Euripides Characterizes Medea: Being Sympathetic to Greek Audience
“I saved your life, and every Greek knows it” Medea is a historic character in literature who has been idolised as a strong female character and is sympathised with to a large extent for aeons, and is hence one of the reasons for which the text has endured to see the light of the modern era. Medea also surprisingly highlights many themes that are relevant to the present. The play revolves around the female character Medea, who is considered an outcast of Ancient Greece just because she is a foreigner from the land Colchis, moreover she is a woman, and is even spited for being intellectual, as it was uncommon for women to be decision makers at the time. However while studying this play it became evident that through the use of tone, setting, dialogues and other dramatic techniques.
Medea is characterised in a way that the audience can’t help but sympathise with her despite her extreme ways of getting revenge. This essay will hence analyse and understand the various ways in which Euripides characterizes Medea to make her appear more sympathetic to the Greek audience. Medea appears distraught and helpless from the very beginning of the play as she is portrayed as a woman who has been betrayed by her husband, Jason in a foreign land. Her husband Jason abandons her for the young princess of Corinth. Medea feels deceived as she had abandoned and severed ties with her family just to aid Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece. This included her committing fratricide as she kills her own brother to help Jason escape her father’s wrath. She even commits regicide as she helps Jason get his promised throne on Iolcus by tricking Pelias’ own daughters to kill him. Medea hence “in kindness to Jason, made enemies of others whom there was no need to have injured”. All of which she did just to gain Jason’s favour as she was smitten by love.
However as soon as Jason finds himself as the hero of Greece, their passionate love comes to an abrupt end, as Jason decides to wed Glauce, the young Corinthian princess, claiming it is to further his political alliances. Medea feels humiliated, scorned and abandoned in a foreign land with her two boys, who are proof of their once wistful love. All of which the Chorus reciprocates with their sympathy towards Medea in their speeches “Upon him who betrayed both her bed and her marriage wronged!”. The audience feels deeper for Medea when she is unlawfully banished from Corinth by King Creon, who fears that Medea’s wrath can cause mortal harm to his daughter and Jason. The chorus plays an important role as it follows Medea on her journey throughout the play. The chorus consists of typical Corinthian women and they comment on Medea’s actions and her decisions as they express their explicit opinions to the audience, without altering the course of the play. Their opinions and comments help the audience view the feminine distress that Medea experiences as a foreigner. This can be seen as the chorus supports Medea’s decision to exact revenge on Jason “This I will promise. You are in the right, Medea in paying your husband back. ” In Ancient Greece when male dominance was prevalent, making the audience think of a female character to be independent and assertive, would be difficult.
Euripedes hence resorts to the chorus to express Medea’s reasons for her actions. “Once she is wronged in the matters of love, No other soul can hold so many thoughts of blood”. Thus it can be deduced that Medea as a woman had to endure the hypocrisy of the men of her time just to ensure that she gets justice for the misgivings faced by her. The use of the chorus also depicts a united front to the audience which helps convey Medea’s opinion to the audience and hence drawing the audience to sympathise with Medea. While Euripides introduces Jason, he characterises both the characters of Jason and Medea as the audience gets to discern the true barbaric nature of Jason’s love as he dares to instigate and provoke Medea’s rage by not accrediting her to his success despite her crucial role in his quest as he rudely articulates: “My view is that Cypris was alone responsible of men and gods for the preserving of my life”. Jason’s fickle and volatile nature becomes clear to the audience as he shows no regard to Medea’s familial losses and sacrifices for his love. He even fails to acknowledge the passionate love he once shared with Medea. Their children are clearly the product of their ardent and romantic relationship that had once blossomed. However Jason disregards his past and any emotional understanding to “hanker for (his) virginal bride”.
Whereas there is a sharp contrast in the character of Medea who has always fought for their relationship, but is now however being forced to fight for her own justice despite being constantly wronged by Jason’s lustful actions. This allows the audience to see Medea’s perspective and understand her reasons for committing the crimes she is nefariously judged for. However it also becomes evident that Medea’s revenge crosses a path of no return. The chorus expresses its outrage at Medea’s actions and is shocked by her rash and impulsive decisions. “By your knees, I beg you do not Be the murderess of your babes!”. It seems like madness as Medea murders her own children with pity and fear as she consoles herself “Do not hang back from doing this fearful and necessary wrong”. It becomes clear that she as a mother loves her kids without a doubt, but cannot face the dire humiliation of living her life as an inferior woman after Jason wrongs her. Moreover mentally she believes that her vengeance is necessary for the loss of her married love and believes that by killing her children she is preventing her children being “slain by another hand less kindly to them”. Her rage and melancholic state is hence amplified by Euripides so as to be reciprocated by the audience.
Medea’s faith in Jason clearly ceases to exist and she definitely does not trust anyone else in Greece, this can be seen by the theme of Xenophobia that is painted across the play. This only can augment how Medea is made to appear more sympathetic to the Greek audience. Being a foreigner in Greece Medea is not only sympathised with by the chorus, but also by the lower class of the Greek society. The Nurse and the tutor who were considered inferior in the Greek hierarchical system, sympathise with Medea’s plight. Medea is referred to as a “poor creature”. This is ironic as Medea is the character who musters the courage to betray her family for Jason’s love, and even being a crucial part of his success on the quest. Yet she finds herself with a man who dishonours her. Medea’s forign presence in Greece is at the start of the play identified by the chorus as “Colchis’ wretched daughter”. Medea is criticised at every step for her sorrow and is expected to behave as a proper woman of Greece. This is even reiterated by Jason in the final moments of the play as he insults her: “brought you to a Greek house, you, an evil thing”.
Through the play Medea is criticised for being a woman and for being a foreigner and isn’t allowed to even grieve quietly, as she immediately faces banishment upon her heartbreak. By doing so Euripides also brings out the issues of Xenophobia and gender inequality faced by Medea in the play which also explains why the character of Medea is one to commiserate with. Euripides hence uses the plot, dialogue and social setting to create an atmosphere of chaos and distress for the character of Medea. The characterisation in Medea also brings out different perspectives for the Greek audience to understand the struggles of women in Greece. By doing so Euripides imbues in the play the realisation and existence of social problems existing in a society and brings these problems out by depicting the character of Medea as a female in despair who breaks every norm that is not expected of a typical graceus woman. This is done by portraying her circumstances and opinions of characters on her situation, thus evoking a sense of Sympathy for the character of Medea in the play despite the crimes she commits for revenge. There is no Greek woman who would have dared such deeds.