Many of the plays of long ago were written as political statements that were designed to appeal directly to the masses and depict current events in a sort of parody of events that were actually taking place. Interestingly, these productions continue to be applicable to the events of today’s world in so many ways. When one looks at Tartuffe by Moliere, one has to think of Osama bin Laden and his hypocritical religious fervor. Lysistrata, by Aristophanes, depicts mass protests. And, George Bernard Shaw’s, Major Barbara is idealism at its best.
Osama as Tartuffe has an agenda that is neither rational nor based on any existing rational manifesto and it certainly has nothing to do with any accepted faith as the nation of Islam has projected it. Much like Tartuffe, bin Laden has sandbagged many people into believing that his religious fervor is rational. He draws believers with his assertions that he is truly religious. It could be that Tartuffe was Moliere’s warning across the ages to be on guard against those that are overzealous about religion, and of those who are overzealous in presenting themselves as pious individuals. “Cleante questions Tartuffe by asking, “But if this noble and religious zeal, is quite as perfect as you’d have us feel, How is it that it waited to appear, till you were caught embracing Madame here”. Moliere accomplishes two objectives by these particular words, first he shows that Tartuffe is only pretending to be a pious individual, that when he is alone, or thinks he is alone, with Orgon’s wife he immediately makes a play for her which a truly righteous individual would never do, and secondly he shows that Cleante realizes what is really happening, because he knows how a truly righteous individual would act in that situation, and that Tartuffe is not doing so. A wise world questions Osama bin Laden the same as Moliere questioned Tartuffe’s motives.
Lysistrata, written by Aristophanes more than 2,000 years ago, is about a woman who grows tired of the constant warring of men. She gathers other women who decide to take action by withholding what they feel men desire most. Relating Lysistrata to current events certainly invites the whole “sex as power” theme, but that seems to simplistic. Although one could also compare Lysistrata to modern-day feminists, they are better compared to any group or groups of individuals who protest or try to effect change together. Certainly, one could compare Lysistrata’s adventures to those of the 1970’s. But they are also applied to the current issues that surround the world’s inability to get along; a West vs. East type of struggle, just as above with Tartuffe and Osama bin Laden. It’s amazing how classical productions remain pertinent even two thousand years after they were written; or, at least, their message does. Lysistrata and her cohorts protest, they realize success, and they celebrate. Doubtless, the coming together of the global community would elicit a similar reaction. However, Aristophanes used a little tongue-in-cheek freedom in his writing of the plot. Women withholding sex from their warring men would end battling communities just about as effectively as a sit in would negate the struggles between the developed Western world and the resistant Eastern realm. It’s just not that easy. Still the lesson is clear. Everyone has an innate power to end war, struggle, or any other undesired behavior or state, be those individuals men, women, group, or nation. The humor that Aristophanes uses merely makes the message easier to stomach. In today’s world, the message is less about feminism, power, and control, than working together as a group to achieve social change. Lysistrata’s protests are against a war that is unnecessary, just as the struggles between the United States and its allies and the nations of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden have become. The comparisons between both of these fruitless struggles are hard to ignore. There is no doubt that Lysistrata would elicit a discussion about the needless of war, especially in today’s world of globalization.
Major Barbara, the most recent of the works, written by George Bernard Shaw, and first produced in 1905, depicts the apparent incompatibility between those who do good and those who do evil. Major Barbara of the Salvation Army wonders how an organization such as the one she advocates can warrant accepting funding from organizations such as that which her father represents; a gun manufacturer. Morality and its relation to the immoral comes into question as highlighted by Shaw. In today’s world, business, war, and social institutions continue to be intertwined and the association continues to be somewhat stunning and questionable. How do you warrant social services paid for by a gun manufacturer? How do you reconcile war, good, bad, and society? Should capitalism exist as a funding source for salvation? Shaw’s play is an ideological exploration of such conflicts. But, can idealism be set aside in favor of the pursuit of better things? Again, related to the drama taking place on the world stage, it’s hard to ignore the comparison that can be made between Shaw’s play and the conflict created by terrorism as perpetrated by misplaced religious fervor, resistance, and a desire for vindication and control. As the United States and her allies move into the Middle East in an effort to reform the governments of those countries, they have also attempted to provide aid. One has to remember the aid drops that took place near the beginning of the conflict when the U.S. dropped care packages from the air. As these packages floated to the ground, the people who they were meant to aid must have been wary at best and terrified at worst. There is a certain irony in one’s invader providing aid.
The lessons of Moliere’s Tartuffe, Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, and Shaw’s Major Barbara, although they were created in different ages, display the reality of time. Essentially, the years may change, but the issues remain relatively static. Right or wrong, good and bad, and comedy and reality, continue to be completely relevant regardless of what year a great playwright creates the work. Perhaps it is this relevance that makes such plays as Tartuffe, Lysistrata, and the brief Major Barbara remain so popular among theater goers, actors, and college courses!