Both Shakespeare and Sophocles use women to expose flaws in hierarchy.
Women in both Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’ and Sophocles’ ‘Antigone’ illustrate and expose the clear hypocrisies within the hierarchy, all women abuse their chance and opportunity to manipulate and influence each King’s actions in order to bring down the chosen leaders (Creon and Lear). Within these two plays, everything falls down around society because of the tragedy in both plays, with the tragedy being caused and influenced by the actions of the royal females.
In ‘Antigone’, Creon asserts his patriarchal power as a proof of his authority “I now possess the throne and all its powers” which creates a spar between people’s duties to the state and that to religion and individual desire, putting Antigone in a rebellious position where she must make a moral choice where she challenges patriarchal power by trying to do the right thing by the state or by religion. Abbott “ A clash between duties to the State, and that to religion and individual desire, erupt violently in this passage, emerging with an engaging rhetoric from both sides”. This is also where King Lear and Creon find themselves exposed to faults because of women. Both plays demonstrate to the reader that family is a microcosm of state representative, especially when it comes to the Hierarchy; their situations are not private. This can influence the women, especially when in Ancient Greece and 200 years ago they were faced with having to be appropriate to their religion, not break the rules and to be something for the ‘rest of society’ to look up to. In Ancient Greece women were deemed as disruptive if ever to step outside the box, or even speak against patriarchy “Women in marriage did not gain much pleasure. They married between the ages of twelve and eighteen” (Kagan 53). Women were only ever expected to get married and reproduce regardless of their class, whether they had to work as well as that or not. Similarly of renaissance, women were deemed lower than men in the chain of being, and nothing they could do would change the chain of being as to society this way of life was set in stone. “Antigone forms the subject of two fine tragedies of the Grecian poet Sophocles” (Thomas Bulfinch). Although still, with in the chain of being, demons and men were still higher than women. Women at this point were seen to be lower than men and demons although they are the ones who carry the children, and feed them therefore, Shakespeare and Sophocles have more opportunity to abuse their lack of respect as a way to show the lower, animalistic side of men. “She’ll flay thy wolvish visage”.
“Remember we are women, we’re not born to contend with men”, Ismene seizes this straight from the beginning of ‘Antigone’ and understands that what her sister is suggesting will destroy and damage their family more than it has already been distressed by murder and suicide “I must obey the ones who stand in power”. Ismene is a woman in the play who has been constantly overshadowed by Antigone, forcing her to want to challenge the rules in order to acquire attention although she is too weak and has a lack of confidence, leaving her even further restricted by Creon’s rules after her sister dies. “Unmoved by the dissuading counsel of an affectionate but timid sister, and unable to procure assistance, she determined to brave the hazard, and to bury the body with her own hands” (Thomas Bulfinch) Although she must make a moral choice challenging patriarchal power by trying to do the ‘right thing’, the point which Ismene stands in and decides to confront Creon side by side with her sister drives Creon into further self defense and refusal to accept that anyone, let alone women, are “rising up against my throne”. Ismene stands up to Creon after he discovers that Antigone has broken his rules, resulting in Creon having to face up to two women, and punish them so that the city’s people don’t see him as weak. The fact that they are women, he struggles with enough but then that there are two of them as well as the girls being from royalty and “my own house”. The reader begins to see the further development of Creon’s hubristic manner through him attacking himself and his lack of sight “I never knew I was breeding twin disasters”. Ismene’s sudden boost of confidence to question Creon “What? You would kill your own son’s bride?” exposes another floor with in Creon. Creon, here, attacks Antigone and Ismene by offending their roles as women voicing, “there are other fields for him to plow”. Creon makes many convictions insulting womankind, his convictions seem true to a large population of men. Within Ancient Greece, men believed in the undeniable domination of women. Gerald F Else suggests “Sophocles was writing a tragedy about a woman who made gods a justification for her deeds”. This shows to the reader that Sophocles has created Creon’s flaw and that he used the Princess’ roles to do this.
