Femininity in Goethe's Iphigenia in Tauris

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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.
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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.
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