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Praise, blame and identity construction in Greek Tragedy

Cook, K. (2016) Praise, blame and identity construction in Greek Tragedy. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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This thesis examines the use of praise and blame in Greek tragedy as a method of identity construction. It takes sociolinguistic theory as its starting point to show that the distribution of praise and blame, an important social function of archaic poetry, can be seen as contributing to the process of linguistic identity construction discussed by sociolinguists. However, in tragedy, the destructive or dangerous aspects of this process are explored, and the distribution of praise and blame becomes a way of destabilising or destroying identity rather than constructing positive identities for individuals. The thesis begins with a section exploring the importance of praise and blame as a vehicle for identity construction in the case of some of the mythical/heroic warriors who populate the tragic stage: Ajax, Heracles, and Theseus. I discuss the ways in which their own seeking after inappropriate praise leads to the destruction of Ajax and Heracles, and the lack of clear praise for Theseus in extant tragedy. The second half of the thesis examines the devastation caused by women's involvement in the process of identity construction, focusing on Deianira, Clytemnestra, and Medea. All of these women are involved in rejecting the praise discourses which construct the identities for their husbands. Clytemnestra and Medea further replace such praise with new discourses of blame. This process contributes to the destruction of all three women's husbands. Prioritising this important element in interpretations of tragedy, influenced by a greater recognition of the ways in which tragedy draws on older genres of poetry, leads to new readings of apparently well-known plays, and new conclusions on such iconic figures as Theseus. Furthermore, within the context of the extended scholarly discussion on women's speech in tragedy, this approach demonstrates an effective and destructive result of that speech from a new perspective.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:Goff, B.
Thesis/Report Department:Department of Classics
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Humanities > Classics
ID Code:67678


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