Exchange and the Maiden: Marriage in Sophoclean Tragedy

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Marriage is a central concern in five of the seven extant plays of the Greek tragedian Sophocles. In this pathfinding study, Kirk Ormand delves into the ways in which these plays represent and problematize marriage, thus offering insights into how Athenians thought about the institution of marriage. Ormand takes a two-fold approach. He first explores the legal and economic underpinnings of Athenian marriage, an institution designed to guarantee the legitimate continuation of patrilineal households. He then shows how Sophocles' plays Trachiniae, Electra, Antigone, Ajax, and Oedipus Tyrannus both reinforce and critique this ideology by representing marriage as a homosocial exchange between men, in which women are objects who may attempt-but always fail-to become self-acting subjects. These fresh readings provide the first systematic study of marriage in Sophocles. They draw important connections between drama and marriage as rituals concerned with controlling potentially disruptive female subjectivities.