Roles of Mothers in Tragic Plays Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 9 September 2016

Roles of Mothers in Tragic Plays

In tragic plays it appears that women, more specifically mothers like Gertrude of Hamlet and Jocasta of Oedipus the King, are plagued by decisions that are made with good intentions, but end up destroying their lives and the lives of people around them. Women are also under the burden of strict societal expectations when it comes to the decisions they make. These two tragic plays illuminate a human being’s capacity for suffering. Gertrude and Jocasta both care deeply for their sons. However, this care unintentionally causes harm to both of the mothers and their sons. For these two women, marriage is regarded as a societal expectation.

Under the societal norms of their time, they are required to marry people to preserve their kingdom. Also, in both of these tragic plays, Gertrude and Jocasta plays are largely characterized by their emotions. Lastly, it is evident that often times women inadvertently bring about the destruction and chaos that is central to the play. Jocasta and Gertrude both engage in decisions that may seem trivial, but end up being very important on a large scale. Strict societal expectations are placed on women in tragic plays. For example, it is assumed that women are to marry according to societal norms and expectations.

When Oedipus kills King Laius and saves the city of Thebes from plague, Jocasta is expected to marry the person that saved her kingdom. However, women in tragic plays are given a choice when it comes to marriage, but societal expectations are likely to dictate this choice. For example, Gertrude chose to marry her deceased husband’s brother, Claudius. Even though she likely had a choice in the matter, Gertrude probably married Claudius because she thought she was protecting the crown for her son, Hamlet. Women in tragic plays, especially women in power, are expected to marry a man that is regarded by their kingdom as capable and strong.

Because of this, marriage in tragic plays is a societal expectation for women in power. There are also other expectations placed on women in tragedies. Expectations as a wife and expectations as a mother are important factors in the characterization of women in these two plays. The role and mother and the role of wife are intertwined for Jocasta, though she is unaware of this fact until the end. She loves Oedipus romantically, but like a parent, she wishes to protect Oedipus’s innocence from the knowledge of their relationship. When she becomes aware of her sins, she is extremely distraught and driven to suicide.

Because the roles of mother and wife are confusing for Jocasta and even Oedipus, this leads to the essential tragedy within the play. Gertrude is a secretive woman in the play. Her secrecy as both a mother and a wife lead Hamlet to make inferences about the choices she made. For example, Hamlet believes that his mother’s grief in not sincere because she married his uncle within two months after his father had died. Gertrude’s lack of explanation for her actions place a strain on her role as a mother and a wife. She leaves Hamlet to make up his mind about her actions, and he assumes the worst of her.

Both Jocasta and Gertrude have difficult and complicated roles as a mother and wife in these two plays. Their strange roles contribute greatly to the chaos and tragedy within Hamlet and Oedipus the King. In tragic plays, women are largely characterized by their emotions. The emotionality of women in tragic plays an important role when it comes to making decisions for both Gertrude and Jocasta. Both women are driven immensely by the love for their sons. Women unintentionally bring about the destruction and chaos that is central and evident in the tragic plays.

It appears that the role of women in tragic plays is to trigger the tragedy within the plays. Jocasta believed that her son was dead and that King Laius was murdered by a band of thieves, which makes her unaware to the fact that Oedipus is her son. Her sin of incest is committed in ignorance. Though she did not know it, Jocasta’s marriage to her son, Oedipus, caused an immense amount of trouble and brings about the tragedy in the entire play. Also, in Hamlet, Gertrude seems to have a powerful influence over her son, though he does not admit it.

Gertrude’s quickness to remarry and lack of an explanation for doing so leaves Hamlet distrustful of her. This also makes him distrustful of women in general, claiming that all women are weak and frivolous. Gertrude’s decision to remarry and keep her son in the dark as to why she did so lead to Hamlet’s immense skepticism in all individuals. His distrust of people leads Hamlet to make brash decisions throughout the play, which ultimately leads to the tragic end. Though Gertrude may have had a small role within the play, she played a significant role in her son’s life.

Her decisions greatly influenced Hamlet’s course of action, which lead to tragedy within the play. Even though their decisions are made in ignorance, both Gertrude and Jocasta engage in the behaviors that lead to the essential disaster within these two tragic plays. In tragic plays, the combined pressures of societal expectations, duties to their families and their emotionality and cause women to make decisions that they believe to be good. However, the decisions the women make, however minor they may seem, often have negative outcomes and devastating results for their entire family.

Gertrude and Jocasta both made decisions that resulted in the essential tragedy in the plays. Though their decisions may have not been made with negative intentions, these decisions are important tipping points that seem to spark catastrophe. Also, the confusing roles of both mother and wife contribute significantly to the tragedy in these two plays. Both women had trouble separating these two roles. This lead to mistrust from their sons and ultimately to the destruction within the plays. For the tragic plays Hamlet and Oedipus the King, a woman’s decision is critical in bringing about the tragedy within the play.

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