With careful reference to two of the works studied in Block 5 (Medea and Pygmalion), show how attributes traditionally associated with masculinity and femininity are contrasted. Medea by Euripides (431 BCE) and Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw (1913 ACE) are plays that share common themes of sexuality and alienation with both their roots firmly set in mythology. Euripides and Shaw employ a range of techniques to present the compelling personas of their female protagonists, Medea and Eliza Doolittle respectively.
The plays revolve around the powerful and physiological transformation of Medea and Eliza’s striking aesthetic reform through the writers’ skilful use of stage direction, language, tone and theme development. The actions and dialogues of the supporting characters also manipulate the audiences’ and other characters opinions. The playwrights have carefully considered each effect when constructing and developing their lead character. Euripides has already launched the transformation of his protagonist at the opening of the play.Medea the queen, wife and mother shows signs of a more masculine and at times, an extremely ‘barbaric’ role, through her howling lamentations.
The play begins with Medea’s nurse setting the scene, she introduces the main topic running through the play – the oppression of women in Greek society. The Nurse explains the betrayal of Medea by her husband Jason and reveals the feelings that Medea is experiencing, ‘scorned and shamed’ (line 19). She is already anticipating a brutal act is to follow, ‘I am afraid/Some dreadful purpose is forming in her mind’ (line 36-37).These monologues, as exemplified by the nurse, are important in setting the scene of plays. The character does not talk directly to the audience but speaks their mind out loud.
In this opening stanza we also see the nurse persuade a fellow (male) slave, the Tutor. This feminine ‘persuasion’ of men is a theme that runs through both plays. Medea has come to the conclusion that the role of women in Greek, and perhaps all classical, society is oppressive. This conclusion is highlighted by her speech to the Women of Corinth, ‘When we have bought a husband we must accept him as/Possessor of our body..
.’ (lines 31-33). She scorns all men here for thinking they are brave for going out to battle and famously compares this to child birth ‘I’d rather stand three times in the front line than bear/One child’. She then turns her attention back to Jason’s adultery and becomes conscious of differences in the virtues of marriage that men and women hold ‘For women, divorce is not/Respectable If a man grows tired/Of the company at home, he can go out, and find/A cure for tediousness’ (line 35ff).Thus she begins to plot her scheme of vengeance. A contemporary audience would identify this attitude as typical of an Athenian male. This masculine attitude is also emphasised by Medea’s claims that Jason would have been unsuccessful in his heroic journey (to Colchis on the Argo and to claim the Golden Fleece that helped restore his family to the throne of Thessaly) had it not been for her regular, magical and barbaric interventions.
Medea plots against Jason and the family of his new bride, including the King of Corinth, Creon.She uses her heightened emotion to demonstrate that women do not always have to be passive and that she herself is not weak. Medea is able to accomplish her deeds by persuading, first Creon to let her stay in Corinth for one more day, King Aegeus of Athens to provide her refuge and lastly Jason to allow their children to present Glauce with a gift (that ultimately kills both her and her father in a grotesque manner).
Medea’s ruthless plans are followed by her total elimination of the ultimate feminine role – motherhood.