|Mute||Medea's two children|
|Date premiered||431 BCE|
|Original language||Ancient Greek|
|Setting||Before Medea's house in Corinth|
Medea (Ancient Greek: Μήδεια, Mēdeia) is an ancient Greek tragedy written by Euripides, based upon the myth of Jason and Medea and first produced in 431 BCE. The plot centers on the actions of Medea, a barbarian and the wife of Jason, she finds her position in the Greek world threatened as Jason leaves her for a Greek princess of Corinth. Medea takes vengeance on Jason by killing Jason's new wife as well as her own children with him, after which she escapes to Athens to start a new life.
Considered shocking to his contemporaries, Medea and the suite of plays that it accompanied in the City Dionysia festival, came last place in the festival that year. Nonetheless the play remained part of the tragedic repertoire, and experienced renewed interest with the emergence of the feminist movement, because of its nuanced and sympathetic portrayal of Medea's struggle to take charge of her own life in a male dominated world. The play has remained the most frequently performed Greek tragedy through the 20th century.
Production and Stylistic Innovations
Medea was first performed in 431 BCE at the City Dionysia festival. Here every year three playwrights competed against each other, each writing a tetralogy of four tragedies and a satyr play (In addition to Medea it was Philoctetes, Dictys and the satyr play Theristai). In 431 the competition was between Euphorion (the son of famed playwright Aeschylus), Sophocles (Euripides' main rival) and Euripides. Euphorion won, and Euripides placed last.
The form of the play differs from many other Greek tragedies by its simplicity: All scenes involve only two actors, Medea and someone else. These encounters serve to highlight Medea's skill and determination in manipulating powerful male figures to achieve her own ends. The play is also the only Greek tragedy in which a kin-killer makes it unpunished to the end of the play, and the only one about child-killing in which the deed is performed in cold blood as opposed to in a state of temporary madness.
Medea is centered on a wife’s calculated desire for revenge against her unfaithful husband. The play is set in Corinth some time after Jason's quest for the Golden Fleece, where he met Medea. The play begins with Medea raging at Jason for arranging to marry Glauce, the daughter of Creon (king of Corinth). The nurse, overhearing Medea’s grief, fears what she might do to herself or her children.
Creon, in anticipation of Medea’s wrath, arrives and reveals his plans to send her into exile. Medea pleads for one day’s delay and eventually Creon acquiesces. In the next scene Jason arrives to explain his rationale for his apparent betrayal. He explains that he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to marry a royal princess, as Medea is only a barbarian woman, but hopes to someday join the two families and keep Medea as his mistress. Medea, and the chorus of Corinthian women, do not believe him. She reminds him that she left her own people for him ("I am the mother of your children. Whither can I fly, since all Greece hates the barbarian?"), and that she saved him and slew the dragon. Jason promises to support her after his new marriage, but Medea spurns him: "Marry the maid if thou wilt; perchance full soon thou mayst rue thy nuptials."
In the following scene Medea encounters Aegeus, King of Athens. He reveals to her that despite his marriage to his wife he is still without children. He visited the oracle who merely told him that he was instructed “not to unstop the wineskin’s neck.” Medea relays her current situation to him and begs for Aegeus to let her stay in Athens if she gives him drugs to end his infertility. Aegeus, unaware of Medea’s plans for revenge, agrees.
Medea then returns to plotting the murders of Glauce and Creon. She decides to poison some golden robes (a family heirloom and gift from the sun god Helios) and a coronet, in hopes that the bride will not be able to resist wearing them, and consequently be poisoned. Medea resolves to kill her own children as well, not because the children have done anything wrong, but because she feels it is the best way to hurt Jason. She calls for Jason once more and, in an elaborate ruse, apologizes to him for overreacting to his decision to marry Glauce. When Jason appears fully convinced that she regrets her actions, Medea begins to cry in mourning of her exile. She convinces Jason to allow her to give the robes to Glauce in hopes that Glauce might get Creon to lift the exile. Eventually Jason agrees and allows their children to deliver the poisoned robes as the gift-bearers.
- Forgive what I said in anger! I will yield to the decree, and only beg one favor, that my children may stay. They shall take to the princess a costly robe and a golden crown, and pray for her protection.
