The Dramatic Appeal of Human Props in Greek Drama
In both The Medea and Lysistrata, powerful women wage wars against the male-dominated status quo, harnessing minor characters as pawns to achieve their desired ends. Like all dramatic props, these manipulated characters do not have motivations or character arcs, nor do they single-handedly propel the action of either play. They serve as symbols rather than people, vehicles which Euripides' and Aristophanes' female protagonists operate to drive motion onstage, allowing the women to orchestrate the defeat of their male opponents. As a result, the degree to which the human props in these plays work as symbols of greater thematic motifs largely determines how much power they possess. Whether they are acting under the direction of strong female leads, switching hands between men and women, or interacting with literal, inanimate props, the power and symbolism present within the minor characters of The Medea and Lysistrata accurately reflect the strength of the characters who wield them. Although both Euripides' and Aristophanes' protagonists manipulate human props to gain power in their battles against men, the innate symbolism of Euripides' props ultimately becomes a debilitating crutch for the desperate Medea, whereas Aristophanes' total objectification of his props humorously highlights Lysistrata's striking independence.
The primary human props commanded by Medea and Lysistrata are their main weapons against the male opponents they face. In The Medea, Jason and Medea's two children function as her primary props, her greatest source of power. They are symbols of Jason's potency, the male heirs of his legacy and the propagators of his name and bloodline. Though the children play such a large role in the continuation of the family, they are presented as naïve and oblivious in Euripides' tragedy. Their naïveté is made apparent at the play's opening, as they happily frolic onstage, completely disregarding their mother's growing wrath and desperation (Euripides 46). The children personify Jason and Medea's neglect of the household and their abandonment of responsibility for their past and present actions. While Jason and Medea rage at each other, their sons are ignored, left to the care of the nurse and the tutor. They are silent objects that the other characters carelessly shuffle across the stage, activated only as instruments of vengeance. Medea's treatment of her children shows that she doesn't see her sons as individual human beings, but rather as symbols of her and Jason's lost love. Euripides establishes this perceived connection from the first scene, when Medea screams, "I hate you, / Children of a hateful mother. I curse you / And your father. Let the whole house crash" (Euripides 112). In Medea's mind, the children are products of her perverted union with Jason. They are inextricably tied to her renouncement of family, her exile as a murderess, and her husband's betrayal; as props, they catalogue every moment of her history and frustration. Medea's association of the children with Jason makes it easy for her to banish all traces of motherly regret as she slaughters them for revenge.
Throughout the play, Medea has complete control over her children, allowing her to take full advantage of them as pawns in her murder plot. She derives extreme power from her custody of the two boys, who she wields as the ultimate tools of revenge. Medea understands Jason's egotism and recognizes the significant role that the children serve as his only sons, the seeds necessary to the continuation of his family tree. Accordingly, she casts her sons as lead actors in her scheme, structuring each phase of her plan around their exploitation in a way that thoroughly empowers her. For instance, Medea delays her banishment by appealing to King Creon's parental sympathies and his natural pity for her helpless children (Euripides 342). She works the...
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