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Rocklein Abstract

Shattered Female Greek Virtue: Dejanira as depicted in Handel's Hercules

Robyn Rocklein

Throughout the centuries, interpretations of the Hercules myth directly reflected ancient Greek societal values and expectations of male and female archetypal roles, as well as provided philosophical insights into their respective eras. In the theatre, these rigid expectations are unspoken, yet deliberate vehicles for moralizing male and female virtue in general, and specifically, the virtues of Dejanira.

Numerous studies examine the varying interpretations of this myth; few, if any, address the ways female Greek virtues are depicted operatically within the confines of the myth. In the music of George Frideric Handel's Hercules (1745), Dejanira contradicts the ideal Greek woman. Brief overviews of ancient Greek societal expectations and the constraints of eighteenth-century opera seria in England, and an examination of Handel’s music highlights the absence and presence of female Greek virtue.

Hercules illustrates how Handel moulded the Hercules myth to adhere to audience expectations and transformed the myth to appeal to the “contemporary” religious and societal expectations of eighteenth century England, while vividly depicting Dejanira’s lack of virtue in his music.