Medea and Electra Summary and Analysis
Medea and Electra Medea, Prologue and Parados Summary and Analysis
Nurse: loyal servant of Medea
Tutor: servant of Medea and minder of her children, friendly with Nurse
The Children: Medea’s two young boys
Medea: (offstage only) native of Colchis, wife of Jason, a type of
Chorus: Corinthian women, friendly to Medea
Medea’s Nurse opens the play, lamenting the events that have brought Medea’s household to its current state of crisis. If Jason had not sailed with the Argonauts to Colchis, Medea would never have met him and brought them all to Corinth. All has been relatively peaceful of late, but now, with Jason’s decision to marry the king’s daughter, Medea loses all her rights and is ill with hatred and grief—grief for the dissolution of her current family, and for her own betrayal of her former family. The nurse fears that Medea is plotting something terrible, as she is a “woman to fear.”
There follows perhaps the only humourous moment in the play, as the children enter with their tutor, who has news from the palace which the Nurse tries to coax out of him. Eventually we learn from the Tutor of King Creon’s plans to banish Medea from his kingdom. Meanwhile, Medea is heard wailing her grief offstage.
The Nurse, knowing how her mistress gets when she’s angry, is fearful for the safety of the children and begs the Tutor to keep them away from her. She then indulges in a brief monologue in which she extolls the advantages of ordinary life, removed from the grand passions that rule her royal masters and exact high retribution from the gods.
As Medea continues her offstage lament, the Chorus of Corinthian women enters, asking the Nurse for an explanation. Medea recounts some of the sacrifices she made on Jason’s behalf, and longs for death. The Chorus is quick to reassure her that Jason is not worth that price, and begs the Nurse to bring Medea out so they can console her. With misgivings, the Nurse goes into the palace, leaving the Chorus to express their sympathy for a woman wronged by her husband’s failure of faith.
This prologue and parados do more than sketch in some of the necessary background to the story of Medea and Jason, which the audience would already have known anyway. Rather, it sets out some of the key motifs that will run through the play, and provides some foreshadowing of the characters and events which will dominate it.
The Nurse and Tutor, though relatively minor characters, become the voice of “ordinary” mortals. As the Nurse recounts the peaceful time in Corinth, we see the way Medea has tried to live as such a mortal, doing
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Medea and Electra First Episode: Medea and Creon Summary and Analysis
Creon: King of Corinth, father of Medea’s rival
Medea emerges from her palace to address the Corinthian women gathered outside. In a long speech, she appeals to their gender to understand her plight, by enumerating the inequities women face in their relationships with men. Her situation is further complicated by her foreign status, which has left her without family to turn to in her despair. The speech closes with an appeal to the women to remain silent about any plans she makes to take her revenge on her faithless husband. The Chorus women express their sympathy, and pledge to say nothing.
Creon enters and immediately begins to insult Medea, calling her a “sour–faced woman, squalling at [her] husband.” He proceeds to pronounce his banishment of her and the children, effective immediately. In blunt terms, he justifies this act by saying he is afraid of what she might do to his daughter, based on his knowledge of Medea’s cleverness, her past history, and the threats she has made against his family. He hopes that by removing her from Corinth, she will no longer pose a threat to them.
Medea responds with bitter self–recrimination, lamenting the fact that her reputation is working against her, when in fact she considers herself to be “not that clever.” She appeals to Creon, saying she does not hold this turn of events against him or his daughter, but against her husband, and promises to “keep the peace.” Creon remains suspicious, however, and repeats his order.
What follows is an example of stychomythia, a series of rapid–fire exchanges between Medea and Creon, while they argue about whether she will stay or go. It ends with Medea pleading for “just one day” in order for her to get her affairs in order, and devise a plan for where she and her children will go. In this, she appeals to Creon’s kindness as a father himself, claiming that it is not for her sake, but the children’s, that she is asking. Creon relents, even though he still fears it is a mistake, and warns her that if she is still there after tomorrow, she will die.
After Creon exits, the Chorus once more expresses its empathy for Medea, and wonders what country will welcome her now. Medea replies by reminding them that it’s not yet over. She “crawled and fawned” on Creon only to gain time to put other plans in motion, plans that despite her promises, harbour ill intent toward Creon and his daughter.
