Tutor or child-minder, a Slave who tends the children
Children of Medea and Jason, non-speaking characters
Medea refugee from Colchis, former princess, ex-wife of Jason
Creon King of Corinth
Jason refugee, former husband of Medea, recently married
to Creon's daughter, Princess Glauce
Aegeus King of Athens, passing through Corinth
Messenger a slave of Jason
Chorus Corinthian Women
1. Based on the cast of characters listed above, what can you tell about the social status of certain characters versus other characters?
2. Based on the description of the Chorus, with whom do you predict they will relate to the most: Jason or Medea? Why?
3. Re-skim the opening soliloquy (solo speech) of the Nurse. It serves as the Prologue of the play. It is exposition to inform us about the basic plot, but there are some great lines!
“…I'm afraid of [Medea], in case she has some new plan in mind.
…Here is the most challenging contest, whether we will get a bad man
or a good one. Besides, divorce is unsavory
for a woman and it is not possible to say no to one's husband.
And when she comes into new customs and rules
a woman must be a prophet of what she could never learn at home:
how best to deal with her marriage partner;
and if we get it worked out well and a husband shares
our life with us, and he bears the yoke without violence,
life is to be envied. Otherwise we are better off dead.
But the man, when he is bored with things at home
he can go out to ease the weariness of his heart.
But we have just one person to look to.
They say that we live a life free of danger
at home while they face battle with the spear.
How wrong they are. I would rather stand three times
in the line of battle than once bear a child.
1.) Medea is speaking to the Chorus of Colchian women---appealing to them. How is she backing up her claim “we women are the sorriest lot…”? What points does she make?
But the same story does not apply to you and me.
You have this city and your father's home,
enjoyment of life, and the companionship of friends,
Chorus: Love coming on too strong does not give glory or virtue to men.
The thematic concept of “moderation” keeps coming up in the text. What is the Chorus saying about Medea’s love for Jason? What is their critique of this type of love? Make a text-to-text, text-to-world, or text-to-self connection.
Chorus: Fatherland, home, let me not be stateless, leading a life without means, hard to get through, full of the most pitiable sorrows. Let me die, yes, die, before reaching that day; of troubles there is no other worse than separation from one's native land.
With whom is the Chorus empathizing? What condition are they thankful they are not in?
Medea: But I beg you… pity me in my despair and do not let me be driven out destitute, but take me in to share your home and country. And then with the gods' help I pray your desire for children will bear fruit and you yourself die happy. You do not know what a lucky find you have found in me. I will put an end to your childlessness and help you become a father. I know how to concoct a potent elixir.
Aegeus: There are many reasons that I am eager to grant you this favor, my lady, first out of reverence for the gods and then in the hope of children whose birth you predict. For I am in utter despair over it. This is how it is with me. If you come to my land I will do my best as a man of honor to receive you as my guest.
This much I will promise you, Medea: I am not prepared to give you escort from this place, but if on your own you come to my home, you will remain there under protection and I will not deliver you up to anyone. But you must make your way from this country for I want to be free from blame in the eyes of my hosts here.
What is Medea offering Aegeus? What is Aegeus offering Medea? Do you think Aegeus’s offer is a brave one or not? What is he NOT willing to do for Medea?
Medea: Swear by the plain of Earth, and Helios the Sun, father of my father, and add the whole race of gods.
Aegeus: To do and avoid doing what? Put it into words.
Medea: Never yourself to cast me out of your country nor if anyone else of my enemies desires to take me away, ever to give me up of your own free will.
Aegeus: I swear by Earth and the bright light of Helios and all the gods to abide by your words.
Medea: It is sufficient. And if you do not keep your word, what will you suffer?
Aegeus: What happens to all men who break their oaths.
Why do you think it’s so important to Medea to get Aegeus to swear an oath to the gods that he will help her? What do you think Aegeus and Medea (and most of the audience) think should happen to men who break their oaths? Who are they indirectly referring to with this line?
