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In Citizens on Stage, James F. McGlew analyzes Athenian Old Comedy as a model for understanding political life in Athens during the late fifth and early fourth century B.C. During this period, new concepts of political participation developed—both supportive of democracy, and hostile to it—that reshaped notions of citizenship.
Old Comedy gives Citizens on Stage its theoretical backbone; the career of Aristophanes roughly defines the period on which the book concentrates. These plays often enacted fantastic stories of common individuals triumphing over the social and political dilemmas of democratic Athens. McGlew shows that these plays rehearsed the emerging relationship between Athenians' private lives and their political involvements, reaffirming ties between the desires of individual citizens and the will of the collective body. In particular, McGlew argues that these comedies helped to transform citizens' private fantasies of personal power and pleasure into a collective possession and a touchstone of each Athenian citizen's democratic identity.
McGlew's new political reading of Old Comedy focuses primarily on the democratic citizen and on contemporary representations of him as a decision maker. Citizens on Stage shows that the democratic individual—sometimes idealized, sometimes despised—was a key site of political strife that shaped literature and politics in late-fifth- and early-fourth-century Athens.
"This book's clear and distinct focus is its strength and the drive of the argument is refreshingly simple. It will appeal to scholars and social historians and could also be useful for theatre directors who want to find in Aristophanes that Big Idea to shape their productions."
—NTQ, Cambridge University Press