Comparison of Rape Narratives in Study Plays

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This chapter will explore the “captive’s dilemma” and examine the systematic victimization of women and their methods of survival in the three “covert” study plays, The Trojan Women by Euripides, Fuente Ovejuna by Lope De Vega, and The Europeans by Howard Barker. I define covert rape narratives as those in which rape is deployed by the author but not discussed within the narrative. Rather, it is hidden, assumed, or taken for granted. This chapter probes the hidden aspects of rape narratives and their relationship to “coded” cultural assumptions concerning gender relationships, female subjugation, and male power. What are the psychological factors (for example Stockholm Syndrome) that contribute to the captive’s dilemma? What are the covert, unspoken assumptions in the following works that support Susan Brownmiller’s ideas about power and dominance?

The Trojan Womenwas first produced in 415 B.C. Written by Euripides, it was the third in a trilogy of plays (the first two Alexandros and Palamedes have been lost) that concerned the events of the Trojan War. This third installment focuses on the immediate aftermath of the war and is set the day after the Greeks slipped from the Trojan Horse and opened the gates to the waiting Greek army, who then sacked the city.  The prologue features Poseidon, god of the sea, and Athena, goddess of wisdom, discussing the fate of the city and how they will punish the Greek conquerors for their hubris.  The Greeks have won the war but because of their insolent pride have placed themselves above the gods via their despicable actions: temple desecration, the murder of Priam (the Trojan King) on the temple altar, the sacrifice of Polyxena (Priam’s youngest daughter) at the tomb of Achilles, and the rough handed, forced removal and or rape of Cassandra (daughter of Priam and priestess of Apollo). The fall of proud, hubristic man was a common theme of Greek dramatists. Once the gods depart, the Trojan Queen Hecuba and the female chorus lament their future and respond to the Greek atrocities as these happen or as they are discovered.  Euripides demonstrates the Greek horrors through the assault of Cassandra, the sacrifice of Polyxena, and the murder of Hector’s son Astyanax. Hector is the first-born son of Priam & Hecuba, hero of Troy. Each element is revealed through one of the “daughters” of Troy.  Cassandra was the daughter of Hecuba and consecrated virgin cursed by Apollo to always prophesy accurately but never be believed. Andromache (wife of Hector, Hecuba’s son, and mother of Astyanax) appears and delivers the sad news that Polyxena was sacrificed at the tomb of Achilles by Greek soldiers. Finally, Helen (considered the most beautiful women in the world, eloped to Troy with the Trojan Prince Paris, caused the Trojan War.) is brought forward and Hecuba tries her best to “convict” her in the eyes of Menelaus, Helen’s husband, and one of the Greek generals. Ultimately the city is burned and all the women are loaded onto ships bound for Greece.  The non-Aristotelian plot (mostly an extended narrative lament) is both an explicit example and a warning concerning the treatment of prisoners in the aftermath of war. However, there are several unspoken assumptions relevant to covert rape narratives.

One of the unspoken assumptions concerning the treatment of captives in war comes directly form Greek religious practice. Adriaan Lanni explains that ancient Greek religion differed from modern religion because it was “not associated with a creed or fixed belief system,” and did not “provide commandments or a moral code of conduct.” Rather, the gods “demanded recognition through sacrifice and other ritual acts” (Lanni 476). The religious laws and unwritten rules surrounding warfare in ancient Greece were not focused on the protection of non-combatants or civilians but rather were chiefly concerned with protecting the property of the gods and with the non-interruption of sacred rites and festivals. These laws generally did not include dictates concerning the property belonging to humans only to property that was believed to belong to the gods. Under Greek religious rules of war: 1) temples, sanctuaries, and other religious building were not to be disturbed, 2) priests and other religious officials were to be spared, 3) making war during religious festivals was forbidden, 4) immunity was granted to ambassadors and messengers, 5) treatment of enemy dead was to be respected (it was expected that the dead would be handed over upon request so that the funeral rites demanded by the gods could be satisfied (Lanni 479). Even though these religious laws were agreed upon by the various city-states, they were often broken or ignored in times of conflict. The religion of ancient Greece was “devoid of ethical content,” and so “religious beliefs and customs did not give rise to norms making war more humane.” The Greek code of honor was “helping one’s friends and hurting one’s enemies”; mercy and compassion were not considerations for those defeated in war (Lanni 480).

