History Other / To What Extent Does Aristophanes Attempt To Give His Audience A Serious Political Message In вЂ?The Frogs’?

To What Extent Does Aristophanes Attempt To Give His Audience A Serious Political Message In �The Frogs’?

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Autor:  anton  07 December 2010
Tags:  Extent,  Aristophanes,  Attempt
Words: 2185   |   Pages: 9
Views: 679

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 for the chorus and the chorus leader. It usually involves praise of the author and the abuse of well known public figures which the author personally dislikes. The parabasis gives an insight into a lot of Aristophanes anti-democratic, political views, and actually has very little to do with the story. For example he urges the citizen body to reject the leadership it now follows, whom he calls ’Knaves, upstarts, nonentities and foreigners’ and turn back to men of integrity ’of good birth and breeding’. He also calls for full citizenship for to those who participated in the oligarchic revolution of 411BC, claiming they were misled by Phrynichus, and states �We need those loyal kinsmen on our side.’ Elsewhere in the parabasis he criticises Cleigenes, a radical democrat, for opposing peace with Sparta, �Yet he won’t be persuaded to advocate peace.’ and mocks him for owning a laundry or bathhouse. �He does very well as a wash-house proprietor.’ This is possibly because he looks down on him for being nouveau riche as opposed to coming from a rich and noble family. Aristophanes also dislikes Cleigenes because his refusal to make peace with Sparta had been prolonging a war that could have been ended a few years back.

To some extent Aristophanes does try and portray a political message to his audience, especially as Athens was in a state of political unrest. They had recently been subject to the oligarchic revolution back in Athens, and were now losing the Peloponnesian war due to Sparta’s alliance with Persia. One of the main political aspects of this play revolves around the naval battle at Arginusae where 25 ships and over 5000 men were lost during a battle with the Spartans. The Athenians were in pursuit of the fleeing Spartan navy and the shipwrecked Athenians were left to drown during a violent storm. The victorious commanders were accused of military negligence and the majority were executed after a trial at the Ekklesia. Most of the Athenian citizens believed that they had been coerced into agreeing with the radical democratic leader’s decision to execute the generals. These leaders, such as Theramenes, Archedemus and Kleophon, then freed the slaves who fought at the battle and granted them citizenship, so that they could vastly increase their political influence over the Ekklesia. Aristophanes deliberately makes a point of mentioning this when Xanthias says �If only I’d been in that sea battle, I’d be a free man now.’ Aristophanes either criticises or pokes fun at various key political figures throughout his play, for example �Who in the past to Phrynichus pad heed It’s history now; their folly they regret.’ This shows Aristophanes views on the new type of politician. The main political victim of Aristophanes play is Kleophon, who Aristophanes regards as a foreigner due to his connection with Thrace, he doesn’t see Kleophon as a fully fledged Athenian and enjoys mocking his accent. �Who’s words, though difficult to follow, Should not defy interpretation Once they’re translated from the Thracian’. At the end of the play he refers to Kleophon again, where he appears to use an early form of racism whereby he wants to send Kleophon and others home to do their fighting in their homeland. If Kleophon and co �…Want to keep on fighting they know where to go. In their distant homeland they can do less harm; let them wage their warfare in their father’s farm’.

Another way in which Aristophanes portrays a political message in this play is to try and bring about the return of Alcibiades, the exiled general. The Athenians both loved him and loathed him and yet wanted him back. Alcibiades was aristocratic, flamboyant, controversial and unpredictable. He was arrested for profaning the Mysteries, then when he escaped, he helped the Spartans gain the upper hand in the war, he also had dealings with the oligarchs whom he defeated, and then had some success against the Spartans at sea. He was then reinstated in Athens until his enemies stripped him of his position and exiled him. Aristophanes obviously believes that Alcibiades would be a saviour for the city, for he is the traditional type of upper class citizen, born into his wealth and had proved his greatness. Aristophanes does not say this out rightly due to the exiled hero still having many enemies, such as Kleophon, whom Aristophanes either mocks or criticises on more than one occasion. He therefore brings the audiences attention to this matter in more subtle ways, such as naming the chorus, the chorus of initiates, that is people initiated into the rites of the Mysteries. Alcibiades was arrested for being blasphemous about the Mysteries. This works as a way of reminding the people about him. In the final test Dionysus gives the two poets, he does actually mention him by name ’What should be done about Alcibiades?’ when he is looking for some sort of strategy to save the city.

On the other hand perhaps Aristophanes isn’t trying to portray a political message but is just trying to create humour by poking fun at the new politicians. The audience would laugh, but not in a disrespectful way, the humour is light hearted and somewhat graphic so that even the politians would be laughing. Aristophanes would not be too disrespectful to the democracy because he could have been charged with Graphe Paranomon, where a person or group �speak against the laws’, which prevents individuals undermining the democracy. Also the key politicians watching the play were the ones paying for Aristophanes play to be performed. Pay cuts were being debated and if he ridiculed them too much he would probably have been paid less. �some people there are who, when mocked in a play, Vent spleen on the poet by cutting his pay.’ As well as using intelligent political humour, he also uses visual humour, for example he dresses the god Dionysus in a yellow negligee, high heeled boots and a lion-skin, which gives him an amusing effeminate look. On the face of it, the play is purely a comedy play about saving tragedy and bringing a famous tragic poet back from the dead. Aristophanes uses fundamental comedy routines of the time, for example the comic porter scene which is featured in most comedy plays. This is a scene which involves luggage carrying and role swapping between master and slave.

However, some of the political messages are even featured in the slapstick humour itself. �You’ve heard of Archedemus? Well he’s not renowned for looks; his parentage is doubtful and he isn’t on the books…’. This is said to Dionysus by the chorus just before they enter the house of Pluto. Archedemus was one of the key political figures involved in the prosecution of one of the generals of Arginusae and may have been instrumental in condemning the other generals to death. Considering that Aristophanes believed the generals to be not guilty this gives a sufficient reason to ridicule Archedemus. The fact that this political stab is in the slapstick part of the play, i .e the first act, means that the message an be understood by all of the audience, due to the simplistic language and light-hearted comedy.

In conclusion I believe that Aristophanes does try and portray a political message and the way in which he does it is quite effective. Although on the face of it, it appears to be any normal comedy play with the expected conventions e.g. the comic porter scene and the slapstick humour about flatulence. However, the average citizen doesn’t realise that they are being indoctrinated to believe that the radical democrats are endangering Attica, and to return to the aristocratic rule. In a subtle way Aristophanes is trying to persuade the people to allow Alcibiades back from exile, in order to help them win the war and to remove the �foreniors’ and ’knaves’ from power. His political message was obviously effective as Alcibiades was allowed to return and be reinstated as a general. However, his views of the radical leaders were irrelevant because there was nothing he or anyone else could really do about it, there were too many people who believed in the democracy and a number of laws to prevent such things . This is because once the laws had been changed to let Thetes into power, it would have been extremely difficult to revert back to the old ways. I believe that if an ancient Greek watched this play, the message would have been understood clearly, and it may actually have changed some peoples mind about the democracy and its leaders. However, the play also contains so much slapstick humour, role reversal, and transvestite gods, all of which could direct the audience’s attention away from the political messages, instead causing them to focus on the simple but effective visual aspects of the play.



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