Lysistrata and Comedy

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Aristotle believed that tragedy served a higher purpose than comedy because of its cathartic effect. Therefore, comedy is delegitimized. But comedy does serve a social purpose that can be considered cathartic. It can be an outlet for social angst. At the time Lysistrata was written, Athens, a superpower of their time, had just lost a battle with Sparta. This probably shattered the conceptions of Athenians. And as a result, Aristophanes used a ribald comedy about the less-than-citizen women of Sparta and Athens.

Athens had been part of the Delian league set up as an alliance to fight the other superpower of the time, Persia. Athens had gained many ships by impressment and by taxes, so they had a large naval fleet by this time. Much like the modern day United States, they became a superpower. After they lost a battle with Sparta, as one can imagine, there would have been a lot of social anxiety and disillusionment much like the United States in the post WWII era. Also like the post WWII era, the literature of this time reflects this disillusionment. So whereas T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland" reflected this in modernism, Aristophanes' Lysistrata can be seen as a product of the disillusionment of Athens during this period.

Much like tragedy providing an outlet for built up angst that is built up by empathy with the characters, comedy serves the same purpose for providing an outlet for built up angst from, in this case, society; therefore, one can presume that comedy does have a catharsis: that of laughing at oneself. Although it is good to laugh at oneself, the way women were portrayed in Lysistrata was reminiscent of the 20th century minstrel shows. Their characteristics were blown out of proportion. So Lysistrata did serve another more insidious purpose: subjugation.

Part of the humor in Lysistrata was the far-fetched idea of women taking over the Akropolis, or treasury, and withholding sex from their husbands. In Athens at this time, women had few rights,...
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