In the next scene a messenger accounts Glauce and Creon’s deaths. When the children arrived with the robes and coronet Glauce put them on gleefully and went to find her father. Soon the poisons overtook Glauce and she fell to the floor, quickly dying. Creon clutched her tightly as he tried to save her and, by coming in contact with the robes and coronet, got poisoned and died as well.
- Alas! The bride had died in horrible agony; for no sooner had she put on Medea's gifts than a devouring poison consumed her limbs as with fire, and in his endeavor to save his daughter the old father died too.
While Medea is content with her current success she decides to take it one step forward. Since Jason brought shame upon her for trying to start a new family, Medea resolves to destroy the family he was willing to give up by killing their sons. Medea does have a moment of hesitation when she considers the pain that her children’s deaths will put her through. However, she steels her resolve to cause Jason the most pain possible and rushes offstage with a knife to kill her children. As the chorus laments her decision, the children are heard screaming. Jason then rushes onto the scene to confront Medea about murdering Creon and Glauce and he quickly discovers that his children have been killed as well. Medea then appears above the stage with the bodies of her children in the chariot of the sun god Helios. When this play was put on, this scene was accomplished using the mechane device usually reserved for the appearance of a god or goddess. She confronts Jason, reveling in his pain at being unable to ever hold his children again:
- "I do not leave my children's bodies with thee; I take them with me that I may bury them in Hera's precinct. And for thee, who didst me all that evil, I prophesy an evil doom."
She escapes to Athens with the bodies. The chorus is left contemplating the will of Zeus in Medea's actions:
- Manifold are thy shapings, Providence!
- Many a hopeless matter gods arrange.
- What we expected never came to pass,
- What we did not expect the gods brought to bear;
- So have things gone, this whole experience through!
Euripides' characterization of Medea exhibits the inner emotions of passion, love, and vengeance. Medea is widely read as a proto-feminist text to the extent that it sympathetically explores the disadvantages of being a woman in a patriarchal society, although it has also been read as an expression of misogynist attitudes. In conflict with this sympathetic undertone (or reinforcing a more negative reading) is Medea's barbarian identity, which would antagonize a 5th-century Greek audience.
Euripidean innovation and reaction
Although the play is considered one of the great plays of the Western canon, the Athenian audience did not react so favorably, and awarded it only the third place prize at the Dionysia festival in 431 BC. A possible explanation might be found in a scholium to line 264 of the play, which asserts that traditionally Medea's children were killed by the Corinthians after her escape; Euripides' apparent invention of Medea's filicide might have offended its audience just as his first treatment of the Hippolytus myth did.
In the 4th century BC, South-Italian vase painting offers a number of Medea-representations that are connected to Euripides' play — the most famous is a krater in Munich. However, these representations always differ considerably from the plots of the play or are too general to support any direct link to the play of Euripides – this might reflect the judgement on the play. However, the violent and powerful character of princess Medea, and her double nature — both loving and destructive — became a standard for the later periods of antiquity and seems to have inspired numerous adaptations thus became standard for the literal classes.
With the rediscovery of the text in 1st-century Rome (the play was adapted by the tragedians Ennius, Lucius Accius, Ovid, Seneca the Younger and Hosidius Geta, among others), again in 16th-century Europe, and in the light of 20th century modern literary criticism, Medea has provoked differing reactions from differing critics and writers who have sought to interpret the reactions of their societies in the light of past generic assumptions; bringing a fresh interpretation to its universal themes of revenge and justice in an unjust society.
Modern productions and adaptations
- Jean Anouilh adapted the Medea story in his French drama Médée in 1946
- Robinson Jeffers adapted Medea into a hit Broadway play in 1947, in a famous production starring Judith Anderson
- Ben Bagley's Shoestring Revue performed a musical parody off-Broadway in the 1950s which was later issued on an LP and a CD, and was revived in 1995. The same plot points take place, but Medea in Disneyland is a parody, in that it takes place in a Walt Disney animated cartoon
- In 1982 George Eugeniou directed Medea in a Wellacot Penguin translation at Theatro Technis with Angelique Rockas in the title role [Link to live performance of Angelique Rockas as Medea https://archive.org/details/MedeaPerformanceAtTheatroTechnis1982PlayedByAngeliqueRockas]
- The 1990 play Pecong, by Steve Carter, is a retelling of Medea set on a fictional Caribbean island around the turn of the 20th century
- The play was staged at the Wyndham's Theatre in London's West End, in a translation by Alistair Elliot. The production was directed by Jonathan Kent and starred Diana Rigg. The Evening Standard described Rigg's performance as "the performance she was born to give" while the Mail on Sunday described it as "unquestionably the performance of her life." Peter J. Davison provided the scenic design and Jonathan Dove the music. The production opened on 19 October 1993.
