Theorists of Hollywood film comedy often categorize comedies into historical genres such as comedian comedy, screwball, romantic, sex comedy, etc. (e.g., Mast, The Comic Mind; McDonald, Romantic Comedy: Boy Meets Girl Meets Genre). In the process, many nuances remain unexplained. The approach that we have taken is to examine these films using the lens of ancient comedies written by the great comic playwrights of Greece, Aristophanes and Menander, and of Rome, Plautus and Terence.
After reading several plays by each comic playwright in terms of plot, character, humor, music, gender, ethnicity, and actor-spectator relationships, the students of CLA 364 Comedy: Greece and Rome to Hollywood came to a consensus what the defining characteristics of each playwright are. Utilizing these same aspects of comedy, teams of students chose a film and then explored what ancient tradition their film best fit: Aristophanic, Menandrian, Plautine, or Terentian. Come along and see what they have to say about Anastasia (1997), The Birdcage (1996), Life of Brian (1979), Oh Brother Where Art Thou? (2000), and Shrek (2001).