Suggested Essay Topics
Prologue and Parados
1. Given the information provided so far through the words of the characters and Chorus, what is the picture being painted of Medea? What might we expect of her in the course of the play, given the hints dropped by the Nurse, who knows her well, and the Chorus, who knows her less well? Provide support for your opinions with excerpts from the play.
2. What kind of tone, or mood, does Euripides set in these opening moments, and what leads you to that conclusion? What stylistic devices does he employ to do so? Examples might be the use of imagery, comic relief, calls upon the gods, the interruptions of Medea’s off–stage cries, etc.
First Episode: Medea and Creon
1. Analyze the structure of Medea’s first speech to the Chorus. How does she arrange her arguments for maximum effect?
2. Contrast the Medea of the opening speech to the Chorus with the one she presents to Creon. Does the tone she takes with each of them differ? If so, how, and to what effect? What are some of the strategies she uses to persuade them to her view? Are there any similarities worth noting between the two?
Second Episode: Medea and Jason
1. Though Medea has not been able to convince Jason to see her side of things in this scene, she nevertheless shows Jason to be something of a hypocrite. How does their debate reveal Jason in this light? Specifically address the way he responds to her accusations of his role in their prior life together, and discuss his willingness to allow the children to be banished in light of his claims that he was acting only on their behalf.
2. How does Euripides use the debate between Medea and Jason, and the choral response to that debate, to illustrate conventional views about the relative merits of passion vs. reason? In both the content and tone of Medea’s speeches, how does she come to represent the side of passion? Similarly, how are Jason’s arguments structured to reveal the problems of too–cold reason? Finally, how does the Chorus serve as a kind of mediator in the philosophical issues raised by the couple?
Third Episode: Medea and Aegeus
1. By the end of this episode, we have a rather more complete picture of the character of Medea. Write an essay on the multiple dimensions of this character, as drawn by Euripides in the episodes leading up to and including this one. Cite examples from what is said about her, what she says about herself, and what is revealed in her speeches to both the Chorus and the other characters in the play.
2. Comment on the ways Euripides was effective in keeping the theme of “the children” foremost in the minds of the audience, starting with the Nurse’s fears for them in the prologue and continuing through each episode as they are mentioned. Include in your discussion their dual role as both children, per se, and as being necessary to the aims of a kingdom.
Fourth Episode: Medea and Jason
1. Though this is clearly Medea’s play from start to finish, the role of Jason is an extremely important one. Given what he says and does, as well as what others say about him, has Euripides drawn him sympathetically? That is, is the audience meant to identify with him more strongly than with Medea at this point in the play? Support you argument with examples from the text.
2. Taken from the action of the play up to this episode, write an essay defending one or the other position regarding Medea’s tears in this scene. Do you agree that they are genuine? Or do you hold the view that they are a mere device calculated to win Jason’s sympathy? Again, support your argument with examples from Medea’s previous actions and the Chorus’ responses to them.
Fifth Episode: Medea, Tutor, and Children
1. Comment on the dual purpose of Medea’s soul searching in this episode, as both an illustration of her more humane instincts, as well as a means to show why the children’s fate is sealed. How does she evidence her maternal feelings for her children? And how, ultimately, does she overcome them?
2. The presence of the children throughout Medea’s monologue ensures the dramatic irony within it. Analyze this speech to show how Euripides was able to let the audience in on her thoughts, without giving them fully away to their victims.
Sixth Episode: The Messenger
1. Euripides chose to spread out the telling of what happened at the palace over two separate episodes, this one and the previous one. Why do you think this was dramatically necessary to the play? What would the effect be, for example, of simply having the report come all at once, forcing Medea’s hand without giving her (and the audience) the time to reflect over possible alternatives? Would the play suffer in any way from our not witnessing her soul–searching? Or do...
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