Greek writers such as Xenophon and Aristotle[1] make reference to how a victorious state had complete discretion over soldiers and non-combatants of a defeated enemy. Aristotle in his Politics says, “The fact is that the terms ‘slavery’ and ‘slave’ are ambiguous; for there is also such a thing as a slave or a man that is in slavery by law, for the law is a sort of agreement under which the things conquered in war are said to belong to their conquerors” (Aristotle, Politics bk.1 chapter 6, lines 1-6). Xenophon in Cyropaedia,referring to slaves and lands already captured, wrote“…for it is a law established for all time among all men that when a city is taken in war, the persons and the property of the inhabitants thereof belong to the captors” (Cyropaedia 7.5.73). There were no conventions for mercy even if the enemy surrendered, as “the victor had the option of killing the enemy solders on the spot, enslaving them, or exchanging them for ransom” (Lanni 480). The vanquishing army also had the option to kill women and children, but enslavement was the usual outcome and the normal fate of women in a sacked city was slavery. This was true whether the men were killed or enslaved and once the town was taken, nobody decreed wholesale execution of women and children. Their lot was apportioned to a solider or sold on the block to a life of drudgery or degradation” (Schaps 205). For males, warfare was a sacred part of Greek life but  a women whose own protectors were defeated could expect rape, slavery, forced marriage, or concubinage.

Another unspoken assumption is that women are property. This rape script  comes from the way in which the ancient world viewed captives of war, who were considered property, with both men and women taken as slaves during conflicts. In such a situation victim-survivors have few choices and no recourse, as they lack the power and agency to resist their enforced slavery. In a society where male protection and oversight were the norm, females had limited options open to them except to commit suicide, be further tortured for resisting, or embrace their fate.  As Deborah Lyons points out women are portrayed in the Iliad and in other epic poems on which the Women of Troy is based, as individuals who lack economic power. Women were seen “not as economic actors—agents of exchange— but as the objects of exchange: gifts to be traded among men, prizes to be won in war or in an athletic contest, daughters to be given in marriage” (Lyons 98). Accepting slavery was neither easy nor by any means a complete transformation; captive women were trading one type of male oversight for another. Their only hope in such a desperate situation was to put their former husbands and kinsmen aside and embrace their rapists.  Lyons asserts that even if we do not accept Homeric epics as direct historical evidence of gender relationships in the ancient world, epic poetry does “provide insight into the ideological assumptions not only of the age from which they emerged, but also to some extent of later centuries in which they continued to function as cultural touchstones” (Lyons 96).  For women in Greek society their primary “locus of anxiety” is the role of wife and the cultural expectations that accompanied that enterprise if that status were to be lost.  “That becoming a wife was the expected telos of women is perhaps reflected in the fact that a common word for wife in ancient Greek (as in many other languages) is the same as the word for woman: gune” (Lyons 97). Women could not own property or conduct legal affairs without a male relative in ancient Greek society. Slavery was a cultural expectation. This was part of the pay system of the ancient world. Pillage was one of the primary ways in which soldiers were paid for their military service. Defeated cites and armies would be sacked, their property seized, precious metals, weapons, livestock, and slaves taken. The only intervening force that kept women “safe” from rape was the protection of other males. Once this protection was removed, the sexual “rights” of one group of males was then transferred to the new group. The Ancient Greek cultural expectation for a women who was captured in this way was sexual acquiescence to her new husband or master Both plays and the epic poetry on which many of the Greek plays were based assume these sexual expectations. Casey Dué points out that enslavement, sexual violation, and death of husbands are realities of war that were “neither condemned nor avoided in epic poetry” and that the conquest of Troy in the Iliad is compared to “the tearing of a woman’s veil and hence characterized as a rape” (Dué 231). Ruth Scodel asserts that Greek epic poetry “assumes that concubinage, even though it begins as rape, becomes something else. Rape is easy to distinguish when the victim has the possibility of protection by someone other than the rapist … but captured women remain with the men who have taken them” (Scodel 138). Acquiescence was the expected behavior of slaves and if a slave surrendered to his or her new master and the slave showed the new master charis (favor) it was culturally expected to be reciprocated. An acceptance of a sexual relationship was part of the acceptance of slavery in Greek society. It was believed that “once a victim submits to her fate that the new sexual relationship would create genuine feeling and that Greek poets treat this adaption not as a pathology, but as the way of survival” (Scodel 140).  The phenomenon of victims who embrace or even sympathize with their captors is a well-known condition called Stockholm Syndrome. The Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology explains that “identification with the victimizer creates a bond that improves the victims’ chances of survival” and that it is “an adaptive response to the situation” (207).  Stockholm Syndrome can even cause victims to feel sympathy for their captors and could be part of the reason the Greek poets believed that a new sexual relationship would create positive feelings in women who were taken as slaves.

Scodel compares the “process of transferring loyalties” in forced concubinage to that of marriage. The “gift exchange” of marriage is replaced with the “violent death of the woman’s kin” and the capture of women (141). Susan Brownmiller also makes the point that the institution of marriage in effect is “protective mating,” meaning that women traded consensual sex in marriage for male and societal protection from rape (16).  In Greek society a woman’s husband would be allied with his wife’s fathers or brothers and her “exclusive sexual accommodation” to her husband would protect both groups and, therefore, her own interests.

“Captive women, even as they suffer an extreme loss of status and protection from the males of the natal family, acquire a certain freedom to decide how they will negotiate the balance between loyalty to the past and manipulation of their own sexual value to improve conditions in the present and future” (Scodel 142).

