Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Medea: A Perfect Tragedy (Part 2 of 2)

“… [A]nd that action complex in which the change of fortune involves a recognition or a reversal or both” (Poetics).

Aristotle believes that the plot of a tragedy must involve recognition (Anagnorisis) which is a shift from ignorance to knowledge which leads to friendship/ close blood ties or hostility of happy or unhappy people. It also must involve a reversal (Peripety) which is a change from a state to its exact opposite without conflicting with Aristotle’s law of necessity and probability (i.e. logically, this action had to happen or is likely to happen) (Poetics). In Medea, a perfect example of a peripety is evident. As Jason is about to get the refined upper class life he had wished for with his new bride Glauce, with the hope of living happily ever after, suddenly all is taken away from him through the interference of one vengeful and bitter Medea, who had planned to kill the beautiful Glauce and her father. There is another reversal when Medea is about to slaughter her children; Medea was first extremely happy and accomplished for successfully poisoning Glauce and her father King Creon but her mood/tone is suddenly and completely tarnished by a sad and gloomy air when she remembers that it’s time to kill her own children. Recognition in Medea seems unclear but Medea’s minute of uncertainty (of whether to kill her children or not) can be considered a sort of recognition. At this point she grows weak and is completely ignorant/unaware of what she is saying or what to do but just the thought of leaving her enemies unhurt and people laughing at her for it (her reputation) makes her shift to knowledge, with insisting determination to continue her plan and slaughter her children with her own hands.

“I cannot bear to do it. I renounce my plans. I had before. I’ll take my children away from this land. Why should I hurt their father with the pain they feel, and suffer twice as much of pain myself? No, no, I will not do it. I renounce my plans. Ah what is wrong with me? Do I want to let go my enemies unhurt and be laughed at for it? I must face this thing. Oh, but what a weak woman even to admit to my mind these soft arguments.” (Medea 1018-1026)

One can also look at this scene in a different –even paradoxical view- to what is formerly suggested, because again the elements of tragedy are subtly featured in this play and are open to interpretation. As recognition can be seen when Medea is completely unaware/ignorant of what she is planning for (killing her children), her uncertainty whether to kill them or not is a result of knowledge and a sudden realization. In a moment of sanity, Medea seems to realize the magnitude of what she is about to do, and of the possible life-changing consequences of her actions. This shift to knowledge makes her weak and in a way brings her back to ignorance but this time her ignorance, in the sense of overlooking/ignoring the present knowledge, is voluntary. In other words, after moving from ignorance to knowledge, Medea makes a conscious decision to ignore the facts and instead act on her plan despite of all the possible misery.

Aristotle also believes that a scene of suffering is one of the elements that the tragedy’s plot must have. A scene of suffering exists in Medea when Jason sees the blood of his children appearing from under the doors of the room where Medea slaughtered them. In this scene, Jason is engulfed by a piercing agony and a feeling of great misery. This scene near the exodos has a very important role in arousing pity and fear through a brief display of the conclusion of Medea’s plan.

Mimesis (to imitate an action) with accordance to the law of probability and necessity is seen in the play Medea, when the central character seeks revenge and wants to destroy Jason. She instantly makes a plan to achieve this, in a way compelling Jason to draw out similar feelings of agony and hurt (Medea was hurt when Jason betrayed her by taking a new bride). Aristotle believes that one of the formal elements of tragedy is dialogue (actors speaking in verse), dialogue too is used in Medea when for an example Medea asks Augeus, king of Athens to promise to protect her in Athens in return for a cure to his sterility.

“Swear by the plain of Earth, and Helios, father of my father and name together all the gods…that you yourself will never cast me from your land, nor, if any of my enemies should demand me, will you, in your life willingly hand me over.” (Medea 730-735); it is a dialogue and it does have a poetic feel to it.

No comments: