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Comparing the exposition of Lysistrata and The Government Inspector
All plays have certain common, universal elements even though, from the outset, they may seem starkly different. Lysistrata, by Aristophanes, is a play set in Athens, Greece during fifth century BC, while The Government Inspector by Nikolai Gogol is set in an unnamed Russian town during nineteenth century AD. Even though both plays are set in dissimilar places and time periods, they both make use of similar dramatic techniques. Lysistrata's prologue and The Government Inspector's exposition both use suspense to engage the attention of the audience. Furthermore, the authors have fabricated archetypal characters that underscore the universality of both plays.
Suspense is an integral part of drama - it is an extremely important device used to arouse the interest of an audience. The Government Inspector has a rather abrupt beginning; in the very first dialogue itself the Mayor has “bad news”. He further elucidates, “A government inspector is on his way…Incognito.\ And bearing secret instructions” (Gogol 15). Subordinate officials present at his residence react in disbelief - they cannot believe an official will come to oversee the town's bureaucratic proceedings. Gogol's use of repetition creates a humorous and light-hearted atmosphere - the Commissioner for Health, Director of Education and Magistrate all reiterate the same statement, one after the other - “A government inspector?” “secret instructions” (Gogol 15). The repetition not only influences the atmosphere created, but it also serves to build up the rhythm into a crescendo. Moreover, the audience wonders why the officials are so alarmed by this impending visit. In other words, why is the inspection causing so much apprehension? The hierarchy of the Russian political system in the nineteenth century is evident because the officials have a subservient tone; they all talk to the Mayor with due respect and courtesy. This is further accentuated by the length of dialogues - the Mayor has lengthy dialogues which show his higher rank in comparison with other officials. In addition, none of the bureaucrats question the authority of the letter from his “Godson”, even though it seems rather dubious and unreliable.
In contrast to The Government Inspector, the eponymous character in Lysistrata, initiates the play by admonishing the womenfolk for not arriving at the Akropolis on time. She claims an “orgy” would lead to “frantic females banging on tambourines…but today- there's not one woman here” (Aristophanes 16). The italicization of the word “today” suggests that the day must be unique in one way or the other - but this is not revealed, as of yet. Thereafter, a duologue between Lysistrata and her neighbor, Kleonike, transpires. The audience is oblivious to the purpose of this poorly attended meeting. However, suddenly, in the midst of the duologue with Kleonike, Lysistrata announces the purpose of the meeting: “the hope and salvation of Hellas lies with the WOMEN!” (Aristophanes 18). In other words, Lysistrata is hoping her plan will stop the Peloponnesian War that will unite all Greek states. Nonetheless, she does not reveal her plan of action - as of yet - dramatic tension is built as more Greek women assemble for the meeting. The previously barren street slowly but surely gets rather crowded; Spartans, Boiotians, Korinthians and women from many other provinces all gather around Lysistrata. Similar to the Mayor in The Government Inspector, Lysistrata is in command of the situation and is the central character in all conversations taking place. Lysistrata finally reveals the salient issue regarding the purpose of the meeting after a lot of deliberation and concealment: “the program: Total Abstinence from SEX!” (Aristophanes 25). All women present feel her idea is irrational, and they bluntly refuse to partake in any such plan. Nevertheless, she still manages to garner some support and finally a consensus is reached - all women “will withhold all rights of access or entrance from every husband lover or casual acquaintance” (Aristophanes 32). Akin to the officials and the Mayor in The Government Inspector, the women of Greece and Lysistrata are in accordance at the end of the exposition even though the letter and plan (respectively) seem to be dubious.
The translator of Lysistrata, Douglass Parker, has taken several liberties while converting the text from Greek to English. For example, Lampito, one of the Greek women from the outskirts of Athens, is given a hillbilly accent to connect with contemporary readers. The original play would have certainly had her with a distinct accent of a woman form the ‘outskirts'. Nikolai Gogol has also created archetypal characters in his play The Government Inspector; the Mayor, Commissioner for Health, Director of Education and Magistrate all represent typical bureaucrats ubiquitous in any society- whether in fifth century BC or twenty-first century AD. Furthermore, each of the characters has his own idiosyncratic oddity. For example, the Commissioner of Health has a habit of selling hospital beds, and the Magistrate - a fan of animal husbandry- has kept geese in the courtroom! The use of archetypes in both plays allows readers to connect with plays created such a long time ago - emphasizing the universality of the plays.
One starkly contrasting feature of the plays is the gender of characters involved in the exposition. Aristophanes has women in the forefront of the play, even though society is dominated by men. This is quite ironic, since most critics would suggest that the play serves to satirize the very idea of women entering the political decisions. In contrast, Gogol has a direct approach to show that men are in command of the provincial town. Not a single woman is part of the exposition, even in latter parts of the play women have insignificant role. For example, Anna (the Mayor's wife) and Marya (the Mayor's daughter) are both portrayed as inane creatures that are treated with superciliousness. For instance, they are not perturbed at all by the arrival of the inspector; instead they are more interested in trivial information, such as the length of his nose and moustache!
Stage directions are imperative to the play, as they convey information about spatial setting and tone that would only be apparent if one were to actually view the plays. Gogol and Aristophanes extensively use stage directions to express ideas that dialogues alone cannot communicate. The Government Inspector has a lot of aural imagery that would be completely overlooked had stage directions not been added. For example, the sound of footsteps approaching is often amplified and then they suddenly “cut out abruptly”. Directions are also used to show physical actions such as “pointing” or “bowing formally”. Although the diction of a character may indicate a certain tone in their voice stage directions are more adept in this respect. For example, a single word can describe tone succinctly: “Alarmed”, “In fear” and “triumphantly” are just three examples of directions. In Lysistrata, Aristophanes uses stage directions to a similar effect; he uses words such as “importantly” “reluctantly” and “exasperatingly” to describe the manner in which characters are speaking. During the swearing in ceremony stage directions are used extremely liberally; this is so that readers know the exact layout of the “huge black cup” of wine and “The women surround(ing) the cup” (Aristophanes 32). Note: It is not certain whether all of the above directions were in the original publication.
Lysistrata and The Government Inspector are both comic satires that use wit to highlight the ludicrous nature of the “sex-strike” and the political decadence in the provincial Russian town. From the outset, the area under discussion seems to be dissimilar yet dramatic techniques employed are comparable. The opening scenes both serve to provide background information regarding the respective plays. Archetypal characters, precise stage directions and dramatic suspense certainly capture the attention of the audience and provide a strong foundation for future scenes.
Aristophanes. Lysistrata. Tr. Douglass Parker. New York: Signet, 2001.
Gogol, Nikolai. The Government Inspector. Tr. Alistair Beaton. London: Oberon Books, 2005.