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  • Hi there I'm Mike Rugnetta.

  • Welcome to Crash Course Theater.

  • Today we'll be covering Greek satyr plays and classical Greek comedy.

  • We'll also take a look at Aristophanes' “Lysistrata,” a play in which the women

  • of Athens and Sparta decide to ban sexual intercourse until their husbands stop fighting

  • a war.

  • It might get a little lewd, but this play is actually a lot less lewd than most Greek

  • comedies that came before it.

  • The next time you're at a museum, staring up at some noble piece of ancient marble statuary,

  • just remember: those folks LOVED a good fart joke.

  • INTRO Satyr plays are the raunchy plays that appear

  • at the conclusion of each tragic trilogy.

  • They're meant to cheer an audience up after all of that pity, fear and purgation.

  • And what did audiences find most cheerful?

  • You guessed it: phalli.

  • Like tragedies, satyr plays were usually derived from mythological stories.

  • Unlike tragedies, satyr plays featured a chorus dressed as satyrsears, tails, shaggy legs

  • andtie-on phalluses.

  • Satyr plays presented goofy versions of important legends: here's your typical myth, going

  • along as planned, and then who shows up: Satyrs!

  • These plays normally focus on how fun-loving, drunk, and cowardly the satyrs are... but

  • there are often a few human characters who engage in serious moral debate at some point.

  • Only one complete satyr play survives and that's EuripidesCyclops,” based on

  • an episode in theOdyssey.”

  • It's almost a retelling of Odyssey's version, except there are a lot of satyrs on the Cyclops's

  • island and they're the ones who get Odysseus into trouble with Mean Ole Mr Unipupil.

  • While trying to avoid being eaten, Odysseus takes a moment to engage the Cyclops in an

  • earnest debate on whether duty or pleasure-seeking is the key to a happy life.

  • After that the Cyclops and the head satyr Silenus get very drunk and Silenus gets dragged

  • off to maybe do Cyclops sex stuff, but then Odysseus blinds the Cyclops and it ends happily

  • for all.

  • Except the Cyclops who is blinded and was probably like UGH THAT WAS MY ONE.

  • GOOD.

  • EYE.

  • You may remember from a couple episodes ago, the Drama Contests of Dionsyia.

  • In 486 BCE, a separate contest for comedy was established, with five competitors each

  • year.

  • In classical Greece, comedy was pretty raucous and pretty ribald.

  • The wordcomedycame to us from the Greek word komoidia, which literally means

  • party song.

  • After forty years or so, comedy got popular enough that it had its own festival, the Lenaea,

  • held in winter for Athenians only.

  • No foreign dignitaries, which makes sense because these comedies were probably not how

  • Athens wanted to represent itself to the world.

  • Like tragedies, comedies were inspired by the philosophies and problems of present-day

  • Athens.

  • But while tragedies tended to cloak their relevance in the mythic past or foreign lands,

  • comedies were typically set in contemporary Athens, poking merciless fun at contemporaneous

  • life.

  • They kept themselves safe by being so wild and crazy you couldn't take their political

  • attacks seriously, though there are records of a couple lawsuits.

  • SPOILSPORTS.

  • Comedies differed from tragedies in that they often depended on spectacular effects and

  • featured funny costumes like padded stomachs and butts, and yes, of course, say it with

  • me nowthough I would totally understand if it makes you uncomfortable and you super

  • don't want tophalluses.

  • Most of the formal elementsdialogic scenes interspersed with choral odeswere similar

  • to tragedy, but comedy included something new.

  • It was the parabasis, a speech in which the chorus addresses the audience directly.

  • And while tragedies focus on some noble figure falling, comedies are often about the little

  • guy struggling to rise.

  • Though as we'll see withThe Lysistrata,” comedies can deal with great figures and serious

  • subjects, as well.

  • Unfortunately, few examples survive from the golden age of classical comedy and all the

  • ones that do are by Aristophanes.

  • But we have fragments by many others, including sections from the plays of Eupolis, a comedy

  • writer so beloved that legend has it that when he died fighting a war, the government

  • passed a law exempting all poets from military service.

  • Let's take a moment to look at what separates comedies from satyr plays.

  • Satyr plays are situated in a mythic past, comedies in the present.

  • Satyr plays are typically rural.

  • Comedies are usually urban.

  • Satyr plays are about messing things up.

  • Comedies are about putting things back together.

  • They tend to return social order and conclude with a compromise of some kind: a peace treaty,

  • a constitution, a marriage.

  • There's not necessarily any reconciliation at the end of a satyr play, while comedies

  • are about offering absurd suggestions to real problems.

  • Aristophanes is the most famous figure of classical comedy for the very good reason

  • that his plays are the ones thatuhhhstill exist.

  • Invading hordes: You.

  • Are.

  • The Worst.

  • He wrote at least forty plays.

  • We have eleven.

  • Aristophanes was born into a wealthy Athenian family sometime in the 450s.

  • He started writing early and he was almost immediately known for his splendid poetry,

  • and for relentlessly mocking specific political figures.

  • In fact he was sued at least once forunpatriotic behavior”.

  • But, undeterred, Aristophanes kept the poetry and dirty jokes and mockery coming for quite

  • some time.

