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Medea

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MEDEA

Part 1 Analysis

The first purpose of this section is to offer background information for the action about to unfold. It's important to note that at the time the play was first produced, most people in the audience would have known the story of Medea and Jason when they came into the theatre. The myth was part of Greece's cultural and societal heritage. The interest in coming to the theatre, for the Greeks, was to see how the playwright illuminated larger questions of human existence by telling the story in his particular way.

This particular playwright's viewpoint appears in the conversation between the Tutor and the Nurse, specifically the Tutor's reference to selfishness ("everyone loves himself more than his neighbor"). The two main characters in this play, Medea and Jason, are models of selfishness. Both of them are concerned with meeting their own needs, acting on their own desires and doing what they think is right without any consideration for anyone else. They both take their selfishness to extremes. Jason leaves his wife for a younger, prettier and richer woman just because he wants to, and the excuses he gives for doing so in Part 2 are just that - excuses. Medea sacrifices four innocent lives because she so desperately wants to cause Jason pain. The question of whether she's justified in that desire will be examined later. Note that this is a different question from whether she's justified in killing her children.

The Chorus functions in a similar way to choruses in almost every other Classical Greek play. A group of individuals speaks with one voice, one attitude and one belief as a representation of community or society. In general, a Greek chorus offered commentary on the action, illuminated the play's themes, acted as confidantes to the central characters or a combination of any or all of these practices. In Medea, the Chorus of Corinthian Women performs all these functions. They watch from the sidelines and interject comments on the behavior of the characters. The Chorus's various odes, or poetic speeches, offer thematic illumination. Most importantly, they empathize with Medea's situation (as indicated by their comment here about Jason's behavior), and so they embody one of the play's primary thematic points - the injustice of the behavior of men towards their wives.

Part 2 Analysis

With the first appearance of Medea, the play introduces one of the most universally reviled characters in theatre history. For centuries, she has been viewed as monstrous, evil and unrealistic. No one, critics have often said, can be so sadistic and unloving a human being as to kill her own children in the name of revenge. How many of those critics, one wonders, have been men?

Admittedly, Medea's actions are deeply horrific. She is, as previously discussed, selfishly overwhelmed by her own rage. The play, however, through her own words and those of the Chorus, tries to present her as being justified - or if not justified, understandable. To look at it another way, this play, as the best plays often do, takes human emotion and amplifies it to an extreme in order to create drama and make a thematic point. It's arguable that those aforementioned critics would find it difficult to find a woman, or a man for that matter, who has been sexually and emotionally betrayed by a spouse yet not felt full of rage, anger and grief. Who among those whose closest lover has betrayed them has not felt a similar desire for revenge - who among women especially, when, as the Chorus notes, men always betray women? Here is another aspect of the play's core theme.

On one level, the play clearly attempts to portray Medea as a kind of Everywoman, having experienced the same sort of betrayal that women, as the Chorus suggests, all experience. On another level, however, what Medea does transcends that Everywoman label. She takes the kind of action that most women (and probably a great many cuckolded men), in their darkest deepest imaginings, would like to take. It's possible, in fact, that on some level Medea is intended to be perceived as a heroine, standing up for herself and insisting she be respected. The difficulty with that idea, and with the play, is that she takes that insistence to such an appallingly vicious extreme that any potential sympathy for her becomes completely lost. Media's first appearance is the play's first attempt at gaining sympathy for her and trying to make her accessible and understandable. One aspect of this is her repeated references to being an outsider, a stranger in a strange land. Later circumstances, such as her awakened remorse when she kills her children, attempt to perform the same function. One of the questions raised by the play, which has never been satisfactorily answered, is whether it succeeds in making Medea a sympathetic character.

Creon, on the other hand, is clearly a sympathetic character in the play, as he struggles to be as compassionate as possible. At the same time, he is trapped in his beliefs about women in general and about Medea in particular. In terms of his general beliefs, he embodies the misogynist prejudices against which Medea and the Chorus of Women seem to have been struggling all their lives, and against which the play suggests all women have been struggling. In terms of his beliefs about Medea, it's through Creon that an important piece of information is revealed - that Medea has supernatural abilities. This and other references to Medea as a witch foreshadow both her ultimately mystic means of murdering Creon and his daughter and her appearance at the end of the play in the chariot of the sun god.

