The two Greek plays, Medea and Antigone both exhibit opening scenes that serve numerous purposes. Such as establishing loyalties, undermining assumptions on the part of the audience, foreshadowing the rest of the play, and outlining all of the issues. Medea and Antigone share many similarities in their openings.
Both plays begin with providing the audience with the history and the consequences of certain situations that the characters were involved in. It also brings the audience to the present time, in which the play occurs. This enables the audience to have a clear and refreshed image of what aspect of the legend the play emphasizes or if any alterations were made. In Medea, the nurse is the first character who enters the play and reminds the audience of the legend of the Golden Fleece, and the love between Jason and Medea, from beginning to the end.
She also brings them to the present state Medea is in, which is of complete despair and depression after Jason remarried. “And she hates her children now, and feels no joy at seeing them.” (Oates, 292). In Antigone, one of the purposes of the chorus is to provide history to the audience. Although, Sophocles did change the structure a little. The first to enter the play are Antigone and Ismene, who are engaging in conversation over defying the edict forbidding their brothers burial, which brings the audience to the present time.
Shortly after, the chorus enters and recounts the reasons for the battle and death of Polyneices and Eteocles, brothers to Antigone and Ismene. The chorus appears every scene to serve as the voice of the culture, and counsels to the characters. “Save those two of cruel fate, who, born of one sire and one mother, set against each other their twain conquering spears, and sharers in a common death.” (Oates, 192).
While the chorus and the nurse recount the background of the story they simultaneously set the mood of the play. Their speeches are expressed with such deep emotion that the audience can’t help but become involved. The nurse in Medea sets a very tense mood that remains throughout the whole play. “I fear she may contrive some untoward scheme; for her mood is dangerous nor will she brook her cruel treatment.” (Oates, 292).
Another similarity these two plays share is the defiance of the traditional role of women. The Greek culture was set in the role that women should take and it was rarely violated. Women were expected to take the submissive role and never question a superior male. Their voice was rarely heard and their opinions were insignificant, especially in society. As far as marriage went, women must buy their husbands with a dowry and it was necessary fro them to remain married, even if it was a bad marriage. Divorce was illegal for women, while a man could remarry if he chose to do so.
This defiance from the traditional role forces the audience to view their society from a different angle. These plays examine a woman who isn’t submissive and makes her own decision; based on her own values instead of he one’s society forces them to accept. Overall Antigone’s character was stubborn, angry, dogmatic, and she put her family and religious beliefs before the state. The opening conversation between Antigone and Ismene discusses Creon’s edict forbidding the burial of Polyneices.
Antigone confides in her sister that she plans to defy the order and asks for her help. Ismene reminds Antigone that they are women and not strong enough to defy the state. Antigone views the loyalty to her brother and the law of the gods above the state and will die for Polyneices burial. She is a woman ruled by instincts, emotions, and extreme pride. “I shall rest, a loved one with him whom I have loved, sinless in my crime; for I owe a longer allegiance to the dead than to the living But if thou wilt, be guilty of dishonoring laws which the gods have stablished in honour.” (Oates, 189).
Medea examines a female who also defies the traditional role. Medea is depicted as a violent, savage woman who will stop at nothing to seek harm to her enemies. She attacks the role of women in society and disagrees with the way women are treated as inferior. “And yet they say we live secure at home, while they are at the wars, with their sorry reasoning, for I would gladly take my stand in battle array three times o’er, than once give birth.” (Oates, 298).
Sophocles’ Antigone and Euripides Medea are two Greek plays that share many similarities. For example, the way the audience is informed of history and the defiance of the traditional role of women are only two. Thus, Greek tragedy has many reoccurring themes, which can be directly related to the society in which they were written.