A Theme Of Women’s Lack Of Choice In Medea By Euripides
Throughout the course of history, and even in modern times, the rights of women have been constantly forgotten or purposefully neglected. This lack of discernable rights can, in many cases, leave women with very few choices. Women often did not have the right to make the choice of who they could marry or the ability to take action if their husbands were dishonest or unfaithful. This lack of choice can often result in extreme, hastily made decisions and actions. This particular situation is presented in Euripides’ Medea. Throughout the story, the reader is lead to sympathize with Medea and it ultimately justifies her extreme reaction to her husband’s unfaithfulness by bringing attention to the lack of options given to women during this time period.
When sympathy is established for a character early on, it often rationalizes actions that are produced from their sorrows throughout the course of events. From the start of the play, the readers are driven to sympathize with Medea. We are given an insight into her thoughts throughout the course of the story through her monologs. One example of Medea’s inner thoughts being put on display is the speech she gave to the women of Corinth. Within this speech, she expresses her devastation with the situation and begins to name all of the good she has done for her husband only to be thrown away. In line 288 of the play Medea says, “I was booty carried away from a foreign land…”, This line from Medea, although it can be debated whether or not it is true, allows the reader to understand how Medea feels about the situation. Medea is implying that she was taken with no choice and goes on to talk about how because of this she now has no family to return to. Medea’s lack of choice in the matter of her marriage and her lack of ability to take action after her husband has betrayed her is clearly presented in order for the reader to see her struggle with how to handle the situation. By allowing the reader to truly understand Medea’s suffering and lack of choice, it makes the actions she takes later in the play seem much more reasonable.
The play continues to make Medea seem more reasonable by allowing the reader to see that she is not going unsupported in her plans to punish Jason for his wrongdoings. Within the same speech to the women of Corinth, Medea establishes the idea that since there is no normal way of dealing with the situation of Jason’s betrayal, she is left with no choice but to take any opportunity that arises to punish him. She asks the chorus to keep her secret that she is longing for revenge, and they agree. The chorus leader goes on to say, “Your cause is just, for you are wronged. Your husband must be punished. ” This introduces the thought to the reader that Medea isn’t the only person who thinks Jason should be punished. It makes Medea seem reasonable in her desire for revenge by showing that other women are going through the same limitation of their choices and agree that something should be done to right Jason’s wrongs. Medea’s lack of choice is not an isolated event; it is instead a widespread issue among the women of her time.
The play continues to display the lack of choice for Medea as well as the unnecessary imbalance of power by presenting Jason’s belittling response to Medea. When faced with Jason, Medea immediately displays her anger toward him. She begins to recall all the things she has done for him in the past that have helped him achieve his current status. After Medea has told Jason all she has done for him, he downplays what she has done by giving credit to the gods and claims she has received much more than she has given. Some will agree that this again illustrates the lack of power and subsequent choice for Medea; after all that she has done for her husband, he disregards her actions and chooses to act as if she has done nothing.
As the play progresses, Medea’s sorrows are again acknowledged. The king of Athens, Aegeus, and Medea cross paths. As they talk, Medea reveals all of the recent tragedies that have come into her life. When Aegeus gives sympathy to Medea, the play again presents an underlying recognition to the lack of women’s rights. As he listens to Medea speak of her recent obstacles, he says, “One misfortune follows another as you speak”. Aegeus acknowledges that Medea has been done wrong. This is significant because he, as a king, recognizes the fact that Medea has been mistreated and sympathizes with her lack of choice in the matter. Aegeus shows that he is not oblivious to the injustice around him but does not use his authority to stop it. This particular part of the story again shows that Medea is being treated wrongfully and has no choice in the misfortunes that plague her life.
In many cases, the feeling of a lack of choice can result in people taking their only choice to extreme measures. This was certainly the case for Medea when she decided to end her children’s lives. The thought of doing so was obviously saddening to her, but she knew that it was the only option that was presented to her. This depression and desperateness is shown in this quote from Medea, “Since they must die in any case, then let me, who gave them birth, be the bearer of their death”. Not only is the tragedy of Medea’s choice relayed through the context of this quote, but also the wording. Medea refers to the fact that her children must die “in any case”, showing that it is the only option that she possesses in the matter. She has not made her ideal decision and despite her reluctance to do so, takes matters into her own hands. This truly shows that Medea was presented with only one choice and was forced to extreme measures to enact it.
Medea is a perfect example of what can happen when a society does not present women with an adequate number of choices. A lack of options tends to make way for urgent and extreme decisions, leading to tragedy. We can truly see how a woman is Medea’s position was lead to take action in any way that she could. In closing, the reader can see that her actions were justified by the lack of choice that she was given.