Feminism has been one of the most important forces in shaping our modern-day society. Thanks to the women's rights movement, females today enjoy rights and freedoms that are unprecedented in the history of Western civilization. However, it was not always this way. Whereas modern literature that contains feminist messages barely gets a second thought, readers in our time are intrigued and impressed by feminist works coming from a decidedly male-biased past. Two of the greatest works of Western literature, Antigone and Othello, written by the two great dramatists Sophocles and Shakespeare, have been said to illustrate feminist ideals in the "distant" past. Antigone, which embodies these ideals throughout and is primarily concerned with the inequity of gender roles, is such a play. Othello, while it contains occasional feminist sentiment, still keeps its women in conventional female roles and thus is not a feminist work.
In order to determine if these plays are feminist, we first require a working definition of the term. This alone is rather complicated, because the word itself is popularly used and misused in many different ways. In its simplest form, feminist doctrine states that women and men are equal and deserve the same rights and privileges. This, although widely accepted in our time, was not in the past. However, feminism also has been seen as the belief that men are the inferior sex, a belief that might more accurately be termed "anti-masculinism". This belief has never been widely espoused in Western society, and probably never will be. It can also be said that "feminism" is any belief or idea that is meant to improve the well-being and social standing of females: for ex...
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...e does not, and this is seen clearly in the play. We are driven to sympathize with Antigone, and we see that she finds a way to be powerful that does not fit in with the classical male-driven power structure. She is also powerful in the structure of the play: she is its most well developed character and the play takes its title from her name. Finally, Sophocles shows us that feminism works, at least in Antigone's case: she gets what she wants. Unfortunately, this happens to be death, but her attempts at power still get her what she desires.
Shakespeare, William. Othello. Ed. Barbara A. Mowat, Paul Werstine. New York: Washington Square Press, 1993.
Sophocles. Antigone. The Theban Plays. Ed. and trans. E. F. Watling. London: Penguin Group, 1947: 126-162.
Watling, E. F. "Introduction." The Theban Plays. London: Penguin Group, 1947: 7-22.
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