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Introduction to the Western Theatrical Tradition. Question 2. "Aristophanes was not a subtle writer, and his plays - more than most - are a theatrical rather than a literary experience." Robert Corrigan Analyse Lysistrata to estimate how accurately Corrigan's statement describes Aristophanes' anti-war play. 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.
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.
It would be presumed from these categorisations that because of the theatrical grandeur of Lysistrata and the localised plot of Women at the Festival, these two plays by Aristophanes in 411 should have been performed at the opposite locations to what they were. "... Each play was entered at the wrong festival."3 (McLeish, 1980 p.29) It's a shame that Lysistrata wasn't actually performed at City Dionysia festival because it would have received so much more funding to spend on lavish costumes, musicians and dancers. Although the play may not have been performed at the more superior festival with a greater audience range, its purpose of entertaining both judges and audiences would have still been of crucial importance to Aristophanes. Lysistrata is typical of Aristophanes' heroic plays- the theatrical and dramatic was more important because of the simpleness and lack of structure to the plot. Aristophanes was unquestionably obvious in his parodies of both male and female flaws, and he describes human sexual desire with no restraint. The style of Old Comedy allows for the theatrical experience that the audience would have encountered, the impossibility of the plot and Aristophanes longing to win the approval of the audience, allows for the structure to wane. It is for all these reasons that Corrigan's statement about Lysistrata being more theatrical than literary is accurate.
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