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The major essence or substance in the play Lysistrata is to emphasize that women have a major role to play in the society even if sometimes it may be subtle or not easily noticeable. The play is a comedy depicting the war mongering men of ancient Athens and how women became materialistic in brokering peace. Metzger (2010) in her critic tends to outline the notion that the whole play does not clearly provide the opportunities that were available for women in Ancient Athens. She indicates that according to the play the men have waged war continuously for twenty years and that there are no indications that they are considering peace. Lysistrata then acting as a leader among the women takes it upon herself to form an alliance of women together with a representative from Sparta. Lystriata contrary to complaints from men and the religion decides to use the only power she knows that cannot fail her; “sexual power.” This is evident in the play when she says that:
“Oh, Cleonice, my heart is on fire; I blush for our sex. Men will have it we are tricky and sly.”
In the contemporary world such a strategy of action would have been considered rather pervert of immoral. Apparently the play seeks to outline on the fact that in ancient Athens women had very little say or take on the things that went on in the society. The play emphasizes the fact that women not given any audience in important matters such as war because if they were, perhaps they would have aired out their concerns concerning the never ending wars and implored for peace. Furthermore it is also evident that religion was an institution that was not actually sensitive to the plights of women but it was rather a weapon that was used by men to ensure that women were always submissive and did not get to contribute on important matters. An aspect like war affects everyone in the society and more importantly is the fact that women and children are the most affected because in most instances they are not able to defend themselves effectively. In spite of this fact women were still not given enough opportunities. The actions taken by Lystriata and her alliance is a rebellion seeking to emphasize on the fact that women also have strong roles to play in the society.
According to Metzger, the general perception of any woman who attempted to challenge the actions and decisions taken by men was shunned and viewed in a negative way. Metzger says that: “In this play, Aristophanes takes this criticism of women and turns a traditionally negative view into a positive depiction of women.” However in order to substantiate her analysis Metzger first looks at the role that was being played by men in relation to the war. She outlines that as depicted by the writer of the play Aristophanesa is the fact that although men played a very important role in instigating and promoting the wars, the war had reached a point where it had done out of control and even the men though silently wished for it to end. Metzger writes that the infamous Peloponnesian war had been fought for twenty years and there were no indications that it was about to end. The war had brought adverse misery to the people of Athens in addition to the city experiencing a plague the war had led to the emptying of their treasury and a humiliating even when they tried to capture Sicily but lost. Furthermore their strongest point which was their navy had been destroyed. Athens therefore was in a precarious position because it would not hold enemy attacks anymore; it was running bankrupt and the men of Athens could not hold their ego for once and end the war. Male dominance and supremacy is outlined in the play because women had little or no say in an important issue such as war in spite of the fact that it led to depletion of Athenian resources which they obviously contributed to accumulate. It is also apparent from the play that traditions and religion had brainwashed the women into believing that their position in the society was to stay at home and take care of the family. This is outlined when Lysistrata in an attempt to awaken the women reprimands them by saying that:
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“Yet, look you, when the women are summoned to meet for a matter of the greatest importance, they lie in bed instead of coming.”
However Cleonice in the play further brings out the fact that women were not passive by choice but because they already had other family issues to take care of, she says that:
“Oh! they will come, my dear; but it's not easy, you know, for women to leave the house. One is busy pottering about her husband; another is getting the servant up; a third is putting her child asleep or washing the brat or feeding it.”
It is apparent therefore that the roles that women and men played in the society were clearly defined in ancient Athens. The women were expected to stay at home and take care of the children and family matters while men involved themselves in more important matters such as deciding when to go to war or not. This kind of division of roles worked very well in many other ancient societies because apart from the fact that it made work generally easier it avoided much family conflicts and strife. However in this situation the playwright seeks to get to the root of the problem which is not the division of roles but the fact that the society used it as a way of keeping women from participating in more important matters. In the play the men are tired of the war, they have experienced the loses associated with it but will not agree to end it lest they appear weak even if it means sacrificing Athens itself. It is at this point that women aware of the looming perils facing Athens decide that it is time for the war to end. The only weapon they know how to use very well and effectively is the weapon of their sexuality. In the contemporary society diplomacy or activism would have been an option. However, in ancient Athens it was unthinkable due lack of a platform and the opportunity.
According to the Myriad Article the playwright uses a strong female character to emphasize on the two aspects of women: “the influential and the subservient.” This emphasizes on the act that women can both be active just like men are and at the same time play their role as loving home makers when need be. The article goes on to outline that the play depicts Lysitriata as being more masculine than the rest of the women and even contrary to what was considered normal in ancient Athens. The playwright wanted not to outline that women could also be masculine like men because men and women are obviously different in many ways, but to bring out the fact that women were not weak creatures. During ancient times men were associated with strength and perhaps this is the reason why the playwright used a lot of masculinity with regard to Lysistriata. Perhaps the objective of the playwright was to disassociate femininity with weakness and emphasize on the fact that women could also be strong. This is brought out clearly when Cleonice asks that:
“But how should women perform so wise and glorious an achievement, we women who dwell in the retirement of the household, clad in diaphanous garments of yellow silk and long flowing gowns, decked out with flowers and shod with dainty little slippers?”
This means that even the women themselves considered themselves weak and unwise and were therefore not worthy of involving themselves in important matters or decision making. However Lysitriata explains that they could as well use what has probably led to their consideration as weak, as their strong point when she answers that:
“Ah, but those are the very sheet-anchors of our salvation-those yellow tunics, those scents and slippers, those cosmetics and transparent robes.”
This further explains how women could be wise from the perspective of Lysistriata. The tactics employed by Lysitriata are amazing because in the end the men of Sparta and Athens give in and the war eventually ends. Taking into regard the time when the play was written it is obvious that the playwright attempts to bring some important aspects about women. Firstly the important aspect emphasized is the role that the society had condemned women to pay which is more passive and the role that women when given the chance can play. The women of Athens and Sparta were able to broker peace between their warring men and eventually bring an end to the sufferings of mostly women and children. Secondly the playwright also attempts to refute the claim that femininity is associated with weakness as we see Lysistriata assume an active role in mobilizing women and encouraging them that they can end the by simply going on a sex strike. The women are even encouraged by Lystriata and Cleonice who are amazed at how beautiful bodies they have when they are inspecting them.
“CLEONICE :( opening LAMPITO'S robe and baring her bosom)
and what superb breasts!”
“LYSISTRATA: Ah! my pretty Boeotian friend, you are as blooming as a garden.”
Although some women are adamant in the beginning and even some of them attempt to escape, she encourages them that it is possible. The strength shown by Lysistriata which however different from physical strength achieves much more.
In conclusion, the Playwright manages to emphasize on the important role that women can play in the society if given a chance and that femininity has nothing to do with weakness but is actually strength in its own sense.
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