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Medea - the Balance of the Female Role

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The Balance of the Female Role

The manner in which Euripides examines the notion of a female's role in his short play, Medea, is one that is unique to that time period, and remains refreshingly different, even in today's standards. Euripides spins a notion of female empowerment, which is a yet unborn concept in the time in which this is written. It is his purpose, using Medea as his subject, to show that women are capable of action (ergon) just as much as the male gender. Furthermore, that this capacity for action through resilience and astuteness is always present, just rarely given the space to shine due to being overshadowed by the male presence in these stories. The vastly different female role in Medea is made apparent through unorthodox character roles, extreme personality traits of Medea, symbols that the reader finds throughout the play, and roles that the supporting characters play in relation to Medea.

The different character roles that females contribute to this play are unmatched in other literature from this era. The resilience of the female gender is foremost brought out in the protagonist, Medea. The singularity of Medea as a protagonist highlights the most prevalent lesson of the play - that when women fall under the spotlight, they act of their own accord, and are capable of being something other than dependent on men. A headstrong woman from Colchis, Medea is bitter and ready for revenge upon the opening of the play. A red flag is immediately raised in the reader's eyes, for women almost never receive protagonist roles in this period of literature, and on the rare occasions in which they do, are usually accompanied with a second, male protagonist character. Moreover, another character role in Medea that women do not normally play is one of the chorus. Otherwise always an all-male group, in this play Euripides chooses to cast this as a female role. He does this to provide more of a womanly company in the play, and to help Medea cancel out the strong male presences of Jason and the King of Corinth. Furthermore, not only does the chorus back up Medea, but it expressly chooses her over Jason. On lines 1233-1234, directly following the murders of the king and his daughter at the hands of Medea, the Chorus voiced, "Today we see the will of Heaven, blow after blow, /Bring down on Jason justice and calamity" (Euripides). Wishing justice and calamity to come down upon Jason and not Medea signifies the chorus's starch support of Medea as a person (if not her actions). Still, yet a third strong female character is found in the play - the Nurse. This character fills the reader in on necessary background information and attempts to control Medea's rage and protect the children. Supporting the "middle way", she says herself in lines 1125-1126, "The middle way, neither great nor mean, /Is best by far, in name and in practice."(Euripides). She is significant in the play, because accompanied with the chorus, they together act as Medea's conscience and advice guru (another role usually played by a male). These three female presences in the play set the foundation for Euripides to expound upon the strong womanly role with strong personal qualities represented via plot developments.

There are three character traits of Medea in particular that draw attention to her role of her ability to act of her own accord without male consent and the female's right to be an individual. Euripides purposely created the actions (or ergon) of Medea to be this extreme to call attention to the will and resilience of a woman scorned in the spotlight. These three character qualities (cunning, audacity, and having little remorse) are each represented in the play through a major plot event. The first such example of a plot twist, representing the trait of cunning, would be Medea creating a poisoned coronet and dress for Jason's future bride. This future queen of Corinth would wear these two things and consequently die from their effects. Euripides dwells on this action for an extended period of time, pointing out over the course of 34 lines the exact particularities of the princess's death. This action draws attention to Medea's cunningness, for without her even being present, she had disposed of both the future wife of her husband, and the King of Corinth, the man who wished to banish her from his realm.

The second example of a plot twist, representing the character trait of audacity, would be Medea's nerve to talk back to her husband Jason. It was a solidly patriarchal society when Medea was written, which makes this event even more rare. Euripides felt it was important to include a strong verbal battle between Medea and Jason because even though throughout the rest of the play he subtly points out that Medea is breaking female barriers, with a direct exchange he is making their equality painfully apparent. Medea uses this seemingly present equality and the backup of the chorus to clearly make her points be heard.

The third and final instance of a plot twist is represented through the character trait of having no extended remorse. This trait is perfectly exemplified through Medea's third and fourth murders of the play - that of her own two sons. Before she did this extreme deed, Medea did show some sort of grief at having to kill the innocence of her children. However, this feeling passed over the course of the play, and stayed gone even when her children were pleading for mercury from their mother who was slaying them with a sword. Afterwards, she shows no remorse, looking only to the future, and in what ways she could further damage Jason. At this time, even the chorus of women remarked (lines 1278-1280), "O miserable mother, to destroy your own increase, /Murder the babes of your body! /Stone and iron you are, as you resolved to be."(Euripides). The author used this strong of an example in order to more clearly show the reader through extremes that, in this situation, feelings of the dominant female of this time can be disassociated from her corresponding action. This severe an example was used in order to help guide the reader away from the typical picture of a woman, who would normally have exhibited feelings of being overly emotional and sentimental in such a case. Using the three character traits (cunning, audacity, and no extended remorse), Euripides shows the reader through the changes of the plot that Medea personified each of the three qualities. These allowed Medea's character to further shine as a steadfast and resilient woman through all of her adversities. Now that the identities of the female role have been identified, and it has been outlined how the strong female should stand out,



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