We can only understand the role of women in Greek tragedies within the framework of a concrete gender ideology that existed in Athenian society. The already prevailing sharp division between the sexes was reflected in, and enforced by, an ideology of gender, which attributed different and complementary behaviors and character traits to men and women. The concepts of masculinity and femininity are polar opposites, but they define each other and cannot be understood apart from each other. In this ideology, chief among the motives for manly behaviour are time (“honour”) and kleos (“fame” or “glory”).

Time, a fundamental Greek cultural concept, originally meant “price” or “value. ” Honour is the value that society places upon one, or one’s social status. Greeks generally, and male heroes in particular, have a very acute sense of honour. But in the Greek cultural paradigm, one man can achieve honor only by another’s loss. A man who feels he has been publicly dishonoured is expected to redress the balance by avenging himself, which he often does in a spectacular fashion.

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The earliest and most influential example of this is Achilles in the Illiad.

A heroine like Medea has much in common with Achilles, but in accordance with the polarised ideology of gender, a woman is not permitted or expected to seek time under the same conditions as men, nor is she accorded the same kind of public recognition (Warner 1993). A woman’s “price” or “value” depends on her sexual desirability and fidelity, her skill at performing household tasks, her modesty and deference to men.

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Seen from this perspective, the heroic “male” behaviour of certain prominent female characters in drama is rendered highly problematic.

Male heroes also strive for kleos, “fame” or “glory,” which originally meant becoming the subject of bardic song for performing great deeds in battle. Women can gain their own kleos, and be praised in poetry, by fulfilling the ideals established for their gender. In tragedy, heroic women often win such praise by sacrificing themselves for men, like Iphigenia. Conversely, for either sex to violate their respective gender ideal results in public blame (McHardy 2005).

In democratic Athens, the ideology of female invisibility creates a tension in the very concept of female kleos, even for virtuous women. The Athenian leader Pericles, after praising the Athenian warrior who died in battle, says to the women, “For you great reputation comes from not falling short of your assigned nature. A woman achieves kleos who least talked about among men, either with blame or praise. ” This sentiment is in keeping with the fact that in Athens respectable women were not named in public, but spoken of as “daughter of So-and-so” or “wife of So-and-so.

” Yet since kleos by its very definition means being spoken of by others, this Athenian ideology places women in a lose-lose situation. The events of Greek tragedy often brings to the fore the tension between these various ideals of female excellence and the obviously devious concept of kleos for women. Apart from time and kleos, the virtue most vigorously demanded of Athenian women was sophrosune (literally “sound-mindedness”). This cannot be translated easily, but its meaning ranges over self-control, self-knowledge, deference, moderation, resistance to appetite, and chastity.

Sophrosune is considered desirable for men as well as women, but it is specially associated with women because of its important connotation of sexual restraint and deference. Deference was to required of all women in the Athenian social structure, and self-restraint was deemed harder and therefore more necessary for women than men. Many Greek texts depict women as having appetites and passions difficult for them to control, stronger than those of males, which make them irrational and often untrustworthy. Such attitudes and mores are also naturally reflected in Greek drama, especially the tragedies (Wilson 2000).

Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides are the only three ancient Athenian tragedians whose works survived to the present. Of all the works of Aeschylus the strongest in dramatic force is the Oresteia, a series consisting of the Agamemnon, the Choephorae (or Libation Bearers) and the Eumenides. The Oresteia stands as a monumental work of art that transcends merely aesthetic values, for it gives voice and form to the social and political ideology of the period. The programme of the Oresteia is to trace the evolution of civilisation by placing the polis at the centre of its vision.

The Oresteia holds an equally important position in an exploration of the Greek image of the female, the definition of her social role and status, her functions and meanings. If Aeschylus is concerned with world building, the cornerstone of his architecture is the control of woman, the social and cultural prerequisite for the construction of civilisation. The Oresteia stands right at the centre of the misogynistic tradition that pervades Greek thought. This tradition engendered a bias which projected a conflict-oriented dialogue in male-female interactions and also related the mastery of the female to higher social goals (Zeitlin 1996).

A perhaps extreme example of such skewed thinking can be found in Eumenides where Apollo justifies Orestes’ slaying of his mother, Clytemnestra, by what could only be called sexist biology: the male-oriented polis is more important than blood ties, but even if blood is important, then the son is really the blood-relative only of the father, the mother being merely the receptacle for the bearing of the child. Sophocles is considered to be the pinnacle of Greek tragedy. In the Sophocles’s famous play Antigone, the title character and Ismene are both daughters of King Oedipus.

