Athenian audience with the references made to Athenian hypocrisy and the challenges and questions he raised on some of the moral issues of the time and the questions that he asked in his plays were sometimes ill received such as the role of women etc. Despite this, Euripides did win the tragedy prize with ‘Hippolytus’ and is revered as a great playwright in present day drama. From some of the female characters that Euripides develops in his plays, one could assume that Euripides was a misogynist. However, it is wrong to say that all of his female characters are wicked and evil; Euripides has created some wonderful and interesting female characters as well as the wicked ones. Perhaps ‘The Assembly Women’ actually had wrong motive for their revolt!
In ‘Alcestis’, the title character, the wife of Admetus (the King of Pherae) sacrifices herself for her husband’s life. A most noble act and Euripides portrays her character, as the model of what a Greek wife should be: completely and utterly devoted to their husband to the extent of dieing for the man that supports them. The Greek audience and modern alike will like Alcestis, as she is a sweet natured and noble woman. She most certainly would have won the hearts of the Greek audience. As she is such a noble character and the measure of her kindness toward her husband is so great, Euripides had to bring her back. So the heroic Heracles wends his way to Hades’ kingdom and brings her back.
In ‘Electra’, again the title role, at the beginning of the play, comes across as a very sorrowful young woman. She has cut her hair out of mourning for her murdered father, Agamemnon. He was murdered by her mother, Clytemnestra, as he had to sacrifice their daughter and then brought home a concubine (Cassandra). When Agamemnon did get home, Clytemnestra had fallen in love with Aegisthus. Therefore, so far in the play, Electra comes across as a woman very much devoted to her father and hates her mother for murdering him. So far so justified. However, when she happens to meet her brother, Orestes, she convinces him to kill their mother. At this point she comes across as a very wicked conniving young lady. It seems as though she had been waiting for Orestes return to make him do this. When Orestes has doubts over killing Clytemnestra, she bullies him into doing it. She knew the result she wanted to get and she got it.
Clytemnestra, if you haven’t read or seen Aeschylus’ ‘Agamemnon’, comes across as a less conniving woman than her daughter. She comes across as a very powerful and domineering woman. She arrives in the play in a chariot and commands the slaves to help her down. She is very aware of her class and position and will not back down from her decision to murder Agamemnon and regards it as the right thing to do. In this sense we must respect her for sticking by her decision and understand that Agamemnon did kill their daughter and come back with a concubine. In a very slight way, she is justified.
Therefore, Euripides has created in Electra a very complicated character. We as the audience or readers assume that she had been planning her revenge on her mother for some time and was just waiting for Orestes return to enact it. Before this point however, we can sympathise with her loss of a father and the pain that she must be going thorough to have the knowledge that it was her mother who murdered him.
Clytemnestra, from this play, comes across a woman who sticks by her decision and who in speech ha the capacity to justify and handle herself well. Euripides has created two complicated female characters and in his portrayal of them has shown no signs of his rumoured misogyny.
Euripides creates one of the greatest roles for any actress to play in ‘Hecabe’. The title role is not the aforementioned feet of extraordinary characterisation. However, Hecabe as a character is very interesting. The audience comes away not knowing what to think of her. She begins the play as a woman who has endured such a lot of pain as the former Queen of the now sacked citadel of Troy. She has reached the limit of endurance and collapses in sorrow. She has lost her entire family to a war over one woman, the infamous Helen. At the end of the play, however, she literally snaps from a grief stricken widow to a raving savage. She has Polymestor blinded and enjoys the gruesome description of the event and the sounds. According to legend, Hecabe turns into a dog due to her extreme torment that results into madness. This is what Polymestor tells her at the end of the play when his blind by her decision.
The character this section opened with by praising is Polyxena. She is Hecabe’s daughter and Euripides develops her character beautifully. Odysseus informs Hecabe that her daughter must be sacrificed to the deceased Achilles. Without shedding a tear, Polyxena, heroically goes with Odysseus to accept her fate. As she is taken to the tomb of Peleus (Achilles father), Greek soldiers hold her and Achilles’ son gets ready with his sword to kill or to sacrifice her. She asks not to be held and the soldiers are taken away. She then tears her clothes off to the wait and bravely speaks and awaits the sword to be thrust into her chest.
Euripides in this play has created two memorable female characters. The brave and heroic Polyxena and the complicated Hecabe. Again, no sign of any misogyny on Euripides part here, in fact the opposite in Polyxena’s case. Creating a heroic woman is no mean feet in Ancient Greece and her character must have been received well as she is incredibly strong of character and of heart.
Another great female character in Euripidean literature is Heracles wife Megara in the play ‘Heracles’. The play tells of how Hera (Queen of the gods, married to Zeus, who’s father to Heracles) turned Heracles mad and in his madness killed his three sons and his wife Megara. This then lead him to go to the Delphic Oracle that told him to be a slave to Eurytheus thus leading to his infamous twelve labours. Anyhow, Megara, at the beginning of the play, thinks that she is a widow and is a vulnerable woman who has to be strong for her three young sons. However, Heracles actually is not dead and comes home to them in Thebes. He is then turned mad by Hera and shoots two of his sons with arrows in his madness. Megara takes the last son and locks herself in room but Heracles breaks in and shoots them both with one arrow.