Medea is a play written by Euripides that explores ideas of revenge and gender inequality that are prominent even today. In the play, the main character, Medea, has her heart broken by her husband, Jason, who cheats on her and plans to marry a princess while he is still married to her. As a result, she is exiled from her home. For this, Medea embarks on a voyage of revenge costs her the lives of her children. Throughout the play, the audience can see the influence of gender roles on the functioning of the society. In society even today, women are often regarded as the shadow that follows a man wherever they go, rather than another separate human being that is capable of making their own decisions and one that is deserving of the right to create and manage their fight. Furthermore, history has shown us that when this right is deprived from the hands of a woman, they will often times fight back. This is the same case in Medea’s story. Medea gave up everything for Jason but received only ingratitude, abandonment and betrayal in return. She was expected to give up everything to serve her husband and her children, but when she broke the societal expectation or norm and spoke out, people were afraid of the implications of her words and actions and thus, exiled her from society. The point of my paper is to analyze the impact of the emotional manipulation of a patriarchal society on the actions and behavior of a woman and how that further influenced the way in which Medea viewed herself. Medea claims that “women are the most unfortunate creatures” as women are forced to endure a test on self preservation and self-establishment every step of the way in life.
In the beginning of the play, the nurse portrays a tone of distress and fear concerning Medea’s murderous and suicidal thoughts, “She lies without food ad gives herself up to suffering, Wasting away every moment of the day in tears,” (Medea, 2) “I am afraid she may think of some dreadful thing, For her heart is violent. She will never put up with the treatment she is getting”(Medea, 2). This provokes the audience to show some sympathy to her while also recognizing that she is a headstrong woman who is capable of turning heads to be in her favor. It is clear that Medea demands respect. This quote in the beginning of the play truly highlights the true purpose of the text and introduces the allegory about how oppression results in rebellion. Euripides sets this up in order to portray Medea’s actions as a reaction to the injustice she faces. This is shown through the manner in which her anger, sadness, and feelings of betrayal drive her to a state of obsession; one with revenge in order to protect her dignity, if not for others then for herself.
The fundamental conflict that Medea faces within herself–that of her worth and importance–stems from the conflict between Medea and Jason as she believes that she has been faithfully devoted to him while he had not fulfilled his duties as a husband or as a man. Ever since day one, Medea had sacrificed her needs and desires to ensure that Jason attains his Kleos, “my mistress Medea would not have sailed for the towers of the land of Iolcus, her heart on fire with passionate love for Jason; nor would she have persuaded the daughters of Pelias to kill their father, and now be living here in Corinth with her husband and children”(Medea, 1). If it was not for the love and sense of duty that Medea had for Jason then she would not have ended up “…deserted, a refugee, thought nothing of By my husband–something he won in a foreign land. I have no mother or brother, or any relation With whom I can take refuge in this sea of woe” (Medea, 9). Medea had become a stranger in a place that was supposed to be her home. She gave up everything and now, she has no one. Her life is forced to be dependent on people that look up to Jason more, simply due to the fact that he is a man who has also gotten the Golden Fleece and two because it’s his homeland but not hers’, “When in misery I am cast out of the land and go into exile, Quite without friends and all alone with my children, That will be a fie shame for the new-wedded groom, For his children to wander as beggars and she who saved him” (Medea, 17). Often times in society, it is the woman that lives with the family of the man, it is the woman that sacrifices a lot, from her last name to her self of identity that changes as she serves her husband and bears his children. Medea feels as though she has no life of her own anymore, she lives for her husband and her children.
On page 17, Medea asks, ‘Why is there no mark on men’s bodies By which we could know the true ones from the false ones?’ She brings about the question of why women often fall prey to the actions of a man. Women in Greek society then as well as in society now are regarded as a man’s side piece and every day, women fight to have their birth rights. Medea argues that “ there is not an easy escape for a woman, nor can she say no to her marriage” (Medea, 8). In saying this, Medea disapproves of the marking of women. When a woman steps into a marriage, she is tied down to the man that she gives an oath to and in society, it is often acceptable for men to break this oath of marriage and unacceptable for the opposite sex to do the same. Women have no other option but to get married as often times, women get regarded as an anomaly if no man wants to marry her. Marriage often implicates a “mark” on the woman that lets others know that she is off the market. Whereas, for me, they have the freedom and are often regarded as supreme if they are associated with multiple women. Men have the liberty of denying another women while women do not even carry the right to choose if they want to be committed or not, far be it to have an expectation of choosing a man that is decent and “true.” This societal expecation and favoring of one sex over the other comes to prove the point made my Medea that women are indeed regarded as the inferior sex among the two.