Creon also offers Medea compassion. This is significant because he is concerned that showing compassion will lead to suffering, foreshadowing the fact that as a result of letting her stay, he and his daughter will both die. It is more significant, though, that Creon is acting unselfishly by being compassionate. He is one of two characters (the other being Aegeus) whose generosity contrasts vividly with the selfishness of Medea and Jason, causing that selfishness to be even more clearly defined.

The Chorus's ode at the end of the section functions on two levels. From a structural perspective, it appears at the end of a confrontation to serve as a kind of breathing space for the audience. From a thematic perspective, it offers an illumination of the deeper meanings of the scene and the play.

Part 3 Analysis

In this section the play makes another attempt to portray Medea's anger as justified. Jason's feeble arguments are so transparently self-serving rationalizations that it's a frank marvel that Medea, the Chorus and the Nurse (who is still onstage at this point) don't laugh in his face. Some might say that he and Medea, in their mutual selfishness, deserve each other and that they each deserve the pain they experience as the result of their actions. This may in fact be one of the play's thematic points - that acting selfishly results in ultimate, desperate pain.

On another level, however, the contrast between the two characters is important to note. Jason essentially comes across as weak, while Medea comes across as almost unbelievably strong and determined. This aspect of their relationship develops another facet to the play's stance in support and even praise of the courage, fortitude and strength to be found in the spirits of women.

Part 4 Analysis

The character of Aegeus has two principal functions. The first is plot related; Medea has said (Part 2) that she will not proceed with her vengeance until she has a place to flee to afterwards. Aegeus gives her that place. Therefore, her revenge can proceed, and the play can continue its story. His second function is similar to the secondary function of Creon (Part 2) - to provide an unselfish generosity of spirit as a contrast to the utter selfishness of Medea and Jason. Aegeus says that he can't risk offending Creon, but the core of his reaction is ultimately as charitable as Medea's fury is unforgiving.

The idea of the poisoned dress and crown may seem a little too "fairy tale" or strange to be fully credible. The reader must remember, however, that Medea is not just a woman. She's a sorceress, and on some level she is a fairy tale character. This aspect to her sits uneasily alongside the play's intent to present her as a symbol of all womankind, but the myth is still the myth. Medea must, according to tradition, use the poisoned dress. Where the play finds its artistic liberty and deeper thematic resonance is in its exploration of the emotional reasoning behind the myth.

Medea comments to the Nurse that if she's a true woman she'll do as she's asked. The implication of this statement is that Medea thinks she's acting on behalf of all women who've been wronged the way Jason has wronged her. It's possible that she's saying this ironically because the Chorus has just said that Medea should accept that all men do this kind of thing to all women. However, Medea clearly does not see this as a good excuse. She's very clear that Jason hurt her, deeply and thoughtlessly and selfishly, in the way she believes women have always been hurt by men. While the Chorus seems to think that such behavior is excusable, Medea has had enough. It's time to act, in the way she thinks that women treated in that way should have reacted a long time ago.

Part 5 Analysis

In this section, the play seems to undercut its own intent to portray women as strong and powerful and full of integrity. It shows Medea behaving in exactly the way Creon and Jason, the play's anti-women characters, expect her and all women to behave - with deceit and guile. She lies unabashedly as she manipulates the admittedly gullible Jason with flattery. She knows that this is what he wants to believe about himself, and therefore telling him that she thinks the marriage is a good idea is flattering and alluring to him. The play continues to maintain that her feelings of pain and desire for revenge are justified. Is the play saying that the only reason women behave this way is because men drive them to it? That may be stretching the point a little far, but the bottom line is that Medea, in this moment, is fulfilling the men's prophecy of how she'll behave. Does that make them foolish for believing her? Does it make Medea less admirable for playing the game, so to speak, according to their rules?