The only power a captive woman has is her willingness to acquiesce to sex and attempt to mitigate her value, which is “essential if the man is to have the full value of the woman.”  If women are men’s most valuable property, then raping them and taking them as slaves is a continuing demonstration of triumph. “Greek representations of marriage, both verbal and visual, combine imagines of rape and abduction with those of consent” (Scodel 141). Sexual consent was not required but was expected.

The Greek audience undoubtedly understood the expectations and consequences of war and its aftermath as these related to the laws and dictates of their social and religious norms. A modern audience viewing with 21st century eyes could see something more sinister in those ancient laws that made captured women property. Even with an understanding of the original culture and context in which the play takes place a modern audience certainly could understand the implied connotations of sexual slavery. However, it is also possible that some of the nuance of slavery and the rape narrative could be entirely lost on a modern audience. This is one reason why I argue Trojan Women contains a covert rape narrative. The covert rape narrative applies not only to what will happen to these women but also what perhaps did happen before the play opens. Even with an understanding of Greek ideals in the representation of rape and abduction, an interesting question arises specifically concerning the fate of Cassandra before the play opens. Was Cassandra raped before the opening of the play or was she just forcibly removed from the temple? The answer to that question depends on the translation of the play and the translation of the source material (Iliad) and various translators treat both differently. Interestingly, the forcible removal from the temple is never explicitly stated to be a rape in any of the numerous play text translations that I researched. So that might say something about how the individual translators sought to conceal the nuance or it could be that individual translators simply tried to give a more poetic interpretation or a more precise translation. Some translators of the Illiad also describe the account as rape while others do not. Virgil’s (70-19 BC) Aeneid and Gaius Julius Hyginus (64BC-17AD) Fabulae only indicate that Cassandra was dragged from sanctuary. However, Lycophron’s (285-247 BC) work Alexandra, Triphiodorus’s (third century AD) epic poem Sack of Troy and Quintus Smyrnaeus (fourth century AD) Posthomerica all indicate that Cassandra was raped.  During the opening conversation between Poseidon and Athena, she says “Haven’t you heard. I’ve been insulted, my temple desecrated.” and Poseidon responds, “Yes, I know. When Ajax dragged Cassandra from sanctuary.” (Taylor 8). The Greek word for dragged is ἕλκω and it can mean simply to draw or to drag, or it can mean to drag about with the connotation of lewd violence. The word ἕλκω has more than one meaning in the original Greek so the ambiguity comes from the way in which the word is translated.  In light of the Greek religious laws of war, it is possible that Athena is angry simply because a priestess of Apollo (a religious official) was dragged from sanctuary, thus violating two prohibitions of Greek rules of war. Euripides wants to show from the very beginning how the Greek conquers have, through their hubris, overstepped what was considered appropriate behavior for conquers. So the two religious violations could in themselves be seen as overstepping culturally accepted practice without needing to add rape to the temple incident. It was certainly true, given cultural expectations, that Euripides may not have considered rape a further violation, or even a violation at all in light of the laws and attitudes of conquest that understood the act of rape as a part of war. It is also true that Cassandra was a consecrated virgin and therefore her rape could certainly constitute a more horrible act than temple desecration in the eyes of the Greek audience. There is no question, however, that Agamemnon wants Cassandra as his sexual property, as Talthybius explains to Hecuba when asked about Cassandra’s future,“Not at all, she’s for him. In darkness. In his bed.” The Greek word for marriage bed, Λέκτρον, coupled with σκότιος, meaning in darkness, creates the connotation of something hidden and illicit or perhaps private or romantic. After Hecuba protests, Talthybius responds, “Now look here, to be a King’s mistress is no bad thing.” (Taylor 15).  The Greek word Λέκτρον is used again here, and it is translated as mistress, meaning that having sex with the king or literally being in the king’s bed is no bad thing. Agamemnon will eventually rape Cassandra, if this has not happened already. The question is whether or not Euripides intended for Cassandra to be raped before the play opens or at the hands of Agamemnon later; the cultural assumption about women as sexual property was already there as part of the narrative of rape.

