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Medea and Claire Zachanassians Femininity in Medea and The Visit

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Introduction

Medea and Claire Zachanassian's Femininity in Medea and The Visit Medea and The Visit are two plays characterised by strong female main characters. In this essay I will examine how Medea and Claire Zachanassian's portrayals relate to the conception of femininity normal in their respective worlds, and the reasons for the ways they both conform and deviate from the type. I will begin by establishing what is meant by 'feminine' in each context, and then will move on to examining how each character does or does not fit certain aspects of this archetype, and will exploring the reasons for each. Firstly, we must ascertain what the previously-mentioned 'type' for each setting is: what characteristics would be expected of a woman in each of the scenarios. I will begin with the Ancient Greek setting of Medea. My sources will be the text itself and external knowledge about the time period. The first thing that is clear is that Greek women had far fewer rights than those today. They could not vote, or stand for office, or make a case in the law courts. It is not clear that they were even permitted into theatres - Medea would have been played by a male actor in a mask. Women were considered in an important way to be objects possessed by a man: first their father, then at marriage their husband. Women would thus be dependent on their father or husband for support and legal authority. ...read more.

Middle

There is another important way in which Medea can be said to be acting in a feminine manner, but I shall return to it after exploring how she moves away from the archetype. The most obvious fact is that Medea acts independently, without needing Jason's (or anyone else's) support. She manipulates kings into saying what she wants, and arranges matters so that she will have safe refuge in Athens once her plan is complete. Although she is distraught that Jason has betrayed her, she seems capable of surviving by herself. This contrasts to the way in which Jason (and indeed all the other male characters) expects her to behave, thinking that as a woman she will be utterly at a loss without him. He therefore speaks to her patronisingly, and is vulnerable to her false change of heart. When Medea does want to give the appearance of apology in lines 837-944, she simply says that she was acting like a woman: "we women, we are - I won't say 'bad', but we're - what we are. You shouldn't follow our bad example", and Jason is completely oblivious to the heavy irony she is using. However, it is not the case that Medea never generalises about women genuinely, and I will return to an example of this later. Medea's speeches are also controversial in that they challenge the prevailing description of women. In lines 203-254, she elucidates her own position about how women are treated, and she says that childbirth is a bigger danger than war: "I would rather fight three times in a war, than go through childbirth once". ...read more.

Conclusion

Neither of them commit any direct murder, but both are clearly the agents of vengeance. This avoidance of direct attack is explicitly regarded as a feminine quality in Medea, who says that woman's "cleverness lies in crafting evil". It could be argued that both Medea and Claire Zachanassian lose their femininity as they enact their vengeance. However, I am not sure that is entirely the case, because the underlying motivations behind what they do, and how they do it, are still in accordance with the way femininity is portrayed generally. They still both act because of betrayed love, and they still do so through indirect means; although in more minor respects they seem to have given up on behaving in a feminine manner, this can be regarded as a symptom of their all-consuming desire for vengeance. In addition, it would be wrong to say that femininity is the only issue present: for instance Medea can also be regarded as some kind of divine agent, as evidenced by the deus ex machina that carries her away at the end of the play, and a great deal of Zachanassian's characteristics are down to the amount of money (and therefore power) that she has. Overall, therefore, I would argue that both plays show their main characters as feminine in an underlying rather than overt way, showing as it were its 'other side'. The characters do not become masculine, but rather powerfully feminine, and this invites the audience to analyse whether femininity is in itself a good or bad thing. Daniel Bregman 15 October 2009 ...read more.

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