The Presence of Women in Kazantzakis' Plays

Author: Pipina Elles

Elles, Pipina, 2015 The Presence of Women in Kazantzakis' Plays, Flinders University, School of Humanities and Creative Arts

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The Greek writer, Nikos Kazantzakis, was born in Crete in 1883 and died in West Germany in 1957. He wrote a large number of works which include essays, novels, children’s stories, theatrical plays, travel logs, translations, a literary synopsis, his autobiography and a synopsis of his religious beliefs. In this thesis titled The Presence of Women in Kazantzakis’ Theatre Plays, we mainly examine the roles, characters and characterisations of women in Kazantzakis’ seventeen theatrical plays. Kazantzakis theatre plays are famous for their structure which is similar to that of the Classic Greek Tragedies.

As this gifted Cretan writer chose an extraordinary philosophical and aesthetic path that deeply marked both his life and his works, we base our thesis on vital aspects which shaped his life and beliefs with a special focus on his views on women. These aspects are as follows:

A. The elements that contributed to the making of the writer and subsequently shaped his views on men and women’s role in society: the polemic status of Crete at this period in time and beyond (1883-1913), the historical, social, political and economic parameters that governed the people of Crete and the role of the Greek Orthodox Church.

B. Kazantzakis’ passion for freedom and independence: his plays reveal that he would not jeopardise his independence, not even for his beloved wife Galatia (even though he had written in a friend’s album, that all he needed was “Galatea and a shed”). This is demonstrated in his works such as Report to Greco (Αναφορά στον Γκρέκο) and Asceticism (Ασκητική). Kazantzakis’ beliefs on freedom and independence had a profound effect on his personal relationships with women and his representation of the female characters of his theatre plays.

Kazantzakis carries his own burden in his path to success as an intellectual and as a writer. In this thesis, we examine and analyse his thirst for knowledge from a very young age, his devotion to the intense study of the Greek language through the Greek classics (he studied the works of Plato, Aristotle, and the great Greek tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, just to name a few from the diachronic Greek History of Literature), how he benefitted from his studies in Europe and how he embraced and adopted the works of great European writers, such as Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde, the pedagogues (Rolland, Zan Zac Rousseau and others) or the philosophers (Friedrich Nietzsche, Henri Bergson, Sigmund Freud and others). We also examine and analyse how his travels to the Western World during the times he was working as a journalist for the Greek newspaper Kathimerini as well as his travels to China, Japan and Russia influenced and enriched his literary thought and his aesthetics.

We further examine how deeply he was influenced by his study of the lives of various Saints of the Greek Orthodox Church, such as St. George or St. Catherine, and those of the Catholic Church, especially St. Francisco of Assisi. These religious influences seem to have shaped his theories about the good and the bad, which have been transmitted to his literary works including his Theatre Plays.

As women in Kazantzakis’ Theatre Plays are the main focus of our thesis, we examine, analyse and evaluate the roles and the character of women in his Plays, their characterisations and their relationship with their male counterparts. The women’s aims and endeavors, the conflict of the sexes and the outcomes of that conflict are also investigated and presented.

We further examine Kazantzakis’ personal relationships with the women in his life and the admiration he received from many intelligent and intellectual women. Kazantzakis managed to have harmonious relationships with some of these women, which is quite adverse to the way he presented the female characters in his plays and other literary works.

In order to put Kazantzakis’ representation of women into perspective, we also overview the thoughts and ideas of other writers both in Greece and in the Western world about women and summarise them accordingly.

Our study on Women in Kazantzakis’ Theatre Plays is presented in five chapters:

I. The Environment and its Influences on N. Kazantzakis;

II. The Plays of N. Kazantzakis;

III. Types, Roles, Qualities and Characterisations of Women in Kazantzakis’ Plays;

IV. The Contradictory Positions of N. Kazantzakis towards Women;

V. The representation of Women in other writers’ works.

Our finding show that Kazantzakis’ female characters are multi-faceted, strong willed or passive but to some extend ambiguous and/or unrealistic. It appears that Kazantzakis, the creator of these female characters, despite his numerous relationships with many women, is to some extent, resentful towards their femininity and their nature and represents stereotypical feminine “models”, which are sometimes passive and other times evil. However, we believe that Kazantzakis is a product of his social, political, economic, and religious “times”, and the female characters in his plays reflect just that. Kazantzakis’s literary works, or his ‘children’ as his second wife Helen named them, represent his solemn dedication to the Literary Thought and reflect his influences, his views or his fears and resentments. Despite all that his works continue to be widely recited in Greece, and certain prose works, such as Zorba the Greek (Βίος και Πολιτεία του Αλέξη Ζορμπά), are still popular in Greece and beyond.

Keywords: Nikos Kazantzakis, women, theatre plays

Subject: Modern Greek thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2015
School: School of Humanities and Creative Arts
Supervisor: Maria Palaktsoglou