This essay perceives Corrigan’s statement to be accurate that Lysistrata is definitely a more theatrical than a literary experience. There are many reasons for Lysistrata’s theatrical proficiency and they include it being written in the style of ‘Old Comedy’ the audience and their expectations especially at the festivals of Dionysus and Lenaia, the loose structure of Greek comedy, the impossibility of the plot, the language, and the intense Aristophanic parodies.
Old Comedy is typical of Aristophanes in the 5th Century BC. Its characteristics are that it is surreal and fantastical, and its butts of jokes are specific individuals or even current political ideas. Old Comedy as contrasted with New Comedy contained more slapstick routines, physical energy music and dance. Old Comedy fulfilled a function in Greek festivals to entertain the audience and was in contrast to tragedy at the time, which contained a stronger moral message.
“His work is often so formless.”1 Brander Matthews believes that Aristophanes used little structure in all of his plays. However, the structure of Lysistrata is far looser than Aristophanes previous plays especially because it contains a very short ‘parabis.’ It could be perceived from this, that Aristophanes thought that the play’s message spoke for itself without his moral intrusion through the chorus. The ‘agon’ in Lysistrata is never developed and the story propels not by stopping to debate the issue of the power handled by the women. This use of very little structure demonstrates Aristophanes disregard for formality in his comedies, hence since he used simple plots, parody was employed to progress the story.
The language of Greek comedy was basically colloquial. It was free to include indecent or even obscene language and action. Greek comedy was written for entertainment for the whole city and had to appeal to the general population, therefore the reason for the simplification language and plot. The basic flow of the language is simple, unobtrusive and functional providing a vehicle for expressing other things than literary elegance. Through the variations in the language used in the spoken parts, Aristophanes was able to indicate to his audience the social rankings of the spoken parts. Lysistrata speaks in a more formalised manner than the rest of the cast and is never the butt of jokes. Lampito however, was suggested to speak in a less educated, and foreign manner and therefore is easily distinguishable from Lysistrata, especially in her social standing and knowledge of the masculine political world.
Aristophanes’ plot for Lysistrata would have been hilarious to the Greek audience witnessing it in 411 BC. There was no possible way that the women could have taken power from the males, and Aristophanes voices no doubts that the woman’s place is in the home. A true representation of Old Comedy is the scene where Myrrhine runs away from nursing her baby at home to barricade herself in the Acropolis would have been to Aristophanes and his audience a hilariously goofy idea. Lysistrata’s criticisms of politics represents more than the females ability to cope with political issues and through her handling of the situation Lysistrata belittles the belief that men’s work is so much more difficult and important than women’s. In the reality of daily life however, men believed that they ruled women in every sphere of their lives, and therefore this plot to them would have been a farce for exploring such an outrageous idea.
Because of the short ‘parabis’ and the ‘agon’ that was never developed, the plot has to jump around through its loose structure to develop ideas to prevent them from becoming stale. The reason the plot is able to move so freely between these structures through Aristophanes’ precision of thought. The plot would not function without one important assumption that is continuously made throughout. That is, that sexual satisfaction is a more pressing human need than the lust for power.
The audience would have found this play markedly relevant to their current life situation in the late 5th century BC. Aristophanes managed to convert such a depressing subject as the state of the Peloponnesian War into a farce about the overwhelming human need for sex. The spectators could have taken comfort in the reduction of the Spartan army, to simple men with erections. In addition, the wives of Greece both allies and enemies, cooperate to achieve reconciliation. Thus the audience sees opponents’ whose needs, daily lives, even hopes and dreams are identical to their own.
Thus, the audience are fully able to participate in the subject matter of the play without receiving a moral lecturing about the consequences of entering into such a war and continuing it from Aristophanes. Because of the immediate relevance to the audience with the subject matter they wouldn’t have considered Lysistrata a play with literary depth, rather a buffoonery about their current political situation.
However Lysistrata does not attack leaders or policies. Aristophanes chose women as heroes, probably because they were politically powerless in reality. Thus the possibility of the plot is minute. With this tiny possibility of reality Aristophanes directs the audiences ridicule and hostility away from sensitive areas such as political failure toward the more general humorous excesses of male chauvinism. The most common joke toward the men is their constant sexual urges and their inability to control them nearly as efficiently as the women apparently do. The constant erection jokes represent slapstick in the face of the seriousness of the war, and the men’s lack of focus or eagerness to be at war in the first place.
From this stance we can see Aristophanes not only jokes about the men but also sends up the women’s situation. He parodies the women’s oath, which they perform not over the blood of a sacrificial animal but a jug of red wine. The ‘Pregnant woman’ incident (L. 845) represents physical slapstick against the women and is a subtle juxtaposition of the symbols of Lysistrata, the helmet and the ‘pregnant’ woman which represent love and war. A more satirical view on the jokes could be that the women were right all along in contrast to the men’s vision given by the magistrate and the chorus of old men, demonstrating that there was an alternative to war.