Metatheatre in Aristophanes’ Frogs: Dionysos, Immortality, and the agon as a Play-within-a-Play


Metatheatre, the concept of self-referential theatre, thoroughly permeates Ari­stophanes’ Frogs, bringing four vital aspects of the play — Athens, theatre, poets, and immortality — into dialogue. In this paper, I examine the role of metatheatre in the play, particularly its relationship to the concept of poe­t ic immortality. There are numerous breaks in dramatic illusion in the play, which serve a humorous purpose, but also introduce the role of comedy in ensuring the salvation of both Athens and tragedy (Dionysos’ two intentions in Frogs). The second half of the play is made up of the metatheatrical device of a play-within-a-play. This presents a world of poetic immortality, with poets, their works, and the institution of theatre surviving indefinitely in the Underworld. Metatheatre thus clearly ties comedy with salvation and illustrates the fact that the greatest poets never truly die.