In the next study play, and moving from antiquity into the Renaissance, there are obvious cultural shifts, but the issues of “soldiers’ rights” and women as property traveled transhistorically and geographically and new and different rape scripts emerge. Fuente Ovejuna, written by the Spanish Golden Age playwright Felix Lope De Vega y Carpio (1562-1625) is set in a Spanish village of the same name that rebels against the ruling military. The play opens as Rodrigo Téllez Girón, with the assistance of the Commander of the military, Fernan Gomez de Guzman, (both fighting for Portugal) capture the town of Ciudad Real in a bloody battle. Girón and Guzman are fighting against Ferdinand and Isabella (Castile and Aragon) during the War of Castilian Succession.[2] The Commander, who lives in Fuente Ovejuna, tries to force himself on local peasant girls. Lawrence Bommer, reviewing a 1991 Court Theatre (Chicago) production, notes that “to Gomez and his marauding mercenaries, every wife and virgin is a pretext for an orgasm” ( One such village girl is Laurencia, who is almost raped by the Commander after he comes upon her alone in the forest. Frondoso, another peasant, threatens the Commander with a crossbow and Laurencia escapes. When it is later learned that the captured town of Ciudad Real is about to be retaken by the opposing Spanish forces of Ferdinand and Isabella, the Commander hurries to defend the town but subsequently abducts another peasant girl, Jacinta, and has his men savagely beat Mendo, who comes to her aid. After repeatedly rejecting the Commander’s advances, Jacinta is handed over to his soldiers to be raped. In an effort to protect Laurencia, Frondoso asks and receives permission from her father, Esteban, to marry her.  During the wedding feast the Commander returns from the recently liberated town of Ciudad Real and abducts newlyweds Frondoso and Laurencia. After the abduction, the town of Fuente Ovejuna meets to decide what they should do.  Suddnely Laurencia appears, disheveled, abused, and apparently raped, chastising the men for not attempting to rescue her or stop the assault. Laurencia leaves to speak to her neighbor Pascuala about her plan to form an army of women to seek revenge against the Commander and his men for their misdeeds. The Commander and his men torture and and are preparing to hang Frondoso when a group of townspeople, shamed into action by Laurencia, attack and kill the Commander. A group of women led by Laurencia seizes Flores, one of the Commander’s servants, and wound him. Flores goes to Ferdinand and Isabella to report the death of the Commander, and the monarchs send an investigator to Fuente Ovejuna to punish those who are responsible. The villagers agree that when asked about the murders their reply will be the same: “Fuente Ovejuna did it.” Even under torture the villagers give the same answer and the investigator leaves to report to Ferdinand and Isabella. When the entire village of Fuente Ovejuna arrives at court, the King and Queen decide to take over direct rulership of the town until a suitable commander can be found.

According to William Blue in The Politics of Lope’s Fuente Ovejuna, an uprising in a Spanish village in 1476 in which the villagers killed their overlord is believed to be the inspiration for Lope’s play, which was written between 1610 and 1614—well after the events of the uprising—and remains one of the playwright’s best known works. The play has been performed and read as intensely political, with staged interpretations that span the spectrum of political thought.  Blue says of the play that it is “a fervent cry for monarchy, for democracy, for socialism, even communism” (Blue 295).  Blue believes that even though the events inspiring the play occurred more than a century earlier, Lope De Vega made the story and context his own, a story that concerns social and political issues of late sixteenth-early-seventeenth century Spain. “The play raises questions about truth itself (literal truth versus metaphorical truth), puts law and justice into direct conflict…and blurs the line between poetry and history as it also problematizes the power systems that underlie both” (Blue 296). The play forestalls any political answers and leaves the viewers to decide for themselves the answers to the political questions that Lope De Vega poses.

Other scholars, such as R.D.F. Prig-Mill, see the political issues addressed in Fuente Ovejuna as those of order and disorder on a more universal and social scope, calling it “…primarily concerned with order and disorder: social disorder seen as cosmic discord, and the restoration of order constituting a reestablishment of cosmic harmony…an examination of the relationship between the ethical life of the individual and the political life of social groups” (Prig-Mill 5).[3] During the period in which Lope lived, the monarchy ruled Spain along with the Catholic Church. Imperialism and hierarchical class structures were all a normal part of this cultural and societal context. Within the scope of the play Lope explores ideas concerning how nobles should avoid egoism and how their misbehavior could create dissention among the common people.  The play also examines how monarchs should be aware of their nobles’ actions while also being involved with nurturing nobles who could, through their positive behavior, further the goals of Spain. Fuente Ovejuna could also be understood as a criticism of military groups that have been granted too much autonomy and privilege, or who have become a state within the state and thus could threaten the nation. Lope argues for the value of interdependence between the nobility and commoners. This theme of order and disorder “reflects a pattern of society dominated by the idea of absolute monarchy with the sovereign seen as God’s minister on earth and as the instrument of justice” (Pring-Mill 7). Order within society depends on mutual respect among members of the same class and between classes.

Fuente Ovejuna is an example of a play featuring both covert and overt rape scripts/narratives. For instance, before the attempted rape of Laurencia, when the Commander comes upon her alone in the forest washing clothes, he first dehumanizes her by making a pun about hunter and prey, calling her an animal: “What luck to hunt a buck, and find a dear!”  The original play uses the Spanish word gama which is translated as doe, a clear reference to being a female. Rapists often begin the encounter by making their victims less than human through verbal and physical degradation. The Commander also tells her that her “rude disdain insults her charms” and that she is a monster because she has resisted his advances in the past. This is a rape script in which it is assumed that because a woman is resisting the sexual advances of a man something must be wrong with her. Maybe she is “frigid” or just “needs to relax.” This is a rape script expressed in the language of a different era. Once the Commander has seized Laurencia he tells her to stop struggling and to just give in to him. (Act I Scene 2). This rape script follows the idea that women exist for the sexual pleasure of men and they should just submit, relax, and enjoy it.

