The women at the Thesmophoria, Aristophanes: the comedy of misunderstandings

Women at the Thesmophoria: a comedy by Aristophanes which, together with Women in Parliament and Lysistrata, represents the well-known feminist trilogy of Greek theater. In the new appointment of the column Classically Mindthe oldest example of Metatheatre; the theme of disguise, the exchange of the sexes and the technique of reversal.

Women at the Thesmophoria: a plot between reality and parody

Comedy by Aristophanes set at Athens during the festivals dedicated to the goddesses Demeter and Persephone: le Thesmophoria, precisely. Alongside characters dictated by the imagination also appear Agathon and Euripides, tragedians of the time. The opening scene begins with Euripides intimidated by the fact that the women are plotting something against him on the occasion of the party. This thought is supported by the fact that the Athenian tragic poet is guilty of having put them in a bad light in many of his works. To make up for this fear he asks the poet Agathon to defend him but, not only: to disguise himself as a woman at the assembly of Thesmophoria. Euripides goes, together Mnesilochusat the home of Agathon: the latter, welcomes them in women’s clothing. However, the attempt to convince the tragic poet turned out to be in vain.

Women at Thesmophoria - Photo Credits: wikipedia
Women at the Thesmophoria – Photo Credits: wikipedia

Sara Mnesilochus who will lend himself to deception and, for this reason, will be clumsily made hairless by Euripides. Shaved like a woman and wearing women’s clothes borrowed from Agathonwill go to the meeting with the women. Mnesilochus he comes across a dispute with women to defend the poet; she argues that the arguments within the poet’s works were only intended to target mythological heroines without the allegations being carried over into the real, modern world. However, in support of his thesis, the new defender lets slip that not even the behavior of modern women is to be considered flawless. A deleterious argumentative example supported with stories about infidelity and female cunning which, it will prove to be destructive. Thereafter, a degeneration of the assembly into a quarrelsome confrontation continues: it will be Clisthenes to unmask Mnesilochus.

Metatheater and comic effect

This is probably the funniest part of the work. Women at the Thesmophoria it is, in fact, the oldest example of Metatheatre, that is, the theater within the theatre: the intent is to reveal the fictitious character of the scene with comic tones. This theatrical technique is built, mainly, on some of the tragedies of the same Euripides: especially theElena and theAndromeda. The peculiarity consists in the continuous disguise of the protagonists who come to create paradoxical and amusing situations with a successful comic effect. Mnesilochus, cornered, steals a little girl from the hands of a woman thinking of making her a hostage; yet the child is a jug of wine smuggled into the assembly. Mnesilochus, to save himself, claims that his intent was to stage a ritual sacrifice. This expedient makes the crowd more angry. He comes Euripides disguised as Menelauswho claims that Mnesilochus be Elena. Subsequently, the two will take on the role of Perseus and Andromeda.

The comedy of misunderstandings, a comic literary device

Mnesilochus it’s chained just like Andromeda; but Euripides he manages to free him forced, however, by the women themselves to put aside his misogyny and to keep silent about the facts that concern them with their husbands. The last obstacle is to elude the guardian who watches Mnesilochus. Here is the latest disguise: Euripides disguised as an elderly pimp, he brings a prostitute with him with the aim of distracting the naive overseer. The last scene sees the Thracian archer who, having acknowledged the escape of the two accomplices, remains a resigned victim of the deception.

Thesmophoria: the festivals dedicated to the goddess Demeter and her daughter, Persephone - Photo Credits: wikipedia
Thesmophoria: the festivals dedicated to the goddess Demeter and her daughter, Persephone – Photo Credits: wikipedia

The comedy, as mentioned above, belongs to the feminist trilogy of Greek theater by Aristophanes: however, Women at the Thesmophoria, is based on a peculiarity that differentiates it from the other two works: the development of a plot based on literary parody. In addition to parody, the very technique of the Metatheatre which cites, within it, an intersection of scenes: Aristophanes mentions numerous tragedies of the same Euripidesfrom Elena to Andromeda to I call. It will be such satirically elaborated scenes that will give life to the Comedy of Misunderstandings. Aristophanes he is a conservative: so, be it Euripides that Agathon, are here the main targets for the Greek playwright who badly tolerated their claim to innovation regarding classical tragedy. An ambiguous attitude, already used ne The Frogstowards Euripides: despite the criticism ad Euripideshowever, Aristophanesrecognizes its greatness.

The women at the Thesmophoria, Aristophanes: the comedy of misunderstandings