Medea's speech after Jason leaves is another of the play's attempts to humanize Medea, to make her seem less of a monster by showing how genuinely and deeply torn she is about killing her children. Her decision to go ahead and do it on one level serves to define her as powerful, strong and determined, all aspects of womankind the play celebrates. On another level, however, her selfish desire for revenge proves to be more predominant, an aspect of humankind the play condemns. This combination of what is hateful and what is admirable into one character expands the play's exploration of humanity to include the statement that no one is purely one thing or another. Good and bad, destruction and life, live side by side in every human being. Only circumstances, it seems, determine which wins out.

The Chorus's ode about watching children die foreshadows not only Medea's killing her children but also what happens in the following section - Creon watching his daughter die.

Part 6 Analysis

The character of the Messenger functions in the same capacity as messengers in just about every Classical Greek play - as the conveyer of news and the describer of scenes that can't be played out onstage, particularly gory scenes such as the one the Messenger here describes. The device allows the audience members to fill in the visual details of what's being described with their own imaginations, making the scene even more horrific.

Medea's comments to the Chorus about her reasons for killing her children are again an attempt by the play to humanize her. There is a clear irony in her speech about saving them from being killed by barbarians, since it sounds like exactly the same kind of rationalization as Jason used (Part 3) to explain why he left Medea to marry the princess. In other words, this isn't really her reasoning at all. At this point, she's struggling to justify what she knows is a horrible thing to both herself and to the Chorus.

The final lines of the Chorus's ode seem to once again blur the lines around the play's theme, defining women as ruled by their feelings as opposed by rationality and perspective. Is the play saying that women like Medea who fight for respect are to be respected, or is it saying that women like Medea who let their passions govern their actions are to be reviled?

Part 7 Analysis

There is dramatic irony in Jason's entrance here. The audience and the Chorus both know he's too late; the children are already dead.

Medea's appearance in a chariot above is an interesting twist. In most Greek plays, appearances from above are exclusively reserved for the gods, who in most cases unexpectedly resolve situations with apparently no possible resolution. This is known as "deus ex machina," or literally "god in the machine" - the machine being the means by which the god appeared on a physically higher level than the mortal characters. By appearing physically above the characters, the gods appeared on a spiritually and morally higher level as well.

Over the centuries since it was introduced, "deus ex machina" has come to refer to an ending or resolution that has no natural or organic foundations in the plot. In this sense, Medea's appearance "above" fits perfectly. Her appearance using a technique reserved for the gods indicates that she has behaved as arbitrarily and emotionally as the gods often do. Also, when the gods appeared "ex machina," their word was final. Mortals had no choice but to obey. Here again the appearance fits. Jason has no choice but to go along with what Medea has done and intends to do. Finally, her appearance "above" reinforces the play's thematic point that what she did was just. In Greek plays, the gods are infallible. Their judgments may make people unhappy, but they are always right. By having Medea appear "above," the play is saying that her actions were right and justified. The final comments of the Chorus reinforce this idea, since they refer to the mysterious and undeniable nature of the gods - the core theme at the heart of not only this play, but of almost every Greek tragedy.…...

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Women and Femininity in Medea

...Women and Femininity in Medea Women’s rights movements have made incredible progress in recent times. Although there are many countries around the world where women are facing political and social unjustness, the social class of women in ancient Greece of 5th century BCE was solely grounded by patriarchal ideologies. The Greek playwright Euripides creates a persistent character Medea, in his classic tragedy Medea. Today, scholars study this relentless protagonist who has become an eternal and timeless symbol of femininity and womenfolk revolt. Whilst many themes such as passion, vengeance, and exile are present within Euripides’ Medea, the theme of women and femininity is critically manifested throughout the interactions of its central character Medea. While this theme is prominently motivated by the values of patriarchal ideology, the cunning characterization of Medea quickly alters in the beginning of the tragedy. Medea’s first tirade acts as a catalyst in her vengeful epiphany towards Jason with the use of the former characters’ words and actions and ultimately Medea’s words and actions. Within the context of Medea’s first tirade, the theme of women and femininity is initially established through her address to the Greek Chorus. Moreover, Medea’s characterization begins to alter as her interactions progress. To begin the tirade, Medea merely addresses the Greek Chorus, “Ladies of Corinth, I’ve come out, you see. I’ve come out, in a way, to defend myself” (Euripides......

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