Review: Lysistrata by Aristophanes
Posted on April 16, 2011
by Adam Burgess
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Lysistrata by Aristophanes
Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 4.0
3 – Plot/Story is interesting & believable.
How did I miss this one? It had been sitting on my shelf and “TBR” list for far too long. Lysistrata
is one of the original “dramadies” – a mixture of dramatic and comedic elements, though this one leans toward the comedic. Still, some of the themes Aristophanes tackles, such as War, Power, and Gender are serious, and have severe implications. Fortunately, Aristophanes writes his main character, Lysistrata, and her gang of women to be witty, sarcastic, and rather crude – which is a lot of fun. The story itself is about a decision that the women of Greece make, to withhold sex from their husbands and lovers, until they finally write a peace treaty and put an end to all of the wars.
3 – Characters well developed.
I sometimes have a difficult time analyzing characterization and character development in plays, because oftentimes the story itself is the character, and plays tend to be so short that there isn’t much time for any development. What makes Aristophanes’ characters great, though, is that they are all distinguishable from one another, and they serve a purpose. There is Lysistrata, the leader and “ideas” woman, driving the sexual battle. Then, there are those surrounding her – the beautiful girl-child who represents Peace, the right-hand warrior, who is hot-headed and ready to strike any man at the slightest provocation. The men, too, are well drawn – fully engorged and all. There is the husband who comes crawling to the women’s camp, in agony over his lack of “relief.” Also, the captain of the men’s army, who stands toe-to-toe with Lysistrata as his men cower and run away. So, though the story is short and moves quickly, there is still clarity of roles and purpose.
4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.
Let’s face it. Aristophanes was a brilliant writer. In general, he had a mastery of poetics and prose, so that his language flowed smoothly, his dialogue and description worked, and his scenes are set up in a way that is conducive to the plot (without ever being in the foreground – because, as happens with plays – the story and characters are and should be at the forefront). He is also hilarious – his bawdy humor and tantalizing puns rival Ovid – I was at times reminded of Ovid’s The Art of Love which is, itself, a description of a type of sexual/gender battle.
Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.
Aristophanes is really engaged in multiple conversations here, but all to the same end: communication. He is clearly denouncing the senseless, continuous wars. And he is addressing the issue of gender roles and subjectification of women. I also think he is saying something about the art of humor itself – he is pointing out two very real problems of Greek culture and politics, but he does so by laughing at it. Of course, this is the modus operandi of the greatest satirists – to call serious attention to problems by magnifying the problem to a grotesque and then making fun of it. As with some of the other greats (Wilde, Vonnegut, Shakespeare), it works – perfectly.
Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: Adult
Interest: Ancient Greece, Gender Roles, Gender Politics, Sexuality, Politics, War, Satire
“It should not prejudice my voice that I’m not born a man, if I say something advantageous to the present situation. For I’m taxed too, and as a toll provide men for the nation.”
“When the soldier returns from the wars, even though he has white hair, he very soon finds a young wife. But a woman has only one summer; if she does not make hay while the sun shines, no one will afterwards have anything to say to her, and she spends her days consulting oracles that never send her a husband.”