The catastrophic Greek tragedy, “Medea” deals with the maltreatment faced by the titular character and how such struggles can lead to immoral retributive acts. Medea challenges society’s paradigm of the typical woman who is a “timid creature” and a “coward” through her headstrong and opinionated character, thereby establishing herself as an exemplar for women. Moreover, Euripides illustrates how Medea, as a woman, struggles against her male consort, as well as the patriarchal Athenian society and how this conflict is only exacerbated by the corruptive nature of isolation. Furthermore, the pursuit of power moves Medea into action, turning her from a devoted mother and wife to a vindictive murderess; this transgressive journey of revenge stemming from the bridling anger at the lack of power she possesses. Additionally, Euripides’ portrayal of his eponymous character, Medea, is often seen through a combination of contrasting traits. Despite being female in gender, she is majorly responsible for the achievements of her husband. She is powerless in her liaison with Jason yet powerful in her intelligence. Lastly, she is perceived by society as an agent of divine will, despite being a mortal.
Medea, constructed by Euripides as a symbol of spiritedness, challenges the political leadership, education and bureaucracy of her society in order to redefine the perceived notion of male-dominated justice. She is a woman with a paroxysmal passion unmoderated by the veneer of human civilization, resulting in the scarring of her humanity. Euripides depicts Medea rising against the socially accepted standard for women as a “sensible” woman was to bear children whereas she would rather “face the enemy three times over”. Aggrieved by Jason’s infidelity, Medea plans vengeance; she does not submissively tolerate his actions and instead desires to see him and his bride in “utter ruin”. Medea destroys gender roles and defied perceptions of gender by exhibiting both “male” and “female” tendencies. She acts as a harbinger of justice for women as her ability to display sophrosyne enables her to perform unpredictable macabre acts of violence. At times she was the ultimate woman, at times she was the ultimate man. As such, Euripides confronts the notion that women were inferior to males in Corinth, sympathetically exposing the potential consequences of female subservience in a misogynistic society.
The struggles of an outsider are often harsh enough to corrupt the individual and can catalyze moral bankruptcy. Medea’s morbid plan to kill her children to carry out her “purpose” and “achieve her wish” is considered to have been initiated as a result of her outsider status. The personification of “the fiercest anger of all, the most incurable is that which rages in place of dear love,” implies that the root of Medea’s struggles is the blatant rejection of her love by her husband and society. Furthermore, her rebellion against patriarchy and her subsequent struggle as a foreigner evokes pathos from the audience as they sympathize with her. Her declaration to Jason of “thus wretchedly your fate shall end this story,” further alludes to her obsessive hatred thus linking the murder of her children to the hostility she has experienced as a result of Jason’s iniquity towards her.
Medea, in her struggles against her male husband, as well as her androcentric society, and this conflict is the essential beginning of a chain reaction of her determinations. Throughout the drama, there are references towards the notion that women are merely needed for “reproduc[tional]” purposes and they should “submit… graciously to the will” of the males in power. Furthermore, the lack of Royal Princess, Glauce, speaking for herself is a structural element within the play, implying how women were silenced by men unless being “gracious” within society. Ergo Medea with her powers as an immortal and passion intimidates even those with more power than her. The king of Corinth is “terrified” of Medea’s schemes yet grants her the extra day she asks for despite “see[ing] his mistake”. Medea’s mercurial temperament is frightening in nature and sparks a feeling of consternation and apprehension. Creon’s callous banishment is motivated by his fears of Medea’s position as “a woman of hot temper”. This acts as a stark reminder for Medea’s willingness not to supplicate herself to the power of men. Euripides repetitively utilizes animalistic imagery such as a “glaring bull” and “lioness with cubs” when characters refer to Medea, painting her as a barbaric entity who sacrifices her humanity to fulfil her vengeful desires. This subversion of gender roles created in a rigidly hierarchical and phallocentric society emphasizes the evident nonconformity Medea’s character provides.
The play Medea explores the breakdown of the Jason-Medea marriage as a socio-psychological exchange of power and how an imbalance leads to such a breakdown. The liaison between Medea and Jason demonstrates how both males and females assert power in the relationship and how exploitation of this domination leads to dilemmas. The resentment Medea feels for the confines of her sex and her need for control are the underlying reasons that she feels powerless in the legal premise of her society. Medea’s search for a way to gain power causes the radical anti-heroine of the play to commit many heinous acts. Though she cannot become a man or take power as a man, she commits crimes like a man might and seeks retribution with the same kind of determination that a man would pursue an enemy. Jason’s assertion in regard to being the alpha substantially affects his relationships. Additionally, Euripides incorporates Medea into this relationship suggesting that though females do possess power in an alliance, their form of authority differs when compared to that of a male’s.
Whilst the play horrifies an all Athenian audience by the passionate usurping of patriarchal power in the play, Euripides also cautions the destructive power of female passion. In his harrowing tragedy, Medea, Euripides’s protagonist is not a feeble, subservient woman, but rather an excessively passionate divine figure who seeks justice for women. Moreover, Euripides’ use of peripeteia and divine intervention depicts Medea as a clarion voice for the crippled plight of women fettered by men. Ultimately, Euripides exposes how the societal gender roles facilitate the struggle and condemnation of outsiders who attempt to express their individuality. Euripides utilization of Deus Ex Machina, furthermore, represents Medea’s transcendence of misogyny and ability to punish men that violate their oaths by executing justice on her own accord. In our present-day world where gender biases exist perennially, Medea’s struggles remain as relevant as ever.