A Close Reading of Euripides' Medea

650 Words2 Pages
A Close Reading of Medea Medea's first public statement, a sort of "protest speech," is one of the best parts of the play and demonstrates a complex, at times even contradictory, representation of gender. Medea's calm and reasoning tone, especially after her following out bursts of despair and hatred, provides the first display of her ability to gather herself together in the middle of crisis and pursue her hidden agenda with a great determination. This split in her personality is to a certain degree gender bias. The lack of emotional restraint is "typical" of women, and the strong attention to moral action is a common trait of heroes. Medea actually uses both of these traits so that her wild emotions fuel her ideals, thus producing a character that fails to fit into a clear mold. The speech itself highlights women's subordinate status in ancient Greek society, especially in the public eye." When Medea points out that women, especially "foreign" women, "require some knowledge of magic and other covert arts to exert influence over their husbands in the bedroom," she argues for a kind of alternative power that women can enjoy. A power that remains invisible to men and unknown by society, yet sways each with unquestionable force. Medea also supplies a method for interpreting her own character towards the end of her speech (lines 251-257): we should read her history of exile as a metaphoric exaggeration of all women's alienation; in fact, her whole predicament, past and yet to come, can be read as an allegory of women's suffering and the heights of tragedy it may unleash if left unattended. Under this model of interpretation, Medea portrays the rebellion of women against their "wretchedness." Such a transparent social allegory may seem forced or clichéd in our own contemporary setting, but in Euripides' time it would have been revolutionary, as tragedy generally spoke to the sufferings of a generic (perhaps idealized) individual, rather than a group. It would be a mistake, however, to claim that Medea's speech elaborates a clearly progressive political message, as her concluding remarks appeal to women's natural talent for devious manipulation (line 414). While Euripides' play manifests many revolutionary political sentiments, its social criticisms remain sporadic, forming just a part of some of the many trains of thought he follows. Aside from providing a time frame that initiates a sense of urgency to the play (Medea only has a day to complete her plans), the exchange between Creon and Medea introduces the theme of her cleverness.
Open Document