Tonawanda News — “Lysistrata” may be a lot older than Shakespeare’s works, but it sure doesn’t read like it.
First performed in 411 B.C., “Lysistrata” is an ancient play written by famed author-director Aristophanes, considered by many of his contemporaries to be a powerful, influential force. Obvious comparisons that come to mind include Jonathan Swift, who lampooned national and international problems with both “Gulliver’s Travels” and “A Modest Proposal,” and Stephen Colbert, who does much the same today on his cable television program.
While Aristophanes worked through what would later be dubbed “Old Comedy,” the topics used as fodder were usually much more serious.
“Lysistrata” is no exception, as Aristophanes takes on what then seemed like a never-ending battle, the Peloponnesian War. Fought from 431 to 404 B.C., between the ever-famous warring city states Athens and Sparta, the Peloponnesian War would leave both sides devastated, especially Athens, which would never return to its pre-war prosperity.
When “Lysistrata” was written, there seemed to be no end in sight to the bloody battles. Aristophanes, who had used his skills to bring criticism to other timely problems in the past, used the situation to frame his play, which would showcase women in a powerful role unheard of prior to the play’s release.
Lysistrata is the main character in the play, a woman with a powerful idea. Bringing together women from all warring regions, Lysistrata manages to persuade them to try out her plan for bringing about peace: withhold sex from their partners until a treaty has been written.
The women lock themselves inside the city’s Acropolis, demanding an end to the bloodshed. As the men grow weaker and have stronger cravings for sexual pleasure, the women do their best to torture the men even more: layering on delightfully scented perfumes, wearing their most tantalizing clothing and cluing the men in on what they plan to do once the war is over. As imagined, it works.
“Lysistrata” can be read as a feminist piece, and many scholars believe that’s how it should be interpreted. Others claim the countless stereotypical descriptions of women show Aristophanes was hardly as concerned with feminist matters as he was with imagining an honorable ending to a situation that seemed destined to end horribly. Either side seems to have good arguments supporting their take on the play, and the best conclusion would be that Aristophanes intended to toy with both ideas.
What’s especially interesting about “Lysistrata” is how well it holds up for modern audiences. Themes such as women’s rights and the morality of warfare have been around a long time, and “Lysistrata” has done wonderfully in translating to any time period’s situation. Countless interpretations have been performed on stage, similar to almost all of Shakespeare’s plays, which can be seen taking place in settings from today’s times to medieval backdrops.
With “Lysistrata,” however, we get a much easier read. Sure, Shakespeare can be translated into modern English, but to do so almost seems to bastardize the work. Shakespeare’s English may be hard for all but seasoned readers to trudge through, but it seems we owe the Bard the trouble. “Lysistrata,” of course, was originally written in Greek — it has to be translated. Therefore, for the most part, the play finds itself a much easier read for those of us with a more contemporary take on English.
While Aristophanes stuck to many of the constructs of Old Comedy, they don’t hinder the play’s value today a whole lot. One of the staples of Old Comedy was a number of references to then current times, people, and situations — a speed bump for most of us who aren’t familiar with ancient Greek history. There’s hardly concern for worry, though. Most printings of the play include a number of foot and end notes to guide you along and explain such references if interested. If not, the play still retains the majority of its value regardless.
“Lysistrata’s” universal message has resonated with generation after generation, still finding a large following in college classrooms and theater stages a like. Don’t miss out on this staple of the literary canon. It’s fun, funny and important.
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