The position of women in society was always determined by the attitude of men to this issue. Women were never considered as the persons with the developed abilities to rule and to have much property. Moreover, the history of the social and personal relations between men and women approves the fact that women were often discussed as the men’s property themselves.
Similar approaches to discussing the relations of women and property are described in three plays by Aristophanes, Congreve, and Wilde where the female characters play rather significant roles. Aristophanes is famous for his satirical plays in which he developed the controversial questions typical for the society in 410 BC. The author’s play Lysistrata can be discussed as the most interesting vision of the problem of the women’s role in society in classical Athens.
Aristophanes chose women as the main characters of his play and portrayed them as the decisive individuals with the leading figure of Lysistrata. They can play the roles similar to the men’s ones in society. Thus, Lysistrata believes that women can cope with any task and can be even braver than men in their decisions.
The main issue of the play is the war with the Peloponnesians. To address the problem, Lysistrata states, “Our country’s fortunes depend on us – it is with us to undo utterly the Peloponnesians” (Aristophanes 2). Nevertheless, the situation which is depicted in the play is only the fantastic picture created by Aristophanes, and it emphasizes the real positions of women in society of Athens.
If the women in the play acquire the masculine characteristics, and they are active in their social life, real women have the opportunity to act only in their domestic life and with references to the needs and desires of their husbands. Thus, women had no property and even perceived as the property which is worth or not to be gained. From this point, marriage was the single chance to get the social security because all the properties were ruled by men.
The women as property are also discussed in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. In this case, women have the material and financial fortunes inherited from their relatives, but they have no real opportunities to control them without being married. Thus, the question of women as property acquires new features when speaking about not only their status but also such characteristics as the appearance, beauty, and smartness.
In the conservation with Cecily and Algernon, Lady Bracknell states that at Cecily’s age of thirty-five “there will be a large accumulation of property”, meaning all the young woman’s characteristics including her income (Wilde 138). In this situation Cecily has no choice, but to ask Algernon, “could you wait for me till I was thirty-five?” (Wilde 138). If a young woman is unmarried, there are no chances for her to live the rich and successful life.
Gwendolen Fairfax and Cecily Cardew as the main female characters of The Importance of Being Earnest have all the features typical for the women of the nineteenth century. That is why the main task for them is to successfully marry a man who should be ‘earnest’ and rather rich.
The fact that these women can inherit their money and control them independently is not discussed by them. Gwendolen Fairfax and Cecily Cardew’s relations with properties can be analyzed only in the context of their possible marriages which influence the life of the young women in the nineteenth century greatly.
Women’s property was examined also with references to the marriage contracts which could provide the definite level of security for women and preserve them from different men’s machinations. However, the issue of money is not so important for Gwendolen Fairfax and Cecily Cardew as the problem of their marriages.
The discussion of the correlation between the issues of marriage and property is vividly presented in William Congreve’s play The Way of the World where female characters are interesting for men only as the opportunity to enlarge their incomes and provide the luxurious life. In spite of the fact the main female characters of the play Millament and Lady Wishfort have properties, their possibilities to control them are also limited by the peculiarities of the traditional institute of marriage and make them be victims of dishonest men.
Moreover, this play also states that even in the situation when women have money they are considered as property themselves. Thus, it is reflected in Lady’s remark when she asks, “Then I have been your property, have I” (Congreve 88).
Money and marriage are the concepts which go close to each other in the play because they are associated and accentuate the women’s dependency on their having or lacking property. Thus, if a woman has property, she has the opportunity to marry any man she wants, but she will not be able to control her fortune, and a husband can consider her only as the source of money. If a woman has no money, she should hope for a successful marriage to get the social security.
Aristophanes. Lysistrata. USA: Dover Publications, 1994. Print.
Congreve, William. The Way of the World. USA: Empire Books, 2012. Print.
Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest. USA: Simon & Brown, 2012. Print.