To What Extent Does Lysistrata Depend for its Success on the Activities of a Single Character?
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In order to answer this question, one has to consider how important a role Lysistrata contributes to the development of the play, and without a doubt she has a very strong part in the unraveling of the plot and the ideas offered within. The play does in fact rely almost wholly on the character Lysistrata. She is the character that instigates the idea of a sex strike against the men, and this plan is what the play revolves around.
From the start, Lysistrata shows her intelligence and cunning in that she has a well thought through plan, and she has covered all possible loopholes. The other women cannot find a reason why they shouldn’t revolt against the men, which is what leads to them to surrender. If not for Lysistrata’s determination, the plot would fail very quickly.
“I am going to bring it about that no man, for at least a generation, will raise a spear against another…nor take a shield in his hand…or even an icky little sword”. She explains here her reasoning behind the sex strike, telling her audience that it’s an effective way of ending the war, and because this idea is successful in the end, we can establish that the plot is dependent on her character. She quickly proves herself to be the dominant character; she leads the women’s meeting, she comes up with the rebellion concept, and she manages to convince the other women all within the prologue, which is an obvious hint to the audience that she’s the main character upon whom the others rely on for further development. We can tell here already that any other plot expansion will be as a result of her actions. Examples include Myrrhine talking with her husband, the women taking control of the Acropolis and showing their vicious sides, and of course the Spartan and Athenian leaders making peace towards the end. It’s fair to say that Lysistrata does need the other women’s help for the plot to succeed, but all play’s of this time tended to use more than one character to succeed and even though other characters are present, they play no role in comparison to Lysistrata.
The distinctive qualities of Lysistrata give her a personality that is vital to the plot. Without her unusual resolve the plot would fail, because it’s these characteristics that make the play so successful. She is strong, cool-headed, cunning, intelligent, amongst other things, which is what she needs to be able to constantly convince her audience that what she believes is the right thing. Lysistrata is presented as almost a complete contradiction to the usual, stereotypical women of the time because of all those qualities she has that was expected of men. This is Aristophanes’ way of showing us women are just as capable as men, if not more so, because there are times when Lysistrata shows both the best parts of men, and the best parts of women. She fluctuates between “they” and “we” when she talks about women, which implies that she knows at times women can be fairly useless, which backs up the concept that the play relies on her; the one useful woman. On the other hand, she uses ‘we’ when she wants to show the women she is still on their side “we walk around…men can’t wait to leap on us”. She is able to switch between the male and female extreme traits which make her the outstanding, indispensable character that the play needs for its success.
Her ability to work on both sides of the coin is made further evident when she comes to arguing her case with the old-fashioned magistrate. She talks of the hardship that both men and women have to suffer and how it’s hard for both sides to cope during times of war. She mentions how war destroys the male population, while women are left at home, alone to fend for themselves and that when their husbands are killed in war, they become too old to find a new husband and so die old and alone. Through this argument, Aristophanes is able to express his own opinions and feelings towards the war in Greece, about how nobody really wins, and this gives him the opportunity to emphasize how important Lysistrata is, because without her two sided views, the play would fail because nobody else seems to notice that war is causing misery, until Lysistrata mentions it.
No other characters try to put there own arguments forward, or try to take on the opposition, at least not without being persuaded by the title character. Lysistrata is relied on constantly to do this. She is on stage almost through out the play because without her, the play wouldn’t advance. When she isn’t on stage, she is nearby, and she has influenced one of the on-stage characters a lot so that she works through them. One example of this is when Cinesias and Myhrrine are talking on stage. It’s one of the most memorable scenes, and Lysistrata isn’t present, but she is still onstage through the influence she’s left with Myhrrine. If Myhrrine were left to fend for herself when she’s toying with her husband, she would probably have surrendered to him, but thanks to Lysistrata, she succeeds.
As well as being a vital plot character, Lysistrata also heightens the play’s success with her amusing side, which is of course vital to a Greek comedy. For example, she uses phrases like “very big thing”, “very big and meaty”, and tells the women that they “have the salvation of all Greece in their hands” while at the same time trying to convince these women that they have to form a sex strike. The idea of the sex strike alone is somewhat incongruous, but she makes it even more absurd by tempting the women with her innuendos. She also dictates elderly women sparking a fight with policemen, and strong authorities, which makes for a brilliantly funny scene as old, seemingly weak and vulnerable ladies manage to frighten and over power a legal force of young powerful men. This scene, nor the crude sexual references would not be possible without Lysistrata, thus they further reinforce the idea that the play would not succeed without her.
Alternatively, it’s fair to say that other characters are still needed to make the play work, not only because without them, there would be nothing for Lysistrata to revolt against. She needs to gain the support of all of the women of Greece for her plan to succeed; she cannot end the war herself. Furthermore she only manages to convince other women to help her, once she has gained Lampito’s support, which is why she’s so grateful that she convinces her; she embraces her and then blurts out “Oh, Lampito darling, you’re the only real woman here!” The reason she is so happy about her new recruit is that she knows how unrealistic her plan is, and so she knows she’ll need others to succeed. The fact she’s convinced Lampito makes it all the better for her, because it’ll be easier to work once the arch-enemy has signed up. The play still succeeds with this idea of a sex strike, even though it’s ridiculous because Greek comedy tends to give way to unfeasible ideas. It’s not as if the main character is going to attempt to fly to heaven no a giant beetle to discuss peace with the gods.
In conclusion, I feel that the play is as dependant on Lysistrata as it possible can be. Without her contributions, and without her relentless, abnormal personality, the play wouldn’t succeed as highly and the plot would take an age to unravel. It’s fair to say that other characters are needed, but that’s true of all plays, and none of them play a part that is vital to the plot as well as Lysistrata.