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The Mandragola is an Italian play written by Niccolo Machiavelli and published in 1524 with the first performance taking place in 1526. The sketch dwells on the thematic application of satire in its diction and has characters such as Callimaco, Siro, Messer Nicia, Liguria, Sostrata, Friar Timoteo and Lucrezia. Lysistrata, on the other hand, is a play written by Aristophanes and set in Athens in 411 BCE. The farce pegs on a woman’s quest to end the Peloponnesian War through the ridiculous implementation of sex denial to men at war. The two teleplays employ the use of satire to pass across the social and political realities of human interaction. Thus, the goal of the essay is to describe and compare the use of ridicule as a theme in the mentioned plays, focusing on two characters from each act, that is, Nicia and Lucrezia for the Mandragola, and Lysistrata and Calonice for Lysistrata.
Ridicule refers to evoking laughter and insolent feelings about someone, something or a given situation, usually through expressions such as words, images or gestures, or any other means of explaining oneself (Singh 65). Aristotle defines ridicule as “the abuse or slander, and slander in certain circumstances the law prohibits” (Peterson 119). Therefore, ridiculous in literature is an expression which inspires contempt. The two playwrights employ ridicule in their works of art, primarily concerning relationships and politics in the given plays.
In the Mandragola, ridicule is especially upon Lucrezia and Messer Nicia who are married and subjects to the desires of life and society. Lucrezia is believed to be barren and is under pressure from the community, and her mother, Sostrata to at least have a child. Timoteo and Sostrata attempt to convince her to have a child by another man. Later, even her husband, Nicia is on this arrangement, and it is very satirical to agree to have one's wife bear a child with another man, Callimaco primarily because the latter is much interested in making Lucrezia his wife. The immense desire to have a child makes the couple vulnerable to fraud and exposes them to the above ridiculous situations as initiated by Friar Timoteo and Lucrezia’s mother.
Friar Timoteo: The end of all things; your purpose is to fill a seat in paradise, to make your husband happy. The Bible says that the daughters of Lot, believing themselves alone in the world, lay with their father, and because their intention was right, they didn't sin.
Lucrezia: What are you persuading me to do?
Sostrata: Persuade yourself, my daughter. Don't you see that a woman who has no children has no home? Her husband dies; she's left like a beast, abandoned by everyone (Newbegin 105-107).
Callimaco: It will be no trouble to me to please you and all excellent and worthy men like you, and I only toiled in Paris for so many years just to serve men like yourself.
Nicia: Thank you indeed! And if you ever needed my skills, I would willingly serve you. But let us return ad rem nostra. Have you given thought to which spa would be excellent to prepare my wife to get pregnant? I know that Ligurio here has told you all the said. (Newbigin 24-25)
The character of Nicia portrays tragedy and desperation laced with significant naivety. The attributes are clear in the conversation he has with Callimaco where he lays open his predicament to have children, thus, prompting Callimaco to have confidence in taking advantage of the situation. “…I don’t have children, and I want some, and trouble myself with them I’ve come to bother you.” (Newbigin 23). The satire in the conversation builds around the urge to seek help from a person who wants to dupe him. Callimaco even thanks him and acknowledges he will be of great service to him if only he had known the intentions that came with the service.
In contrast to Lysistrata and Calonice, the characters of Lucrezia and Nicia for the Mandragola are uninformed, lack rationale and bleed with naivety. Lysistrata, for instance, is very informed in her quests as compared to Nicia, who is continuously defrauded by Callimaco.
Tragic ridicule at the end of the play is depicted through Nicia’s loss. He loses his wife, Lucrezia to Callimaco, yet he loved and cherished her just like she did. However, on the realization that all the ideas to conceive a child by another man were a plan to convince her to have a relationship with Callimaco, she brightens up. The discovery makes her a part of the fraud that ridicules her husband in his uninformed demeanor. The unfortunate ending of their relationship marks the commencement of a fairly deserved relation between Lucrezia and Callimaco. It is even more comic when Nicia hands over his wife to “Doctor” Callimaco in a way to thank him and in a responsible manner at the church scene. He says, “Do I see Ligurio and Dr. Callimaco in church? / …Call them over/ Doctor, take my wife’s hand/ Lucrezia, this is the man who has provided us with a prop to support us in our old age/ God bless you! And I want him and Ligurio to come and eat with us this morning/. Lucrezia then answers him to affirm the insolence on him by adding, “Of course.” In the preceding line, Nicia further offers to reward the conniving Callimaco when says, “And I want to give them the key to the door downstairs that opens onto the loggia so that they can come back whenever it suits them. They have no women at home, and they live like animals.” (Newbigin 60-71). In essence, if he had known the truth behind all the convincing and conniving, he should be disappointed and hurt, but the failure to know places the joke on him.
The character of Lysistrata exhibits self-ridicule, as compare to Lucrezia in the Mandragola. Characters in the recent play do not seem to be perpetrators of insolence on themselves but are victims. For instance, Nicia and Lucrezia are victims of the satirical nature of everyone who seeks to take advantage of them, including Timoteo and Sostrata. Lysistrata, on the other hand, says, “There are a lot of things about us women/ That sadden me, considering how men/ See us as rascals.” Calonice responds by saying “As indeed we are.” In her response to Lysistrata in the first scene, Calonice ridicules the traits of women, a gender of which she is a part of and is expected to be supportive. She portrays the funny opinion that women have, usually informed of the opposite sex. It is somehow a realistic perception and is used to counter Lysistrata satirically.
