Classically, women playwrights are almost completely absent. There were virtually no women writers at all up until at least the seventeenth century. This fact originally led feminist critics to disregard the classical period. In an article titled “Classical Drag: The Greek Creation of Female Parts,” Sue Ellen Case states that because “traditional scholarship has focused on evidence related to written texts, the absence of women playwrights became central to early feminist investigations” (132). Despite this absence of female writers, feminist critics analyze the role of women in ancient Greece in other ways. Recently, feminist writers have been able to delve further into the classical period by examining female characters from the works of male playwrights.
The construction of women in male literature is extremely important. Peter Barry, in his chapter on feminist literary criticism in his book Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory, asserts that observing the female characters in works by men is important because it provides “role models which indicated to women, and men, what constituted acceptable version of the ‘feminine’ and legitimate feminine goals and aspirations” (122). Looking into the roles of the women within the works helps us determine the kind of role women and men occupy in relation to each other in addition to the personal characteristics of the women. This insight into the relations between men and women adds a new layer of knowledge for feminist critics.
The depiction of women by women writers differs greatly from the depiction of women by male writers. Women, as represented by men, represent stereotypes of actual women. That is, “the feminist critic may assume that the images of women in these plays represent a fiction of women constructed by the patriarchy” (Case 132). In other words, the women in these plays are versions of women as viewed by man. They are what men think women actually are. By looking at the roles in which men place those fictional women, we can examine the “cultural ‘mind-set’ in men and women which perpetuates cultural inequality” (Barry 122).
This representation of women is a main concern of feminist literary critics. Women characters in classical drama, such as Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, are not so much realistic, well-rounded female characters, but figments of a classical male imagination. The representations of the women in Lysistrata are unrealistic in terms of their behavior towards one another as well as the relative amount of power that they gain through their attempt to influence the diplomacy of the men. However, the societal constraints on their behavior are somewhat accurate.
Women in ancient Greek society had little to no political or social influence. Originally, they took part in the traditional religious practices, like the festivals of the god Dionysus. “In the sixth century, both women and men participated in these ceremonies, but by the fifth century,...