To What Extent Does Aristophanes Attempt to Give His Audience a Serious Political Message in ‘the Frogs’?

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Aristophanes was one of the most famous comedy playwrights of the 5th century BC. He was an arch conservative which means that he was a traditional politician and disliked the radical democracy, he believed that the aristocrats should remain in power because they were better than the average Athenian. The Frogs, was first performed at the Lenaea in 405 BC as part of the yearly celebration of Dionysus, which means that everyone would have had to attend the play. Most of Aristophanes’ plays are known as ‘peace’ plays, however The Frogs in not considered as one. Aristophanes tries to portray an important political message in the play ‘The Frogs’, but the play sometimes overpowers the audience by the use of so much slapstick humour. Most of the meaning is lost on a modern audience. However, the Athenians watching the play would have understood the political message, especially the upper class citizens.

Although his plays were for people from all social classes and backgrounds, it was to the better educated that he was trying to reach with his political points of view, as they would understand better and because they were the upper class citizens with an education. A lot of the messages were quite subtle, and would perhaps have been lost on the less educated members of the audience. As the chorus says ’Here sit ten thousand men of sense, a most enlightened audience.’ Obviously he didn’t want the lower classes to understand because he is criticising their inability to hold power and make decisions. He uses the subtle messages to convince the old aristocrats that they are better suited for the leadership of Athens. In Aristophanes’ plays he sneers at demagogues for their low origins. This had led many to wrongfully assume that these men were drawn from the lower classes. There is abundant evidence that many of them were very wealthy if not drawn from the aristocratic families themselves. This is because Aristophanes represents the upper classes and he hates the new types of politician. Cleon, for example, who was a businessman of some wealth, was a tanner. Aristophanes disliked men who had not been born into their wealth like the traditional land-owning gentry, but had earned the money themselves.

‘The Frogs’ is about the god Dionysus and his slave Xanthias descent into Hades to bring back the poet Euripides from the underworld. Firstly because he loves Euripidean tragedy and secondly to save tragedy ’I need a poet who can really write. Nowadays it seems like ‘many are gone and those that live are bad’. However nearer the end of the play he declares he needs a poet to save the city. ’I came down here for a poet. What for? To save the city of course!’ Aristophanes believed that poets had a moral obligation to teach people ‘A poet should also teach people how to be better citizens’ ’We have a duty to see that what we teach them is right and proper.’ He obviously thought that the people of the time listened to them and were greatly influenced by them. He also needs a poet to re-teach morals to the Athenians as he believes their morals have collapsed due to the change in leadership of Athens. This supports his views on wanting to bring back aristocratic rule.

The historian Kenneth Dover asserts that the underlying political theme of ‘The Frogs’ is “old ways good, new ways bad”, saying that Euripides and Aeschylus represent the new and old. Aristophanes has obviously used Aeschylus and Euripides deliberately as they represent both new and old ways. Aeschylus is old school and uses fine, noble and heroic figures in his plays, ‘Fine stalwart figures, larger than life. Men who didn’t shirk their duties…they were real heroes.’ whereas Euripides writes about rogues and scoundrels. This is a parody of the political figures at the time, Aristophanes seemed to have a preference for the old aristocratic leaders.

The parabasis is the part of the play in which the action is suspended, the stage is empty except...
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