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Theatre / Lysistrata

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A comedy by the Greek playwright Aristophanes. It is Older Than Feudalism, having first been performed in 411 BC, and (as such) is one of the oldest scripts still in use today.

The play takes place during The Peloponnesian War, when the men of Athens and Sparta were embroiled in a hard, sweaty, nasty conflict. Lysistrata, an Athenian woman who is sick of all this war nonsense, convinces the women from several city-states (including Sparta) to swear off sex until the men agree to make peace. (As a more practical measure they take possession of the Acropolis, which contains Athens' war chest). The menfolk initially find the whole thing ridiculous — in Ancient Greece, All Women Are Lustful — and indeed Lysistrata must constantly prevent her co-conspirators from sneaking out to engage enemy forces. But when the women's resolve proves to be firm and upstanding, the stiffly frustrated menfolk are compelled to come to terms. Celebration ensues.

And if you think that the previous summary was full of hot and steamy innuendo, you should be aware that the play itself is a hell of a lot raunchier. We're not joking about the stiff frustrations: the costumes for male characters include a Gag Penis. Oh, and, the vow sworn by the women includes very explicit detail of what they are forswearing, such as agreeing not to "crouch like the lioness on the cheese grater" (No, we don't know what that means either. It's been lost to the mists of time. All we have from the historical record is a menu from a Greek brothel, on which this position is the most expensive act you can purchase from a prostitute. Imaginations, start your engines).

This is the Trope Namer for the Lysistrata Gambit, a more X-rated version of Exiled to the Couch. And, if it's performed by a cast with enough balls (and ovaries) to do it justice, it is still side-splittingly funny today.

Because translations often reflect the spirit of their own era, some of them include rather bizarre euphemisms and dated-sounding dialogue.

The movie Chi Raq by Spike Lee is loosely inspired by this play.

Lysistrata by Aristophanes provides examples of:

