The Role Of Women In Medea Essay

, Research Paper

Medea is the tragic tale of a woman scorned. It was written in

431 B.C. by the Greek playwright, Euripides. Eruipides was the

first Greek poet to suffer the fate of so many of the great

modern writers: rejected by most of his contemporaries (he

rarely won first prize and was the favorite target for the

scurrilous humor of the comic poets), he was universally admired

and revered by the Greeks of the centuries that followed his

death( Norton Anthology ). Euripides showed his interest in

psychology in his many understanding portraits of women ( World

Book ). Euripides choice of women support characters such as the

nurse and the chorus is imperative to the magnification of

Medea s emotions. The very fact that the nurse and chorus are

female deepens Medea s sadness, impassions her anger, and makes

the crime of killing her own children all the more heinous.

Medea s state of mind in the beginning of the play is that

of hopelessness and self pity. Medea is both woman and

foreigner; that is to say, in terms of the audience s prejudice

and practice she is a representative of the two free born groups

in Athenian society that had almost no rights at all ( Norton

Anthology 739). Euripides could not have chosen a more

downtrodden role for Medea. Here is this woman who has stood by

her man through thick and thin. She has turned her back on her

family and killed her own brother while helping Jason capture the

Golden Fleece.

Oh my father! Oh, my country! In what dishonor

I left you, killing my own brother for it.

(Medea 164-165)

Despite all of her devotion to her husband he has fallen in love

with someone new, Glauke. The Nurse and the Chorus understand

and sympathize with Medea as only other women could. Euripides

develops the heart of Medea s character by the sympathetical

approach of the Nurse.

…calling out on her father s name,

And her land, and her home betrayed when she came away with

A man who now is determined to dishonor her.

Poor creature, she has discovered by her sufferings

What it means to one not to have lost one s own country.

(Medea 31-35)

The Chorus are sympathetic to Medea s heartache also, and offer a

more simple and acceptable approach to help Medea deal with her


Suppose your man gives honor

To another woman s bed.

It often happens. Don t be hurt.

God will be your friend in this.

You must not waste away

Grieving too much for him who shared your bed.

(Medea 153-158)

The truth of the matter is that in Athenian society during this

time it was acceptable for men to take new wives on a whim, and

getting mad and upset were the only choice, or result of the lack

of choice, women had.

We women are the most unfortunate creatures.

(Medea 229)

A man, when he s tired of the company in his home,

Goes out of the house and puts an end to his boredom

And turns to a friend or companion of his own age.

But we are forced to keep our eyes on one alone.

(Medea 242-245)

Medea s tears soon dry with the thoughts of revenge. After

Kreon grants her one last day before exhile, Medea uses her

cleverness to produce plots of revenge.

… he has given me this one day

To stay here, and in this I will make dead bodies

Of three of my enemies, –father, the girl and my

husband. (Medea 369-379)

Medea never lets societies norms of a female discourage her from

doing the justice she sees fit. Weak and submissive are not

something she s going to settle for. Medea talking about


You have the skill. What is more, you were born a woman,

And women, thought most helpless in doing good deeds,

Are of every evil the cleverest of contrivers.

(Medea 404-406)

Her rage empowers her with liberation and free thought that far

surpasses the women of her time. Although the Chorus never adds

to Medea s frenzy directly, they add fuel to the fire of the

audience and evokes a certain You go girl! attitude that makes

the justification of Medea s actions seem limitless.

It is the thought of men that are deceitful,

Their pedges that are loose.

Stories shall now turn my condition to a fair one,

Women are paid their due.

No more shall evil-sounding fame be theirs.

(Medea 409-413)

The Chorus develops a protectiveness of Medea, and quickly sides

with her in scolding Jason.

Jason, though you have made this speech of yours look well,

Still I think, even though others do not agree,

You have betrayed your wife and are acting badly.

(Medea 564-566)

Medea soon loses her supporters and crosses the line with

the plot to kill her own children.

I weep to think of what a deed I have to do

Next after that; for I shall kill my own children.

My children, their is none who can give them safety.

And when I have ruined the whole of Jason s house,

I shall leave the land and flee from the murder of my

Dear children, and I shall have done a dreadful deed.

(Medea 775-780)

The killing of Glauke and Kreon loses significance with the

Chorus who are dreadfully anticipating the harm of Medea s

children. Euripides uses a female chorus to signify the atrocity

of a mother killing her own children. The Chorus no longer

sympathizes with Medea, yet still blames Jason for the events

which have taken place.

You too, O wretched bridegroom, making your match with


You do not see that you bring

Destruction on your children… (Medea 964-966)

Euripides role of female characters to sympathize with

Medeas heartache in the beginning, and magnify the unscrupulous

murder of her children in the end is brilliant. The reason for

the female support is evident. If the Nurse or Chorus had been a

male servant or a mixed crowd in society the plot of the play

would have been lost. Medea is a woman suffering from a broken

heart, and it seems only fair that she be given sympathy and

judgment from peers who can relate. Hell hath no fury like that

of a woman scorned!


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