- A 1993 dance-theatre retelling of the Medea myth was produced by Edafos Dance Theatre, directed by avant-garde stage director and choreographer Dimitris Papaioannou
- John Fisher wrote a camp musical version of Medea entitled Medea the Musical that re-interpreted the play in light of gay culture. The production was first staged in 1994 in Berkeley, California.
- Neil Labute wrote Medea Redux, a modern retelling, first performed in 1999 starring Calista Flockhart as part of his one act trilogy entitled Bash: Latter-Day Plays. In this version, the main character is seduced by her middle school teacher. He abandons her, and she kills their child out of revenge
- Michael John LaChiusa created a musical adaptation work for Audra McDonald entitled Marie Christine in 1999 . McDonald portrayed the title role, and the show was set in New Orleans and Chicago respectively in 1999
- Liz Lochhead's Medea previewed at the Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow as part of Theatre Babel's Greeks in 2000 before the Edinburgh Fringe and national tour. 'What Lochhead does is to recast MEDEA as an episode-ancient but new, cosmic yet agonisingly familiar- in a sex war which is recognisable to every woman, and most of the men, in the theatre.' The Scotsman
- Tom Lanoye (2001) used the story of Medea to bring up modern problems (such as migration and man vs. woman), resulting in a modernized version of Medea. His version also aims to analyze ideas such as the love that develops from the initial passion, problems in the marriage, and the "final hour" of the love between Jason and Medea
- Kristina Leach adapted the story for her play The Medea Project, which had its world premiere at the Hunger Artists Theatre Company in 2004 and placed the story in a modern day setting.
- Peter Stein directed Medea in Epidaurus 2005
- Irish playwright Marina Carr's By the Bog of Cats is a modern re-telling of Euripides' Medea
- In November 2008, Theatre Arcadia, under the direction of Katerina Paliou, staged Medea at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (University of Alexandria, Egypt). The production was noted (by Nehad Selaiha of the weekly Al-Ahram) not only for its unexpected change of plot at the very end but also for its chorus of one hundred who alternated their speech between Arabic and English. The translation used was that of George Theodoridis
- US Latina playwright Caridad Svich's 2009 play Wreckage, which premiered at Crowded Fire Theatre in San Francisco, tells the story of Medea from the sons' point of view, in the afterlife
- Paperstrangers Performance Group toured a critically acclaimed production of Medea directed by Michael Burke to U.S. Fringe Festivals in 2009 and 2010.
- Luis Alfaro's re-imagining of Medea, Mojada, world premiered at Victory Gardens Theater in 2013.
- Theatre Lab's production, by Greek director Anastasia Revi, opened at The Riverside Studios, London, on 5 March 2014.
- The Hungry Woman: A Mexican Medea by Cherríe Moraga takes elements of Medea and of other works
- 14 July – 4 September 2014 London Royal National Theatre staging of Euripides in a new version by Ben Power, starring Helen McCrory as Medea, directed by Carrie Cracknell, music by Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp.
- Pier Paolo Pasolini adapted the play into a movie of the same name in 1969 starring Maria Callas as Medea
- Mexican filmmaker Arturo Ripstein adapted the plot for his 2000 film Such Is Life
- Lars von Trier made a version for television in 1988.
- Theo van Gogh directed a miniseries version that aired 2005, the year following his murder.
- OedipusEnders, a documentary broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 13 April 2010, discussed similarities between soap opera and Greek theatre. One interviewee revealed that the writers for the ITV police drama series The Bill had consciously and directly drawn on Medea in writing an episode for the series.
