Médée, Clytemnestre and Phèdre
: Female Heroism Revisited in Seventeenth-Century French Tragedy

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Abstract

This thesis reinterprets Médée’s, Phèdre’s and Clytemnestre’s behaviour, actions and character in the dramatic works of Pierre Corneille, Jean Racine and Hilaire-Bernard de Longepierre, and provides new and original readings of their experience and deeds. This endeavour incorporates a comparative approach to the classical Greek and French early modern versions of these characters which emphasizes the development that the latter undergo in order to acquire psychological depth and complexity. The behaviour and actions of these early modern tragic heroines is then analysed through an ethical framework, which combines Carol Gilligan’s ethics of care and Martha Nussbaum’s valorisation of the role of emotions in the decision-making process. This reading engages with the tragic characters’ experience and perception in a manner that acknowledges and values specific aspects of their behaviour and reasoning which so far have been devalued or overlooked, specifically their emotional reactions and their ideas about goodness and responsibility. This analysis argues that the ethical standpoint of female tragic heroines is as valid and valuable as the deliberation mode of their male counterparts and reclaims their place within the tragic hero category. The analysis of the characters’ behaviour and actions is deepened through a psychoanalytical approach informed by transactional analysis and game theory, concepts developed and applied by Eric Berne. This approach challenges previous Freudian readings, to provide new and original interpretations of the characters’ behaviour and a composite image of the factors that inform their actions, particularly inherited values and beliefs about themselves and the world. The final step of this study is the analysis of recent productions of these plays. This endeavour completes our reading of these tragic characters by presenting the new interpretations that emerge from recent performances in terms of characters’ behaviour and interactions and the way they reinforce the readings incorporated in chapters 2 and 3 of this thesis. This study overcomes the biases of previous interpretations of these characters and provides original readings which enable us to perceive these characters and their behaviour from a different perspective.
Date of Award28 Nov 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorEllen C O'Gorman (Supervisor) & Edward R B Forman (Supervisor)

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