Femininity in Goethe's Iphigenia in Tauris

analytical Essay
1469 words
1469 words

When we are first introduced to Iphigenie, she laments her life as a woman, and contrasts it with the life of a man. Goethe's Iphigenia in Tauris abounds with references to gender roles: behavioral norms considered appropriate for an individual based on their gender. However, while Iphigenie is portrayed as the epitome of a feminine being (compassionate, gentle, pure/devout, honest and effective at communicating1), her interactions with the male characters challenge the construct of traditional gender roles. Instead of being limited by her femininity, Iphigenie proves herself to embody characteristics that are considered quintessentially male traits (assertiveness, rationality, and resolve2) to a greater extent than the male characters in the play. Thus, Iphigenia in Tauris can be read as an argument against the idea of strict gender expectations.
Throughout the drama, there is a strong emphasis on gender. Characters often refer to their own genders, as well as the gender of others, using them as a way of explaining or predicting personality traits and actions. The audience is quickly introduced to the subject of gender roles in society during Iphigenie's opening soliloquy. The character sorrowfully expresses self-pity about her limitations as a woman:
I will not judge the counsel of the gods;
Yet, truly, woman's lot doth merit pity...
How circumscrib'd is woman's destiny!
Obedience to a harsh, imperious lord,
Her duty, and her comfort; sad her fate... (Act 1, Scene i)
With these words, Iphigenie is not only reflecting on the role society has placed upon her, but on how constricting this role can be.
Frequently, the male characters make claims about the traits of Iphigenie based on her womanhood. These claims are often manipu...

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... of the German Classic period, but a challenge to the idea of the limiting nature of femininity.

Works Cited

Bem, Sandra L. Bem Sex-Role Inventory: Professional Manual. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists, 1981. Print.
Cancian, Francesca M. “The Feminization of Love.” Signs:Journal of Women in Culture and Society 11.4 (1986):692-709. Print.
De Vaus, David, and Ian McAllister. “Gender differences in Religion: A Test of the Structural Location Theory.”American Sociological Review 52.4 (1987):472-81. Print.
Lange, Sigrid. “The “Other Subject” of History: Women in Goethe's Drama.” Impure Reason: Dialectic of Enlightenment in Germany. Eds. W. Daniel Wilson and Robert C. Holub. Detroit: Wayne State University Press,1993.260-277. Print.
Prandi, Julie D. “Goethe's Iphigenie as Woman.” The Germanic Review: Literature, Culture, Theory 60.1 (1985):23-31. Print.

In this essay, the author

  • Analyzes how the structure of the drama reinforces the feminine ideals of thoughtfulness and communication.
  • Analyzes how iphigenie shows power over the male characters, despite being bound by patriarchal society. when thoas confronts her about her delaying the sacrifice of orestes and pylades, she defiantly stands up to him.
  • Describes de vaus, david, and ian mcallister's research on gender differences in religion.
  • Analyzes how goethe's iphigenia in tauris abounds with references to gender roles: behavioral norms considered appropriate for an individual based on their gender.
  • Analyzes how pylades contradicts the idea that women are capricious when he reassures orestes about their fate at the temple.
  • Analyzes how the male characters' perception of iphigenie contradicts the way she sees herself and how her actions reflect her.
  • Analyzes how iphigenia in tauris addresses the institution of gender roles within a society, both challenging and reinforcing them.
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