Medea then turns inward, debating with herself which course of action would be the most effective. Above all, she wishes her revenge to be definitive and final. There is to be no opportunity for her enemies to laugh at her when she’s done. She decides to wait a little while, to see if an opportunity arises when she can claim her revenge and escape to a safe place of exile. Meanwhile, she swears by the gods that she will use every means at her disposal to achieve her ends, bitterly referring to those means as the womanly “arts of cowardice.”
The Chorus closes this scene with a meditation on the cosmic ramifications of Medea’s plight and its consequences. Jason’s act has been shameful in the extreme, and reflects on all of Greece. Now all nature is turned upside down, and perhaps soon women “will have both rights and honour.”
From the moment Medea takes the stage, Euripides begins to flesh out her character beyond that of the legends about her, with which his original audiences would have been familiar. It is as a woman, not a witch, that Medea is able to strike a common chord with the Chorus of Corinthian women. And it is as a parent, not an unruly foreigner, that she is able to do the same with Creon. Nevertheless, we have the sense that behind these appeals to common humanity there is conscious calculation. There is a sense that Medea is...
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Medea and Electra Second Episode: Medea and Jason Summary and Analysis
Jason: husband of Medea, about to marry Creon’s daughter
Jason enters, blaming Medea for her own misfortunes. It was one thing to complain against him, but by railing against the royal house she invited her banishment. This situation is nothing new. Jason claims he has often had to make amends for Medea’s having displeased their hosts. Now it’s too late, and Jason wants only to provide material help to Medea and the children before they go.
Medea responds angrily with a list of all the things she’d done, either out of love for Jason or at his direct request. She addresses the dangers she faced, the sacrifices she made, and the crimes she committed. To...
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Medea and Electra Third Episode: Medea and Aegeus Summary and Analysis
Aegeus: King of Athens, longtime friend of Medea
Aegeus, the King of Athens, enters on his return from the oracle of Apollo at Delphi. There he asked for blessings and advice on how to relieve his childless state. Meeting Medea, he is concerned to see her looking “pale and strained.”
Medea explains her situation to Aegeus, who is quite sympathetic. She asks for his help in providing sanctuary, in return for which she promises a cure for his problem. Aegeus agrees, on the condition that he need provide only sanctuary, not help in her escape. Medea further asks him to swear by the Earth, by her grandfather the sun god, and by all the gods that he will not...
(The entire section is 957 words.)
Medea and Electra Fourth Episode: Medea and Jason Summary and Analysis
The Nurse returns with Jason, who listens to Medea’s false plea for forgiveness. She claims she has thought over his arguments, found them sound, and sanctions the marriage. When the children enter she has a momentary stab of anguish, but she justifies her tears as part of the emotion of the moment.
Jason responds positively to this ruse, telling his children he will continue to see to their needs while they are away, so that they may return someday to Corinth prepared to take their place with their new brothers. At this, Medea begins to weep again, this time explaining that the talk of their future has saddened her.
She then proceeds to ask Jason to intercede on their children’s...
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Medea and Electra Fifth Episode: Medea, Tutor, and Children Summary and Analysis
The Tutor returns with the children and the news that they have been released from exile. Medea receives this news glumly, telling the Tutor that her mood is caused by sadness at the pending separation from her sons.
Left alone with her children in front of the female company of Nurse and Chorus, Medea vacillates between carrying out her plans and changing her mind. Twice she decides she cannot bear to murder them, and twice she renews her commitment to do so. In the end, she decides it is better for them to die at her hands than at the hands of her enemies, in revenge for her poisoning of the princess.
The Chorus then muses on the reasons for the desire to have children, when they bring...
(The entire section is 982 words.)
Medea and Electra Sixth Episode: The Messenger Summary and Analysis
Messenger: one of Jason’s servants, arriving from the royal palace
A servant arrives from the royal house, breathless with news of what he has witnessed there. Medea responds with delighted anticipation, asking him to tell his tale slowly, as it will please her doubly to learn her victims have died horribly.
The Messenger complies, with a detailed account of all he has seen. He describes how the princess, aloof at first, was convinced by Jason to receive his sons and their gifts, and to release them from their sentence of exile. Delighted with those presents, she immediately proceeded to put them on, admiring herself in the mirror. He graphically recounts in...
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Medea and Electra Final Episode and Exodos Summary and Analysis
Off–stage the cries of the children are heard as they try to no avail to escape their mother’s sword. Jason enters in haste from the royal palace, seeking to rescue his sons from the wrath of the Corinthians. From the Chorus, he learns the awful truth.
