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TMA 07: Myths and Conventions

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Introduction

TMA 07: Myths and Conventions 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). ...read more.

Middle

Medea's ruthless plans are followed by her total elimination of the ultimate feminine role - motherhood. However, the act of infanticide is justified by Medea, not so much as an act of revenge but, in her eyes, the best thing that she can do for her children, 'Now my course is clear: as quickly as possible/To kill the children Not delay and so consign them to another hand/To murder with a better will. For they must die/In any case; and since they must, then I who gave/Them birth will kill them' (line 1233ff). Jason pleads with Medea, insisting on his male role until the end of the play, that she allow him his paternal rites of burying the children. Jason fails in his own persuasion and Medea has succeeded in demonstrating the importance of vows and places the same heartache, which she has encountered since he married Glauce, upon Jason. I believe this final act was Medea's way of confirming to Jason that it was the emotional sorrow of losing him that wounded her the most, rather than the physical aspect of their relationship, as Jason believed. This unconventional ending is perhaps part of the reason why the play was not as well received when it was initially premiered. . In George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, we see the main character, Eliza Doolittle, transformed from an ill-mannered but street wise cockney flower girl into a high society debutante. ...read more.

Conclusion

This symbolic gesture would have been more poignant had Eliza thrown Higgins' dinner at him, although Shaw would have realised this a difficult act to perform on stage. Despite following traditions of a romantic text, Shaw has the hero and heroine, somewhat surprisingly, part company in the final act of the play. Shaw moved away from the traditional 'Cinderella' ending as marriage can be recognized as a completely patriarchal institution, dominated by the man. Had Eliza married Higgins he would have expected her to play the part of the doting wife. This would contrast completely with what Eliza has transformed herself from, a helpless girl, and into, a very independent woman. Freddy, her alternative, although a little dim and unambitious for Eliza, is the kind of gentleman that would not treat her as subordinate, but as a lady, a trait she found particularly endearing in the Colonel. Both Euripides and Shaw express their beliefs and opinions through their main characters in contrasting approaches. Euripides could be seen by some as a considerably anti-feminist, in his endeavour to illustrate the mental anguish that women in Ancient Greece endure. He has managed to glorify the male stereotype and in doing so Medea loses her femininity altogether in an attempt to shame the audience. Shaw endeavours, through Eliza, to demonstrate that women are right to want equal opportunities and should fight for their independence. Shaw has Eliza achieving these things while still holding onto the feminine qualities that he seems to value. ...read more.

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