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September 29 - October 8, 2000
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The action occurs in Athens in the spring of 411 bce and is performed
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|A NOTE ON THE PLAY
Aristophanes was an ardent pacifist and strong advocate of the democracy. At the time Lysistrata was performed (411 bce), Athens was in the 20th year of a war with Sparta (and allies) and had recently suffered one of the most significant losses of the war — the loss of a fleet of more than 100 triremes off Sicily.
The causes of the conflict, like many internecine conflicts, lie rooted in the 6th and 5th century and the attempts of the Persians to conquer the region. The Spartan and Athenian forces, working in tandem, had successfully repelled these attempts. Now, these former allies were pitted against one another both militarily and politically — land vs. sea and democracy vs. oligarchy.
Women in Athens were perhaps little more than domestic slaves. They had no voice in the politics or governance of the land and were stereotyped as wanton and fond of drink. To conceive of women acting in concert to end the war was absurd and laughable. These were not 20th century women with rights and voices; these were chattel, tending the hearth and giving birth to the men who would rule the state.
This then is Aristophanes’ ‘happy idea’ that this powerless group, these women, could use the only tool available to them — their bodies — and force an end to this devastating conflict. The women in the play, Lysistrata, Myrrhine, Calonice and Lampito, have never known a time without war, a time when young men were not serving their country – often with their lives.
It is an act of absurd desperation. Aristophanes, in using humor (base and vulgar though it is) to address the real issues of the war and its decimating effect on Athens, is desperately trying to find a way to show the men – Athens’ rulers – the folly and cost of this war.
Sex sells, then as now, and humor can sometimes disarm prejudice. We hope you will watch this unfold on both levels – enjoying the humor and recognizing the argument.
— John Friedenberg