  • Late in the fifth century BCE, though, Athens started losing the Peloponnesian War to Sparta

  • and a lot of things changed, including comedy.

  • Suddenly it wasn't a great idea to satirize political figures.

  • And Athens didn't have as much money to spend on spectacular effects and fancy choruses.

  • So Aristophanes made a mid-career switch.

  • He started writing plays for smaller choruses and with composite comic figures rather than

  • specific, real-life politicians.

  • Aristophanes has a lot of famous playsThe Birds, The Clouds, The Frogs.

  • But, today we're going to look atThe Lysistrata,” which we chose for a couple

  • of reasons.

  • For one, it's still relevant today.

  • In the early days of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, thousands of theater companies

  • staged readings and productions of the play.

  • The Lysistrata's frustration at the senselessness of wars and the tolls they exact won't seem

  • very ancient to us.

  • Also it's one of the rare ancient comedies in which the women get to be really funny.

  • So that's nice.

  • (But remember, all the actors in ancient Greek theater were men!

  • And all the playwrights, too.)

  • Let's go to the Thoughtbubble.

  • The Lysistrata won first prize in 411 BCE, at which point the Peloponnesian War had waged

  • for about twenty years.

  • Athens and Sparta together defeated an enemy once thought unstoppable: the Persians.

  • But after their victory, they squabbled over colonies.

  • Sparta had the superior land army, Athens had the superior navy.

  • Athens was a democracy, Sparta was an oligarchy.

  • Athens had a lot of money, Sparta had a lot of staying power.

  • Things got ugly and stayed ugly.

  • Also Athens had a plague that killed a lot of its citizens and its great leader Pericles.

  • That didn't help.

  • Thisis the background story for The Lysistrata, at the start of which, the women of Athens

  • are fed up.

  • They're tired of war, they're tired of being poor and they're really, really tired

  • of their husbands leaving to fight.

  • Because when their husbands are away, they can't have sex.

  • And in The Lysistrata, these women really want to have sex.

  • So led by a woman named Lysistrata, they devise a so-far-fetched-it-just-might-work plan.

  • They seize control of the Acropolis, which is where Athens keeps all its money, and they

  • say they're not going to give up the siege and they will not have any sex until the men

  • stop fighting.

  • To show that they're really serious, they get a bunch of women from warring areas, like

  • Sparta and Corinth, to join them.

  • The women swear an oath and achieve a truce, showing the men that it can be done.

  • Thanks, Thoughtbubble.

  • I'd love to quote the chaste ladies oath for you.

  • But it's a family show and this oath is filthy, which is sort of the point.

  • To begin, the women prepare a sacrificial victim, but instead of killing an animal,

  • the sacrifice they make is to open a jug of wine, which they're obviously going to chug.

  • And then they swear to not let any man near them, but the joke is that the oath they take

  • is really, really specific.

  • It's not just that they're swearing off sex, they're swearing in great detail about

  • exactly the kind of sex they're not going to havelikeEXACTLY.

  • EXACTINGLY EXACT This is one of the things Greek comedy does.

  • It makes fun of beliefs and rituals that are often held sacred, but doesn't satirize.

  • The point isn't to show that oaths are ridiculous or that the goals of the women are absurd.

  • The point is to make fun of social conventions with the end goal of creating a better and

  • happier society.

  • So cheers to that.

  • In a patriarchal society like ancient Greece, by the way, the idea of women seizing power

  • was also pretty funny in itself--for the men--because it was so impossible.

  • The women might have had different ideas.

  • Most of the jokes are about how difficult it is to go without sex.

  • Women keep pretending to be hurt or pregnant in order to sneak out of the Acropolis.

  • Men come to try to entice their wives back into bed.

  • And in one of the funniest scenes, a wife agrees, but then she keeps making more demands

  • of her husbandshe needs a mattress, she needs a pillowand then runs back into the

  • Acropolis at the last minute, leaving her husband with an epic case offrustration.

  • Good times.

  • At the end, Lysistrata comes out of the Acropolis and meets with Athenian and Spartan delegates.

  • She reminds them of what they owe to each other and how ridiculous this conflict is.

  • Yet they agree to peace not because Lysistrata is so wise, but because the goddess of Reconciliation

  • is there, personified as a naked woman, and they all want to have sex with her.

  • Which is creepy.

  • And misogynist.

  • And violent.

  • Then, there's a banquet and all the newly reconciled men and women sing and dance together.

  • From this you can get a sense of how delightful and radical Greek comedy is, while also being

  • kinda troubling.

  • Suggesting the absurdity of a vicious and expensive war is a pretty racy thing for an

  • Athenian play to do when Athens is still in the middle of that war.

  • But this isn't a bleak satire.

  • It has a happy ending, with its enthusiastic embrace of food, wine, singing and dancing,

  • and it tries to show that peace is possible and preferableif maybe kind of ruined

  • by creepin' dudes.

  • Typical.

  • Thanks for watching.

  • Next time we'll look at the transition from Greek theater to Roman theater and the rise

  • of popular entertainments that'll make The Lysistrata seem tame.

  • Until thencurtain!

Hi there I'm Mike Rugnetta.

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Greek Comedy, Satyrs, and Aristophanes: Crash Course Theater #4

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    Pei-Yi Lin posted on 2019/05/05
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