In despair, he rushes the palace doors, but Medea has already drawn her divine chariot up to its roof, bearing in it the bodies of the two boys. (The chariot had been given to her by the sun god, for her protection, and Jason cannot touch her while she is in it.) To Jason’s long string of curses at what she has done, she replies only that the gods have been witness to the deeds he’s done that have merited this revenge.
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Medea and Electra Electra, Prologue and Parados Summary and Analysis
Farmer: Electra’s husband
Electra: daughter of Clytemnestra, sister of Orestes
Orestes: Electra’s brother, returning from exile
Pylades: Orestes’ traveling companion
Chorus: rural women of Argos
The Farmer delivers the prologue, which recounts the events that have led up to his unlikely marriage to the royal maiden, Electra, daughter of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon. When her father returned home from victory against Troy, he was killed by his wife and her new lover, Aigisthos. Fearing that his stepchildren would grow up to avenge their father, Aigisthos would have killed Orestes, but an old tutor smuggled him off to be...
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Medea and Electra First Episode: Electra, Orestes and Farmer Summary and Analysis
Orestes introduces himself to Electra as having news of her brother, telling her that he is alive and desires to know how his sister is faring. Electra responds by pointing to her ragged appearances and the poverty in which she lives, married to a man far beneath her station. In a long stychomythia, Orestes questions his sister about the reasons for this, learning of Aigisthos’ fears and Electra’s attempts to foil his plans by keeping her virginity secret, in the hopes that her brother will appear to help her kill both her mother and her lover.
At Orestes’ invitation, Electra enumerates the humiliations she’s been made to suffer. These include not only the material degradations of her...
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Medea and Electra Second Episode: Electra, Orestes, and the Old Man Summary and Analysis
Second Episode: Electra, Orestes, and
the Old Man
Old Man: former tutor of Agamemnon, living on the outskirts of Argos
The Old Man arrives, carrying with him a lamb, flowers, cheeses, and wine. He is crying because on his way he has stopped to pay tribute at the tomb of Agamemnon, whom he helped to raise. He noticed the relics left there (by Orestes), and wonders who would have been brave enough to honor Aigisthos’ enemy, and suggests it may have been Orestes himself.
To test his theory, he holds the lock of hair he found there up to Electra’s shorn head, to see if it matches. Though it does, Electra does not take him seriously, arguing that it is...
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Medea and Electra Third Episode: The Messenger and Orestes’ Return Summary and Analysis
Messenger: one of Orestes’ servants
From offstage are heard the “howls of death,” and one of Orestes’ servants finally arrives to tell what happened at the site of Aigisthos’ feast. The news is good. Orestes has succeeded.
Electra presses him for details, and learns how Aigisthos, believing that Orestes was from Thessaly as he claimed, invited him and his party to join his feast. While Aigisthos was praying to the Nymphs for continued prosperity for himself and his wife, and victory over their enemies, Orestes proceeded to butcher Aigisthos’ sacrificial calf. In its entrails Aigisthos read a dire prophesy that Agamemnon’s son was stalking him. As...
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Medea and Electra Fourth Episode: Electra, Clytemnestra, and Orestes Summary and Analysis
Clytemnestra: mother of Orestes and Electra; unknowing widow of Aigisthos
Clytemnestra arrives in all her royal finery, accompanied by an entourage of Trojan women slaves. The Chorus greets her with respect, but Electra wastes little time in accusing her mother of casting her out from her home. To this Clytemnestra replies that she faults Agamemnon, who lured their daughter Iphigenia to her death at Aulis and then came home with another mistress. In clear words, she admits she killed him, and asks Electra what Agamemnon’s actions would have been if, under similar circumstances, she had killed Orestes. Believing that a killer should be executed, she took the only path...
(The entire section is 1384 words.)
Medea and Electra Final Episode and Exodos Summary and Analysis
Castor and Polydeukes: twin demi–gods, sons of Zeus and half–brothers of Clytemnestra
The Dioskouroi, Castor and Polydeukes, appear as shining stars on the roof of the farmhouse, and announce they have come on Zeus’ orders to pronounce a sort of sentence on Orestes and Electra for their “unjust act.” Electra is to marry Pylades, forfeiting her inheritance and leaving Argos forever. Her Farmer husband is to accompany them, and Pylades to reward him handsomely for his kindness.
Orestes, too, is bound to exile, but first he must travel to Athens to stand trial for the murder. There, the demi–gods predict, the goddess Pallas Athena will protect...
(The entire section is 966 words.)