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From Classic to Contemporary: Lysistrata into Shut Out

Classics–whether they are novels, plays, or epics–offer us great characters, interesting plots, and lots of things for discussion … but sometimes they can be a little tough to tackle. Sometimes we adore them, but sometimes we can’t get past page 3, let alone the requisite 50. That doesn’t mean that we should give up what they have to offer, though, does it? Many of today’s authors try to use these classic works as a starting off point to write a more modern version. If done well, these contemporary versions can have a huge impact and impart the same wisdom that made the earlier story gain its classic status. Jessica Miller and I decided to find and examine some great pairs of classics and their contemporary rewrites to see if they are successful … or maybe not.

The Classic: Aristophanes’ Lysistrata

Lysistrata is a play that has been performed millions of times. It was written by the Greek playwright Aristophanes in the 4th Century BC (or BCE, if you prefer). In this play, Lysistrata, a “Grand Dame” as she is defined in a few translations, has hatched a plan to end the Peloponnesian War. Gathering all of the women of Athens and Sparta, Lysistrata proposes a genius plan to end the war: withhold sex from their soldier husbands until they declare peace. While the other women originally balk at this plan, they eventually concede. This, however, leads to a crazy battle of the sexes, and a few ideas about men, women, fairness, and a lot of other things.

Setting this play for the stage can be both witty and raunchy. Sometimes, picking the translation counts for this; the most commonly found one hearkens to Oscar Wilde-like conversation and slightly risque innuendo. A few modern translations, however, skip the wit and go straight for Hangover style shock humor. Watch out for these–I distinctly remember reading one whose “modern vernacular” was so dated I don’t even think my mother used half the words. There have been a couple of recent translators who have managed to find some middle ground between veiled innuendo and outright phalloi. That’s right, I said it: phalloi.

The Contemporary: Kody Keplinger’s Shut Out

We begin Shut Out seeing a familiar trope: high school beauty dating football hottie. Things are happily moving along in their physical relationship until something goes wrong. And then something else. And then something else. What is it? Team rivals. However, the football team’s biggest challenge isn’t a rival school, but a team within their own school: the Soccer Boys.

One Soccer Boy in particular is constantly in the eye of our high school beauty, Lissa. When they are working together at the local library one day, he suggests she read Lysistrata. After doing so, she rallies all of the football and soccer girlfriends. There, in the school library, the girls make a pact to go on a hookup strike until the boys stop paying so much attention to their petty feud and more to them. The same kind of battle of the sexes ensues–and concepts of stereotypes, independence, and relationships get warped in the process.

Overall, Kody Keplinger is pretty successful at taking a timeless concept–ending a war by any means necessary–and putting it into a modern situation. Everything doesn’t translate, of course, but Lissa and her girl gang are a very nicely updated version of the ladies of Athens and Sparta–with the same kinds of shortcomings. Also, the laugh-out-loud factor is just as present as Keplinger’s previous novel, The DUFF.

Both of these texts are definitely–definitely–for older teens. Lysistrata contains a lot of sexual innuendo and mentions of phalloi, and Shut Out contains sexual situations and quite a few “f-bombs.” Proceed with caution, but you’ll definitely have lots of fun!

If you want to see more from The Hub about Shut Out, check out Faythe’s post from last September about Mythology in YA, and Sharon Rawlins’ Libraries in Teen Books. For earlier posts about updated classics, have a look at Sharon’s Alternatives to the Classics and my first post from long long ago about April Lindner’s Jane.

Have more classics and their contemporary updates that you’d like us to compare and contrast? Let us know in the comments!

— Jessica Pryde, currently reading Cinder by Melissa Meyer

4 Comments

  1. Neat series! Lysistrata was also made into a teen musical last year, performed on Broadway, entitled Lysistrata Jones. It’s closed now, but it was an interesting High-School-Musical-esque adaptation.

    • Jessica Pryde Jessica Pryde

      I saw that! I sort of wish I had seen it!

      • Lynn CP Lynn CP

        It got mixed reviews. In a sort of compliment/insult, the New York Times noted that the show would be ideal for high school musical productions. In other words, not good enough for Broadway, but meant for your local stage. (The show originated Off-Broadway, at NYU.)

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