Calonice ridicules the town of Anagyrus upon the arrival of women who live there. Through her speech, the writer highlights political ridicule in the play.
Calonice: And there’s another one, as well. Hello! Hello there! Where they from?
Lysistrata: Those? From Anagyrus.
Calonice: My god, it seems we’re kicking up a stink. (Johnston 70- 72)
Accordingly, it is chucklesome that the naming of Anagyrus happened to take an extremely bad smelling plant. In her view of women from the town, Calonice perceives them as awful reeks right from their lifestyle to the politics that resulted in the naming of the city. As such, she bets on the fact their interaction will involve people who are stinking, which is funny.
Unlike the mild satire in the Mandragola concerning sexuality, the application of bedroom satire goes to the extreme in Lysistrata through stylistic devising and choice of words to describe the oath taking process. Women did not want the continuation of war and its consequences by their men. They hatched the plan to deny them sex in the effort to compel them to stop the fight.
The ridicule is depicted through the lines by the characters of Lysistrata and Calonice when they repeat the oath, citing the bedroom antics they undertake with their husbands and lovers funnily. It is not often that at the time, public display of private matters would find its way into a general play in an absurd idea as Aristophanes puts it.
Calonice: [taking the oath] No man, no husband, and no lover…
Lysistrata: …will get near me with a stiff prick… Come on, say it!
Lysistrata: At home, I’ll live entirely without sex…wearing saffron silks, with lots of make-up…to make my man as horny as I can.
Calonice: If against my will he takes me by force.
Lysistrata: I’ll be a lousy lay, not move a limb. ..I’ll not raise my slippers up towards the roof nor crouch down like a lioness on all fours. (Johnston 210-230)
Political satire is depicted through the role of Lysistrata in the court scene. There is need to fund the war, and she has led women to sabotage their men to end the war. During the court procession, she is accused of her doings to stop the war, only to respond in return that she is trying to save men and the magistrate altogether (Johnston 560-580). It amuses the judge that the lady seeks to save him and men at war who use the guise of it to further their selfish interests. Leaders in the war gain finances through putting public taxes as having been spent on war, yet most of the fund goes to them. As such, they do not need savings from themselves, and an attempt to do so through control of money is deemed ridiculous in the court.
Aristophanes contrasts his character Calonice to Lucrezia in various ways, key among them being the use of extreme ridicule and imagery. In Lysistrata, Calonice is more of a vulgar character who embraces the openness of sexual satire and is not perturbed by the same. However, her comparison to Lucrezia is different; she is soft-spoken, uses lesser imagery and is unextreme in putting up her points. She is more subtle than Calonice as portrayed in the play. When she is meeting Lampito, she describes her sexuality in an extraordinarily ridiculous and uncouth manner. Lampito, on the other hand, does not reject her advances even to observe her privacy.
Lysistrata: Hello Lampito, my dear friend from Sparta. How beautiful you look, so sweet, such a radiant complexion. And your body looks so fit, strong enough to choke a bull.
Lampito: I could pull that off.1 I do exercise and work out to keep my bum well-toned.
Calonice: [fondling Lampito’s bosom] what an amazing pair of breasts you’ve got! 90
Lampito: O, you stroke me like I’m a sacrifice
Calonice: [peering down Ismenia’s robe to see her pubic hair] Yes. By god, she keeps that territory elegantly groomed.
The imagery ridicule above is contrary to the character build for Lucrezia who comes across as naïve, less aggressive and with subtle contempt in which she is the victim. When talking to her mother Sostrata, she complains of the agony of whatever advice, information which in its measure is detrimental and satirical to her relationship. She, however, does not realize it and is keen on implementing. The diction therein is subtle and less aggressive in the play as compared to that used in Lysistrata. Lucrezia says that the whole idea is agonizing and shaming for her to sleep with another man, in a fraudulent plan, which she is yet to understand. Father Timoteo is also a part of the moving process.
Sostrata: There are lots of things I can’t explain, my girl. You’ll talk to the friar, you’ll see what he tells you, and you’ll do what you’re advised to by him, by us, by everybody who cares about you.
Lucrezia: This is agonizing. …
FRIAR: … you will become pregnant; you will acquire a soul for the Lord God. The uncertain evil is that the man who lies with you after the potion will die. There is the record also of those who don’t die, but because it is in no specific, it is good that Messer Nicia should not run that risk. As for whether the act is a sin, that’s easy: because it is the will that sins, not the body; and it’s a sin if it displeases the husband, whereas you are obliging him; or if you take pleasure in it, whereas you find no happiness. Besides this, you have to consider the purpose of all these things. And your mission is to fill a seat in paradise and make your husband happy (Newbigin 97-104)
In conclusion, the Mandragola and Lysistrata are two plays whose stylistic devices revolve around ridicule and encompass tragedy, satire, and comedy that relate to social and political aspects of the society at the time. The character build and diction of the plays is more or less the same with insolence. However, there are a few instances of contrast, especially with how extreme Aristophanes would be as compared to Niccolo Machiavelli. Regardless of the differences, ridicule is applied in both plays in a pronounced manner about the character roles for Lucrezia, Nicia, Lysistrata, and Calonice.
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