A 1994 study by Arnold S. Kahn and Virginia Andreoli Mathie entitled Rape Scripts and Rape Acknowledgement used the written experience of rape victims to code particular sets and subsets of information, for example looking at aggression by the assailant, the victim’s resistance, and both the assailant and victim’s reactions to the rape event. The metric for aggression of the assailant included subsets of data that quantified how assailants expressed their aggression: verbal coercion, threat of attack, physical restraint, physical attack, or threat or use of a weapon. These data subsets were formed by reading the victim-survivor responses and were not preexisting researcher-created categories. Looking at the attempted rape sequence between the Commander and Laurencia through the lens of this study reveals that most of the data subsets are present. The exchange begins with verbal coercion and threat of attack. The underlying rape script is one of “how dare you deny me,” which is an attitude of male entitlement in controlling female sexuality.

COMMANDER: That rude disdain insults the very charms Almighty Heaven has bestowed on you, my fair Laurencia, and makes you a witch. You have fled my amorous advance at other times, but now out here alone these friendly fields will keep the secret well. All by yourself you will not be so bold, nor spurn your master with such cold contempt.

When Laurencia resists, the scene quickly escalates. By placing his crossbow on the ground and verbally threating Laurencia, the Commander is in effect announcing that the weapon is available for him to use if necessary. These threats lead to physical restraint and physical attack; it is only the intervention of Frondoso that stops Commander from the act of rape.

COMMANDER: How you offend me with that kind of talk! Now I shall put my crossbow on the ground and overcome your prudery by force.

LAURENCIA: What are you doing? Have you lost your mind?

COMMANDER: You must not struggle to defend yourself.

COMMANDER: Just stop that now! You might as well give in.

LAURENCIA: Good Lord above, come help me I pray!

COMMANDER: We’re all alone; you need not be afraid. (pg number)

Lope De Vega was able to write a script that was accurate to the experience of victim-survivors of rape. This type of experience has been familiar for centuries. One explanation for this transhistorical phenomenon is that while individual rape experiences vary widely, there are “universal” shared experiences that could be identified by victim-survivors. The rape scene described immediately above depicts an attempted rape and is primarily concerned with coercion tactics. Coercion tactics are in themselves a type of rape script or narrative. The force of coercion often depends on the levels of active resistance and, as in the scene above, quickly escalates. There are also coded cultural assumptions that are addressed more clearly in other parts of the play, such as when the Commander and his henchman Flores discuss the advantages and disadvantages of easy female conquests. Flores comments that “a swift surrender denies the exquisite anticipation of pleasure” (Act II Scene 5 pg 77 No. 33). In other words, there is more pleasure when a woman resists. This rape script that a woman’s resistance is a feigned resistance or that resistance is something for a man to overcome is prevalent in the thinking of the Commander and Flores. The Commander quips, “A man who is crazy with love is delighted when they give way easily, but despises them afterwards. However deep a man’s obligations, the best way for him to forget them is for what he desired to have cost him little” (No 35). One of the cultural assumptions of the period was that overcoming a woman’s resistance was something that not only enhances the experience but also shores up male virtue. It demonstrates his prowess as a lover and conqueror. If the male must overcome a woman then he will have a greater feeling towards her.  Flores believes that women may sometimes surrender swiftly to gain swift carnal satisfaction “since the philosopher tells us they long for men as form desires matter.” (No 34) This attitude reinforces the rape myth that women desire to be raped. The Commander’s violence against the villagers derives from what Blue believes is “a classist interpretation of a cultural value,”  that “honor belongs only to the high-born, and that since the low-born have no honor he may treat them as the lesser creatures they are, as so many animals.” It is the right of a high-born male to beat, kill, or rape any of the low-born if he desires because they are beneath him. “If he wishes to share his bed with one, so much the better for her since, for the moment at least, he shares with her his glory, his social rank, and thus his honor” (Blue 305).

Laurencia escapes from the Commander’s wedding abduction and returns to the village. While reprimanding the men of her village, Laurencia does not go into great detail about what has happened to her, but her torn and bloodied clothes as well as bruises indicate that she has either been raped or tortured or both. Laurencia tells her father to no longer call her daughter, and when her father asks why, she angrily replies:

LAURENCIA: For many reasons, chief among them these:

You let those wretched tyrants take me off,

And still did not avenge or rescue me.

I was not yet Frondoso’s wife, so you

Ought not have felt that it was up to him,

My husband, to avenge me, it was your

Responsibility. The wedding night

Had not yet come: until that time one holds

The father—not the husband—duty bound;

When one has bought a gem, until such a time

As it is handed over he is not

Responsible for guarding it from thieves.

Before your very eyes you men all saw

Me dragged off to the house of Don Fernàn;

You let a lamb be taken by a wolf,

As coward shepherds do. They set their knives

There are several coded assumptions in her speech; women need the protection of men, if not provided by their husbands then by their fathers. Laurencia also equates her virtue to the value of a precious gem, an item of property that must be protected from thieves (rapists).

