Classical Drama Term Paper

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Love Got to Do With it: A Critical Analysis of Hippolytus and Lysistrata.

If one reads Hippolytus and Lysistrata, one may immediately conclude that love has 'nothing' to do with anything. Many Greek plays discuss the subject of love in obtuse ways. Love is often the driving force of Greek tragedies, thought to inspire, incite and even enrage in many cases. While love is an important concept and theme, it is not always presented in a positive light in many plays. This is certainly the case in Hippolytus and Lysistrata, which at best suggest that love is unnecessary or tragic.

Hippolytus written by Euripides does so remarkably well, suggesting that love is something that can not only be manipulated by the Gods, but also something that is less tangible in some cases than passion and lust.

Lysistrata, written by Aristophanes, puts sex and power on a pedestal above love suggesting that women should seek power through sex (or in this case refusal of sex). This play has more to do with femininity and power than it does with love. Interestingly enough though the focus of the play Lysistrata is not directly love, one may extract some evidence that love exists or is important to some in various parts of the play. These ideas and more are explored in greater depth below.

Hippolytus: Love or Lust?

Hippolytus, written by Euripides, is more a tale of passion and chastity of one of love, though love does play some small role in the play. Many consider this classical drama a 'classic' tale of forbidden love. On first glance, one may indeed assume that the love felt by Phaedus for Hippolytus is forbidden, however further investigation reveals that her love is more passionate and lustful than truly grounded in an affair of the heart. In this play Hippolytus appears as the object of Phaedra's attractions.

Phaedra is depicted as a young woman who is passionate for Hippolytus. Phaedra is actually Hippolytus' stepmother, hence her love for him is considered for all intents and purposes not pragmatic. Despite this, Hippolytus is made aware of Phaedra's lust. Hippolytus however is not swayed, and Phaedra ends up killing herself. It is under the guise of love unrealized that Phaedra kills herself in this play. It is not however true love that Phaedra feels, as her love is actually the result of Aphrodite's anger at Hippolytus rather tan of true origin.

In some sense however, even though Aphrodite has placed a spell of sorts on Phaedra, one cannot deny Phaedra's struggle with passion and love, at which end she suffers greatly when realizing her love is not returned but rather despised. Phaedra's love is at best "god inspired" hence "strange" an unnatural, yet despite this she takes her life out of "love" and passion for an uncaring Hippolytus (Sutherland, 23). Such is the nature of many Greek tragedies that force the reader to reevaluate their initial interpretations of common themes including love, passion and lust.

One can also question the merit of love in Hippolytus by examining Hippolytus' father's actions. Theseus, father of Hippolytus in the play, initially believes that Hippolytus rapes his wife Phaedra, which is why she hangs herself. Rather than believe his son's pleas for innocence, Theseus drives his son away by cursing him, which tragically results in Hippolytus death by a chariot accident. One would assume that true love between a father and son would prevent such tragedy, but in this case Theseus acts more on his passions and out of his sadness for his wife Phaedra than for his son. Hippolytus himself spurns love at the very start of the play, while discoursing with Aphrodite, goddess of love, to whom he says "I spun the beds of love and will not hear of brides, but honor Artemis" (Sutherland, 5).

Lysistrata by Aristophanes

The Lysistrata by Aristophanes is much more feminist in nature if anything, discouraging women from the "great embrace of love" and suggesting in fact that women "abstain from love" (Seldes 26). Love is not a central theme in this play, but rather power and sex reign supreme. The primary character in this play, Lysistrata, acknowledges that it is "hard for young women to deny themselves love" thus acknowledges a tendency of womankind to fall into what they believe to be true love.

However, Lysistrata herself seems a character bereft of love when she suggests that other women must attempt to be strong rather than frail, powerful rather than yielding and loveless instead of in love to create a spirit "as firm as a man's" (Seldes 80). This according to Lysistrata is what is necessary for power and success rather than emotion and feeling. The play's central theme deals more with war and the relationships between men and women. Aristophanes concerns himself more with humor than philosophical inquiry in this play.

In this play women are portrayed as fed up with men, and in light of men's reliance on aggressive actions and war to solve problems, women in the play led by Lysistrata go on a sex strike if you will, in an attempt to cause a truce among warring parties. Power and sexuality are more themes of this play than the idea of love and devotion.

There is however some albeit very small hint of love in Lysistrata. At one point in the play Lysistrata is pleading her case to the Commissioner and suggests that war concerns women primarily because women must sacrifice greatly for war. Among their sacrifices include giving up their husbands and sons for a war effort without guarantee of their return. This suggests that women in the play do have some love for their husbands, and at the very least some love for their sons of course.

Love is also confused with lust in the play, as when Kinesias, husband to Myrrhine, pleads with his life stating he loves her in order to elicit sex from her after she withholds intercourse for several days as part of her oath to Lysistrata.


Love has been a constant theme in may ancient plays and comedies throughout history. Many Greek tragedies infuse their characters with multiple passions and feelings, many of which are often mistaken for true love, forbidden love or passion. No where is this more evident than in Euripides Hippolytus. In this tale, artificially inspired passion is mistaken for love at every turn. One of the primary protagonists is consumed with what she believes to be passion and love. At first glance one might assume that Hippolytus is a tale of forbidden love. Further examination however reveals that this play is not so much about love as it is about artificial inspiration and lust.

Phaedus feelings for Hippolytus are not naturally inspired, thus cannot be categorically defined as love. This play also suggests that little love exists in the heart of Hippolytus or his father for that matter, who mistakenly places a curse on his son that ultimately results in his death at the end of the play. Hippolytus is more a tale of passion unrealized, spite and tragedy. The very goddess of love herself Aphrodite, is presented in the play as spiteful. It is Aphrodite who causes Phaedus to feel love for Hippolytus that goes unrecognized, and as such many suffer, as is typical in Greek tragedies.

Aristophanes Lysistrata takes a different twist on love. Aristophanes mentions love on several occasions in his play, yet love is not the central theme in this comedy. This play is more focused on ideas including power, sexuality and femininity than it is focused on love. If anything Lysistrata seems a treatise against love, and suggests that love if anything causes trouble and may disrupt society in many ways. Despite the negative attitude or approach toward love in…[continue]

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