An introduction to a classic play
The Frogs is one of Aristophanes’ most curious plays. It’s the only Greek play which we know for a fact was popular enough to have been given a repeat performance. It’s also notable for its discussion of the nature of theatre – an early version of literary theory and analysis, which Aristotle would help to develop in his Poetics nearly a century later. The 1974 Stephen Sondheim musical version of The Frogs was the first musical ever staged in a swimming pool, which, if nothing else, shows that people are continuing to experiment with this most experimental of plays.
The plot of The Frogs can be summarised easily enough. The god Dionysus – in whose name the City Dionysia, incorporating the ancient Greek theatre festival, was held – goes down into the Underworld to find the tragedian, Euripides, who had died a year earlier. He is looking for Euripides because he believes the recently deceased playwright will be able to save the city of Athens from itself. Disguised as his own altogether more tough and heroic half-brother Heracles, so that spirits won’t be tempted to tangle with him, the rather incompetent Dionysus gets ferried by Charon across the lake leading to the Underworld, debating with a chorus of frogs as he makes his journey.