Phaedra is an adult play that I went to see last night with another adult, and this is supposed to be a blog about kids media, but I have to write about this play for the sake of womankind. But before I do, I want say– I had a great time going out–Moms, you’ve got to do it. Grown up time! Whoo-hoo! No cartoons! And spending time with my friend, having a glass of champagne at the Huntington Hotel was lovely. The play was well acted and engaging, but it got me so mad. I did try to imagine it in its time, before feminism blah blah blah.
It was a play about Greek mythology– what did I expect? Well, Greek mythology often illustrates the world in flux, before male domination completely took over, so often a powerful woman or two slips through in her full glory of female power as a goddess or a queen or heroine or something. Right before I went, I heard this play was about an older woman falling for a younger man, so I assumed, I wouldn’t be watching yet another Hollywood movie scenario of older man paired with nubile ingenue, that I was going to get a glimpse of female sexual empowerment.
But, no. The damn Greeks did not come through for me, and I was a philosophy major and should’ve known better. The play is by Racine, who I bet even by French/ Seventeenth century standards wasn’t the most progressive guy in town. It was obviously, also his interpretation of an ancient story, which, should we say, would differ from my own take on it if I were a famous playwright myself instead of blogging about famous playwrights.
Phaedra, the star of the play is totally humiliated and degraded for allowing lust to exist in her heart. It destroys her and her family and her lover. She is married to Theseus but falls in love/lust with his son, Hippoltytus. Another thing that annoyed me about the play, by the way, is the supposedly over the hill Theseus was way hotter, more charismatic, and a better actor than his stringy haired son, moping aound in his ill-fitting baggy leather pants. Nonetheless, Queen Phaedra confesses her love to this son, gets rejected by him (read major, pathetic humiliation here, moaning all around the stage, twisting her hair, punching her breast) and then Phaedra lets her husband beleive that Hippoltytus raped her (a popular, contemporary “myth” women have to deal with every day which is an issue I have with letting my complaints go b/c of the time). Theseus then curses his innocent son, who loved an innocent young woman, and the son soon dies. End of play– the theme being, repeated by most characters, that reason is good/ strong while love/lust is weak and bad.
I know the Greeks have done a lot of great things for civilization such as creation of goverment etc, but my (not orginal) beef with them is their central philosophical tenet of dualisms, popularized and further institutionalized, of course, by Descartes. Basically, the Greek philosophers believe: (1) the mind and body are separate (2) the mind/ reason is good, true, stable, immortal (3) the body is weak, defiled, emotional, untrustworthy, mortal (4) The way we understand and experience the world can be sorted into these dualisms. Guess which category those gender polar opposites, man and woman fall into? Answer of course: man– mind, reason, good; woman– emotion, body, bad
Here is what I think: the mind is part of the body (and located throughout the body– modern science now supports that if you care). Emotions are intelligent. The world does not separate into simple oppositions as former president, George Bush, would have liked, and maybe if we had not all been so influenced by the dualistic Greeks, we wouldn’t have so unanimously agreed to fight a complex war with a multitude of factions and tribes we can’t even understand. And, finally, just one more thing about the damn Greeks, their dualisms, and my re-occuring eating disorder theme– belief in these dualisms is why we are so messed up about food. Just listen to your body! It’s smart. Not some stupid calorie/ fat gram reasoned, researched, fact supported chart, which has no idea who you are or what you need. Let your body guide you and stop being at war with it. We are all going to die. Not sure how to deal with that, but that’s the real struggle underneath all of this, right? Did Rousseau– of noble savage fame– write any plays???