Medea Passion Vs Reason Essays

One of your most important tasks is to work out of Medea is a heroine or tyrant and the tension between passion and reason.

  1. Euripides suggests that Medea also has a legitimate grievance and so is not solely responsible for the tragedy. To the extent that Medea presents her grievances on behalf of “we women”, and to the extent that she criticises her unjust treatment, Euripides encourages the audience to sympathise with her desperate plight.
  2. Euripides also suggests that she has been wilfully treated by Jason : in the 5th century patriarchal society she has few rights as soon-to-be divorced woman and this adds to her grievances.
  3. When the chorus describe her as a “child killer”, Euripides suggests that she has overstepped the boundaries of justice.
  4. Euripides presents Jason as a cold-hearted husband who prides himself on being able to negotiate the tempestuous whims of others. Euripides suggests that one of his biggest errors of judgement is to misunderstand or downplay the depth of Medea’s passion and grievances. Accordingly, the playwright suggests that Jason is partly to blame and contributes to the tragedy. (Whilst he appears level-headed and “clever”, “superior” in his ability to think, he underestimates Medea’s capacity to dissemble.
  5. Euripides shows the damage that can occur owing to extremes of emotion – both love and hatred. In particular, the playwright suggests that hatred festers and leads to shameful excuses on behalf of Medea who condones the suffering she inflicts on others. As the Nurse laments, tragedy arises from sorrow,  which “is the real cause of deaths and disasters and families destroyed”.
  6. Euripides also suggests that Jason’s phlegmatic and insensitive streak fails to anticipate the danger that lurks within. Only a very extreme action, it seems, can penetrate his barriers.

Views and values:

On the one hand, Medea is depicted as a heroic figure who passionately defends the rights of “we women”

  • Victim and passionate fight for justice: Medea fights against the injustice  on behalf of all women, and from the outset, Lamentably, concedes that “there is no justice in the world’s censorious eyes.”.
  • Medea draws attention to the desperate fate of “we women” who are “the most wretched”. “When for the extravagant sum, we have bought a husband, we must then accept him as possessor of our body.”
  • Her passionate exclamations (“what misery. What wretchedness!”) and desperate questions (“Am I not wronged?”) to the Nurse and the tutor lay bare her incredible despair and anguish. ND. At first, the audience only hears Medea’s incredible anguish from the domestic space. However, she tries to temper and restrain her personal anguish and, as she enters the male public place, presents a logical and reasoned argument on behalf of “we women”.
  • ND As the “Women of Corinth”, Euripides depicts the chorus as a group of fair-minded representatives of the community who support Medea’s campaign for justice, and who, acting as one body, “suffer” with the “house” of Jason. “My own heart suffers too When Jason’s house is suffering”.  They agree to abide by Medea’s pleas to “say nothing”, which makes them complicit.
  • Sacrifices: She has made significant sacrifices in helping Jason secure the Golden Fleece. The Golden Fleece also represents tradition and wealth, family and security.  By helping Jason steal the Golden Fleece, Medea compromises her own family’s tradition and undermines family values.
  • Medea incited violence among family members and renounced her homeland. (She killed her brother and incited violence against Peleas. As the Nurse reminds us, in the prologue, “When Peleas’ daughters, at her instance, killed their father”.)   “I was taken as plunder from a land”. She has no one “of my own blood to turn to in this extremity”.
  • ND The chorus also states, the life of a “stateless refugee”, which is “intolerable” and “desperate” is the “most pitiful of all griefs”. “Death is better.” “Of all pains and hardships none is worse Than to be deprived of your native land.”
  • Euripides ensures that the audience views Medea sympathetically. The chorus alludes to a new time when the “female sex is honoured”. Euripides suggests that the “male poets of past ages” who will “go out of fashion”; such poets “never bestowed the lyric inspiration/Through female understanding”.

Medea can be just as ruthless and manipulative as Jason. She deceives both Creon and Jason

The sharp-sighted Medea deceives both Jason and Creon’s family for her own purposes: “Do you think I would ever have fawned so on this man, except to gain my purpose, carry out my schemes?”.

  • Medea outwits King Creon and begs for an extra day, which enables her to fulfil her hideous scheme. (Later, she will extract a promise from Aegeus because of his desire for children.)
  • Medea appeals to Creon’s paternal feelings realising that homeland and children are critical to a man’s sense of self, his status and his vanity. Creon yields, although with considerable misgivings. He fears Medea and knows that she has considerable skills.  (she can be clever and has significant “magic skills”)
  • Medea deceives Jason by acknowledging his desire for an obedient and repentant wife. Her false declaration of submission to Jason, her confession that she was a foolish emotional woman, lures him to his doom. “I talked things over with myself, she tells him, “and reproached myself bitterly”. “Why do I act like a mad woman? … What you did was best for me… I confess I was full of bad thoughts”.  Medea knows that her best way to conceal her motives and implement her plan is to pretend to be submissive. It works. Jason is hoodwinked: he thinks that she has changed and become “sensible”, that is adopts Jason’s views and values.

