Medea Themes

The main themes in Medea are revenge, passion, gender, and power.

  • Revenge: Medea's revenge is cruel and excessive, and she pays a heavy personal price to enact it. Medea's righteous fury overwhelms everything else, allowing her to kill her own children so long as Jason also suffers.
  • Passion: When Jason abandons Medea, her passionate loves turns into a passionate hatred, culminating in the deaths of her sons. This suggests that unrestrained passion can be destructive.
  • Gender and power: Greek women had relatively little agency, and Medea's refusal to accept Jason's abandonment is an expression of female rage and power.

Themes

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 749

Revenge
In Euripides's Medea, revenge—its necessity, its causes, and its price—is the central to the drama. Euripides makes Medea's desire for revenge plausible. Not only has her husband Jason wronged her by marrying the king of Corinth's beautiful young daughter, but the king of Corinth has banished her from the city to prevent her from avenging herself on his daughter. Medea can no longer return to her father's home because she left without his blessing upon her marriage to Jason. Thus she is unlawfully abandoned, emotionally wounded, and legitimately outraged. She bridles at the idea that she might be the laughing-stock of Corinth. Even when Aegeus offers her a secure future in Athens, Medea remains unsolaced—-she now only seeks revenge.

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The chorus of Corinthian women legitimize her outrage, sympathizing with her grief as well as her desire for revenge. But Medea takes revenge that goes far beyond the conventionally accepted forms of retribution. Euripides altered the traditional myth to include Medea murdering her own children to avenge her errant husband. Her act represents a form of revenge that is shocking to today's audiences. The excess of her revenge can be measured by the reaction of the Chorus: the women of Corinth exhibit no surprise that Medea might want to kill Jason's new bride, nor do they try to dissuade Medea from murdering the king of their city simply because it was his daughter whom Jason loved; but the idea of killing her own children alarms these women. They ask Medea how she will be able to look upon her own children and murder them simply to hurt Jason. When Medea commits her horrendous crime the chorus withdraws its alliance. The women of Corinth also recognize that this act will hurt not just her erring husband Jason but, in a much deeper way, hurt Medea herself. Jason too recognizes her self-inflicted pain and demands that she acknowledge her error. In a final, shocking outburst of hatred, Medea retorts that her pain is worth the price of avenging herself upon him. Medea's revenge is excessive, perverse, and nihilistically potent.

Passion
In a way, the theme of passion that overcomes one's better sense lies behind the theme of revenge in Euripides' s provocative play. The ancient Greeks considered passion dangerous, and the chorus expresses this in the song that follows Medea scornful rejection of Jason's offer of money. The chorus sings that love in excess brings neither glory nor repute, though love in moderation is blissful. Medea's problem is that she loved Jason so much that she left behind her homeland and family—and even killed her brother to slow their pursuers, Medea loved not in moderation but in excess.

Then, when Jason removed himself from her love, her passion turned to anger and since hate is the nearest thing to passionate love, she also hated in excess. It is as though Medea goes mad with the urgent need to punish her husband for his betrayal. The nurse suggests that Medea enrages herself, goading herself to greater heights of fury. In a state of self-aggravated wrath, Medea is immune to the warnings of the chorus of Corinthian women who, although sympathizing with her, warn her not to break the law. But the law is meaningless to Medea; she tells the chorus that its words are wasted. For it is Medea's tragic flaw to succumb to her own fury, a passion that imprisons her better self, and to goad herself into a heedless frenzy of anger that brings her to the point of murdering her own children.

From the very beginning, the nurse warns that Medea is not to be trifled with, that' 'she'll not stop raging until she has struck at someone." It had been Medea's reckless heart that drove her to leave her father's home to take up with Jason. And yet, in the exchange with Aegeus Medea behaves perfectly rationally. Smoldering with rage within, she is capable of convincing Creon to allow her to stay another day and of charming Jason into taking her gifts to Creusa. These moments complicate the question whether Medea could have controlled her passion enough to spare her children. Typically of Euripides, he leaves the question unanswered.

Euripides fabricated the murder of the two children—in variations of the myth they are either killed by accident or not involved at all. Euripides's invention pushes Medea's need for vengeance beyond the bounds of normalcy, thus underscoring that destructive passion reigns in her heart.

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