Plot Synopsis of "The Clouds" by Aristophanes

by Thomas West

The play "The Clouds," written by the Greek comedic playwright Aristophanes, was first produced during the Athenian dramatic festival known as the Dionysia in 423 B.C.E., during the Peloponnesian War. It tells the story of the man Strepsiades as he attempts to reform his son by finding him a good education.

The Plan

The play begins when Strepsiades, a Greek man facing legal action for nonpayment of debts, decides to enroll his son in the local school known as "The Thinkery" in order to train him to make bad arguments look good and therefore beat the creditors in the court system. The son, Pheidippides, however, refuses to go along with this, and so the aged Strepsiades decides to enroll in the school himself, despite the fact that he is quite old.

At the Think Shop

When he arrives at the school, Strrepsiades is told about the discoveries made by the school's star scholar, Socrates, including the distance a flea can leap. After being introduced to Socrates, Strepsiades is inducted into the school and introduced to the Clouds, the patron goddesses of thinkers and other lazy people, who go on to become the Chorus of the play.

The Address of the Clouds

In two separate speeches the Clouds directly address the audience, first praising the playwright and encouraging the Athenians to revolt against the corrupt politician Cleon (as well as rebuking them for changing the calendar). In the second, they demand first place in the competition, announcing that failing to do so will result in punishment for the city of Athens.

The Enrollment

Although Socrates attempts to teach Strepsiades how to think better, the old man is caught in inappropriate behavior, and so Socrates washes his hands of his erstwhile student. Strepsiades then browbeats his son into enrolling. After a debate between Right and Wrong, two scholars who have opposite views of the purpose of education, Pheidippides is led off by Wrong, who advocates for a life of pleasure and the ability to talk oneself out of trouble.

The Conclusion

The thinkers manage to teach Pheidippides how to get his family out of trouble. Although Strepsiades is initially pleased at the prospect, even going so far as to dismiss his creditors, he soon complains that his son beats him. The son then emerges and announces his intention to continue doing so, offering arguments in favor of this. Enraged, Strepsiades leads his slaves in a revolt against the school, pursuing the students off stage while the Chorus quietly departs.