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These two quotations from Medea and Hippolytus, act as a frame and reference for this chapter which functions as prolegomena of a project that sets out to examine the structural links in Greek tragedy between maternity, natality and theatricality. I would not be stressing anything particularly new in saying that Greek Tragedy has some difficulty in presenting the mother figure. The playtexts are littered with mothers that kill their children, sleep with them, stepmothers that pursue them, and in the case of The Bacchae, a mother who not only kills and dismembers her child but returns to the stage with its head as a prized trophy and invites everyone to join in the feast. However, in as much as tragedy is about action—ethical, political, personal and public—this analysis proposes to read that action in relation to what I call the ‘Mother-trope’ or ‘Mother-machine’. In responding to the question of ‘what is there to be done’, tragedy is not solely premised on narrative action, but also and importantly on dramatic, theatrical, embodied action. This theatricality of tragic action exhibits a strong attachment to its mothers, as protagonists, and as tropes and theatrical conventions. Indeed, this fascination that tragedy has with mainly monstrous mothers, may be the precondition, the grounds of its theatricality.
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