– Tragedy Essay, Research Paper

It seems that the nearly all critics of Medea are unanimous in one prominent feature of the play alone, and that is in their immense abhorrence for Jason. Kitto says ‘In him (Jason) it is impossible to find anything that is not mean´, while Lucas says ‘Jason is utterly selfish, and utterly unconscious of his selfishness’. It is hard to find anything kind about Jason as on face value he is such an obvious villain. But all these comments on the Medea centre round a study of Medea herself, while making passing comments on Jason, as and when they see fit, yet they all see Jason as the other main character in the play. When one devotes the largest proportion of study on Jason, rather than Medea, a picture of kinder, caring Jason is created. Thus I believe that a case can be made for Jason – he is no paragon of kindness or any good quality, but he does not quite deserve such comments as ‘The unrelieved baseness of Jason is revolting’. Vellacott says in his introduction to the play that ‘to appreciate the balance of this play we must take care not to pre-judge Jason’. This is an essential point to make, as Jason has all the elements of a typical villain – he has a wife who devoted his life to him, yet he now deserts her for his own sexual satisfaction. Yet as Jason says himself, on numerous occasions, he is not getting married for solely for his own merit, but for those of Medea and his children as well:

‘It’s not for the sake of any woman that I have made this royal marriage, but, as I’ve already said, to ensure your future… and build security for us all’ (P.35)

Such speeches and comments cannot just be ignored – he says this as these are his genuine motivations, the reasons why he has gone about his actions. The nurse, a character who in the early stages is heavily biased against Jason, even says

‘Jason is a prisoner in a princess’ bed’ (P.4)

Whether Euripides meant this to mean that he was literally a prisoner, or just captive to her good looks we cannot be sure, but either way she is showing that Jason cannot be completely at fault. Jason is acting just like most men in his position would – Medea is an exile, so Jason is not bound to her in marriage in the true spirit, and as we have seen, she is being betrayed for her own benefit[page]. Medea says herself that it is acceptable for a men to divorce:

‘If a man grows tired of the company at home, he can go out, and find a cure’ (P.7)

Jason is doing exactly what society allows him to do – surely her grudge cannot be with Jason alone, but with a system that allows him to act in such a way. She also talks (P.6) of how it is un-respectable for a woman to divorce, and impossible for her to repel a man, but she doesn’t say the same of men, which leads to the obvious assumption that men can and will get divorced and repel their wives. Jason is a harsh character, it is almost impossible to deny that. But he is not necessarily harsh to the extent that one will get on first impressions. He is constantly trying to persuade the royal family to accept Medea and the children into the kingdom, but Medea always messes his efforts up:

‘I have tried all the time to calm them (Glauce & Creon) down; but you would not give up your ridiculous tirades against the royal family’ (P.9)

At this point, Jason is angry – but it seems justified. He has given unnecessary effort to aiding Medea, and she has not helped. His continuos help to her, which does nothing to change her mind or alter the cause of the dreadful fate of the children, is wholly genuine. The problem though, is that he is stupid in his actions – he often makes a good point, which shows his caring, then says something stupid, that will annoy Medea, and bring him back to where he started.

‘If there’s anything else I can provide to meet the children’s needs or yours, tell me; I’ll gladly give whatever you want’ (P.35)

This shows Jason´s genuine care for Medea and the children, but then he says

‘To refuse such help is mad’(P.35)

This serves no useful or practical purpose, yet annoys Medea no end, so it is pointless, and emphases his lack of thinking before speaking

But Medea seems set in stone anyway, and it is her attitude, rather than his actions, that causes the real tragedy of the play:

‘(Medea) loathes your (Jason) prosperous future’ (P.17)

It is a sheer sense of jealousy and selfishness that drives her, while Jason, although driven by some selfish motives, is also doing some good. It is best described in his awful statement:

‘But if you women have reached a state where, if all’s well with your sex-life, you’ve everything you wish for’

This is a sweeping generalisation, and is a cruel one that is not justified, nor is it the right thing to say to a woman heavily distraught as her husband has run off, but it is what is causing Medea’s worry – that others will laugh at their as her husband has run off. Jason doesn’t understand the full meaning of what he has said, but he is true when applied to Medea specifically – her children have the possibility of a better life, being bought up in a royal household, yet she still carries out her plans. Still, we cannot see Jason as a pure person – he lacks any real deep understanding of what is driving Medea, and he is ‘the husband who has lived with his wife for years and not begun to know her’ [Furgeson]. He makes if other motives obvious, throughout the play:

