“Never underestimate the power of a woman.” (in text citation) This quote reflects the mindset of the antagonist in the play Lysistrata, by Aristophanes; Lysistrata’s (or the eponymous character’s) plan of abstinence entailed persuading all of the women in Greece to refrain from sex in an effort to end the Peloponnesian War. Written in 411 BC and in a time period where Greek city-states were constantly fighting one another, Lysistrata portrays the growing frustration of women whose sons and husbands were increasingly being rushed off to war for no seemingly valid reason. The women yearned for life to return back to its previous serenity where peace, rather than war, clogged (?) the streets. Lysistrata’s argument was that by depriving the male population of their sexual desires, and only promising intercourse when a peace agreement has been signed, they will be more inclined to come home and end the war. Also, the Akropolis would be seized by the women to prevent the Athenian citizens from using money from the temple to fund the war. Initially, her plan was met with resentment and the women were flabbergasted and mocked her frivolous (?) nature: “Try something else. Try anything. If you say so, I’m willing to walk through fire barefoot. But not to give up sex- there’s nothing like it, Lysistrata!” However after much prying, the women finally agree to this plan hoping that it will end the war and bring their men home sooner.
As more events proceed, such as the Chorus of Old Women seizing the Acropolis and humiliating the Chorus of Old Men, the women begin showing their true colors. They begin to portray that they are a force to reckon to with.
This sets up the introduction for the seduction scene between Myrrhine and Kinesias. In this scene Kinesias, Myrrhine’s husband, saunters to the Akropolis in search of his wife and with a full-blown erection. Myrrhine, under Lysistrata’s orders, flirts incessantly with her husband and lures him into believing that they will make love, knowing all along that she has sworn off sex. In this instance a case of dramatic irony is introduced in that the audience is fully aware that Myrrhine is simply leading Kinesias on and has no intention whatsoever of truly breaking her plan of abstinence.
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The dramatic irony in this scene is evident; the audience is full aware that Myrrhine is simply enticing Kinesias with no intention of breaking her plan of abstinence. She cleverly tricks Kinesias into thinking that she will engage in intercourse with him yet delays the event by running back and forth into the Akropolis to fetch supplies. Yet towards the end as Kinesias promises to only think about a treaty of peace for Athens and Sparta, Myrrhine disappears into the Akropolis and leaves her husband in great pain. Finally, at the end of the seduction scene, Myrrhine leaves her husband with a large erection and no woman to comfort him. Lysistrata’s plan had worked. The seduction scene is a crucial passage in the play Lysistrata because it illustrates the first time Lysistrata’s plan of seduction and abstinence is set into motion. Through this scene, Aristophanes slowly reveals the confidence that has been surged into the women as they begin to see direct results of Lysistrata’s plan and contrasts to women’s initial rebellious attitudes to the plan of abstinence. Additionally, this scene contributes to the ongoing theme of humor and suspense that is supplied through the promise of seduction.
The seduction scene furthers the plot of the play in that it serves as a prime example of the capable success of Lysistrata’s plan and is the first time that it was set into motion. As previously described, women were initially very hesitant towards embracing the notion of abstinence and would flee the Akropolis with made up excuses to be at home with their partners: “I have to get home. I’ve got all this lovely Milesian wool in the house, and the moths will simply batter it to bits.” (citation) However this scene provides the contrast between the initial mixed sentiments of the women to the brave and seductive performance Myrrhine displayed in implementing Lysistrata’s plan. By examining the confidence and seductive moves Myrrhine used in seducing Kinesias, it is evident that she represents the new mindset of the women: This goes to show that the women are beginning to take Lysistrata’s plan more seriously and are beginning to realize their own strength and what impact abstinence may have on men. Also, through this scene, men are beginning to take the women more seriously and realizing that they are indeed a force to reckon with. Their once seemingly “foolish” plan is beginning to take a toll amongst them: “Painful-like. Everyone’s doubled up worse as a midget nursin’ a wick in a midnight wind come moon-dark time. Cain’t even tetch them little old gals on the moosey without we all agree to a Greece-wide Peace” and they’ve begun to realize that a sort of compromise must be reached. Through this scene, when the men finally decide that they’ve lost the battle between the females and try to reach a compromise, it should come as no surprise seeing as this scene fully describes how successful Lysistrata’s plan had become.
The seduction scene also goes on to accentuate how the promise of seduction is used to add elements of humor and suspense throughout the play. Myrrhine keeps promising Kinesias that she would give herself to him, all the while stalling for time by running in and out of the Akropolis to fetch irrelevant goods. This keeps the audience waiting to see whether she will give in and actually sleep with her husband; additionally Kinesias’s reactions to her stalling are also an element of amusement: “Relax? I’m dying a slow death by dry goods.” Throughout the play, there are other instances where tales are told of women depriving their men of sexual pleasures: “Thangs is up in the air. The whole Alliance is purt-near ‘bout to explode. We-uns’ll need barrels ‘stead of women.” The increasing frustrations of men is demonstrated in this scene and continues in the rest of the play as the men yearn for sex but are deprived; it created humor for the audience as they watch the plight of the men and laugh at their misfortune.
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The stage directions in this scene are an additional element to humor as they are exaggerated and portray Myrrhine’s movement of seduction. When she paces back and forth into the Acropolis, we are given a sense of her attempt to lead on her husband and make him want more. We also wonder if she will give in each time she turns back into the temple and returns. The results are evidently successful as her husband is left in pain and she has followed the instructions of Lysistrata to the dot. Give examples of directions
“Nakedness reveals the truth.” (citation) In this case, the erections of the men and the erection of Kinesias is the only way the “truth” is revealed in that it is the only sure test of whether Lysistrata’s plan is working. This scene presents Myrrhine who in turn is essentially “the classic example of seduction, abstinence and a follower of Lysistrata’s plan for peace in Athens”. She is the epitome of the transformed women who now is using her sexuality as a tool of seduction to bring about war. This mindset is introduced in this scene and relates to the whole play in that it is a gradual process that extends throughout the play. Also, the elements of suspense and comedy are eminent in this scene as Kinesias’s misfortune is poked fun at; however this scene merely provides a taste of the same type of humor and suspense that is traceable throughout the play.
Works Cited List
Aristophanes. Lysistrata. Tr. Douglass Parker. New York: Signet, 2001.
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