This one is not for the prudish! It is bawdiness, ancient Greek style, but with a purpose. Lysistrata has called
together women from both sides of the fence with a plan to put an end to the seemingly endless Peloponnesian War. And her plan? To unite all women to
withhold sex from their husbands until they agree to peace.
The Dover edition left me feeling that I had missed some of the humor, so I immediately reread it using a different edition, which was probably less accurate, but more direct, and also gave stage directions. Though the text is funny, this is really a visual play and must have been a hoot in Athens when it was performed in 411 B.C. Seeing the men with eight-inch leather dildos under their tunics I'm sure was hysterical, but even funnier would have been the voluptuous women, dressed in their see-though negligees—also played by men! One can only imagine. . .
In any case, the plot is simple enough. Lysistrata has not only gathered the women, but also makes them repeat an oath that they will not have sex with their husbands until they agree to stop the war. In addition, they are supposed to wear their most seductive clothes and tantalize the men before they refuse sex. If their husbands force them, they are to just lay there and be boring.
Meanwhile, the older women are guarding the Acropolis so that the men will not be able to access funds for war. A bunch of old men carrying torches march toward the women, threatening to burn them down. The women and men beat up on each other, both physically and verbally. Then the women throw water on the men to put their torches out, making them feel as if they'd pissed themselves.
Lysistrata arrives with the other women, and tries to talk sense with the Magistrate. The standoff continues, and Lysistrata gets frustrated because she finds the women sneaking out and making excuses to go home. One says her wool is being eaten by worms and another pretends to be in labor, though she was not pregnant the day before. (She has stuck a helmet under her gown..)
Then the husbands begin to arrive, and they are noticeably in a state of. . . ahem. . . physical discomfort. . .
The first casualty is Cinesias, husband of Myrrhiné, and she plays the part well. She agrees to sex if her husband will agree to stop the war. He has brought their child, whom he quickly sends away when he thinks they are to have sex right there. But first Myrrhiné goes to get a mattress, then she must get a pillow, then a blanket, then the fragrant oil, but no, it's the wrong oil. Then she runs away.
In the end, the women prove to be more stubborn than the men, and in their desperation, all sides agree to peace and harmony.. This is a very humorous and clever play with a much more serious message, well worth reading, and probably even better to see performed!
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