In light of this, Shakespeare uses Lear’s daughters to create the atmosphere for his reaction, especially at the beginning. Lear divides his kingdom but still has and wants the power, comforts and appearance that come with the title, further more in order to decide which of his three daughters get he presents them with a ‘love test’ wanting to know how much he means to each of them and why they deserve to get anything. At this point in the play, Gonerill and Regan use an inflationary rhetoric to praise him but it’s worthless hyperbole “I love you more than word can wield the matter, Dearer than eyesight”. Although it’s Cordelia’s decision to “be silent” that shows the reader the first signs of the hierarchy’s floors even if in the end, Cordelia is the only daughter that forgives and redeems Lear. Shakespeare’s choice to give Cordelia the decision of her “love’s more ponderous than my tongue” straight away identifies with the reader that this is a woman who will not play the rules that society has set for her and that she will mark the starting point in the play of where Shakespeare is using women and the female power to expose floors in her King and controller; her father. Lear is morally and emotionally out of order which is his tragic floor, his daughters play along with his ‘game’ of insanity, creating a turning point in Hierarchy. Hierarchy is based on a respectable way, which Lear and Creon both don’t do. This is where the Fool steps in and highlights to Lear that society is inverted because of him. “Is there any cause in nature that makes these hard hearts?” The Fool within ‘King Lear’ has no values and no morals but is able as a man and human to understand the meaning and importance of people’s values and morals, especially within hierarchy. Shakespeare uses the Fool to highlight each role of Lear’s daughters. When Lear’s daughters; Gonerill and Regan manipulate their Father and reject him and force him to retreat to nature, breaking society proving that they are content to use violence and corruption, calling Gonerill “sharp-toothed, like a vulture”. After being forced to retreat to the safety net of nature, because of his daughters, Lear resorts to using animalistic language, which was caused by his complete lack of vision and unfairness. Here, Shakespeare shows that Lear’s inability to see and deal with female characters causes disaster.
To broaden this, both men (Creon and Lear) learn to see through their faults in order to come to terms with reality, Creon a lot later than Lear. The blind prophet in Antigone, Tiresias, has knowledge and sight into reality but has no actual physical sight, both of their lack of vision becomes ironic for the reader. “Whoever places a friend above the good of his own country, he is nothing”. This is Creon giving a clear reference to the future, without knowing it; Antigone places her brother above what Creon sees as the good of her country. “Antigone was a bright example of filial and sisterly fidelity” (Thomas Bulfinch) In the same way that Gloucester and Lear both have a lack of sight.
Lear: “No eyes in your head, nor money in your purse?
Your eyes are in a heavy case, your purse in a light;
yet you see how this world goes.”
Gloucester: “I see it feelingly”
Lear: “What, art mad? A man may see how this worls goes with no eyes.
Look thine ears.”
They both ‘stumbled’ when they saw, Gloucester’s blinding is the physical manifestation of the mental torture Lear endured on the heath. There are many references to eyes and sight that increase the tension we feel, as the reader, and prepare us for the blinding. “Pluck out his eyes” Gonerill and Regan don’t take part in the blinding but Shakespeare has clearly written in that ‘Regan plucks his beard’. The cruelty of this scene in the play indicates that the world has been turned upside down. Everyone seems to be able to ‘see’ that the division of a Kingdom as a bad thing except for Lear and those who seek to gain from the division, namely Gonerill and Regan. Within this scene the fact that one woman insinuates a method or torture, and the other savors in the infliction of pain that another human has whilst prompting her husband on to additional cruelty, subsequently later killing a man herself. In these plays it seems that one must become literally blind to alleviate the suffering of being metaphorically blind. Gloucester cannot see the Machiavelli nature of his illegitimate son Edmund, and manages to be so blind to the hearts and minds of men that he tolerates Edgar his legitimate and caring son to be hunted on the declaration of Edmund “toad-spotted traitor”. Lear does much the same with his daughters not seeing that Gonerill and Regan hunt for only to eulogize in a sycophantic orgy of wealth hoarding, whereas Cordelia truly loves him. “Self-realization can be very powerful and emotional for a character, such a strong character like Lear retrogress’ into a mere shadow of his former self, and then recognizes that he’s left with nothing”. (Thomas Bulfinch)
