Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Medea: A Perfect Tragedy (Part 1 of 2)

Zeus in Olympus is the overseer of many doings. Many things the gods achieve beyond our judgment. What we though is not confirmed and what we thought not god contrives and so it happens in this story.” (Medea 1390-1394)

If one judges by Aristotle’s theory of tragedy, then Euripides’ Medea is a perfect tragedy and Medea’s character fits perfectly with the characteristics of a tragic hero. Although Aristotle did highlight elements of weakness in Medea, criticizing certain plot aspects, it is still arguable that Medea conforms to his definition of a “perfect tragedy,” in so many ways. However, interpretation is a key in approaching such a text, where the features covering the requirements of Aristotle’s tragedy are rather subtle and are subject to argument.

Aristotle believes that a tragic hero is either an aristocrat or someone of elevated social class like royalty; the hero’s personality has a flaw that negatively affects their judgment resulting in their tragic fall (Hamartia). For the story to be realistic the hero isn’t morally too good or too bad, the tragic hero accomplishes to excite the feelings of pity and fear in the audience (Catharsis). Medea does match all these characteristics for she is princess of Colchis and a sorcerer. Medea’s flaw is her being extremely passionate. Her passion greatly empowers her; her love for Jason, her jealousy towards his new bride Glauce (the daughter of Creon king of Corinth) and her rage at his betrayal are the basic elements that drove her to her doom. Medea possesses heroic qualities like her willingness to do anything for the sake of Jason, and like later when she confronted him and sought revenge in the name of justice. But these qualities still do not make her too virtuous because Medea’s intelligence, courage and pride are essentially manifested in cruel actions; violent, murderous and tricky. The play’s tragic end successfully elicits pity and fear (Catharsis). Fear is spurred through the idea of a mother killing her own flesh and blood, Medea murders her children in order to destroy Jason and break his heart, in the end leaving him with nothing to value. Pity is elicited for how Medea paves the way to her own misery; by destroying everyone that is dear to her including her own children, pity for how her fury has led her to madness.

Medea fully conforms to Aristotle’s tragic structure in another sense. The Prologue, for instance, (followed by Parados which is the entrance of the chorus) is presented in the play’s opening by the nurse who summarizes with grief the past events that led to Medea’s current – and rather piteous- state. Then, the Episodes/Dramatic Scenes that show the whole development of the story’s plot and central character. In between episodes, there is a choral ode/song by the Chorus who in the play represent the women of Corinth. The chorus is like commentators to what is happening, it sometimes talks directly to Medea through dialogue either sympathizing with her or trying to advise her not to slaughter her children. The Exodos, the last scene after the last choral ode, is Medea’s glorious exit. She departs in a large chariot pulled by dragons, a queen in her own right, leaving behind a miserable Jason drowning in his own loss.



Unknown said...

I wanted to thank you very much for such an magnificent analysis about Medea the wonderful play from Euripides. it is really helped me during my study and I enjoyed it a lot it is so informative and I like your style of writing. I wish and would you continue to write and post.
Best wishes!


Unknown said...

Thanks and keep going