A Comment on Medea

/ 5 September 2011

One of the courses I’m taking this term is a reading fiction course entitled “Tragedy/Passion/Sacrifice”. Throughout the course of this term I’ll be reading quite a bit of literature for this course (and the other three as well). Each of the major written assignments for this course (and, like last year, my other three) I’ll post here the same day that it is due in class if not right after I complete and submit/print the assignment. The first thing I’ve read for this course is the play Medea by Euripides. The comment I had to write on this play is available in its entirety after the break.

Medea’s speech starting on page 33 is the one place we truly get to know Medea. The conflict this speech is about is not one that others share, but rather one that Medea is struggling with internally. This speech falls right after Medea’s children return from giving Creon’s daughter the poisoned gifts. As I see it, this speech is the first time in this play that Medea addresses her children directly. As such, she appears to both be set on the path of murder that she started and at the same time have real feelings for her children and not wanting the events set in motion to come to pass.

The structure of this speech is primarily Medea talking with herself (although I think her children were in earshot). The last section of the speech she calls her children over to talk directly to them. That makes this speech largely reflective on Medea’s moods and thoughts. It is from this structure that I take my statement that part of how we learn about Medea best is from this speech.

I see the same themes of Medea’s within this speech that we see throughout the rest of this play. Those are primarily her constant state of grief as well as her being unsure about what to do. As she states just ahead of this speech, she is lost (p. 32), and this speech is evident of that. No sane human would even consider much of what Medea does after this speech, and those that do those things usually don’t stop to reconsider them the way Medea does. In the course of this speech Medea goes back and forth between her dark plans and truly loving her children a couple of times.

There were a couple of different aspects of Medea’s speech that were surprising. Chief among those that were surprising was Medea’s mood changes. She seemed quite determined up to this point but I began to doubt that determination during this speech. It was surprising how she seemed to truly care for her children during parts of this speech. That, in turn, made it a little less surprising that she at times appeared to renounce her dark plans. But, knowing Medea by now, it shouldn’t be surprising that she ultimately followed through with them.

The word choice Medea uses in this speech bears looking at as well. It is the heart of how we can assume these drastic shifts, while possibly still leaving Medea with the same dark thoughts. In the first few lines alone Medea both reasserts her plans and seems to speak in a loving way to her children. But maybe she is all along feeling the destructive force within her? Only words will be able to make us assume one thing or another at will. Words, therefore, are the central component of this play that makes it hard for us to align ourselves with any one of the characters in it.