The City as Comedy: Society and Representation in Athenian Drama

By Gregory W. Dobrov | Go to book overview

ELIZABETH BOBRICK


The Tyranny of Roles Playacting and Privilege in Aristophanes' Thesmophoriazusae

Husband and wife may exchange roles but never escape the tyranny of roles themselves. . . . Theatrical narratives appear to promote the very ideology of difference they expose as arbitrary.

-- Barbara Freedman, "Frame-Up"

Thesmophoriazusae contains many of the features we expect from Old Comedy: an upside-down world in which traditional social roles are reversed or abandoned altogether, 1 a bawdy celebration of the pleasures of the body, a pair of bumbling heroes who foment the chaos yet ultimately triumph. At the same time, the play stands out in the Aristophanic corpus for the extent of its parody and the complexity and coherence of its plot. Thesmophoriazusae is a Euripidean play of intrigue rewritten by Aristophanes, a vehicle he uses not only to play with plays but to represent the control playwrights have, or fail to have, over the members of their audience. Behind the mask of tried-and-true comic formula is a self- referential representation of theatrical narratives and their power to establish civic ideology.

Thesmophoriazusae appears to share little ground with Aristophanes' overtly political plays. No civic crisis is ever stated, as in, say, the beginning of Acharnians, where Dicaeopolis waits outside the Pnyx, hoping to force talk of peace in the Assembly, or Knights, where two slaves fret that their master Demos has fallen under the influence of the evil Paphlagon. The chorus of women here does not step out of character in order to speak in Aristophanes' theatrical persona as didaskalos of the city The trouble in Thesmophotiazusae appears to be solely Euripides' own: how is he going to keep the women from killing him?

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