An anthropology of gender and death in Corneille's tragedies
Brown, Michelle Leslie
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This study presents an analysis of the relationship between gender and death in Corneille s tragedies. He uses death to show spectators gender-specific types of behavior to either imitate or reject according to the patriarchal code of ethics. A character who does not conform to his or her gender role as dictated by seventeenth-century society will ultimately be killed, be forced to commit suicide or cause the death of others. Likewise, when murderous tyrants refrain from killing, they are transformed into legitimate rulers. Corneille s representation of the dominance of masculine values does not vary greatly from that of his contemporaries or his predecessors. However, unlike the other dramatists, he portrays women in much stronger roles than they usually do and generally places much more emphasis on the impact of politics on the decisions that his heroes and heroines must make. He is also innovative in his use of conflict between politics, love, family obligations, personal desires, and even loyalty to Christian duty. Characters must decide how they are to prioritize these values, and their choices should reflect their conformity to their gender role and, for men, their political position, and for females, their marital status. While men and women should both prioritize Christian duty above all else, since only men were in control of politics and the defense of the state, they should value civic duty before filial duty, and both of these before love. Since women have no legal right to political power, they are expected to value domestic interests above political ones. Women who are married should be devoted to their husbands before their own parents, and loyalty to the State follows. Unmarried women must prioritize familial duty before romantic love, and this often means that they will have to sacrifice love for their father s political interests. Therefore, their personal interests come last.
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