The chorus suggests that Medea crosses the line by killing her children and turns herself into a despicable “child-killer”. By killing the children, Medea’s righteous cause tips into cold-blooded revenge Euripides criticises her motives as she becomes obsessed with sparing herself the scorn of her enemies.

  • Likewise, her courage turns into stubborn ruthlessness.
  • Clearly, her ploy to use the children as tools in her revenge agenda is shameful and horrifying.  She betrays her maternal instincts in order to hurt Jason in the most agonising way possible.
  • ND: During her two key soliloquies, during which she steels herself to commit the double murder, she reveals her personal struggle with her conscience.   Euripides depicts her warring selves, as she consider the deed from the perspective of the third person: “Oh my heart, don’t don’t do it! Oh miserable heart. Let them be! Spare your children”.
  • Medea also reveals her acute awareness: “I understand/The Horror of what I am going to do; but anger/The spring of all life’s horror, masters my resolve”.
  • She seeks to justify her actions through recourse to her divine links but the audience must question whether she is simply trying to conceal or justify her heinous/hideous/shocking actions.
  • Already at the beginning of the play, E draws attention to her murderess acts that have been committed out of a sense of passion and love, fortune and fame.  To this end, she exploits her children to harm Jason in the most agonising way possible, which in Greek society was through the children. “…” (aware that it will hurt both Jason and Creon at their most vulnerable)
  • She is dominated by a sense of honour and increasingly motivated by the need to spare herself the enemy’s scorn and derision.  She fears, more than anything, the mockery of her enemies.  “The laughter of my enemies I will not endure.”


Conflict: tension : between positive/negative passion (reason versus passion)

Literary devices: Medea is depicted as someone who is aware of the full horror of the deed. “ I understand the horror of what I am going to do.” (“I am well aware how terrible a crime I am about to commit but passion is master of my reason”) and this leads to a great deal of tension.   During key soliloquys prior to the murder, Euripides depicts Medea’s agony as she contemplates the war caused by her love for her children and her resolve to murder her sons (the nurse says, “She hates her sons”) At one stage, Medea, as the motherly “I”  considers the deed from the perspective of the third person and argues with the revengeful persona “you”:   “Oh my heart, don’t don’t do it! Oh, miserable heart, Let them be! Spare your children! We’ll all live together, Safely in Athens; and they will make you happy … No.”  (49-50)

She is desperate at the thought of killing her children (“My misery is my own heart, which will not relent All was for nothing – these years of rearing you – my aching weariness; my wild pains”)   “Arm yourself, my heart: the thing That you must do is fearful, yet inevitable. Why wait then? My accursed hand, come take the sword; Take it and forward to your frontier of despair.” (55)

The emotional/irrational Jason : his problems

Euripides characterises Jason as a cold-hearted and condescending husband, who callously betrays Medea in order to gain royal favours. He consistently belittles and dismisses Medea’s grievances as a case of sexual jealousy. “My children; now out of mere sexual jealousy/You murder them”.

Jason overlooks the role that Medea played in helping him gain the Golden Fleece. He has the audacity to level at Medea the charge of traitor: “When I brought you from your palace in a land of savages into a Greek home – you, a living curse, already A traitor both to your father and your native land”,  and conveniently overlooks the fact that she sacrificed her honour for his reward. He believes that he secured the Golden Fleece without her help.

He continues the patriarchal system that gives priority to male choices and behaviour.  He later agrees that Glauce ought to listen to him: “If my wife values me at all she will yield to me (965/ 46).  “If I count for anything in my wife’s eyes, she will prefer me to wealth, I have no doubt” (75)

Whereas the Nurse is sympathetic towards Medea because of her grief, Jason refers to “seamanship” imagery to suggest that he must navigate and weather Medea’s emotional storm.  “I’ll furl all but an inch Of sail and ride it out.”

He unleashes insults at Medea and labels her the “polluted fiend, child-murderer”; “The curse of children’s blood be on you! Avenging justice blast your being!”   He calls her a “Tuscan Scylla” “but more savage”.  (58).


