By Carolyn Frischer (drama student)
I don’t know if it is because Medea was the first thing we read or because I enjoyed it so much, but every play we have read since always gets compared to Medea’s tragedy in my mind. Whether it is a question of motives or representation of women, I somehow find some way to use Medea with or against it. When reading Lysistrata, I kept thinking of the differences and similarities between these two leading ladies. I’ll admit I feel a little bizarre comparing two characters from two different types of plays, but it is irresistible for my mind not to compare Lysistrata and Medea. These women both utilize similar methods to get what towards their goals and despite their masculine tendencies, their actions remain in the domestic, and therefore female, realm.It is easy to notice how strong and fierce these two women are from the beginning of both of their plays. Enough so that the plays are named after them (which is most important for Lysistrata since Aristophanes’ other plays were named for the chorus). Within their plots, both of these women are dealing with the fact that males in their lives are keeping something from them; for Lysistrata it is sex/male attention and for Medea it is marriage. Already though we begin to see some differences in what they aim for. Lysistrata wants more sex but this means ending the war, so her and the other women’s actions are trying to reach a very large goal that affects the whole of Athens. Medea, on the other hand, has a much more personal goal that is to hurt Jason, Creon, and his daughter. There is no greater good or consideration for the larger picture; Medea is much more concentrated on her small social situation.
Interestingly enough, the problems for these women begin in the domestic sphere of love and sex and they also choose to enact their revenge by almost warping their domestic space by inverting the roles of women and mother with those of males. Lysistrata and the other women in her little coup choose to withhold sex from their men. Then they almost take on the form of soldiers as they take the Acropolis and treat the situation as if it is in fact a battle they are fighting. This irony of this inverse of social roles is best scene when the women argue with the Magistrate that it is not strange for them to be at the Acropolis since they manage the household money (lines 494-95 on p. 114) They manipulate their roles in order to force the men into peace.
Medea takes on a more masculine role as she seeks revenge against her former husband/lover. Her strength overshadows her maternal urges as revenge/bloodshed becomes more important than that of the household problems. She manipulates her domestic sphere by eliminating it in order to hurt Jason. She keeps him from enjoying his sons to age and even keeps him from having the opportunity to bury them properly. As a mother, she takes her own children and ruins her and Jason’s domestic world in order to destroy him.
Through this comparison, I feel that differences between tragedy and comedy and the treatment of women are touched on. Women’s problems are always problems of the domestic nature, they are always killing over dead children or forbidden sexual desires, and it is through the domestic realm that they can re-enact revenge. I also feel that tragedies are more concerned with smaller interpersonal exchanges, while comedies seem much more interested in problems that include more than just a few people.