dramatists Ben Jonson (1572–1637) and William Shakespeare (1564–1616), French playwright Moliére (1622–1673), and other writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Further Information: Aristophenes. [Online] Available http://helios.augustana.edu/-dbc/aristoph.html, October 23, 2000; Krutch, J. W. Comedy and Conscience After the Restoration. New York: Russell and Russell, 1967; Menander. [Online] Available http://www.imagi-nation.com/moonstruck/clsc14.htm, October 23, 2000; "Menander." Electric Library. [Online] Available http://www.encyclopedia.com/articles/08315.html, October 23, 2000; Muir, Kenneth. Shakespeare: The Comedies, A Collection. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1965; Schilling, B. N. The Comic Spirit. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1965.