Medea Themes

  • All the mythology around Medea centers on the theme of revenge. Euripides sets his play apart from these myths by having Medea murder her children—an act that doesn't appear in other versions of the legend. Medea's revenge is devious, excessive, and cruel, but Euripides elicits sympathy for her character by depicting her as a spurned woman with no other options.
  • In many ways, Medea is a character without a home. She alienates her father by marrying Jason without permission, then gets herself banished from Corinth by vowing revenge on Jason. Without a home or a husband, she's nothing and nobody. Though granted refuge by the king of Athens, Aegeus, Medea never feels at home after leaving Corinth, and she lives the rest of her days in an unhappy exile, grieving her murdered children.
  • Gender is another important theme in the play, especially as it relates to a woman's place in society. When Jason abandons Medea, he in effect makes her an outcast, leaving her nowhere to turn—her father has long since disowned her, and Creon has banished her from Corinth. As a woman, Medea is at the mercy of the male characters in the play. In this light, her revenge can be viewed as an act of agency by a woman asserting her power.


(Drama for Students)

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.

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...

(The entire section is 749 words.)