In the late twentieth century, Lysistrata became the most frequently produced of the ancient Greek dramas, for reasons that are not hard to determine: The play deals openly with sex, feminism, and pacifism—all major preoccupations of that era. It is clear, however, that many audiences since Aristophanes’ day have taken up Lysistrata largely for its ideology rather than for its intrinsic value as a play.
By contrast with the playwright’s other works on similar themes, Lysistrata seems rather thin in imagination. Undoubtedly the basic assumption of the comedy—that women could achieve peace and governmental reform by refusing to have sex with men—was an ancient idea even in Aristophanes’ time. Aristophanes’ plays Acharns (425 b.c.e.; The Acharnians, 1812) and Eirn (421 b.c.e.; Peace, 1837) present novel, if bizarre, methods of achieving peace, while Thesmophoriazousai (411 b.c.e.; Thesmophoriazusae, 1837) and Ekklesiazousai (392 b.c.e.?; Ecclesiazusae, 1837) show women in a funnier, more satirical light. Modern-day audiences as a rule appreciate directness and simplicity and in many instances do not object to a certain lack of originality, but they probably would dislike a satirical treatment of Lysistrata, who is both a militant feminist and a pacifist.
In structure, the drama is straightforward. The problem is simple: The women are tired of living without their husbands because of war. Out of the solution they devise—teasing their husbands but withholding sex from them until the men settle the war out of sheer frustration—everything else in the play follows. The women...
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