Along with his lack of sight Lear’s language degenerates; this is a reaction to his daughters. He immediately calls to nature and relies on nature to bring him through the journey of hubris, but what he doesn’t realize is that the character of the fool is able to make him realize and become guilty. Especially when the two daughters roles become inverted like society, then begin to act as mothers as well as savage women who have never been taught manners “Hard, hard! O filthy traitor!” they like their father become mad and insane with the power that they have. This is where we begin to see the two forms of evil in ‘King Lear’; instinctive and animalistic evil personified and embodied by Gonerill and Regan, as well as the calculated rejection of God, forming Edmund’s sight of the world. Lear becomes a type of human that he thought he could have the good without the bad, where as his daughters just wanted to abuse the bad and manipulate it to get further in life. Towards the end of ‘King Lear’ Shakespeare writes that Gonerill and Regan kill each other. The reader is quick to understand that this is over a man, a man who has been born from the disruption of society: Edmund, pushing tragedy to affect everyone. Not only does this child from a different generation abuse his position but is also able to manipulate Rich women into disrupting society further more without having understanding of what they are doing. Shakespeare understands that women can be driven by men of youth and strength and that woman can drive and manipulate fathers, and men who hold love for them. “Bind fast his corky arms” Lear then becomes a cast out and ridiculous figure of nature, his power is removed along with his male potency being castrated by his daughters although he gains political knowledge.
Lear: “Why dost thou bash that whore? Strip thy own back.
Thou hotly lusts to use her in that kind
For which thou whipp’st her. The userer hangs the cozener”
Further more Gonerill is an inverse of what Creon has to say about women, she is not only authoritative and resolute like Antigone but holds the reigns of Lear’s destiny. Her language, unlike Antigone’s is doubly enforced by this added edge destiny has endowed her. It’s between these characters that language is no longer the sovereign means to organize or represent knowledge; it is an object of knowledge like others, to be investigated in the same ways as living things, wealth, value and history. Especially when these women are furious, they tend to attack and gain the opposite of what Hierarchy expects of them, showing the weaknesses in male power. Other characters in ‘Antigone’ such as the Sentry, Ismene, Haemon and Tiresias find themselves obviously pointing out the truth and fate to Creon, “while he is adamant in maintaining his strong hold on what he calls State-duty, but what in fact is his own obstinate pride” (Kathleen McCluskie), but because he is so distracted by women not playing their ‘set roles’, and his own hubristic ways, he is unable to save himself “Oh it’s terrible when the one who does the judging, judges things all wrong”.
Shakespeare uses Gonerill’s position as the first daughter that Lear stays with to develop his stages of insanity even further “You are old and reverend” and add to the stack of anger that Lear’s mind is building. In the position of attack, Lear finds comfort and defense using a woman’s centre of their anatomy, which is their key target point. The language in this scene gets straight to the point “into her womb convey sterility” forcing Gonerill to fall as low as a woman can fall leaving her with no purpose if she can not reproduce. Likewise Creon attacks Antigone’s roles as a woman by telling her to “find a husband down among the dead” which limits her path forcing her “tomb, my bridal-bed” ending her life. Once she is married to death she is “denied all joy of marriage, raising children”; this is Sophocles using what women traditionally are seen to be useful for and using Creon’s anger and sharp self defense system to illustrate that the power and ability women have to reproduce and partner with someone is something that he feels and knows he cannot control. Both these ways in which the male writers; Shakespeare and Sophocles attack the woman’s centre point and heart, which we find in the modern era that this is a thing men struggle to come to terms with; the power of reproduction and female sexuality therefore they feel the need to exploit this part of a woman’s nature when their ‘universe’ and centre point is attacked, or weak “Turn all her mother’s pains and benefits To laughter and contempt”.