Medea: I will send one of my servants to Jason, asking him to come into my sight. And when he comes I will speak to him ingratiating words, how I agree with him in all these things and everything is fine — this royal marriage he has made, after betraying me. And I will say that it is advantageous and sensible.
Why is Medea going to try to convince Jason that she agrees with him? Restate her bigger plans.
Medea: I grieve over the deed I must do after this. For I shall kill my children. There is no one who will rescue them. And…I shall leave the country, in flight from the murder of the children I love, after daring a most unholy deed.
For it is not tolerable to be laughed at by my enemies, friends.
Let it pass. What good is life to me? I have no homeland, I have no home as a refuge from evils. I made my mistake when I abandoned my father's house, won over by the words of a Greek man, who will, with god's help pay for this…
Let no one think that I am mean or weak nor peaceful, but of the other sort, a weight upon my enemies but to my friends most kind. It is to such people the heroic way of life belongs.
Do you agree with Medea’s reference to her life as “heroic”? Use the text to support your opinion.
Medea: In contemplating these things I realized I was suffering delusion and that my rage was in vain. I accept it now. You seem to me to be acting logically in bringing us this marriage alliance, and I was foolish…
But we are what we are, we women: I will not say evil. But you should not copy our faults; don't repay our craziness in kind. I give up and admit that I was wrong then, but now I have come to a better way of thinking.
What is the situational irony here? What do we, the audience, know that Jason does not know?
Jason: …Woman, and I do not blame you for the past. It is natural for the female of the species to give way to passions when a husband takes on another marriage, but your heart has changed for the better and you have recognized the winning argument, in your own good time. This is the action of an intelligent woman.
And, children, it was not without sound planning that your father arranged greater security for you, with gods' help. For I think that one day along with your brothers you will be in the top rank of Corinthian society…
Describe Jason’s attitude/tone toward Medea and the children. How is he trying to justify (give reason) for his marriage to the Princess of Corinth?
Medea: The saying goes "gifts persuade the gods." And "gold is stronger than ten thousand words among men." [Princess Glauce of Corinth) has divine favor, now the god will increase it. In her youth she has power. But to save my children from exile I would give my life, not gold alone.
But, children, go into the wealthy house to your father's new wife, my mistress, supplicate her, beg her not to send you into exile, hand her the ornaments — this is very important — make sure that she take these gifts into her own hands.
Go, quickly. And may you succeed and be bearers of good news to your mother of what she wants to hear.
What is the irony of Medea’s words to Jason and her children? What is the good news that Medea wants to hear about their gifting of the gold dress to the princess?
Chorus: But you, unhappy, ill-wedded son-in-law of kings unknowing to your children you are bringing doom, and to your new wife, hateful death. Unhappy man, how far you have strayed from your destiny.
And most of all I lament your grief, unhappy mother of children whom you will murder — your own children, for the sake of the marriage bed, which your husband lawlessly deserted and now he dwells with another spouse.
Who does the Chorus ultimately blame for all of the death Medea is planning to roll out? Do you agree with the Chorus? Do you think the audience in the ancient Greek amphitheater agreed with the Chorus?
Medea: And I will go to another country, a refugee, where I cannot delight in you children or see you happy. I will never adorn your nuptial bath and bride and marriage bed, never hold up the wedding torch. My own daring has wrecked my life.
Dear, dear children all my care for you has gone to waste! What a waste the toils which wore me out, when I endured the hard useless pangs of childbirth. Truly once, grief-stricken though I am now, I had high hopes in you, that you would care for me in my old age and when I died, with your own hands you would tend me, something we all hope for. But now it's all gone, my sweet expectation. For without you I will live a life of sorrow, agonizing for me. And you, with those dear eyes of yours, will never again look at your mother, when you have gone away to another life…
Why should I abuse them to wound their father, and have twice as many woes myself? I will not do it. Goodbye my plans. But what is the matter with me? Do I want to be a laughing stock, letting my enemies go unpunished? These things must be endured. Damn my cowardice!
