Gender reconstruction of an ancient myth


The essay deals with feminist revisions of ancient mythology. It is common knowledge that addressing classic texts is one of the most characteristic features of modern feminist literature and drama. These texts are considered as the most indicative evidence of male chauvinism in the Patriarchal Canon. Thus, creation of an alternative mythology is one of the strategies used by feminists to create a gender system of images and an attempt to subvert and transform the culture that was inherited by feminist writers. One of the stories, which continues to attract the attention of playwrights, is the Phaedra myth. The most recent feminist versions of this myth are “Phaedra’s Love” by Sarah Kane (1996) and “Phaedra in Delirium” by Susan Yankowitz (1998), which are the objects of research in this essay. It should be noted at once that radical rethinking and deconstruction of the classical Canon does not occur in either of the plays, as both playwrights follow the plot outline of Euripides, Seneca and Racine. More interesting of the two is Kane’s drama, which is discussed in more detail. It is not the story, generally following a familiar pattern, that makes the main difference from its predecessors but rather the characteristics of the heroes and its affectedly emotional tone. In addition, the play is transposed into the present and depicts everyday life of a European Royal family. Tracing the evolution of the story from Euripides and Seneca to Sarah Kane, we see that there is a shift from the overwhelming power of divine Eros towards a more fundamental desire of understanding that emerges even through erotic drive. So, “Phaedra’s Love” generally follows the tradition of the previous post-Euripides adaptations, portraying a passionate desire for understanding, which is met with coldness; this is a psychological drama unfolding against the modern socio-political background with distinctive feminine accents, including sharply negative images of male characters, the image of a woman as a subject, and the invasion into the sphere of sophisticated violence, previously a taboo for women.

Key words: 

mythological drama, feminism, classical Canon, reconstruction, antiquity.

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