- Edward P. Coleridge, 1891 – prose: full text
- Theodore Alois Buckley, 1892 – prose: full text
- Michael Woodhull, 1908 – verse
- Gilbert Murray, 1912 – verse: full text
- Arthur S. Way, 1912 – verse
- Augustus T. Murray, 1931 – prose
- Countee Cullen, 1935
- R. C. Trevelyan, 1939 – verse
- Rex Warner, 1944 – verse
- Philip Vellacott, 1963
- John Davie, 1996
- James Morewood, 1997 – prose
- Paul Roche, 1998 – verse
- Ruby Blondell, 1999 – verse
- George Theodoridis, 2004 – prose: full text
- Joseph Goodrich, 2005 – verse: full text
- Graham Kirby, 2006 – verse (The Bloomsbury Theatre)
- Diane Arnson Svarlien, 2008 – verse
- Robin Robertson, 2008 – verse
- J. Michael Walton, 2008 – prose
- Brian Vinero, 2012 – verse: full text
- Gregory 2005, 3.
- Helene P. Foley. Reimagining Greek Tragedy on the American Stage. University of California Press, Sep 1, 2012, p. 190
- Hall, Edith. 1997. "Introduction" in Medea: Hippolytus ; Electra ; Helen Oxford University Press. pp. ix–xxxv.
- See (e.g.) Rabinowitz 1993, 125–54; McDonald 1997, 307; Mastronarde 2002, 26–8; Griffiths 2006, 74–5; Mitchell-Boyask 2008, xx.
- KM-awards.umb.edu, Williamson, A. (1990). A woman's place in Euripides' Medea. In Anton Powell (Ed.) Euripides, Women, and Sexuality. pp.16–31.
- DuBois 1991, 115–24; Hall 1991 passim; Saïd 2002, 62–100.
- Ewans 2007, 55.
- This theory of Euripides' invention has gained wide acceptance. See (e.g.) McDermott 1989, 12; Powell 1990, 35; Sommerstein 2002, 16; Griffiths, 2006 81; Ewans 2007, 55.
- From the programme and publicity materials for this production.
- David Littlejohn (26 December 1996). "John Fisher: The Drama of Gender". Wall Street Journal.
- [dead link]
- Eschen, Nicole (University of California, Los Angeles). "The Hungry Woman: A Mexican Medea (review)." Theatre Journal. Volume 58, Number 1, March 2006 pp. 103–106 | 10.1353/tj.2006.0070 – At: Project Muse, p. 103
- DuBois, Page (1991). Centaurs and Amazons: Women and the Pre-History of the Great Chain of Being. University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-08153-5
- Ewans, Michael (2007). Opera from the Greek: Studies in the Poetics of Appropriation. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 0-7546-6099-0, ISBN 978-0-7546-6099-6
- Gregory, Justina (2005). A Companion to Greek Tragedy. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 1-4051-0770-7
- Griffiths, Emma (2006). Medea. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 0-415-30070-3, ISBN 978-0-415-30070-4
- Hall, Edith (1991). Inventing the Barbarian: Greek Self-definition through Tragedy. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-814780-5
- Mastronarde, Donald (2002). Euripides Medea. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-64386-4
- McDermott, Emily (1989). Euripides' Medea: the Incarnation of Disorder. Penn State Press. ISBN 0-271-00647-1, ISBN 978-0-271-00647-5
- McDonald, Marianne (1997). "Medea as Politician and Diva: Riding the Dragon into the Future." Medea: Essays on Medea in Myth, Literature, Philosophy, and Art. James Clauss & Sarah Iles Johnston, edds. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-04376-0
- Mitchell-Boyask, Robin (2008). Euripides Medea. Diane Arnson Svarlien, trans. Hackett Publishing. ISBN 0-87220-923-7
- Powell, Anton (1990). Euripides, Women and Sexuality. Routledge Press. ISBN 0-415-01025-X
- Rabinowitz, Nancy S. (1993). Anxiety Veiled: Euripides and the Traffic in Women. Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-8091-4
- Saïd, Suzanne (2002). "Greeks and Barbarians in Euripides' Tragedies: The End of Differences?" Antonia Nevill, trans. Greeks and Barbarians. Thomas Harrison, ed. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 0-415-93959-3
- Sommerstein, Alan (2002). Greek Drama and Dramatists. Routledge Press. ISBN 0-203-42498-0, ISBN 978-0-203-42498-8
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- Structure of the tragedy.
- ClassicNotes about "Medea"
- The Medea of the modern times
- Cultural Organization "Theatre Arcadia"
- Link to reviews and production photos of Theatro Technis production of Medea in 1982