Susan Smith murdered her own two children in 1994. Kathleen Folbigg killed her only child in 1998. Caro Socorro killed her three children in 1999. And in 431 B.C. the fictional character, Medea, murderedmurdured her own two sons. When hearing about these extreme atrocities we are repulsed. What sane mother could murder her own children? But thats just the point isn’t it, no sane mother would kill her own young. No, each of these women had underlying psychological issues that led to them committing these unnatural, morally wrong acts. Susan was rejected by her lover, Kathleen’s father had brutally murdered her mother, Caro was a victim of a failed marital relationship, whilst in Euripides play, Medea was not only rejected and a victim of a failed marital relationship but she also had her pride torn from beneath her.
Revenge is one of the most primitive, brutal human impulses. When an individual feels threatened by another individual they indulge in fantasies of revenge. But its when these fantasies become reality that society suffers. “Medea” reveals how revenge can take over the mind, sending a person beyond insanity.
Euripides has created an intense revenge tragedy within his play “Medea”. Which allows an audience to study the passion humans hold for revenge as a psychological construct and a moral issue. I mean Medea took revenge to the ultimate by overriding her maternal instinct just to “work revenge on Jason for his wrongs”(line 260, p. 25).
The myth of Medea and Jason was well known within the Athenian society in which it was written. Though there were varying versions of it floating about. Euripides own addition to the text added an intensity to Medea’s revenge. In older versions of the myth the children were murdered by Medea’s enemies in revenge for the death of Creon and his daughter. Medea’s murder of her children was Euripides addition to the myth. The shocking addition of having a mother slaughter her own children makes a dark story even darker, it deepens the revenge and shocks the moral of the audience. Euripides manipulates the audience through traditional Greek play techniques to increase the intensity of the revenge, by playing with our thoughts and inviting his audience to question the way their society lives. Through the Chorus of Corinthian women Euripides directs the audiences view of Medea. Throughout the play the Chorus voices their opinion, influencing the audience to their point. Originally the Chorus celebrates Medea’s desire for revenge, chanting “To punish Jason will be just” (line 267, p. 25), the audience agrees with the Chorus, Jason should be punished. Once the Chorus become aware of her intentions they turn against her, attempting to make her see reason and in the final ode they condemn her while acknowledging that her actions are the manifestation of a greater power and thereby re enforce Euripides tragic theme. The Chorus’s 5 stasimons and short interventions during the play direct the audience’s thoughts and opinions. As a tragic heroine Medea is a creation unique to Euripides, the psychological study of a woman entirely consumed by love and hate. He reminds us that her love for Jason resulted in the betrayal of her father, the murder of her brother and the murder of Pelias. Rejected, mocked and betrayed, her pride and hatred of Jason cause the destruction of all those connected with him, Glauce, Creon and her own children. Medea, as much as her victims suffers as a result of the primitive force that drives her. This is Euripides message to his audience in a society that he sees as at risk of destruction because they fail to recognise the power of uncontrolled passion and primitive instincts. Revenge is seen as just within society, as long as it is limited. If a wife burns her husbands favourite pants it is appropriate, killing another for revenge in Euripides context could be seen as fitting, but a women murdering her own children is ethically and morally wrong in both our and Euripides context. Therefore Euripides uses Medea as a dramatic tool to convey the anarchy society would plunge into without adequate action within the law. If the ruling powers are corrupt, an individual will eventually take retributive action and the fabric of society is threatened and intense suffering is the result.
Euripides choose to ignore Aristotle’s rules if they interfered with his message to the Athenian people. “Medea” very effectively dramatises the devastating result of the primitive forces and unrestrained passions to which humanity are subject. Medea’s murderous hate causes her suffering but it destroys King Creon, the Princess and Medea’s own sons, not herself. She is not the typical tragic heroine of Greek Drama, a noble character who is destroyed due to a character flaw, gains self-knowledge in her catastrophe and the catharsis at the end of the play. This variance from Aristotle’s rules would have surprised the first audiences’ into shock about the potential devastation of their society.
