Medea by Euripides
Medea is frequently associated with images of violence and rage. “She’s wild. Hate’s in her blood. /She feeds her rage…Stormclouds of anger.” These images suggest hatred, and anger, they are powerful and present a strong, illustration of Medea’s persona. Like nature, Medea is constructed as commanding and yet also unpredictable; this consequentially creates uncertainty as to what she shall do next and thus intrigues the audience with her character. Parallels between Medea and wild animals are often drawn in order to portray her as wild and untamed. “Bullglares, lions claws” and “you hellhound, you tigress,” these comments serve to highlight Medea’s animalistic side thus increasing her onstage presence and compelling persona. Medea’s two-fold personality is revealed through imagery of stone and harshness. She is both passionately emotional and coolly calculating, depending on which enhances her cause. “Cold as stone, cold eyes,” in 5th Century BC the eyes were considered of great importance, reflections of the soul, thus to have cold eyes is to have a cold soul. This notion is confronting to the audience and heightens Medea’s onstage presence.
The use of offstage action is effective in constructing Medea’s authoritative persona. “Fe-oo! Fee-oo! Weep. Pity me.” These lamentations are passionate and emotional, exactly what many men of Ancient Greek society would expect of a woman. Suspense is built and the audience’s attention captured, focusing it on Medea and the moment of her on-stage arrival. However, when Medea does appear on stage she is calm and composed, dispelling the notion of a “wild woman”. “Ladies, Corinthians, I’m here./ Don’t think ill of me. Call others proud.” The Medea character has the power to command the audience through this presentation of her dual natures; she can be defined within the typical female gender role as emotional and passionate, yet she usurps masculine traits of rationality, resourcefulness and intelligence, creating a powerful presence.
Language is of great importance in presenting Medea’s forceful persona. The “Are we women not the wretchedness?” diatribe on the oppression of women is powerful and commanding. It is delivered early on in the play and has the potential to stun the audience with the passion contained within the words. The notions behind this speech are vital to the play and the vigour of it is essential in presenting the compelling Medea persona. Medea’s employment of language is crucial to the construction of her powerful presence. “I realise you were right/What’s good for you, is good for us,” Medea humours Jason in order to gain what she requires and carry out her treacherous plan. The language is soft with little punctuation, creating a “safe” feeling. “My sons! Your mother! /My sons! Your father!” these two lines are short and implement exclamation marks. This type of language is harsh to hear and suggests tension. The juxtaposition of soft and harsh language, both from Medea’s mouth, gives her an authoritative presence, demonstrating her control and thus her power.
Dramatic irony is a technique, vital to the assembly of Medea’s compelling persona. While Jason is oblivious to Medea’s true intentions the audience is aware of what she plans to do, giving a sense of collusion. Medea appears to be the leader of a “feminist movement” with the chorus and audience as followers, thus placing her on a pedestal, higher than a normal human being. Dramatic suspense is utilised throughout the play to draw interest to Medea’s persona. There is the sensation of “now or never” after the death of Kreon and Glauke and prior to the murder of her children, the scenes become more intense, more suspenseful. Her true power and presence is essentially revealed through her will to complete her revenge with the death of her children. She suffered psychomachia but her will and strength came through, enhancing Medea’s persona dramatically.
The use of the chorus aids in the construction of Medea’s compelling persona. Throughout the play, and right up to the very end, they support and collude with her, urging her on. Traditionally, the chorus are the mouthpiece of the general population, thus portraying the idea that most of Corinth supports her actions and damns those of Jason. “We’ll do it. You’re right. To punish him.” In this statement the chorus are agreeing with Medea and go as far as to promise not to tell of her vengeful plan. The chorus’s approval makes Medea’s appear stronger and more “right” in her actions. The chorus also reveres Medea to a certain extent. After her passionate diatribe on the tyranny of men, the chorus concur that women are oppressed and need to stand up for their rights. “Now the water shall flow uphill, /Men should recognise our power,” the chorus, excited by Medea’s speech, agree and even advocate “feminism”. Medea’s persona is heightened by the chorus’s admiration toward her, she is seen to be able to command people, creating a sense of power. The Nurse is also important in portraying Medea’s overpowering presence. During the prologue the Nurse details Medea’s life before the present time, omitting the more bloodthirsty information, and thus presenting Medea in a more favourable light. She also mourns the wrongs against Medea on Jason’s behalf, forcing the audience to sympathise and creating a connection between protagonist and viewers. This relationship makes Medea a compelling character.
The image of Jason and Kreon in juxtaposition to Medea is essential in constructing Medea as a powerful character. In the end Jason is a broken man, he has nothing to live for, “All’s dead for me. I’m done.” He is presented as a mere shell of his narcissistic self, weak, and defeated. Kreon, one of the most powerful men in Greece, is describe in gory details after his death, a defeated man. In opposition to the imagery of the broken and deceased men, Medea is the victor, she “came out on top”. “Name me you names, /I have your heart” Medea sounds almost proud in this moment, she is triumphant; her overpowering persona has revealed itself in full light.
Deus Ex Machina was a commonly used technique of ancient Greece. It involved the character in the God’s favour being lifted from the theatre on a crane. At the end of Medea this is precisely what happens, suggesting that the Gods support Medea. This is confronting especially after the infanticide and Jason’s accusation “Unholy. Vile. Woman! /Hated by Gods.” This approval by the Gods, especially in regards to a 5th Century BC audience, would have proved quite a shock and served only to increase Medea’s power.
The play Medea, by Euripides, many dramatic techniques such as imagery, off stage action and dramatic suspense are utilised in the construction of Medea as a compelling persona and an overpowering presence.
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