Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 325
The Greek title of this play means “Assembly women”—a contradiction to the male-oriented society and politics of ancient Greece. Yet, like the LYSISTRATA, this play must not be seen as a vehicle of feminine protest. In both plays Aristophanes is criticizing the mismanagement of affairs of state and is turning toward women not as the proper alternative but as the last desperation. Both situations and solutions are intolerable, but in the course of each drama the playwright exposes the vanity of power and its consequences.
As Aristophanes’ penultimate play, THE ECCLESIAZUSAE tends away from personal invective and reliance on the chorus. The play contains no parabasis, a device essential to Old Comedy, whereby frequently the chorus would address the audience with the playwright’s indignation over contemporary or current social or political outrages. This, then, marks the beginning of Middle Comedy, the fourth century transition to New Comedy. In THE ECCLESIAZUSAE we see the stock types so popular in later comedy—such as the shrewish wife, the hellish hag, the amorous young man, and the lecherous old one. Yet, unlike New Comedy, plays of this period still rely heavily on misrepresentation of philosophic schools. The communism of goods and sex proposed by Praxagora was not Plato’s, since in THE REPUBLIC the philosopher aimed at removing from the guardians of the state any temptations to selfish interests; in Aristophanes the motive for shared property is basely selfish. While Socrates wants to manage the breeding of the best class, Praxagora wants sex to be widely available to those who have the least chance for it.
There is little doubt that Aristophanes is cynically warning his fellow Athenians against yearning for Utopia; simplistic solutions bring abominable consequences. Praxagora (“Mrs. Forum-Business”) does away with prostitution but dissolves marriage, thereby turning wives into loose women and their husbands into free men. She provides a free dinner for everyone, but only at the expense of one’s entire property.
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