We've curated essay prompts based off our Women of Troy Study Guide which explores themes, characters, and quotes.
Before getting started on your own essay writing using our essay topics, feel free to watch the video below where Lisa brainstorms and breaks down the topic:
How does Euripides use the structure of the play to explore the role of women and their suffering in time of war?
Staged in a patriarchal society, Women of Troy was set during the immediate aftermath of the Trojan war – a war between the Greeks and the Trojans. Hecuba is the former queen of Troy, who suffered so much loss as the mother of her children as well as the mother of Troy. She lost her son Hector and her husband in the Trojan war, her daughter Polyxena also died and Cassandra was raped. After the Greeks won, women were allocated to Greek households and forced into slavery, including the Queen of Troy. She was also the mother of Paris, the prince of Troy. It was purported that Paris and Helen were responsible for initiating the war as Helen was governed by her lust for Paris and left Menelaus, the Spartan prince, for this young prince of Troy. Consequently, Menelaus was enraged by this elopement and declared that he wanted Helen dead as a punishment for her disloyalty. Helen defended herself and lied that it was against her will, crying that she was kidnapped and blaming Hecuba for the Fall of Troy and for the conflict between the two sides. However, Menelaus did not believe in what Helen had to say and decided to bring her back to her home on a separate ship.
The play ended with the Greek ships leaving Troy, which was then on fire. The Trojan were singing a sad song together as they left to prepare for their new lives as slaves living in Greek households.
The play’s main focus is on the suffering of women, as exemplified by the way Euripides chose to portray Hecuba’s loss and Cassandra’s helplessness.
So, our essay prompt for today is “How does Euripides use the structure of the play to explore the role of women and their suffering in time of war?”.
This is indeed one of the more challenging prompts that VCAA wouldn’t probably give, reason being it is a language/structure-based prompt. It requires you to have a much more profound knowledge of the text, and it is not always easy to spot language features, especially in a poetic sounding play like Women of Troy. There is just so much going on in the text! While it is not super likely that you will get this prompt for the exams, I have seen a lot of schools give language/ structure-based prompts to students for SACs as it gives them an opportunity to challenge themselves and look for textual evidence that will distinguish them from their peers. These types of evidence are definitely worth looking for because they can also be used as evidence to back up your arguments for theme-based or character-based prompts.
Now let’s get started. The first thing I always do is to look for key words. The key words in this prompt are “structure”, “role of women” “suffering”.
With the structure of the play, we can potentially talk about:
- Character-related evidence (e.g. strong female character base)
- Language-related features (metalanguage/ literacy devices)
- Plot-related features (order of events) – irony, foreshadowing
In a male-dominated, patriarchal society, women are often time oppressed and seen as inferior. Their roles in the society were limited, they were only seen as domestic housewives and mothers. It is important to look for evidence that either support or contradict this statement. Ask yourself
- Is Euripides trying to support the statement and agree that women are simply creatures of emotions should only stick with domestic duties?
- Or is he trying to criticize this belief by showing that women are so much more than just those being governed by their emotions?
Since this play primarily focuses on the cost of wars and how women, as innocent bystanders, have to suffer as a result of the Trojan war, it should not be difficult finding evidence related to women’s suffering. It might include:
- Hecuba’s loss (she lost her home and children)
- Or Hecuba’s pain (being blamed for Troy’s ruin)
- Cassandra’s helplessness despite knowing her fate, surrendering and accepting her future
- Or Andromache’s “bitter” fate having to give up her child
- The Chorus voicing their opinion – slavery
Once a prompt is carefully broken down, it is no longer that scary because all we have to do now is to organize our thoughts and write our topic sentences.
BP1: Euripides constructs a strong female character base to contradict the prevailing views of the period that women are inferior to their male counterparts
It is significant that Euripides chose to have a strong female protagonist, as the character herself acts as a diatribe against the patriarchal society, contradicting any engrained beliefs that pervaded the society at the time. An example of an evidence that can support this statement is the ways in which Hecuba dominates the stage while giving her opening lamentation. The lengthy nature of the monologue itself enables Euripides to present his proto-feminist ideas and go against the Hellenic gendered prejudice.
We can also talk about Hecuba’s leadership and her interaction with the Chorus of Trojan women. She refers to them as “my children” and employs the simile “a mother at her plundered nest”. The way the Greek playwright constructs the relationship between characters is worth mentioning as Hecuba in this play is portrayed as a compassionate and empathetic leader, showing that women are also capable of leading others in a way that engenders a sense of camaraderie between them.
Another good thinking point is to talk about how Helen acts as a paradigm of a group of women who had to turn to deception and go against their integrity to survive in time of tragedy.
BP2: Euripides’ selective use of language and literacy devices in portraying women’s pain and suffering further enables him to portray the ways in which women, as innocent bystanders, are oppressed in time of war.
An example of a metalanguage used in this play is the animal imagery the Chorus used to depict Hecuba’s pain. By referring to her pain as a “howl of agony”, they intensify the magnitude of Hecuba’s pain as the term “howl” is usually used to describe a loud cry usually uttered by animals like wolves. This implies that Hecuba, who acts as representative of Hellenic women, has to suffer from an emotional turmoil that is far beyond bearable, which in turn further fortifies the audience’s sympathy for her, as well as the Trojan women.