Rape narratives are, storylines created in order to achieve an agenda or to support an existing power structure. One reason that covert rape narratives/myths/scripts are perpetuated is that they have simple premises that are often viewed as common sense but are in fact rape myths. Effective narratives are built on assumptions that are seemingly easy to believe. Sexism, gender bias, and misogyny all contribute to rape culture through the perpetuation of rape myths and by extension rape scripts, which are consciously and unconsciously acted out by members of society. Rape narratives help to shape beliefs about what it means to be a victim or even if someone is a victim of sexual assault. The third play of the covert narrative group has both covert and overt rape narratives. I will point out the overt narratives, but my primary focus in my choice and discussion of the following play is the covert narratives.

The Europeans (1987) by Howard Barker is set in in the aftermath of the Turkish siege of Vienna in 1684. The invading Turkish army has been defeated and repulsed by the European forces. The Emperor and his court have returned to the city and they have hailed Starhemberg as the military savior of the city. Katrin has been raped, impregnated, and has had her breasts cut off in the assault. Instead of hiding, she demands that drawings of her disfigured body be distributed throughout the city. She even demands that her child (a product of rape) be born in the public square for everyone to witness. At the end of the play Katrin’s child Concillia is given to the Turks by Starhemberg. Howard Barker, in an interview with The Guardian said about his work “A good play puts the audience through a certain ordeal,” he says. “I’m not interested in entertainment.” Barker also said that his approach to writing characters was “I don’t like sympathetic characters. Theatre should be a taxing experience: the greatest achievement of a writer is to produce a character who creates anxiety.” Bill Marx, also writing for The Guardian, said of the play “Europe has narrowly escaped colonization; Barker explores how the history is re-written and manipulated in order to reassert a conservative identity that is based on an inability to love rather than an acknowledgment of shame.” Barker coined the term “Theatre of Catastrophe” to describe his work. “Theatre of Catastrophe” as Barker describes it in his book Arguments for a Theatre refers to his desire to evoke individual responses to his work instead of collective ones. Barker wants to challenge the audience to interpret his plays on the works’ own terms. So in the author’s view, his plays generally do not have a clear, direct, theme but are, rather, ragmented and ambiguous. The theme of The Europeans appears to be that the difficulties of war often place individuals in extraordinary circumstances in which they might make decisions or take actions that makes them less sympathetic.

Many victims of wartime rape commonly report fear that their stories will not be believed or that their stories will not be listened to. In nearly every war, victims of rape have had their stories repressed by postwar politics and the imposed unspeakability of wartime rape. In some post-conflict communities, authorities have discredited victims by alluding to their sympathies with militant groups and raising suspicion regarding their motives on reporting rape (Asia Watch & Physicians for Human Rights, 1993). In addition to this, rape victims may feel socially isolated, disconnected, and ostracized because of the stigma and taboo that are often attached to rape, regardless of cultural context. Indeed, social stigma is one of the key reasons that women “choose” to remain silent about their experiences in the aftermath of armed conflict (see Ruff-O’Herne, 2008).  In this case, however, Barker’s Katrin wants to let everyone know what has occurred, how she was marked, and how she was abused. She wants her community to see her scars and understand her outrage, even going so far as to give birth to her child (a product of rape) in the public square for all to witness. Katrin wants to deny the taboos that would have normally kept her silent. Michael Bettencourt writing a review for Scene4 in New York, for a Potomac Theatre Project 2009 production said “Katrin, for her part, wants to make her suffering a public spectacle, even a public art: she insists that 10,000 pictures of her breastless torso be distributed throughout the city and stages the birth of her half-Turkish child outdoors in the city’s center for all to witness” ( This character’s reaction of anger and advocacy is among the list of potential victim-survivor responses to rape trauma. These include but are not limited to: shock, fear, guilt, loss of control, embarrassment, anxiety, shame, and anger ( This anger can be expressed by telling others what has occurred and by letting go of feelings that the victim-survivor might be responsible for what has occurred. Such a response could also be a way to regain power, control, and agency over a survivor’s life. This also mirrors the moment in Love of the Nightingale where Philomele expresses publically what happened to her and thus regains her agency.

Katrin expresses what happened during her ordeal and explains that she gave in to her rapists’ non-verbal commands without fighting back. She understood what was expected of her and she complied, taking one of the well known parts in the captive’s dilemma.

KATRIN: The four soldiers said lie down—well, they didn’t say it, no, they did not say the words they indicated by very simple gestures this was expected of me, words were dispensed with, words were superfluous through much language was expressed on either side, by me, by them, but words not really, no. (5).

KATRIN: And then they turned me over like a side of beef, the way the butcher flings the carcass, not without a certain familiarity, coarse-handling but with the very vaguest elements of warmth… (5).

