- Term Papers and Free Essays

The Early Modern Period Women 17th Century

Essay by   •  August 5, 2017  •  Essay  •  1,182 Words (5 Pages)  •  1,104 Views

Essay Preview: The Early Modern Period Women 17th Century

Report this essay
Page 1 of 5

In the early modern period women are seen as beings who are emotional, frail, and destructive. Women, during this period, had little rights and many individuals resisted the idea that they were equal to men. The destructive nature of women has labeled them as femme fatales. Men, on the other hand, were represented as strength, stability, and reasonable. Many individuals disregarded the female voice by saying, “women were corrupting forces and needed restraint” (Hunt et al. 544). The restraint that they are mentioning is marriage. Individuals believed that marriage would allow men to control women’s emotions and destructive nature. This decision only inspired women more to have their voices heard. The actions of women only strengthened the stereotype of a woman being a femme fatale.

In the Age of Reason and political Absolutism there was an increase in important roles played by women. Many women, in the 17th century congregated in salons, which were “informal gatherings held regularly in a private home presided over by a socially eminent woman” (Hunt et al. 544). During these gatherings, female authors, read their compositions for feedback. One famous author that attended salons was Jean Racine. Jean Racine published a famous play called ‘Phaedra’ in 1677 in Paris. According to Women in World History, “the rise of a vocal female presence in literature and art is one of the most significant developments of the era” (Lopez et al. 1). Racine’s play ‘Phaedra’ is evidence that supports the emotionally destructive nature of women as femme fatales. Racine’s play focuses on the uncontrolled love of Phaedra for her stepson that leads her to a tragic demise. After Phaedra was rejected by Hyppolytus, she turns her anger towards her nurse Oenone. Phaedra blames Oenone for ruining her life by saying, “You have destroy'd me... not another word! Go, hateful monster; Away, and leave me to my piteous fate” (Racine 4). Out of emotional grief due to her mistress’s words, Oenone jumps into the ocean, committing suicide. Oenone’s steadfast duty towards Phaedra, controlled by her emotions and actions, leads to her demise. Oenone only condemns Hyppolytus to save her mistress. When Theseus, Phaedra’s husband, becomes suspicious, Oenone quickly implants thoughts of adultery and incest into his mind. Being careful not to condemn her mistress, the nurse cunningly pushes blame on Hyppolytus. According to cliffnotes, “Her misdeeds are not the result of an evil nature but the perversion of a virtue” (Klin 21). This is evidence of her dedication and love towards her mistress. Her quick responses and cunning actions for her mistress makes her a prime candidate as a femme fatale.

Another femme fatale in Racine’s literature is the character Phaedra. Phaedra’s lustful passion towards her stepson, Hyppolytus, begins to cloud her judgement after she was rejected. At first she resisted her urges by casting Hyppolytus away. However, soon after she hears that her husband might be dead, her nurse gives her hope that drives her to confess to Hyppolytus. Her overwhelming emotions causes her to say hurtful things to the people dearest to her, as well as prompt her extreme behavior. Phaedra blames her embarrassment on Oenone and condemns her saying, “may your punishment forever be a terror to all those who would nourish with artful wiles the weaknesses of princes, push them to the brink of ruin to which their heart inclines, and smooth the path of guilt” (Racine 4). After hearing these words from her mistress, Oenone commits suicide. Phaedra does not feel guilt nor remorse after speaking to Oenone in this tone.  Instead, her remorse lies in her false accusation of her stepson Hyppolytus. She even goes into a jealous rage after hearing that Hyppolytus is in love with another woman, Aricia. Phaedra castigates Aricia to Oenone by saying, “She must be destroy'd” (Racine 4). At this point, Racine shows that Phaedra is completely compelled by her emotions which leads her to do and say malicious things. Phaedra’s shame, unrepressed emotions, and guilt foreshadows her suicidal demise. Phaedra shows her husband her guilt by allowing herself to die in front of him. Phaedra lays blame on Oenone as well as condemning herself by saying, “in my heart the venom works, infusing there a strange and fatal chill; already as thro' thickening mists I see the spouse to whom my presence is an outrage” (Racine 7). She kills herself in hopes that her actions will purify her in the eyes of her husband and the gods. Phaedra’s extreme actions lead by her unrepressed emotions reinforces the stereotype of women as destructive forces driven by emotion.



Download as:   txt (7.2 Kb)   pdf (79.6 Kb)   docx (11 Kb)  
Continue for 4 more pages »
Only available on
Citation Generator

(2017, 08). The Early Modern Period Women 17th Century. Retrieved 08, 2017, from

"The Early Modern Period Women 17th Century" 08 2017. 2017. 08 2017 <>.

"The Early Modern Period Women 17th Century.", 08 2017. Web. 08 2017. <>.

"The Early Modern Period Women 17th Century." 08, 2017. Accessed 08, 2017.