In times of struggle and hardship, people are constantly looking for ways to escape their reality. They have found release from their stress in practices such as exercise, therapy, and meditation. In the ancient times of Greece and Rome, life for the citizens was strict and sometimes harsh. During these times of struggle, people searched for ways to vacation from the laws that bore down upon them. One of the ways they accomplished this was through art. Art was a way to express true feeling and emotion and unite a sometimes-divided population. Drama served as one escape for the citizens in Greece and Rome. Attending the plays written by Euripides, Aristophanes and Plautus, gave the people time to get away from their worries and chores and drift into a world of drama. A world where laws can be broken, women can have intelligence and slaves outwit their masters. One of the reasons the plays written by the authors of this time were so popular was because people were able to leave reality behind and slip into a world where none of the truths they held proved to be true.
A famous playwright during ancient Greece was Aristophanes. During his lifetime there was extreme political turbulence. Many of his plays reflect the issues of this time and the social concerns. However, instead of presenting these matters seriously and appropriately, he does it in a jovial and satirical manner. His sole purpose in this is to take
a bad situation and make it humorous for the audience. ?It has often been said, especially in recent years, that in Aristophanes political and social thought is purely incidental and always subordinated to the desire to amuse his audience and win the prize?(Cambridge, 38). In many of his plays he mimics political situations and figures and the outcome is very humorous. The audience is able to relax and laugh about the problems facing Greece Many elements in his plays are not real and could not have even been conceived of at that time. In Aristophanes’ play, Lysistrata, the women of Athens and Sparta formulate a ridiculous plot to end the war by abstaining from sexual intercourse with their husbands. Aristophanes takes a difficult and pressing subject, the Peloponnesian War, and develops it into an illusive story of how a woman ends the war. The thought that a woman would have enough intelligence to end the war was a very impractical thought and the idea that Aristophanes would create such a plot was quite comedic. It made the audience feel as if they were in an unrealistic world because roles were reversed. Another reason the audience enjoyed the play was for its sheer guts. For Aristophanes to write a whole play about sexual intercourse was gutsy and the audience appreciated the fact that they could attend such a controversial event. During a time when rules and morals were stiff, Aristophanes showed the people of Greece that there is a time when you can relax and thoroughly enjoy yourself. He released some of the pressure of the war by ridiculing it. The audience had a chance to escape the harsh reality of the times and focus on the humor of Aristophanes.
Another playwright of ancient literature was Plautus. He came about many years later, but his works did the same for his audiences as Aristophanes did for his. His plays
were comical as well, but his work had another aspect the people appreciated. By making his characters unreal and placing them in unlikely situations, made the audience once again feel as if they were in another world. At the time Plautus was writing and performing his plays, Rome was very conservative. There were moral laws and censorship on almost everything. The plays Plautus wrote broke these limitations and gave the people a sense of freedom. One of the limitations Plautus broke was allowing slaves in his plays to outwit their masters. This was unheard of and the mere thought of this happening was surreal. In Plautus’ play, The Swaggering Soldier, this very event occurs. A conceited soldier, Pyrgopolynices, is deceived by own his slave, Palestrio. Palestrio, knowing his master is a woman-lover, tricks him into thinking he can have a married woman. Pyrgopolynices is caught by her husband and loses everything he has, almost his life. The downfall of a highly ranked soldier caused by his slave is a fantasy in this era and the people of Rome enjoyed seeing this. Observing Plautus’ plays allowed people to feel as if none of the rules applied. They saw laws and norms broken and this was invigorating to them. He presented himself and his plays in a cathartic manner that engulfed the audience and enabled them relax and feel at ease. Many times in Plautus’ works he would remind the audience that what they were watching was just a play, but in the smallest way the people in the theater felt as if they contributed to freeing some of their censorship.
A Grecian playwright, Euripides, had the same effect on his audience, but not by the same technique. It was not humor and satire that made the audience relax it was Euripides’ plots and characters. Perhaps this is far fetched, but in some way he made the audience feel relieved to be themselves. Many of the characters he created were in horrible
situations or simply horrible people. For the audience, watching other people’s lives fall apart, although sad, created a sense of relief. It made their chores, laws, and troubles seem somewhat minimal compared to the characters in Euripides’ plays. In one of his tragedies, Medea, the characters are in terrible condition. The main character, Medea has been abandoned by her husband for a younger, wealthier woman. This is an awful experience to have fall down upon someone, but this is not the end to Medea’s tragic story. She becomes so consumed in hate and revenge she murders her children as a reprisal for what her husband has done. This play is heartbreaking and depressing, but it makes the audience do some thinking. The dramatic ending in Medea puts most problems to shame. The audience reflects on what was once a major cause of stress and anxiety and realizes their problem is trivial to the one Medea and her family experiences. Characters in Euripides’ plays usually suffer tremendously. They go through trial after trial, only to end up losing. As twisted, as it may seem, the audience feeds off of their pain to come to realize the important things in life. The audience walks away with a clearer direction in life and learns not to dwell on the trifling obstacles in life.
Drama in ancient civilizations was a favorite pastime. Aristophanes, Plautus and Euripides were quite popular and well appreciated among the citizens of Greece and Rome. Their works were embraced and enjoyed not only for their literary purposes, but also for the fact that they helped the audience escape their worries and stress. By creating these surreal worlds, the people were able to escape their harsh reality and connect with the characters. These characters who break the rules and norms, and question authority give the audience a liberating feeling as if they participated in the actions themselves. Since theses times, many new concepts of stress releasing and enjoying oneself have come along, but art remains one of the most popular.