During the attack the soldiers cut off Katrin’s breasts and then send her on her way.  The Europeans demonstrates what I call a “necessary mutilation,” which is one meant not to kill but to disfigure, humiliate, and to mark a victim-survivor so that her appearance can be used as a message to other men fighting on the opposing side. It is “necessary” in the sense that disfigurement sends a message about sexual conquest that is easily seen, making this rape unlike other rapes that occur without visible external physical trauma. This sort of “message” is a coded assumption, a phenomenon intricately linked to rape in warfare. Male domination and the belief that captured women are property can, as in the case of Katrin, manifest in sadistic treatment of women.  If women are property then males feel they can do with the women as they wish, capitalizing on another symbol of male power. Katrin is used as an object, and her disfigurement is a point made among men, specifically that the opposing side cannot protect their women. This points clearly to feminist rape theory as Brownmiller articulates it. Katrin’s disfigurement also “ruins” her in the eyes of her abusers as she is no longer seen as an object of sexual desire.  This is a parallel situation that Salima from Mama Nadi’s brothel in Ruined also finds herself.

Pain was important because it symbolized power and control over the victim…core of sadism…is the passion to have absolute and unrestricted control over living beings…whether an animal, child, man or woman. To force someone to endure pain or humiliation without being able to defend herself is one of the manifestations of absolute control, but it is by no means the only one. The person who has complete control over another living being makes this being into his thing, his property, while he becomes the other beings god. (Fromm 383-384)

According to Kristine Hagen, war becomes a backdrop for “legitimizing and exaggerating gender-based hate crimes”(16), which results in heinous acts being perpetrated against women. She further argues that the brutality of war takes on a dehumanizing aspect where individuals who are right in front of soldiers are not seen as human beings but become “a symbolic body to inflict hatred, violence, and pain upon” (16).  As discussed in chapter one, war creates the unique social, cultural, and opportunistic possibilities that foster hyper-violent rapes. “Rape that occurs in war has added elements of sadism, xenophobia, and misogyny” (MacKinnon, 1994). War also appears to bring with it a level of brutality rarely seen under peacetime conditions. There appears to be an inherent motive in certain wartime rapes that want to permanently mark a victim as being unprotected and punished. “… acts of ritual sexual torture, such as cutting off women’s breasts or gunshots to the genital area, become lifetime reminders of the rape (Amnesty International, 2004b; Vlachova & Biason, 2005). Attacks that focus on genital or sexual mutilation also send a message that not only is a woman property but that her current and future sexuality are controlled by men.

…rape in war moves beyond the male co-option or fertilization of alien women into insult and genital mutilation, whose consequences cannot easily be seen as the pragmatic assimilation or impregnation of women; but rather as destructive male violence aimed at the body or society in its sexual aspect: directed against the sexual organs or in ways that have evident sexual connotations to victims, the men involved and others (Roland Littlewood 9).

According to Getting Away with Murder, Mutilation, and Rape: New Testimony from Sierra Leone (Human Rights Watch, 1999), testimonials from survivors described extreme brutality, as women reported being repeatedly and violently gang raped, “with each successive rape becoming increasingly more brutal and violent.” The report also details the phenomenon of the social pressure during a gang rape that causes the men to attempt to “out do” each other by demonstrating more severity than the previous rapist. The need for a solider to prove his masculinity and sexual prowess often leads to an escalation of violence during the rape. The escalation often leads to the use of external objects to inflict harm upon their victims, “…the use of different instruments to perform the rape such as bayonets, sharpened sticks to mutilate genitals and sexual organs during the rape is common” (Bop, 2001; Kerstiens, 2004). Another phenomenon of wartime rape is the “performance” element. Meaning that the soldiers are performing for other males to demonstrate their sexual prowess, which exemplifies the fraternal interest groups of chapter one. “It has been estimated that 90% of rape in war is gang rape thus occurring within the presence of other soldiers” (Vlachova & Biason, 2005) (Hagen 15). The previously cited research indicates that soldiers are performing not only for each other but also for the victim-survivors and their loved ones, and that other members of the community that are unable to stop the assaults.  “War rape often occurs in the presence of three different audiences: other women (to instill fear), other soldiers (to promote solidarity), and other community members (to show complete suppression)” (Hagen 15). Having an audience of community members allows them to bear witness even if they are not themselves victim-survivors. The community audience that can bear witness can also be seen with Katrin in The Europeans (when she exposes her mutilated body), with Philome in Love of the Nightingale (when she reenacts the rape), and with Laurencia in Fuente Ovejuna (when she berates the village for their inaction).  In Fuente Ovejuna it is worth noting that Laurencia convinces the village to not follow the typical script of non-action in the face of rape but rather she incites the village into a decisive response. In a sense, she is convincing the villagers that a war crime has been committed. The revenge script is often portrayed in narratives as personal but here the revenge narrative is a communal one. This is not only a form of torture but of showing dominance to the defeated foe, which is exactly, what Brownmiller argues. “Often men are also forced to watch their wives, sisters, or daughters being raped, because the rape is intended to torture men as well as the women. Entire families are raped and many family members are killed or tortured trying to protect their loved ones from the horrific acts of sexual violence” (Chang, 1997).

