Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
The Medea illustrates many characteristic features of Euripidean tragedy. The play begins with a prologue in which the central conflict of the tragedy is revealed to the audience. This prologue is not delivered by a god or by any member of the nobility, but by a nurse, a character of relatively humble status. Yet the story that the nurse relates contains many fantastic elements and supernatural details: For example, she speaks of the Symplegades (the Clashing Rocks that destroyed ships attempting to sail through them), the Golden Fleece, and Jason’s legendary ship, the Argo. Nevertheless, these mythological details will not be Euripides’ central concern in this play. The poet will devote far more attention to human psychology and ordinary emotions (jealousy, anger, and pride) than to the marvels of legend. Euripides’ answer to the central question of this tragedy—What could lead a mother to kill her own children?—will not be the Golden Fleece or even a tragic curse, but a combination of spurned love, the desperate plight of women and exiles, and the individual nature of this particular mother.
Euripides quickly shifts attention away from the wonders of the prologue to the troubles that exist in Medea’s marriage. For Medea, the predicament of a husband who intends to leave her is compounded by the low status of women in Greek society generally and by her further isolation as an exile. Medea speaks at length about the...
(The entire section is 466 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
When Medea discovers that Jason has deserted her and married Glauce, the daughter of Creon, she vows a terrible vengeance. Her nurse, although she loves Medea, recognizes that a frightful threat now hangs over Corinth, for she knows that Medea will not let the insult pass without some dreadful revenge. She fears especially for Medea’s two sons, since the sorcerer includes her children in the hatred she now feels for their father.
Medea’s resentment increases still further when Creon, hearing of her vow, orders her and her children to be banished from Corinth. Slyly, with a plan already in mind, Medea persuades him to allow her just one day longer to prepare herself and her children for the journey. She already has decided the nature of her revenge; the one problem that remains is a place of refuge afterward.
Then Aegeus, the king of Athens and a longtime friend of Medea, appears in Corinth on his way home from a journey. Sympathetic with her because of Jason’s brutal desertion, he offers her a place of refuge from her enemies in his own kingdom. In this manner Medea assures herself of a refuge, even after Aegeus learns of the deeds she will soon commit in Corinth.
When the Corinthian women visit her, Medea tells them of her plan, but only after swearing them to absolute secrecy. At first she considers killing Jason, his princess, and Creon, and then fleeing with her own children. After she thinks about it, however, she feels that revenge will be sweeter with Jason living to suffer long afterward. Nothing is more painful than to grow old without a lover, without children, and without friends, and so Medea plans to kill the king, his daughter, and her own children.
She calls Jason to her and pretends that she forgives him for what he had done, recognizing at last the justice and foresight he had shown in marrying Glauce. She begs his forgiveness for her earlier rage, and asks that she be allowed to send her children with...
(The entire section is 807 words.)