  • Accent Adaptation: Ancient Greek plays frequently include accent-based humor. The Spartans use a 'broader' or less sophisticated speaking style than the Athenians, so adaptations need to find a cultural equivalent. British English translations tend to use Scots accents for the Spartans; US translations have been known to use Texas accents.
    • The Germaine Greer adaptation specifically states that each of the four Cleaning Women (characters added by Greer, essentially the Chorus/voice of the people) has a specific dialect with which they speak. The dialogue in the script is written in the respective dialects used at the time of original production, but Greer says that the dialects my be changed at the director's will and any colloquialisms may be changed to fit the accent.
    • An audio version with Hermione Gingold as Lysistrata has all the upper-class Athenians speaking BBC English, the lower-class Athenians speaking semi-Cockney, the Spartans speaking US Southern, and other Greeks speaking various rural British accents.
  • All Men Are Perverts: An inversion of the Greek gender norms, but social drift has made the increasing desperation of the men, and such tidbits as literally using a naked woman as a living map for negotiations, funny in an entirely different way.
  • All Women Are Lustful: Consider how much difficulty the women have committing to their Lysistrata Gambit, as opposed to modern-day uses of that trope where the woman often treats it like it's no effort for her at all.
    • It helps that this is a big part of the women's motivation for their Lysistrata Gambit: they're not exactly pacifists, they're just frustrated that the men are away at war all the time and not home with them.
  • Battering Ram: The women barricade themselves in the Acropolis after vowing to withhold sex from their husbands. The men attempt to force entry but ultimately have to withdraw after Lysistrata and company bruise their pride.
  • Buxom Beauty Standard: "Reconciliation", the naked woman on which the men mark out their choice of territories, is played by an actor in a body stocking stuffed out to ludicrous proportions.
  • Carpet of Virility: The Old Men are pretty hairy, judging by some lines of dialogue. They insist it's this trope.
  • Compressed Abstinence: We're not told just how long the sex strike lasts, but once the women have barricaded themselves in the Parthenon, the very next scene shows the men and the women desperate to get back to each other.
  • Cultural Translation: The accents of Athens and Sparta were of great importance in the original play, so English adaptations have to use regional accents for the Athenians and Spartans to convey the same feel.
  • Dance Party Ending: After peace is achieved between Athens and Sparta, everyone has a massive orgy.
  • Dirty Old Man: And Dirty Old Woman, while you're at it! The Chorus of the play are the retirees of Athens, who constantly crack sexy jokes about the proceedings.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: To really thrust the point home, Lysistrata brings a voluptuous woman named "Reconciliation" to the peace negotiations. Then maps the territories in dispute on her body.
  • Double Entendre: So very many. Particularly, "sword" and "lance" jokes abound.
  • Forbidden Fruit: The men go crazy with desire for their wives once they've been barred from having sex with them.
  • Freudian Slip: While mapping out the territories with Reconciliation and they talk about a Long Wall, someone says Long Legs.
  • Gag Penis: The male actors are supposed to wear fake oversized phalluses just to drive home their, err, frustration.
    • Unlike in modern culture where penis size directly correlates to virility, in Ancient Greek culture the size of one's dick is inversely proportional to how much control you have over your sexual urges (the smaller the better). You can guess what this implies about the men in the play.
    • Furthermore, an earlier scene involves a lengthy rant about how other comedies just parade men with big, fake dicks around on stage for cheap laughs, and asserts that this play doesn't need to stoop so low... shortly before a scene with a lot men parading around on stage wearing big, fake dicks.
  • The Ghost: Lysistrata's own husband never appears on stage, even though her desire to end the war is due in large part to frustration that he's been gone so long.
  • Girls vs. Boys Plot: Lysistrata and the women face off against the male leadership of Athens. This is reflected in the quarrel between the Old Men and the Old Women of the Chorus, who have lengthy arguments about the superiority of their respective genders. Bear in mind, this amount of public agency from women is all Played for Laughs, because this was written in Ancient Greece.
  • Greek Chorus: Composed primarily of the retirees of Athens.
    • In the Germaine Greer adaptation, the Cleaning Women and the Senators are essentially this.
  • High School AU: The Broadway musical comedy Lysistrata Jones which places the action at "Athens University" and the conflict surrounding a college basketball team.
  • The Horseshoe Effect: Because modern society has largely supplanted the assumed All Women Are Lustful attitudes of the original audience with All Women Are Prudes, a lot of the jokes come off today as just as hilarious and subversive as they were intended too but for the exact opposite reasons.
  • I Need to Go Iron My Dog: Halfway through the sex strike, Lysistrata's women attempt to flee the Parthenon, pledging excuses like neglected housework. She puts a stop to it by reciting (or more likely, making up) a prophecy saying they will succeed if they all stick together.
  • Instant Cosplay Surprise: When a city official confronts the women over their strike, they mob him and dress him as a woman. When he continues to press the issue, they re-dress him as a corpse. (Women did the burial preparations in Athenian society).
  • Ironic Name: The Old Men (who are so decrepit that it takes an entire chorus just for them to walk across the stage) have names like "Swifty".
  • Lie Back and Think of England: Lysistrata advises the women to do this if the men exercise their Marital Rape License, the assumption being that the men want an enthusiastic partner when they have sex with their wives, not rape, and will find the experience so unsatisfying that it will be as effective as no sex at all for the sake of the Lysistrata Gambit.
