Euripides? Medea Essay, Research Paper
The Greek tragedy Medea is a tale of a woman scorn and the wrath that follows. The story is one of outright deceit, crippling revenge and questionable justice. It is typical of Greek tragedies in its simplicity, but atypical in the way it justifies horrific revenge. Medea is one of Euripides’ most enduring plays. It and only a handful of others have survived the several thousand years since their conception.
Medea is a typical Greek tragedy. The opening monologue sets the stage for the rest of the play, a typical prologue. The speaking characters can be played by a few as four actors, each wearing a mask to identify themselves to the audience. All of the action takes place in front of Medea’s home, which would allow for a very simple set. The most complicated scene comes at the end of the play when Medea flies to Athens on a chariot pulled by dragons. Euripides could have used a mechane to lift her and the bodies of her children off the stage. There are several violent deaths in this story. All violence takes place off stage, in the case of the death of Creon and his daughter, a messenger brings the news to Medea and the audience. When Medea murders her children, the children’s voices can be heard from offstage and the chorus debates saving them. In both cases the violence is described, but never shown, characteristic of Greek tragedy.
The subject matter and the way Euripides presents Medea is what makes this play atypical of Greek theatre. Euripides was not especially popular during his lifetime. Aristophanes and others constantly mocked him in their comedies because of his condemnation of war during the Peloponnesian War. Euripides was also skeptical of the standard religious practices of the era, distancing himself even further from the general public1. Medea is a prime example of Euripides’ style of playwriting.
Medea is a woman who murdered her brother and left her homeland to be with Jason, her love and eventual husband. After she bears him two children he leaves her and marries the daughter of the King of Corinth. Medea then proceeds to use her children to deliver gifts laced with violent poison to the princess. The princess dies and so does her father. Jason then goes to Medea’s home to find his children dead by their mother’s hand.
Euripides used topics that many audiences in ancient Greece thought were unsuited for the stage . Medea is one of the plays that contained these topics. Look at the character Medea. She is not Greek, she is from a distant land to which she can never return. She is responsible for the death of her brother whom she killed and cut into pieces. She spread them into the sea to delay her father’s pursuit of Jason and his Argonauts . Medea is a complex and ruthless woman. Her actions before and during the play correspond with the opinion that she is a woman driven by passion not logic. Also examine Medea’s actions during the play. She laces ornate gifts with fiery poison and then uses her children to deliver them to Jason’s new wife. Then in an act of revenge towards her former husband, she brutally murders her own children. There is no greater crime than killing your own children. She commits the act because she believes it is the only way to bring justice to Jason’s actions, as the chorus explains:
“Today fate fastens its talons on Jason, these disasters he has deserved.”
The narration from the chorus, which a group of Corinthian women, makes an attempt to justify Medea’s actions. Audiences must have found themselves unsettled by similar justifications made in their own minds. Should Jason be punished so severely for his infidelity? Can Medea’s murderous actions be seen as just because of the situation Jason put her in? Questions like these with no definite answer, and the fact that Euripides even raised these questions in the first place led to his unpopularity amongst the general public.
However, despite the controversy around the story and its message, Medea is and will remain one of the pinnacle accomplishments of Greek theatre.
Slavitt, David R. and Pamler Bovie, ed. Euripides, 1. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, 1998.
Brockett, Oscar G. and Franklin J. Hildy. History of the Theatre, 8th Edition. Allyn and Bacon: Boston, 1999
“Argonauts,” Microsoft? Encarta? Online Encyclopedia 2001