The Punishment of Female Rebellion in 'The Bacchae' and 'Macbeth'
To be a woman is to be submissive. Such is the case in regards to gender roles in both Euripides's The Bacchae and in William Shakespeare's Macbeth. In both tragedies, women are expected to be weak and delicate, keeping to all but house chores and childrearing. Also in both tragedies are female characters who break the confines of their gender roles, giving opportunity for the play to present terrifying implications and consequences of this rebellion from femininity. Agave, from The Bacchae, and Lady Macbeth, from Macbeth, are examples of these women who disrupt the established role of women in their respective plays to only end up creating chaos, which in turn, could only be solved with the weakening and removal of these unconventional women. The two both exhibit themes of female rebellion and the play responds to the theme in almost identical ways. In both plays, the theme of female rebellion is presented with women who are ultimately punished for straying from conventionally established idea of being a woman, leading one to realize the plays' favor for traditional gender roles. This favoring of the established traditional gender roles is evident in the plays' transitions in imagery used to define the characters, the character's deteriorating relationships, and their eventual downfall due to madness with Agave and Lady Macbeth being the examples of the punishing of female rebellion.
Progressive imagery in the plays indicate a correlation with women who break traditional roles and ultimate succumbing to madness, as both Agave and Lady Macbeth both become associated with progressively more objectionable imagery. In the case of Agave in The Bacchae, she was initially presented regally as a "queen" of a kingdom. However, after she left to frolic and become one of the Bacchae, exiting her traditional role as a housewife, she is depicted in a much different manner. What is regal eventually becomes sickening. For example, she is described as being part of a group that is "ripping a fat, young, lowing calf apart" and "dripping blood and gore" (909). Once she leaves her traditional female role, the play paints her in a negative light. From being one of the members of the royal family, she transitions to a frenzied animalistic state. Here, "ripping a... calf apart" creates savage, grotesque, and ultimately unappealing image that results in the play painting her in a bad light. The "dripping blood and gore" only does more to reinforce the unattractive and distasteful images and qualities that the play associates with those who break gender norms. It is as if the play is punishing Agave's character for her being unorthodox, as the change in associated imagery correlates with her changing of gender roles. Such is even more apparent as the animalistic imagery continues. Agave is later described as "foaming at the mouth, eyes rolling in their sockets, ... possessed, in a Bacchic frenzy" (1391). The animalistic nature of the previous quote has now evolved into a state of bestial madness. Agave "foaming at the mouth" creates a violent, diseased image while her demonic eyes in "a Bacchic frenzy" generates the idea that she is in a unnatural state of possessed rage. Such ultimately paints Agave in a bad light, as, connotatively, being ascribed qualities of a possessed feral beast is negative. It can be concluded from the examples of Agave being depicted as a feral animal that it is implied that the losing of one's traditionally feminine side translates to one's losing of rational thought and control over their bodies, and thus inferring the play's rejection of female rebellion. Similarly, Lady Macbeth displays the same patterns in Macbeth.
Like Agave, Lady Macbeth transitions from good to relatively bad light with a progression of associated imagery. With Lady Macbeth inherently breaking the role of the traditional female at her first appearance, she, instead of going...
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