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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