Lysistrata (leye-SIS-truh-tuh) Notes by Dr. Honora M. Finkelstein There may have been other comic dramatists, as the plays of Aristophanes suggest there were, but no plays other than his have survived. However, his plays are still performed today, because their themes still speak to human foibles and lessons we need to learn. His plays were satires, and with biting comedic wit he showed the society in which he lived how laughable they could be. Sometimes he disguised the human stupidities he made fun of by costuming his characters as animals (The Frogs, The Birds, etc.). Sometimes he resurrected the phallic element of the old fertility rites by padding his characters with big bellies and giving them huge noses and penises. And he gave his characters speeches in normal speech patterns, rather than in the poetic patterns of the tragic writers. His humor was always topical, making fun of pompous Athenian politicians or public figures, and using a lot of broad satire, verbal parody, political humor, and sexual innuendo. These plays would be much like modern comedy revues, like those of the Capitol Steps, or the on-going parody of New York theater in Forbidden Broadway. The comedy of the play Lysistrata is anti-war satire, but blended with it is the incongruity of role-reversal of women and men. In the Athens of the day, women were stereotyped as being too weak, vapid, and frivolous to be able to make any contribution to society. Further, the Pelopponesian War was not popular, but it was equally unpopular to criticize it, so having women, who weren’t even supposed to have an opinion about the war, be the ones who come up with a solution is totally ironic. The play is also full of slapstick, such as having the Athenian women looking under the dresses of the Spartan women and fondling them, or having Myrrhine running back and forth making up the bed for her husband that never gets used, or having the Old Women advance on the Old Men with pitchers full of water as weapons to “douse their fires.” And the play is full of verbal wordplay, puns, double entendres, sexual innuendo, sarcasm, and topical references that the Athenian audience would have appreciated. Lysistrata’s name in Old Greek meant something like “She who disbands armies.” It is she who comes up with the scheme to bring the war to an end, by getting the women to withhold sex until the men agree to make peace. Calonice represents the earthy and bawdy aspect of Athenian women. But she also believes the stereotype that women are too vapid and too interested in sex and wine to have anything valuable to contribute. Myrrhine’s name comes from the Greek word for “vagina.” Cinesias is the husband of Myrrhine and the only male in the play who is given a name, which means “to make love” (even though he isn’t permitted to do this in the course of the play.) Lampito is the Spartan equivalent of Lysistrata, a full-bodied person who is great at gymnastics and representative of the Spartan ideal of physical strength. It is important for the plot to work that she agrees to organize the Spartan women to withhold sex from their men so that both sides will be equally ready to sue for peace. Made with Xara Website by Susan Smily