How could I let soft words into my heart?… I shall not let my hand grow slack. Do not, oh my heart, do not do these things. Let them alone, you miserable woman, spare your children. Living there with me they will delight you. No! By the avengers down in Hades! There is no way that I will leave my children to be abused by my enemies. They must die. And since they must, I who gave them birth will kill them.
The plan is underway and there is no escape.
Use this text to describe Medea’s feelings about her children and her own actions. What types of literary conflicts are present here for Medea (society, nature, self, other)?
Messenger: When your two children came in with their father, and went to the bridal chambers we slaves were glad, those of us who had been distressed before by your troubles…
And our mistress…before she caught sight of your two children held her eyes fixed eagerly on Jason. But then she covered up her face and turned away her pale cheek, sickened by the approach of the children. But your husband was trying to assuage the rancor and venom of the young woman by telling her this: "Do not be angry at my family. Won't you stifle your rage and turn back your face. Hold your husband's loved ones as your own, take the gifts, and ask your father to revoke the sentence of exile from my children, for my sake?" And she, when she saw the fine garments did not resist but agreed with her husband in everything, and before father and children were far from the house, she scooped up the fine robe and put it on; then she fitted the golden crown around her curls and with a shimmering mirror arranged her hair, smiling at the lifeless image of her face.
Does the Messenger describe Princess Glauce of Corinth in a way that makes her likeable to the audience? How would you describe her character? Use the text to support your answer.
Jason You there, women standing here at the door, is she still in the house, Medea, who has perpetrated these heinous crimes, or has she taken flight?
She would need to hide herself in the earth or grow wings to lift her body high into the air if she is to avoid revenge from the royal house. Or does she trust that after killing the rulers of the country she will escape their kinsmen unpunished?
But I am not so concerned about her as about my children. The family she assaulted will take care of her. I have come to save my children's lives in case Creon's relatives try to do something to them exacting vengeance for their mother's godless murders.
Chorus:Poor man, you do not know into what a depth of evils you have come, Jason, or you would not have uttered these words.
Jason: What is it? Does she intend to kill me too?
Remember, Jason was proud of his own intelligence up to this point, and questioned Medea’s intelligence. What about Medea’s action in killing her own children with Jason is so effective as revenge? Use the text to support your response.
Medea: (Appearing in a dragon-drawn chariot on the rooftop with the bodies in herarms) Why are you shaking the doors and trying to force them open,to find the bodies and me the perpetrator?You are wasting your effort. If you need anything from me,say so, but you will never touch me with your hand.Such transport the Sun god, father of my fatherhas given me, a defense against the hand of my enemies.
How does the sun god from which Medea descends (is kin) show support for Medea?
Jason: You abomination, you vilest, most hateful woman, to the gods and to me and to the whole human race. You had the heart to take the sword to your own children to whom you gave birth, and you have left me childless and devastated. You did these things. How can you still look on the sunlight and earth, after daring the most appalling deed?
Damn you. Now I see it, I didn't understand it then, when I brought you, so hideous a monster, into Greece, from your home and that barbarous land, betrayer of your father and the country that reared you. The gods have hurled you as an avenging spirit against me. For you killed your brother at the hearth and then boarded the beautiful ship Argo.
That is where you started. But after marrying me and bearing my children, because of the marriage bed you killed them. There is no Greek woman who would have dared such deeds, any of whom I could have married, but instead chose you, a marriage tie that has ruined me, a lioness, not a woman, with a temper more savage than Tyrrhenian Scylla.
What is his interpretation of their past together? Do you agree with him? Why or why not?
Medea: You were not going to disrespect your marriage to me and lead a happy life, ridiculing me.
This thematic concept of ridicule, not being laughed at, keeps coming up. Do you think that Medea is too concerned with this? Do you think this is vanity? Or can you understand why this is so important to her?