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The Gendered Struggle: Comparing And Contrasting Between Masculine And Feminine Perceptions Of Honor In Two Cultures

1985 words - 8 pages

The comparisons between Medea and Hamlet are numerous. Both are stories about revenge that end in the controversial main character sacrificing everything in order to preserve one of the most important markers of identity of their time: honor. Medea was a controversial character in ancient times not only because of her filicide, but because she asserted that women have honor, an idea that was not the norm in Greece. In sharp contrast to her is Hamlet, the tragic hero that was honor-bound by his society to avenge his father’s death, yet only does so at the expense of his entire kingdom. The difference in how society treats Hamlet and Medea in their quests to preserve their honor result in tragedy for both characters, as Hamlet lets the masculine values of honor in his society come in the way of his sanity and Medea draws honor, in a society that does not acknowledge her efforts as valid, out to its very limits, causing Jason pain at the expense of her own children, despite social pressures such as duty and gender roles deterring them from completing their vengeance. Both sacrifice almost everything in their quests, breaking societal norms and bringing into question the validity of their revenge.
In Elizabethan drama, the revenge tragedy was already a favorite genre by the time Shakespeare penned Hamlet. The basic structure guaranteed that one killed at the beginning of the play, usually a father, would somehow call for a younger relative, usually a son, to avenge his murder (Encyclopedia Britannica). Based on the traditional values of the time, the son would then confront and kill his father’s murderer, restoring honor to both his father’s death and the family as a whole. Yet Hamlet, unlike the typical hero of a revenge tragedy, questions the demand of the apparition claiming to be his father. With no way to ensure that the ghost that appears to him is truly his father, is he morally obligated to kill his uncle, and would killing his uncle restore honor to the family? He acknowledges that his uncle Claudius marrying his mother has already angered him, and that he might be tempted by devils to kill Claudius out of spite, instead of out of any true obligation to his father. A new dimension is added when one considers Hamlet’s status as a prince and Claudius’ status as king. Hamlet is caught in a moral dilemma: society demands vengeance for his father, yet to do so also constitutes as treason. But princes are also expected to be the paragons of manliness, meaning that Hamlet is held to an even higher standard than typical of the age. He is expected to be the ideal of manhood and this translates to his honor as well. If Hamlet’s father was murdered, he must avenge him not only as a duty to his father, but also as a duty to his country. These complications with his revenge leave Hamlet conflicted to the point of insanity, either genuine or feigned.
A sharp contrast to Hamlet’s turmoil, Medea defies traditional feminine values of her time to instead...

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