As previous research suggests, one of the “foundation stones” of rape narratives and assumptions about rape is the adoption of cultural “binary constructions.” Miranda Alison observes that during wartime, multiple binary constructions are formed. These binaries contrast “masculine” and “feminine,” “us” and “them,” “their women,” “our women,” “their men” and “our men.”  These binaries are either rape myths themselves or contribute to assumptions that support rape myths. For example, women on “our side” are portrayed as pure, honorable, and chaste, while women on “their side” are often portrayed as “unchaste and depraved.” Soldiers on the enemy side of the conflict are portrayed as murderers and rapists who must be stopped before they harm “our women.”  A rising sense of nationalism under wartime conditions can change what is considered socially acceptable masculinity.  Alison argues that wartime conditions make sexual violence against enemies a “more socially acceptable feature of (militarized) masculinity… while… militarized nationalism does not simply allow men to be violent, but compels them so to be” (80).  Some scholars, such as Martin van Creveld, have argued that protecting women from rape has been a primary motivator for wars throughout the ages.  “…[P]rotecting women against rape has always been one of the most important reasons why men fought . . .  and . . . , since rape of enemy women is used to symbolically demonstrate victory over enemy men, who have failed to protect ‘their’ women, rape is what war is all about” (34).

At the end of The Europeans Starhemberg meets with a Turkish officer named Jemal in order to return Katrin’s child Concillia to the Turks.

STARHEMBERG: The child’s a Turk.

JEMAL: A Turk?

STARHEMBERG: Of Turkish fathers whose untimely executions left her stranded in this foreign territory….

KATRIN:He has – made – restitution – of – their property –for which – I – merely was – curator…

This covert rape narrative is the belief that a woman is merely a “genetic container,” an idea explored in chapter one and espoused by Beverly Allen and others such as Nena Močnik who term forced impregnation, a form of genetic genocide, as a “baptism by sperm.” Another idea that was supported by the Greeks as exemplified in the Eumenides. When Apollo is cross-examined he explains that mothers are only incubators and that fathers are the only true parents. During the Balkan conflict 1992-1995 forced impregnation was used systematically as a weapon of war. Croatian rape victim-survivors were often taunted about the Serb babies they would bear. During this particular conflict, part of the mythology of women being “just a womb” stemmed from Muslim and Serb Orthodox traditions that a child’s identity was believed to be patrilineal.  Thus, a woman who is raped by another ethnic/religious group carries with her a stigma of carrying the other group’s child.  “Being raped is a social stigma that touches the cultural setting of the body especially the woman’s body…impregnation by rape is a stigma that ruins cultural definitions of motherhood and social functions of women concerning child bearing and family care” (Močnik 3).

A patrilineal understanding of identity is a deeply ingrained idea found in many cultures’ politics, mythology, literature, art, and religious texts; Judaism[4], Christianity and Islam all have traditions that trace linage through the male line. The effect of cultural, religious, mythological and artistic influence on the unconscious mind must not be understated. As Ellen L.K. Toronto points out in her article “Gender Inequality in a Still Binary World:”

Culture imposes a powerful influence upon the unconscious through the complex interaction and influence of its many manifestations… as the site of primary mental processes, dreams, fantasies, and wishes, (the unconscious) makes its presence known in disguise, displacement, and condensation. Escaping the repression and censorship of everyday discourse and disrupting the conventional ways of being, it operates outside the rules of logic. Culture, art, religion, and myth can wreak havoc within that lawless region. (Toronto 4)

Individuals interpret new information and respond to that information based on a number of factors, including past experience and the unconscious mind. These “information filters” create the hermeneutic template through which new information is interpreted and understood. So to answer the question “how is rape normalized in wartime?” the answer, to an extent, is that rape is already partially normalized in  society based on largely inescapable religious, mythological, cultural, and artistic input. During wartime the cultural binaries or the “us vs. them” mythologies are heightened from the normal and are deemed to be more socially acceptable than peacetime.  “Normalization” works both ways, however, in that the same systems of belief and thought can also be challenged and changed. Toronto believes that exposure to artistic symbolization can create responses that can expand our worldview beyond the information filters that have been created through our own experience. Chapter four examines the production history of The Women of Troy and how the play’s rape narratives were expressed and shaped through the early twentieth century.



[1] Xenophon was an Athenian, historian, solider, and philosopher, student of Socrates.

Aristotle, was an Athenian writer, historian, philosopher, student of Plato.

[2] 1475-1479 the crown of Castile was disputed by Joanna la Beltraneja and her half sister Isabella I of Castile.

[3] “Order verses disorder was a common theme of the Elizabethan period; an example is Shakespeare’s Macbeth, written between 1599 and 1606 it deals with the behavior of nobles and the consequences for immoral actions.”

[4] Tribal lineage was patrilineal but the Jewish heritage of a child was matrilineal.

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