Greece is the birthplace of modern day theater. Theater was an important part of cultural festival; it was a platform for cultural exchange. Ancient Greeks performed plays as a form of entertainment as well as a way of exposing and expressing their views about the world they live. Theater was part of a religious festival in honor of a god called Dionysus; he was the god of the grape harvest, wine and a symbol of extreme pleasure and ecstasy. Rich citizens of Greece sponsored it. The types of plays back then were comedy, satire and tragedy. Greek Tragedy dates back to the 5thcentury; it concerned major topics such as love, relationships, conflict between God and man, leadership, power and loss.
The main Actor of the tragedy would commit a crime or an action that would later reveal him/ her as being stupid and arrogant. Later he or she regrets his or her actions as a society would be all over him with criticism. Tragedy in the real sense depicts the downfall of a hero or heroine through combination of fate and the mighty will of the gods. They believed that the gods used humans as instruments to fulfill their ambitions.
A hero or heroine needs not to die in the end but learns valuable lessons about life. The audiences of any play were critical, normally, at the end of every play, shouts of joy, jubilation, hisses and groans would follow. A number of plays given each day and in culminating the event, the best actors would be awarded to boost their morale. Actors put on different costumes depicting the mood and features of a certain character, and light costumes are worn on comedy plays bringing out a funny and exciting role. Dark clothing was being worn by tragic characters that were mostly on a somber and lonely mood. The plays were supported by local authorities and the clergy, in fact; people could feel their presence during the presentations. The most highly regarded tragedy playwrights were Sophocles, Euripides and Aeschylus.
Most of the Greek playwrights and actors were specifically men; it was a patriarchal society where the role of women is open for debate. The women are being excluded from festivals where plays were taking place. Women participated in the matters of religion and were role models for men. They gave men a shoulder to lean on and strength to go on with their lives. However, this did not deter Greek tragedians from creating different cases for women; they came up with scenes that were mainly suited for female characters. Some of the plays that included women were Medea and The Trojan Women. Minoan culture allowed women to act as goddesses (Goldhill 5). Greek Custom prevented women from participating in drama; they argued that it was a festival for all men that worshiped Dionysus. Women participated in their festival, for example, during the fertility festival, the king and queen would pose as to represents the gods of fertility.
In some tragedies, women are brought out as rebels. They come out clearly to fight and stand for what they believe. They air out their grievances and want being treated with uttermost respect and dignity. It is evident that they are fighting against duties and responsibilities associated with their daily today life. Women want to move out of that cage that binds their freedom and break out of the customs, morals and ceremonies that restrain them. Their rebellion is against what is being considered right or wrong as seen with Medea; she murders her very own kids so as she can be re-united with her husband. When Antigone brother is denied a ritualistic sendoff after he met his death, Antigone goes against the basic conventions of society and religion to bury him. She doesn’t care and feels aggrieved by societal customs that denies his brother a decent farewell. At least, for the sake of the departed soul, they should be upfront to show some mercy and respect for the family. Antigone is one of a kind.
Women are being portrayed as heroines of the society. They are activists of the society; they condemn in the strongest words possible any injustices evidenced in the society or government. They are humble and mild in nature. Most are sympathizers and empathizers of different things affecting their fellow human beings. Men are quick to deny them places and space in the society, but they often emerge as victors. They are seen as tactical and excellent decision makers although they are slow in implementing their decisions; this is a sign of strength since most eventually succeed in their plans (Gossard 20). In Euripides, Heruba a female actor revenge for her son’s death. She cunningly and cleverly lures her foes to get in a tent where she brutally slays them. She emerges a winner despite grieving the death of her son. These heroines can go to any limit to make their demands met, and nothing is beyond reach.
The play also reveals women as both heroines and villains; they fit well on both sides. They are inclined to both the good and the bad. Therefore, this opens the debate of the extent of being a villain or a heroine; they are driven by reasons well known to them. Some actions require much thinking before carrying them out, it is always good to weigh every thought with the seriousness it deserves. Medea goes through mistreatment and ignorance in the hands of her husband Jason; she ends up killing her children all in the name of love. The audiences are left in a state of bewilderment as to whether blame Medea for being a monster or blame Jason for the actions she took. Whether a villain or a heroine, it’s upon the audience to decide, the tragedy ends up in a somber and anxious mood.
It is worth mentioning that women appear as victims in the tragedies. It is true that though some women are strong and powerful in character; some suffer in silence. They go through so much atrocity in the hands of the society and their homes; they don’t know what peace means. They go through situations of mental and physical abuse. They are denied the essentials of life and keep hoping that the world wills one-day change (Allan 18). When this time comes, all will be treated with respect and dignity. Men will cease to be abusers of women to become men who value their women. Women see so much and still got the courage to keep going. A good example of a selfless woman is Cassandra; she features in the play “The Women of Troy” by Euripides. She is a victim of sexual Assault by Ajax. She also witnesses the defeat of Troy.
Women also emerge as oppressed; no political representation. Their duties and responsibilities are being based at home. Women have no place in the political arena of Greece cities. Greek tragedians and philosophers raised attention in their scripts by introducing women roles in the play. “The Seven against Thebes” reveals failure by male political leaders to recognize the physical demands which in turn brings in tragedies in their lives (Allan 23). There are different approaches aimed at introducing equality to both men and women though they are faced by tremendous challenges. It is Aristotle who tries to introduce sexual differences in the theoretical structure of hierarchy. Euripides tactically manipulates the male audience to pity Medea. He acknowledges the fact that. Medea was totally submissive to Jason just like any reasonable woman would, without a doubt; most women take the men as security. After so much effort to make her marriage life work, she ends up being rejected. She is heard making desperate cries for help. Hence, this shows her submissiveness to her authoritative husband.
The Athenian culture reveals women as mothers; they sustain life by giving birth and taking good care of their children. Their husbands are not seen much into this angle, in fact; they are being seen as perpetrators of domestic violence. They are helpers and struggle with household chores; they are also seen taking part in religious rituals and festivals. Women citizenship was being exercised in religion but not politically, they are followers of what their men place and pass as rules and regulations. Women Citizens are seen to act as priestess in most cults; some women opened their horizon beyond domestic responsibilities to more focused roles in the society. At the beginning of Sophocles’ Antigone, Ismene and Antigone disagree over these responsibilities.
Women are also brought out as being emotional. They out-rightly don’t hide their emotions; they can publicly burst into cries if need be. Medea screams out loudly when her abusive husband battles her. Therefore, they have a soft spot, and they need a lot of care. Most women have fewer rights and less power. Therefore, they cannot take any action against assault or injustice. They simply wither out with frustrations and hurt inside. When push comes to shove, vengeance is never far away. The male dominated Greece society believes that women are very strong in the emotional realm but weak mentally hence the need to be protected by their men.
Women in the Greek tragedies are just but a representation of what many women had to go through in their daily endeavors, a lot of pain, hurt, despair and moments of complete denial. The Society and those in power are deaf to their plight; Most of them decide to use very aggressive measures that have dire consequences. Most women choose to revenge as their last resort after seeking divine interventions from their gods. Men die; as a result, just as many homes come down, and so do the nation and its leaders. Women have the power to hold families together and can be good leaders as well. In the Greek tragedies, most of them end up in real tragedies, through them the plight of women is brought to the limelight. They are agents of change to the society. Male audiences sympathize and empathize with them meaning their message of sensitization is well at home. A new society that values, respect and upholds the rights of women is all their hope and wish. A society where gender is not a determinant of how far you can go, but a source of strength to what both men and women can do for a better tomorrow. The tragedies experienced are an eye opener that time for the change has come.