Even as a woman, Medea strives to defy and denounce the life of a woman. Her insight on the lonely lives of women leads to the readers having a sense of sympathy for Medea. Medea’s loneliness is enhanced by her solitude, state of feeling like an outlander, the rootlessness with which a person who flees her homeland has to deal with. Medea sets out, in her own way, to break the stereotypical expectations of the role of women are the nurturing forces in society. She goes as far as to say that she would “…very much rather stand three times in the front of battle than bear on child” (Medea, 9). Here, we can witness Medea’s rebellious nature. She portrays her tiredness regarding the idea of obeying the laws of the society and she would much rather break the stereotypical gender roles of the woman being the nurturer and child bearer when the me fight to protect their city and family. Furthermore, Medea’s belief on defying the nature of gender roles is further highlighted in her description of regarding the union of Jason and Glauce, the princess of Corinth and the daughter of King Creon. She states that “It was everything for me to think well of one man, and he, my own husband, has turned out wholly vile” (Medea,8 ). She believes that Jason, the one man that was supposed to be her anchor is the one that has let her down. By associating with another woman while still being wedded to Medea, he has humiliated her and made her feel helpless and powerless and along with that, has left his children “to wander as beggars” (Medea, 17).This feeling of Medea’s is further reinforced in the play when Medea declares to Jason during their encounter, “What heavenly power lends an eat To the breaker of oaths, a deceiver?” (Medea, 45) making it clear that there are many reasons why Medea is truly distressed.
Medea is driven to revenge by her love of Jason who has not only destroyed the life that they built together but has betrayed and broken his marriage oath. Medea had become dependent upon Jason for a home and security; she cannot return to Colchis and has no other city where she can seek sanctuary. Medea explains that it is expected of the women of Corinth to take the position of a submissive mother and wife and she is determined to prove otherwise, “Let no one think me a weak one, feeble-spirited, A stay-at-home, but rather just the opposite, One who can hurt my enemies and help my friends; For the lives of such persons are most remembered” (Medea, 26). Here we see Medea break out of her expected role and take shape into the person that she wants to be. Now she has something to prove to the society, the men and especially herself. She is tired of being undermined in all facets of her life. Now that Jason has broken the oath of her sacred marriage, she has nothing else to lose because he seems to have destroyed every good thing that there was about her life. She is oe being forced to fight for herself in a land that seems to be completely against her.
Jason’s act of breaking the oath has a secondary effect in respect of Medea’s honor; she loses her place in society and home because of his actions. Euripides’ tale in Medea recounts the awful experiences that women generally had, and then to have even today, when they got married. Medea is portrayed as a woman that adopted the role of the Greek wife, wherein Jason and the children had been her sole focus, but, when Jason leaves, her world appears to be ending. Medea’s honor is important to her because of what she gave up for Jason and what she invested into their marriage. Honor was all she could regain following Jason’s departure; through carefully planning each detail of her revenge with a very gracious (in her books) flight from the scene. Medea’s revenge against Jason is in direct defiance of these roles and the oppression females faced. Medea is placed into a difficult, oppressive society where she is subjected to the harsh truth of human nature, but in a startling new range of external behavior; one of chaos. This is ultimately portrayed in Medea’s murder of her children that serves as a symbolic act of rebellion against motherhood.
Medea is a strong headed woman that gives up her life, willingly, in order to live with and serve a man that she thought was honorable. However, he ends up teaching her a lesson that makes her truly understand the nature of the separation that exists between the two sexes. Medea believes that the nature of women is submissive since birth and she finds a way, by rebelling against the gender roles, to instill fear in the community and show that she is much more than just a mother and a wife. She is a human. An individual that should have the ability to make her own decisions and live as an equal partner to a man rather than as a servant to a man.