Euripides illustrates how destructive unvented revenge can be for not only the victim but also the avenger and for society. Through the use of a common myth Euripides allowed himself to focus on manipulating his audience to view the consequences of a vengeful society, instead of the audience having to concentrate as much on plot development. There is restricted characterisation needed within “Medea” allowing instead Euripides introduction of the psychological realism into the play through Medea, whose motives are confused, complex, and ultimately driven by her passion for revenge.
Revenge is a strong emotion and a dangerous emotion, Thomas Moore once said that “Those who plot the destruction of others often perish in the attempt”. Euripides play “Medea” clearly illustrates this notion. Revenge dominates Medea’s thoughts and actions, no matter what she does she knows she will suffer. Medea is full of great Hubris and if she did not kill her children and fulfill her revenge on Jason she would live in shame, and that is just not an option for a women full of pride. But if she killed her children their lives would have been for nothing, raising them all those years would have meant nothing and she would lose the only family she has left. Medea realises how callous her plan is, “The horror of what I am going to do” (line 1080, p. 50), but she also recognises the power of revenge, “but anger, The spring of all life’s horror, masters my resolve.” (line 1080-1081, p. 50). Medea’s 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 insane, vengfull persona dramatically.
Aristotle criticised “Medea” as he believed the murder of the children breached the bounds of decorum and was revolting, but is that not the point? Euripides has created such a morally inept story that society views the revenge within it as a psychological issue that must be dealt with. Aristotle also criticised it as the arrival of Aegeus was irrational and the ending was not the logical result of the characterisation and plot. But Euripides schematic if slightly improbable plot and relatively two-dimensional characters are compensated for by his use of surprise and theatricality. For example the description of Glauce’s and Creon’s deaths by the Messenger “…The golden coronet round her head discharged a stream Of unnatural devouring fire…”(line 1187-1188, p. 53), Medea’s murder of her children, “We can’t escape from her sword!” (line 1276 p. 56) and the dramatic Deus ex machina, the chariot drawn by dragons in Medea’s triumphant exit. Euripides conveys Medea’s destructive passion and his thesis powerfully to his audience.
If Medea had been brought to justice, as is a convention in many Revenge Tragedies, the strength of Euripides’ statement to the audience would have been weakened. He wanted them to remember that these destructive, primitive forces are within all our natures and society can be destroyed if we are not aware of and prepared to respect the danger these forces represent.
Part of the wonder of the play is the fact that despite Medea’s monstrosity, her spell over us is as strong as the hold she has on the Chorus. Her revenge becomes our fantasy, and the depth of her rage usually has some echo, however uncomfortable, in us.
From the ancient Greek world to the present day, revenge tragedies have featured scenes of atrocity and punishment. Such brutal actions would appear to lose all sense of the responders sympathy for the avenger. However, revenge is linked with reason; the punishment is always somewhat justifiable, as it is not without strong motive. Violent engagements are thus often used to illustrate essential truths and philosophical debates about the nature of mankind, so the audience is left with an intellectual as well as an emotional connection with the action.
So what can we make of Medea, where every death comes about through Medea’s unchecked rage? Where many deaths are undeserved, and terrifyingly brutal, even by the standards of Greek tragedy? Where we nonetheless watch with fascination, and even satisfaction, as Medea coldly destroys her enemies and children, one by one, until she has nothing left? Where the Chorus watches but does not interfere, although Euripides makes sure to remind us that they could? We are left the final tableau of the barbarian sorceress, exultant and destroyed at the same time, having achieved her final victory over her enemies only at the cost of her children’s lives. Medea establishes the Euripidean universe, one in which heroism is rare and suffering falls on the innocent and the guilty with equal brutality. Medea’s rage, unchecked and unchanged, carries us from the opening of the play to its final horrific moments. The play also implicates us, as her hatred and rage, though extreme, remain unnervingly and immediately recognisable, the grim satisfaction she takes in her revenge, however brutal and self-destructive, bears at least some resemblance to our own secret and unfulfilled fantasies.