However, the act of infanticide is justified by Medea, not so much as an act of revenge but, in her eyes, the best thing that she can do for her children, ‘Now my course is clear: as quickly as possible/To kill the children Not delay and so consign them to another hand/To murder with a better will. For they must die/In any case; and since they must, then I who gave/Them birth will kill them’ (line 1233ff). Jason pleads with Medea, insisting on his male role until the end of the play, that she allow him his paternal rites of burying the children.
Jason fails in his own persuasion and Medea has succeeded in demonstrating the importance of vows and places the same heartache, which she has encountered since he married Glauce, upon Jason. I believe this final act was Medea’s way of confirming to Jason that it was the emotional sorrow of losing him that wounded her the most, rather than the physical aspect of their relationship, as Jason believed. This unconventional ending is perhaps part of the reason why the play was not as well received when it was initially premiered. .
In George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, we see the main character, Eliza Doolittle, transformed from an ill-mannered but street wise cockney flower girl into a high society debutante. This transformation is primarily the work of Mr Henry Higgins, a professor of phonetics, financed by his well-travelled acquaintance. Shaw initially portrays Eliza as unfeminine and outspoken, if not somewhat rude, traits of which she is perhaps aware (this insecurity could explain her repetition of the ‘I’m good girl, I am’ mantra during the earlier part of the play).
Eliza’s initial state is in sharp contrast to the ladies, Clara Eynsford-Hill and her mother Mrs Eynsford-Hill, who are waiting in the rain expectant that Clara’s brother, Freddy, will provide them with a taxi (a hopeless task they have persuaded him to do despite the weather). Eliza’s moral attitude is worthy, highlighted by a passer-by who informs her that a man is taking notes of her conversation with the Colonel, ‘they’ll take away my character’ (Shaw pg13) Eliza exclaims, worried that she has been mistaken for a prostitute.
Eliza is very ambitious, with dreams of owning a flower shop and sees herself as strong and self-sufficient, despite her lowly origins and public perception. Eliza proves her shrewd mind by visiting Higgins at his house, after he announces his address to the Colonel, to ask whether she can pay him for elocution lessons, in order to better herself (not only has Eliza persuaded the gentleman to give her several months wages, she has also negotiated a life changing classes). Shaw uses Higgins to highlight the chauvinistic qualities that many men possessed during this period.
He oppress Eliza into obedience with taunts and humiliation (and is not shy about doing so in company), calling her a ‘squashed cabbage leaf’ (Shaw pg18), and saying ‘A woman who utters such depressing and disgusting sounds has no right to be anywhere’ (Shaw pg18). Higgins strips Eliza, both figuratively and literally, by providing her with new clothing and destroying her old items giving her a new identity. Determination in the face of constant adversity and tension pushes Eliza further, but culminates with an action that surmises Shaw’s opinion of the oppression of women.
During Act Four, after Eliza overhears Higgins explain that he is glad the experiment is over because ‘the whole thing has been a bore’ (Shaw pg75), Eliza throws Higgins’ slippers at him. To Eliza the slippers represent masculine oppression, that a woman’s duty is to look after the man, and she has had enough. This symbolic gesture would have been more poignant had Eliza thrown Higgins’ dinner at him, although Shaw would have realised this a difficult act to perform on stage.
Despite following traditions of a romantic text, Shaw has the hero and heroine, somewhat surprisingly, part company in the final act of the play. Shaw moved away from the traditional ‘Cinderella’ ending as marriage can be recognized as a completely patriarchal institution, dominated by the man. Had Eliza married Higgins he would have expected her to play the part of the doting wife. This would contrast completely with what Eliza has transformed herself from, a helpless girl, and into, a very independent woman.
Freddy, her alternative, although a little dim and unambitious for Eliza, is the kind of gentleman that would not treat her as subordinate, but as a lady, a trait she found particularly endearing in the Colonel. Both Euripides and Shaw express their beliefs and opinions through their main characters in contrasting approaches. Euripides could be seen by some as a considerably anti-feminist, in his endeavour to illustrate the mental anguish that women in Ancient Greece endure.
He has managed to glorify the male stereotype and in doing so Medea loses her femininity altogether in an attempt to shame the audience. Shaw endeavours, through Eliza, to demonstrate that women are right to want equal opportunities and should fight for their independence. Shaw has Eliza achieving these things while still holding onto the feminine qualities that he seems to value.
Bibliography Richards, F. (2005) The Open University: Block 5 Myths and Conventions, 2nd edition Shaw, B (1914) Pygmalion, Penguin Euripides (1997) Medea and Other Plays, Oxford World Classics.