To what purpose does Jean Anouilh alter the central conflicts and characters in his retelling of "Medea"? In the classic play, Medea escapes without punishment and we are told as an audience it is not our place to question the motives and/or actions of the gods. Within the framework of modern, psychologically rendered characters and in the absence of supernatural meddling, Anouilh attempts not only to question the motives but to posit answers to the open ended questions left by Euripides. The dynamic between divine and human will is reshaped with this goal in mind. This change makes a significant impact upon Medea's ability to rediscover and reconcile her identity with her actions as well as helping to highlight the degree of self reflexivity present in the characters as well as the playwright himself. While preserving the unsettling action at the end of the play, Anouilh is able to also display the possibility of hope through Jason and the Nurse.
Both Medeas seem to act upon some level of self knowledge. Unfortunately, the identity of each woman is expressed mostly through hatred and violence. Where Euripides' Medea struggles between existing merely as a tool, a puppet of the gods, and a concept of self possessing free will, Medea in Anouilh's play is acutely, agonizingly aware of the dark identity at her core. Jason's betrayal awakens this knowledge in her. She feels joy at the freedom of rebirth and self discovery, but she is also all too familiar with the vengeful heart full of venom which has been unleashed. The audience does not need to look to the heavens, hoping for a glimpse into Medea's heart and mind. The modern Medea effectively articulates her inne...
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...tely unconcerned with this world. If they exist, they have had no impact on his fate past or present. It is possible to infer, thus, that these same gods will be equally absent in his future. In their absence, for Jason there is the ongoing struggle for happiness. His diligence coupled with the survival of the Nurse and her optimistic attitude give Anouilh's conclusion a spark of hope for the audience to latch on to and leave with. Perhaps Anouilh suggests that as long as we have the capacity to question and search for insights within the human mind, there is a place for hope.
Anouilh, Jean. Medea. Trans. Luce and Arthur Klein, Rpt in. Jean Anoiulh: Seven Plays, Vol. 3. New York: Hill and Wang, 1957.
Euripides. Medea. Trans. Rex Warner, Rpt in Euripides I. Ed David Green and Richmond Lattimore. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955.
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