Another piece of evidence that I would talk about is the simile “dragged as a slave”. It was used to describe Hecuba, the former queen of Troy. By likening someone who used to be at a position of power to “a slave”, Euripides underscores the drastic change in circumstances that occurred as a result of the Trojan war, magnifying the tremendous amount of loss Hecuba experienced. Furthermore, the image of the protagonist’s devastated physical state enhances the dramatist’s condemnation of war as it allows him to elucidate the detrimental impacts such violence and dreadfulness impose on innocent bystanders.
There are, of course, plenty of other evidence out there such as the way in which Cassandra is portrayed as a “poor mad child”, her helplessness surrendering to her “wretched” fate with Agamemnon who wanted her for himself because “. We can also talk about the inclusive language positing “our misery” “our home” used by the Chorus in echoing Hecuba’s pain, etc.
The use of symbolism can also be discussed. For instance, the citadel in the city of Troy in the epilogue acts as a metonym for Hecuba’s resistance before entering slavery. The image of it crumbling exemplifies women’s helplessness and enhance the notion that they are still in positions of explicit subjugation.
BP3: While Euripides primarily focuses on portraying women’s pain and suffering, he does not completely vilify men or victimize women, maintaining an unbiased view so as to underscore the importance of integrity through his characterization of both male and female character.
The last body paragraph of our essays is often the one used to challenge the prompt, showing the assessors our wealth of ideas and depth of knowledge. Basically what we are say is “while our playwright is obvious pro-women, he definitely does not condone everything women do and criticize everything men do”. In this way, we have the opportunity to explore the ways characters are constructed and the ways they are used in the play to convey its meaning.
If I were to write an essay on this, I would talk about Talthybius and Helen, mainly because they are both complex characters that the audience cannot fully love or hate.
Talthybius is surprisingly sympathetic towards women, establishing himself as a complicated figure. This is epitomized through the ways in which he employs euphemistic language when announcing the dreadful news to Hecuba. He tries his best to be sensitive and mitigate the impacts of Hecuba’s daughter death to her, announcing that Polyxena “is to serve Achilles at his tomb” and that “her fate is settled” “all her troubles are over”. He was being sensitive and subtle instead of abruptly delivering the news. While he represents an enemy state, he shows that men can also be compassionate, contradicting the Phallocentric belief that men should only be governed by cool logic.
Similar to Talthybius, Helen is also a complicated figure as she is both a victim of fate and a selfish character. It is possible for the audience to sympathise with her as she is merely a victim of fortune in that she was bewitched by Aphrodite and governed by her love for Paris, the prince of Troy. However, the ways in which she shifts the blame to Hecuba and makes her pleas preclude the audience from completely sympathizing with her as it, in a way, renders her as a self-absorbed and repugnant character. This notion is further fortified by the fact that she cared so little for the “tens of thousands” lives taken on her behalf as the phrase quantifies and magnifies the cataclysmic consequences of her lust for Paris.
LSG-curated Women of Troy Essay Topics
- Euripides’ play Women of Troy mainly focuses on the true cost of wars. To what extent do you agree with the statement
- Women of Troy demonstrates that there is no real winner in wars. Discuss.
- In the Trojan wars, the Trojans suffered great losses while the Greeks did not suffer. Do you agree?
- How does Euripides use language to portray the loss and suffering of Hellenic women in Women of Troy?
- Characters in Women of Troy are all driven and motivated by their sense of duty and obligation. To what extent do you agree with the statement?
- Hecuba’s greatest pain stems from the deaths of her children. Discuss the statement.
- While Helen’ selfishness should be condemned, the audience can still condone her actions due to the circumstances she is in. To what extent do you agree with the statement?
- Women of Troy is a tragedy, rather than a war-play. Do you agree?
- Euripides argues that fate and fortunes are not preordained, and tragedies do not incriminate. To what extent do you agree with the statement?
- It is impossible to sympathise with Helen because she is the most mischievous character of the play. Do you agree?
- Women of Troy explores the ways in which a character’s true self might emerge in time of tragedy. Discuss.
- In Women of Troy, The Chorus’ only role is to act as the representative of Hellenic women. Do you agree?
- In the end, the Gods are not responsible for the tragedies caused by the Trojan war as it happened as a result of poor choices. Do you agree?
- Hecuba is the victim of fate. Discuss.
- Love is a dangerous passion that can lead to tragic consequences. Does Women of Troy support this statement?
- Hecuba is a tragic hero. Discuss
- How is the structure of Women of Troy used to convey its meaning?
- It is possible for the audience to sympathise with Helen because of her love for Paris. Do you agree?
- There is no villain in Women of Troy because everyone in the play suffers. Do you agree with the statement?
- Discuss the role of dishonesty in Euripides’ Women of Troy.
Women of Troy is usually studied in the Australian curriculum under Area of Study 1 - Text Response. For a detailed guide on Text Response, check out our Ultimate Guide to VCE Text Response.