  • Lysistrata Gambit: Trope Namer. Unbuilt Trope as well, since the women clearly have trouble withholding their urges while more modern versions of the trope show it as effortless.
  • Marital Rape License: The men do have this, so the women's plan has to include what to do if they exercise it. The solution: Lie Back and Think of Greece, the assumption being that the men want an enthusiastic partner when they have sex with their wives, and will find raping them so unsatisfying that it will be as good as no sex at all for the purpose of the Lysistrata Gambit.
  • Meaningful Name: Lysistrata (Λυσιστράτη) means "army-disbander".
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • Take into consideration why this was considered a comedy in Aristophanes' time: Women weren't considered citizens, coming in after poor citizens and before slaves. Hellenic comedies were meant to display ideas that were ridiculous, and this play's was the idea that a group of women could take over Greece's government. Women were also basically the property of men — first their fathers, then their husbands.
    • Uber-feminist Germaine Greer's adaptation creates even more mood whiplash by contrasting the silly, child-like Society Women (the group to which Lysistrata belongs) with the poor, working-class Cleaning Women. In particular, the character of Katina has had her husband, father-in-law, and brother (all the men in her life that she relies on and who would normally support her) all taken off to fight in the war, and are probably dead (it's implied that the wealthy men who are serving don't see any fighting—only the working-class men). Then, her mother-in-law dies, leaving Katina by herself on the farm. Unable to run the farm on her own, Katina escapes with a group fleeing the fighting, and along the way, prematurely gives birth, and the baby dies. This is all before the play. During the play, she's nearly raped (with implications that she may have been raped before, prior to leaving the farm). Looking at things realistically, Katina's only option, having no men to support her, is probably to become a prostitute.
  • Naked People Are Funny: The play seems determined to get its cast partially or entirely undressed as often as possible. This is played for Fanservice and Fan Disservice (in the cast of the Elder Men and Women of the chorus)... and of course for humor.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Due to Greek staging limitations, we never see how Lysistrata's co-conspirators seized the Acropolis, nor how Lampito single-handedly organized the women's sex strike in Sparta.
  • Old Maid: In Lysistrata's speech about how women bear the cost of war, she mentions the unmarried virgins who aren't able to get husbands because they've aged out of their prime by the time the men come home.
  • Or Are You Just Happy to See Me?: Perhaps the Ur-Example, as said by the Magistrate:
    "But look, you are hiding a lance under your clothes, surely."
  • Phony Veteran: One interpretation of the Old Men of the Chorus, who claim to have been involved in battles that took place almost a century before the time of the play. (The other interpretation is that they really are that old).
  • Pizza Boy Special Delivery: When the women first take control of the treasury, the Athenian commissioner laments how the men haven't kept their wives in line. Among other things, he blames the practice of workmen going to the house while the husband is out, on the paper-thin pretext of fixing the wife's bracelet or sandal.
  • Raging Stiffie: Literally part of the required dress for men in the play, to represent how badly their deprivation is getting in the way of their thinking. Aristophanes even indirectly mocks himself for doing it.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: The assembled women scatter when Lysistrata tells them that her plan for peace involves abstinence.
  • Sex Comedy: As a play satirizing war and women's rights and being largely about a sex strike, this is the play's genre. Very well could be the Trope Maker.
  • Situational Sexuality: Shortly before the negotiations, the men admit that they hope they don't fail this time, because if not, they'll be forced to go to (notoriously flamboyant homosexual) Clisthenes.
    Athenian: And he's got a list!
  • Skinship Grope: Lysistrata uses this to, ahem, "size up" the attractions with which one of the Spartan women will be able to tempt her menfolk.
    Lampito: La! you are feeling me as if I were a beast for sacrifice.
  • Stop Being Stereotypical: On a couple of occasions, Lysistrata tells her fellow women to man up, since being weak-minded and venial is the reason they don't get any good dramatic roles.
  • Textile Work Is Feminine: Lysistrata has a long speech in which she compares the management of a state to the preparation of wool for weaving, to make the point that women have a stake in the way the government is run. This is arguably Played for Laughs; the point is that the government of Athens at the time is doing an even worse job than women would, which was saying something back in an era when women were seen as inferior to men and not even allowed to participate in politics.
  • Tomboy: Lampito, the Spartan woman, especially compared her Athenian counterparts. There's at least one version where she's played by a man. There were only 2 male actors, and she is played by the Spartan Actor, who is far more masculine.
    • Truth in Television; Spartan women were the only women in Greece who were allowed to take part in public exercise along with men. They also used to crop their hair short, though ironically, this made them look less like Spartan men, who'd grow their hair out in the belief that this would make them stronger.
  • Unbuilt Trope: Aristophanes wrote the play as a farce, which treated the idea of women being involved in civic affairs as comically absurd. Later interpretations of the Lysistrata Gambit are usually portrayed more seriously and positively.
  • Volleying Insults: Between the Elder Men and Elder Women who form the Greek Chorus, particularly their respective leaders.