Though the behaviour of Antigone may be deemed proper in the eyes of gods and beneficial to the polis, she is played off against her conventionally feminine (and therefore non-assertive) sister. Antigone, in fact, poses a severe threat to the masculinity of Kreon, the king whom she defies. Her sister Ismene contrasts to her as positive to negative. Ismene is the norm — she is what a Greek girl is supposed to be like (which Antigone is not). Ismene believes men are stronger, that authority should be obeyed, and that a girl should keep a low profile. Ismene does not want to be noticed, or draw any sort of attention to herself.

Thus, she perfectly conforms to the ideal expressed by Euripides in Andromache, “A modest silence is a woman’s crown. ” In the Ancient Greece, women were not only subjugated through law and custom, and cowed into utter submission to men, but through active propaganda by means of myth and drama were made to believe in their own worthless and the futility of asserting their innate individuality (Foley 2001). Euripides is the most important of the Greek playwrights in our present context. Aristophanes, the Greek comedy writer (the author of Lysistrata) rightly depicts Euripides as particularly interested in women.

Thirteen of Euripides’ nineteen extant plays have female protagonists; by comparison, among the seven plays of Aeschylus only one, Agamemnon, can be said to have a female protagonist (even that is questionable, as the title suggests), as do two of the seven plays by Sophocles (Elektra and Antigone, though Deianeira may be considered the protagonist of Women of Trachis). Thematically too, Euripides plays seem especially concerned with questions of gender, of women’s lives, of their relation to men and their role in society (Hall 1997).

Euripides’ interest in aggressive and transgressive women has sometimes been construed as evidence of misogyny. Calling him “woman-hating,” the chorus of Old Men in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata agree that his hatred is justified, since women are the most shameless thing on earth. In Aristophanes’ Women at the Thesmophoria, Athenian women say that they are angry at Euripides for portraying them as “lover-bangers, nymphos, wine-oglers, disloyal, chattery, unwholesome, the bane of men’s lives.

” It may be interesting to note here that these women in the drama do not complain that Euripides’ characterizations are untrue — only that he has made it harder for them to get away with their behaviour. In Aristophanes’ Frogs, “Aeschylus” accuses “Euripides” for putting onstage “Phaidras and Stheneboias,” stories of women who long for illicit sex. Asked by “Euripides” whether such things happen, “Aeschylus” concedes that they do, but “the poet should cover up scandal, and not let anyone see it. He shouldn’t exhibit it out on the stage.

” These portrayals of lustful women are alleged to have caused decent women to commit suicide for shame (March 1990). Such remarks, even within a comic context, suggest that Euripides’ women were problematic at least in part because they were seen not as part of a distant mythic world, but as reflecting contemporary Athenian realities and affecting the behaviour of real women (though it is a different fact that any woman would not have got to watch the play on stage). The main focus of criticism in Aristophanes is Euripides’ representations of female violations of social norms.

(Aristophanes of course ignores Euripides’ “good” women, such as Alecestis and Iphigenia. ) But all three major tragic playwrights show women plotting and committing violent and forbidden acts. That was expected in tragedy, and thus not a sufficient reason for Aristophanes to charge Euripides with misogyny. The problem was how he portrayed them. For instance, it was probably true that Euripides was forced to rewrite Hipplytos because the Athenian audience was outraged by a scene in which Phaidra, the central female character, revealed her adulterous desire for her stepson on stage, directly to him.

The outrage seems to have caused by the scene’s departure from conventions of dramatic decorum, conventions that may have been felt to insulate ordinary citizens’ wives from the transgressive women of tragedy (March 1990). Indeed, Euripides was bold and irreverent in many ways, he was willing to look beyond cultural norms to critique Greek tradition and religion. He left a substantial dramatic legacy, including Medea , Hippolytus , Trojan Women, the Bacchae , and Iphigenia in Aulis. Euripides’ female characters are represented as speaking from a genuinely women’s point of view.

Though erratic, they are psychologically plausible human beings; for example, even Iphigenia’s change of heart is comprehensible terms of her relationship to Agamemnon, Klytemnestra, and Achilles. Unlike the plays of Aeschylus or Sophocles, Euripides shows the inner emotions of passion, love, and vengeance. Women’s social status as inferior to males, even their use as objects traded between males, the restrictions on their sexuality, social interactions and on their freedom to speak their minds, the social and sexual double standard, their lack of control over their children’s destinies — all these are depicted in detail.

But what is different with Euripides is that these conditions are not simply taken for granted as the status quo; they are examined by female characters, their injustice is criticised, and they are sometimes violated or rejected. Other playwrights also represent women’s point of view. e. g. , Deianeira’s eloquent lament about the difficulties of being the wife of Herakles; but in Euripides, women’s complaints are frequent enough to constitute a central theme of his works (Faas 1984).

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Women in Drama. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/women-in-drama-1556-new-essay

Women in Drama

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