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Lysistrata by Aristophanes

AristophanesLysistrata by Aristophanes

Lysistrata is a comic play by Aristophanes which was enacted first of all in 411 BC. The play deals with one woman’s exceptional efforts to put an end to Peloponnesian War and is well known for touching upon sexual relationships and male-female conflict at the time when the society was particularly male-dominated.

Lysistrata by Aristophanes

 

Plot

The play begins with a general statement about women being considered ‘rascals’ by men pointing towards the gender discrimination in the society. However, Lysistrata is a responsible woman who has organized a meeting for women from various Greek city states. With support from Lampito, the Spartan, Lysistrata is able to persuade the reluctant women to withhold sexual privileges from their menfolk so as to force the latter to end the Peloponnesian War. Lysistrata chooses the words for the solemn oath symbolizing the decision and Calonice repeats the oath on behalf of the rest of the women.

On Lysistrata’s instigation, the women get hold of the state treasury to block fund for war. Lampito goes off to pronounce the revolt and the women wait behind barred gates for the response of the men. A chorus of old men come and exhibit their intention to burn down the gate of Acropolis, if the women refuse to open it. a chorus of old women come with pitchers of water. They state how hard it had been for them to bring water but also declare their determination to defend the younger women from fire. The men retreat following the confrontation.

Lysistrata by AristophanesThen comes the magistrate with some Scythian archers to take some silver from the treasury so as to buy oars for the fleet. He presents some male chauvinistic views like about women being hysterical and too devoted to wine. However, he also blames the men for not supervising their women properly. When he orders the archers to open the gate, the latter are overwhelmed by a group of unruly women. Lysistrata intervenes and restores order. She interacts with the magistrate to answer his questions and clarify the feelings of the women. She states how miserable the situation is for young childless women who have to wait endlessly for their husbands who are busy in their campaigns. She says that men make their own decisions without consulting the women but the decisions affect the entire family. She drapes her headdress over the magistrate and hands him a basket of wool stating that women will take care of war now onwards. After a while, she dresses him as a corpse and advises him that he is dead. The magistrate leaves to complain about the indignities to his friend and Lysistrata goes back to the Acropolis.

The chorus of old men and that of old women are still having debate when Lysistrata appears and states how the women are desperate for sex and are trying to leave the cause making silly excuses. However, she is able to restore order and waits at the Acropolis for the men. A man called Kinesias appears. He is desperate for sex and agrees to stop war on his part when his wife Myrrhine states it to be a prerequisite for having sex. They get ready for sex on the spot. Myrrhine deliberately delays things on pretext of arranging for the necessary things like bed, mattress, blanket, etc. finally, she disappoints him completely by locking herself again in the Acropolis.

A Spartan herald appears clearly showing sexual frustration and requests that the ruling council should arrange peace talks. The magistrate agrees and they go off to get the delegated. When they are gone, the old women reconcile with the old men and the two choruses merge into one.  They sing and dance together to celebrate. During peace talks, Lysistrata introduces the Athenians and the Spartans to a gorgeous young woman called Reconciliation. She scolds the spellbound delegates for their past mistakes. Under the pressure of sexual deprivation and the effect of Reconciliation’s beauty, the delegates agree on the peace terms and retire to the Acropolis for the celebrations.

Some Unique Features

Following the usual trend of Greek plays, this play also makes use of chorus to give expression to certain emotions, effect of certain events and to make some situation clearer to the audience.

Keeping the modern literary trends in mind, the play seems to be concerned to feminism. However, when studied in a general manner, the play does not seem to be feminist in any sense. The opposition of the men by the women is not based on claim for rights or independence. In fact, the opposition is actually based on the feeling of insecurity and loneliness in case of women since their men do not attend to them due to war. They are not trying to free themselves from the influence of the men or to dominate them. They are actually trying to get their men closer to them.

Lysistrata proves to be an extraordinary woman. However, despite that she is the protagonist of the play and is very capable, the play does not avoid showing women as weaker beings, as was the popular belief at the times. Lysistrata had to work very hard to persuade the other women to accept her proposal and, later, to keep them intact as a unit fighting for a cause.

The theme of sexual relations and the desperate association of human beings to sexual acts have been dealt with quite openly in the play. At points, the play reaches at the brink of being vulgar. However, the basic aim behind presenting the theme and the various incidents is quite clear which makes everything logical.

Further Reading

Full text of Lysistrata

On Aristophanes

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