As You Like It and the Bacchae: Exploration of Gender Roles

There are common issues explored in The Bacchae by Euripides and As You Like It by Shakespeare. These issues include gender roles within certain places. In both plays women and men are assigned roles for which they are expected to respect and live by. Men are highly respected and viewed as the dominant beings. They are the ruling voice of society. Women are depicted as weak and inferior. They are categorized by gender; men are masculine while women are feminine. However, within these plays every gender stepped out of their role. In The Bacchae the men used cross dressing to portray woman.

On the contrary Shakespeare used the women to represent men in As You Like It. Gender defines your social status which keeps order within a place. Euripides suggests men are the best at manipulation. Dionysus portrayed himself as a woman to manipulate the people of Thebes. He manipulates the women into rebelling against their social roles. “every female in this city, I’ve started on a wild stampede from home” (Euripides, The Bacchae, 1) Greek women were expected to stay in their place, their homes. The women of Thebes disregarded this social expectation.

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The irony of them rebelling was that they did not rebel because they wanted justice, but because they were influenced by a male God. These women then became Maenads. Along with manipulating these women Dionysus successfully manipulated Pentheus. Pentheus represented the ideal male. He was masculine, strong, and held great power. Dionysus was able to convince Pentheus to go against his beliefs on cross dressing. Upon Pentheus’ transformation he began to take pride in his new look. “Well how do I look? / Don’t I have Aunt Ino’s air,/ and Agave my mother’s carriage” (180) This reveals power relation can be inverted.

The fact Dionysus, the ‘weak one’, was able to convert Pentheus, who was formerly the strong masculine one, into a feminine character reveal the weak can actually be the strong. A comparison can be made to this play through a popular play written by Shakespeare. In Othello Iago manipulates the death of Desdemona, Othello, and Emilia. Just as Dionysus, Iago has no remorse for the chaos he has caused. Both characters took pride in their mischievous dosings. Similarly to Euripides, Shakespeare unfolds the beauty of manipulation through gender roles. However, Shakespeare does so using a woman as the manipulator.

In As You Like It Rosalind portrays herself as a man. Unlike the women in The Bacchae, Rosalind stepped outside of her social role on her own without any influence. In a sense this suggests masculinity can be played by any gender, not just men. She uses a fake identity as a man named Ganymede after being banned from the court in Ardenne. While in this character she woos Orlando into loving Rosalind the ‘correct’ way. While being Ganymede, Rosalind implies she is fully aware of the social stereotypes placed on each gender. She also implies she knows what is expected of each gender.

She says she’ll hide her “woman fears” while pretending to be Ganymede. Men are expected to be strong and not expected to have any fear; while women are expected to be fearful because they have natural fear. Thus far Rosalind indirectly gives in to the stereotypes placed upon women. Although the two plays took place in different places, they shared a common setting. The forest in Thebes symbolized distress; the forest in Ardenne symbolized romance. The forest in Thebes was where the women, who were now transformed into huntresses by Dionysus, attacked and killed the cross dressed Pentheus.

This is significant because the women were dominant. The irony is how women were in control of Pentheus, who once ruled Thebes before giving up his masculinity to wear a wig and a skirt. The forest of Ardenne symbolized romance. A three way wedding was made possible by the manipulation of Rosalind. Although both plays touch upon gender, they do so differently. The Baachae suggests cross dressing is wrong and is not accepted. Euripides does this by lowering status when a skirt is worn oppose to pants. The man wears the pants; thus far he holds the power. As You Like It accepts cross dressing.

Orlando, who is in love with Rosalind, loves Rosalind as a woman and Ganymede, the guy aspect of Rosalind. Society assigns each gender with a role. This role is to be accepted and acted upon. Women are the feminine and inferior; men are the superior and masculine. Cross dressing allows genders to step out of their gender role. This can cause conflict among the social status. In The Bacchae, Euripides use men to represent women while Shakespeare uses women to represent men in As You Like It. Euripides exhibits women are weak while Shakespeare doesn’t assign value to gender.

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