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Women In Euripides' Alcestis, Medea, Andromache, And Bacchae

2885 words - 12 pages

Euripides portrayal of women in his plays has been somewhat bizarre. His female characters kill out of revenge, kill out of jealousy and kill because a god possessed them too. In Alcestis and Andromache Euripides does produce classic heroic female characters. The women in Medea and The Bacchae are not your typical heroines but serve to show the same theme of female liberation as the women in Alcestis and Andromache. While Alcestis is straight forward with its message, the other three plays mask their true intentions from the people they are created to oppose. Euripides might have been misinterpreted by his society because it was dominated by the very people he wrote his plays against. Euripides disguises some of his radical ideas to those who might oppose him and in Alcestis, Andromache, Medea, and The Bacchae shows his female characters being liberated from oppression.

In Alcestis we have the heroic female character Alcestis. She dies as a sacrifice to Death so that her husband, Admetus, can escape his own fate when his time comes. A sign that women are oppressed is that Admetus picked his wife to die for him without giving it much thought. It was only after he realized how loving and caring this woman can be, did he regret his decision. Not only did he regret the decision made with the god Apollo, but Apollo himself goes and has a talk with Death. This switch in the opinion of Admetus in a way expresses the fact that women are not viewed as they should be. Women should not be treated as if they have no useful value, as was the case when Admetus first allowed his wife to be his sacrifice, a decision that he would not have made if he had known the woman for more time. Women therefore should be valued more than they are now, because they could end up being as perfect as Alcestis.

As Alcestis is about to die, she does not blame her husband. She dies graciously with all the people in the play mourning for her lost. Even her servants claim she was like a mother to them. Alcestis even volunteered to be a sacrifice for Admetus because of her strong devotion to him. Admetus now deeply regretting her choice lashes out at his father, Pheres. In this exchange that goes on between a father his son, Alcastis is seen being put ahead of Admetus' own father.

Admetus now wishes his father were the sacrifice instead of his wife. He reviles his own father because he did not choose to die for him, leaving the task to his now so perfect wife. Admetus says "I count myself as not your son. Oh, you are a master coward!" (Roche, 1974, p. 19), and disrespectfully calls his father a coward for prolonging his own life over his son's. Admetus does this even though it is painstakingly clear that he did not do the same for his wife. His irrational actions and blatant disrespect for his own father are all done in the name of Alcestis, and show what a woman is capable of becoming and meaning to her husband.

Throughout Apollo's talk with Death, Death is as...

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