The Gendered Struggle: Comparing and Contrasting between Masculine and Feminine Perceptions of Honor in Two Cultures

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The comparisons between Medea and Hamlet are numerous. Both are stories about revenge that end in the controversial main character sacrificing everything in order to preserve one of the most important markers of identity of their time: honor. Medea was a controversial character in ancient times not only because of her filicide, but because she asserted that women have honor, an idea that was not the norm in Greece. In sharp contrast to her is Hamlet, the tragic hero that was honor-bound by his society to avenge his father’s death, yet only does so at the expense of his entire kingdom. The difference in how society treats Hamlet and Medea in their quests to preserve their honor result in tragedy for both characters, as Hamlet lets the masculine values of honor in his society come in the way of his sanity and Medea draws honor, in a society that does not acknowledge her efforts as valid, out to its very limits, causing Jason pain at the expense of her own children, despite social pressures such as duty and gender roles deterring them from completing their vengeance. Both sacrifice almost everything in their quests, breaking societal norms and bringing into question the validity of their revenge.
In Elizabethan drama, the revenge tragedy was already a favorite genre by the time Shakespeare penned Hamlet. The basic structure guaranteed that one killed at the beginning of the play, usually a father, would somehow call for a younger relative, usually a son, to avenge his murder (Encyclopedia Britannica). Based on the traditional values of the time, the son would then confront and kill his father’s murderer, restoring honor to both his father’s death and the family as a whole. Yet Hamlet, unlike the typical hero of a revenge tragedy, ...

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...ndicates a level of justification each felt in their actions. These actions, immortalized in two of the most widely read classics of all time, even today call into question the values each society held so dear, and led the modern reader to explore what honor and traditional gendered values mean both in these societies and our own.

Works Cited

Bowman, James. Honor: A History. New York: Encounter Books, 2007. Print.
Euripides. Medea. Medea and Other Plays (Penguin Classics). New York: Penguin Classics, 1998. Print.
Peterson, Lauren Hackworth, and Patricia Salzman-Mitchell. Mothering and Motherhood in Ancient Greece. Austin: UT Press, 2012. E-book.
"revenge tragedy." Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 16 Apr. 2014. .
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