"Miles Gloriosus"- A close reading (3 pages)

Essay by catfish8College, UndergraduateA, November 2006

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A close reading of "Miles Gloriosus" reveals how Palaestro and Greek Society viewed women and also the role of deception as a plot device. The observation the reader gains from this excerpt is that Palaestro believes that women are deceitful. Palaestro certainly portrays Philocomasium is dishonest, professing that she is "well supplied with lies and perjuries." In fact, he spends twelve lines explaining how manipulative and untruthful she is. This rant illuminates a stereotype created within patriarchal societies: women cannot be trusted.

This stereotype is compounded when Palaestro compares women to a notoriously evil animal when he describes Philocomasium as "snake-in-the-grassy." The idea of women as snakes is a theme seen in patriarchal societies throughout the ages. In Greek mythology there is a malevolent and wicked snake goddess called Echidne, likewise the evil Medusa has hair of snakes. Furthermore, in Asian mythology women often transform into snakes, and even in the Bible the devil is traditionally depicted as a snake woman.

Palaestro reinforces this snake theme by describing Philocomasin as "slippery" and using a string of "s" words in alliteration- ""swearing a solemn and sacred oath." Additionally, pronouncing women "snake-in-the-grassy" serves a duel purpose by both complimenting and degrading them. Not only does it produce the imagery of a cunning unseen controller, but it also clearly outlines a women's role within the hierarchy. They are on the bottom without legs to prop themselves up and are forced to slither low on the ground.

This passage of Miles Gloriosus may display women on the bottom of the totem pole politically, however, they are not portrayed in that manner mentally. In Paleastro's mind they are capable of "Diabolical machinations,/ Hypocritical falsifications." Throughout the scene Palaestro is planning to enlist the help of Philocomasium to fool a slave, Sceledrus. Although when first introduced to Sceledrus you are led to think that he personifies the stupid slave stock character, however, I believe his archetype is more accurately named the obedient slave. Palaestro himself remarks that he must "confute that confounded spy on the roof/ And convince him that he couldn't have seen her there." When describing Sceledrus Palaestro doesn't call him stupid or dull witted. Quite conversely Palaestro appears worried which suggests that Sceledrus presents a threat to his plot. None the less Palaestro insinuates that Philocomasin could outwit the slave with her cunning lies. This implies that Palaestro believes a women's cleverness exceeds a man's in some circumstances. In fact in the last two rhyming couplets of this excerpt Palaestro says "A slippery woman needn't shop/ For fresh chicanery at the store;/ Her garden at home produces a crop/ Of lies by the bushel beside her door." In other word he says a cunning woman wants for nothing if she learns to employ her manipulation of others.

Additionally this excerpt displays a major theme in the play: deception as a means to an end. In fact the majority of the lines in the passage describe the different methods of lying and dishonesty. Generally this would be seen as morally repugnant, however, in this play it is a characteristic looked for and admired in coconspirators. Although Palaestro is pointing out traits normally deemed immoral, he says them with the connotation of a compliment (i.e. she is "well supplied with lies and perjuries." Although she's supplied with treachery, Palaestro sees that as a good thing.) A parallel can be draw to the Machiavellian principle of the ends justifying the means. In this case allowing the young lovers to maintain their secret justifies the fabrications told. Throughout the play this is seen repeatedly. What we would consider the protagonists employ deception so that the '"good" guys win and the "bad" guys learn their lesson. Miles Gloriosus in its essence is a play about weaving untruths and creating lies to influence others and propel oneself.