’so I can bring up my sons in a manner worthy of my descent…have other sons, perhaps as brothers to your children’

This shows that he is not completely altruistic in his actions. There is a heavy egotistical side to his character. Yet he is going out of his way to secure a future for his children, although it seems at times as that he’s doing for Medeas sake rather than his own. Cockburn, who is one of the few advocates of Jason, points to a technicality, that in the first agon, Jason speaks second, which is the place usually reserved for the sympathetic character. This is all part of Euripides handling of Jason. In the first 500 lines or so, Jason is blamed for everything:

Nurse: ‘he has betrayed those near and dear to him’ (P.19)

This is the first passage in which Jason is specifically mentioned, and we are already hearing of his bad traits. Surely this a biased view, and one is led to thinking that he is an evil character. Yet the more we see of him, the more we can sympathise with him. In the first agon we see that although he may be a harsh person, he does have a heart. The second time we see him is the deception scene, and he is easily fooled. Then we see him when Glauce and Creon have been murdered, and he finds out about his children. Thus one starts with a hostile view, but the more of Jason there is, the more he is like us. As Aristotle said, the tragic hero is one who is like us, and Furgeson says that ‘Jason is detestable, and uncomfortably like us’. So using a syllogistical form of reasoning, Jason is a true tragic hero. Thus it is too easy to dislike him, for it is dismissing everything that we know to be bad about ourselves – a selfish motive, although a feeling of guilt creates genuine care. Cockburn points strongly to the transformation of a hated and reviled Jason to a sympathetic, if still nasty character. Some critics talk of Jason deserving a punishment, but that which he receives being far more cruel than any we could expect [Page], but he has already paid her everything he owes – he bought her, by all standards his concubine, to Greece, civilisation if that is what it is meant to be, and given her fame and children. He is willing to give her money, and offers to help in many other ways, all of which she obstinately rejects. But he deserves no such punishment – he is doing what is common place in the society of the time, and although he may have shown a gross lack of acumen, he shouldn’t be punished for that. Jason lacks any real emotion, until the last scene, where we see him with many cruel blows – the murder of all those close to him, the unheroic death he is to receive and the rejection of his request to bury the children. He also receives many cruel lines throughout the play:

‘the serpent that kept watch over the golden fleece… it was I who killed it’ (P.31)

Jason lives on his fame, which would be non-existent without the fleece and the Argo, yet it is the very woman he has deserted that made it possible and is now removing his heroism. The woman who is willing to kill herself due to Jason´s running away. (P.24). One of the most curious features of Jason´s words throughout the play is his reference (until their death) of the children as Medeas – he always speaks of them as your children when he is with Medea. This shows an emotional detachment from the children. It is only on finding out that Medea has killed them that he refers to them as his;

‘…killed my sons? that word kills me’ (P.57)

This is the most heart breaking scene of the whole play, and one can understand the rage that follows, as Jason now has nothing left to live for. Another characteristic of Jason that furthers a readers dislike for him is his sophistical characteristics:

Medea: ‘a wicked man who is also eloquent seems the most guilty of them all. He’ll cut your throat’ (P.15)

He has a way with words, and can often prove himself right, even when he is not. This was scene, by the Greeks, as a bad trait, an he possesses it in ample quantity. Jason is thus a character to whom we can relate, yet still dislike. He possesses many qualities that we can all see in ourselves, yet do not acknowledge openly. ‘In the character of Jason’, says Vellacott, ‘a concern for civilised values is joined with a calculating coldness and unscrupulous want of feeling’. Jason is a hero, yet he has no heroism left in him. He is a man of words, although he always manages to dig himself a whole when he has said something that brings out a good point in him. Of course we can sympathise with Medea, there is no doubt that she must feel hard done by, but the more we see of the argument, and the further it progresses, the more we can relate to Jason. He is stupid, he is devoid of a number of emotions, but he is essentially a caring man, someone who is looking out for a wife and children that he need not do if he didn’t care.


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