Tragedy Context

Note by ShelleyL, updated more than 1 year ago
Created by ShelleyL about 6 years ago


This is some of the relevant context that you could integrate into your essays (though the last bit about the bull was my own interpretation).

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~Tragedy Context~'Oedipus Tyrannos'~Fate and Destiny: the play explores the extent to which fate and destiny are determined through the conflict of Oedipus, who is frightened of his prophecy but is told by his wife, Jocasta, that they do not come true. This arguably reflects the contemporary audiences' views as there was a great rise in philosophy whereby many began to question the existence of the gods. Socrates, for example, believed that everyone has the ability to decide their own fate; what happens is the result of one's own decision and not the result of a determined fate. The Stoics, however, believed in a 'strict determinism' where everything we do, say, everything that happens to us is simply already decided.~Tyranny and Democracy: Oedipus can be viewed as a tyrant, willing to convict his brother-in-law (uncle) for having worked with Tiresias to plot against him and willing to torture the second shepherd (the Theban that was supposed to expose Oedipus) for the truth. However, Oedipus is also likely seen as a good tyrant, wishing to save him people from the plague and going to desperate measures to get there. Athenians viewed tyranny of any kind as bad, so it makes sense that Oedipus was punished in the end and was removed from his position as king. They valued democracy. This is explicitly seen in the stasimon following Tiresias' exit, whereby the chorus chant that they will not convict Oedipus, who has just been told by the prophet that he is the reason for the plague, until they have proof and see the truth for themselves. Thus, they adopt a democratic view instead of a tyrannical one.~The Plague: Thucydices tells us that Athens had just suffered a plague before the performance of 'Oedipus Tyrannos'. The use of the plague in the play would have related greatly with the contemporary audience.~Herodotus: the exodus is adapted from the Herodotus speech - 'count no man happy til he dies'.'Antigone'~Xenophon: No traitor should be buried on Attic soil. This is relevant to 'Antigone' whereby Creon denies Polynices, viewed as the 'eagle which wreaked havoc', of his funeral rites. But he takes this too far, denying his burial completely. This is a bad thing as burial was so important to the Athenians; it marked the passage of one's soul from life into Hades.~Gender Roles: these were very strict in the eyes of the Athenians: male identity was created through participation in warfare, female identity through the process of marriage and childbirth. Males were seen as the protectors, females as the protected. This is relevant to 'Antigone' where the distinction becomes blurred; Antigone wishes to achieve glory through her burial of her brother and her subsequent death, thus she becomes masculine; and denies marriage and children. This is also seen significantly throughout the text, most specifically in the agon between Antigone and Creon. When she admits to having buried Polynices, Creon declares that he can let her go free, lest she becomes the man and he the woman if she wins victory. Creon genders 'victory' which is explicitly male, and is disgusted at the thought of a woman obtaining such a thing. One could argue that Sophocles explores the extent to which these gender roles are distinct, but it becomes more convincing by the end that he conforms with the Athenian view. This is greatly seen as Antigone, just before her burial, cries that she will never have children and never get married. The 'marital' messenger's speech retelling the 'marriage' between Haemon and Antigone has also been argued to represent the reassertion of male power, that, though she denied her role as wife, became one anyway.~Hagal: he suggests that it isn't the conflict between two wrong characters that makes the play so tragic, but rather that it is the conflict between two right characters. Both Creon and Antigone are right; traitors should not buried on Attic soil, but also that burial is sacred. it is the extremity to which the two respective characters that causes such a tragedy.'Medea'~Gender Roles: the distinction between what is 'male' and what is 'female' is completely blurred in this play where we see Medea adopt masculine and 'unnatural' (in the eyes of the Athenians) qualities. Medea is presented to possess characteristics of both the male and female gender. This would be viewed as dangerous to the Athenians. In a society where gender is restrictive, a character who steps outside the boundaries of the accepted behaviour for his or her gender was condemned and feared. One could also argue that Medea completely rejects her female identity come the end of the play. By killing her children, she is rejecting the part of her that is essentially female, her maternal side. ~Animalism: Medea is called a 'lioness' on two occasions in the play, once by the Nurse at the very beginning of the play and once by jason at the very end. Herodotus suggests that 'lionesses' were particularly hostile to their children as they claw out the womb in birth. This might explain why Medea feels hostile towards her children, that and that they are used by her as a medium by which she exacts her vengeance. This also parallels Homer's description of Odysseus in 'The Odyssey', which was written before the play so the Athenians knew it well. In his encounter with Nausicaa he is described as a 'lion', thus Medea's character is also aligned with the predatory.~Divinity and Mortality: as Medea confides with the Corinthian women, claiming that they are alike, she is presented as a mortal character, but she is constantly on the liminal boundary between what is mortal and what is divine. The excesses of her character can be seen as a mark of divinity as gods are often presented in Greek religion as the embodiment of mortal characteristics but taken to the extreme; Artemis the virtuous, Aphrodite the lustful. The ability of her character to be both masculine and feminine can also be seen as divine. In fifth-century Athens, gender roles were supposed to be natural, thus those who did not broke this pattern were seen as unnatural and verging on divine. Medea's divinity becomes explicit at the end of the play where no means of catharsis is achieved and she predicts Jason's death. By murdering her children, Medea also sacrifices her own humanity. One can argue that by killing the only two beings she deeply loved, Medea rips the humanity out of her and becomes somewhat god-like. In other words, when she kills her two sons, Medea destroys the only link that kept her attached to the human world and to the mortal state of being. By committing this infanticide Medea finalizes her apotheosis, thus gaining complete access to an entirely new level of being, that of the gods.~In previous versions: Euripides was the first to write that Medea had killed her children. This has a dramatic effect on her characterisation. Up until the moment she has killed her children, she may be viewed as a sympathetic character, with the chorus, if they represent the audience's views, still believing that she will not kill her children. By having her kill her children, she is turned from this sympathetic character into one that an Athenian would despise, knowing that they value children above all else.'Hippolytus'~The Characterisation of Phaedra: Euripides is suggested to have been the first to have presented the character of Phaedra as virtuous and desperate to save her reputation. This is seen clearly in Aristophanes' play where Phaedra is presented as sexually deviant, wanting to 'straddle' Hippolytus instead of preserving her honour.~The Bull: this is a very effective image in the play. In Greek religion, the bull was the image of Poseidon. Therefore, when a bull emerges from the sea to frighten the horses and subsequently fatally injuring Hippolytus, it can be argued that this is sheer manifestation of Poseidon, which has come to grant Theseus' wish of destroying his son. The image of the bull is also significant in regard to what it represents to Phaedra's bloodline. Her mother mated with a bull due to a curse that had been placed on her after she offended the gods. Phaedra laments to the Nurse that the love she bears for Hippolytus is the same kind as the love her mother bore for the bull, her sister for Dionysus, cursed - '...and now I am the third." This suggests that the curse is somewhat hereditary, similarly to the curse placed on Laius which subsequently resulted in the downfall of Oedipus, Antigone and Creon. Therefore, the bull becomes a symbol of cursed love. As Phaedra damns Hippolytus by claiming he raped her, it her 'love' for him that destroys him.

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