Divine links and support:

Medea seeks to present her scheme as one that has divine support, especially given the difficult task of securing the Golden Fleece for Jason.  She defends her actions and her decision to kill the children on the grounds that she has God’s help and that “to such a life glory belongs”. “With God’s help I know will punish (Jason)”.  (802- 42) She begs the Gods to help, “O Zeus O Justice” (767-40). She uses her magical skills to help solve Aegeus’ fertility problem and so arranges convenient exile. (She also later suggests, (1015/77  (1015/48). “the Gods and my own evil-hearted plots, have led to this”. (this is what the gods and I devised, I and my foolish heart”.  Is this a selfish motive, or one that is selflessly protecting the honour of the Gods?

After her deed, Medea appears in the chariot “drawn by dragons, with the bodies of the two children beside her”.  (58 – 1316)  We learn that the “chariot moves out of sight” (1410, 60) as the chorus talks about the “unexpected” that “God makes possible”.  Euripides does suggest that there is perhaps a divine element in Medea’s actions.  Is there a higher cause, that is perhaps beyond human understanding? Or does he critique people’s all-too-quick tendency to find a scapegoat for our worst impulses?

The depth of Medea’s love is evident in the fact that she has sacrificed so much for Jason. The intertextual references to the Golden Fleece, impress upon the audience the sacrificial nature of Medea’s character and the depth of her passion for this Greek outsider who ventured to the “barbaric” lands to seek redress for his own family background … .  She was “mad with love” for Jason. She has a very deep affection which is why she is so angry at his betrayal. She admits, too, that he would not have succeeded in gaining the Fleece without her support and magical skills.   “it was I, Who killed it (the golden fleece) and so lit the torch of your success.  I willingly deceived my father; left my home; With you I came to Iolcus by Mount Pelion, Showing much love and little wisdom. There I put King Pelias to the most horrible of deaths By his own daughter’s hands, and ruined his whole house.”


Extreme Passion

Medea is motivated by her excessive passion for her husband, Jason that turns to excessive hatred upon his betrayal.  In many ways, these two emotions intertwine to give a complex portrayal of a woman who is deeply wounded because Jason believes that Glauce will become a more advantageous bride.

Furiously angry, and paralysed by grief, “(she lies collapsed in agony”), Medea commits the “hideous crime” against the royal house and gloats in both Creon’s and his daughter’s death, telling the Messenger, “you’ll give me double pleasure if their death was horrible”.  Her “passionate indignation” at Jason’s betrayal leads to the double murder of her children as well, as she is determined to inflict the same amount of pain and grief upon her treacherous husband. She admits that she understands the “full horror” of what she is about to do , but concedes that “anger masters my resolve”.   Euripides uses the mythological background of the golden fleece to highlight Medea’s former passion, the violence she has incited against her family, and her incredible sacrifice as she pursues Jason to Corinth to become the “stateless refugee”.

Euripides uses the mythological background of the golden fleece to draw attention to Medea’s strong passion for Jason, which leads to incredible sacrifice as she becomes the “stateless refugee”. Significantly, Euripides constructs the opening scene so that the audience can hear Medea’s wailing voice offstage, because of the news that he has chosen the “royal bed”.  Euripides depicts Medea as the beleaguered heroine who is paralysed by grief (‘she lies collapsed in agony”) because of her loss.

She admits that understands the “full horror” of what she is about to do , but “anger masters my resolve” . The double tragedy confirms the Nurse’s warning right from the start, to “ “watch out for that savage nature…stubborn will and unforgiving nature” that seeks to inflict upon others the humiliation and anger she feels so deeply.   In this regard, Euripides shows the damage that can occur owing to extremes of emotion – both love and hatred. In particular, the playwright suggests that hatred festers and leads to shameful excuses on behalf of Medea who condones the suffering she inflicts on others. As the Nurse laments, tragedy arises from sorrow,  which “is the real cause of deaths and disasters and families destroyed”.

  1. See some essay-writing tips on Medea
  2. Return to Medea: Study Page
  3. Return to Summary Notes on Medea

...Passion Gone too Far in MedeaPassion is any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling and is not limited to just feelings of love, but also, feelings of hate (“Passion” def.1). In Euripides's, Medea, there is a suggestion that revenge may, sometimes, be justified (Hopman 155). However, when revenge leads to loss of life, others would argue that passion has gone too far (Robertson XVI - XVII). In Euripides’s play, Medea, “a woman betrayed by Jason -- her husband of 10 years, a man she had murdered many for, including her brother -- who now tosses her aside to marry another woman of royal blood, Glauce (Armstrong 1). Medea is outraged by this and is set on seeking revenge on him (1). Out of anger, Medea plans for revenge, to kill Jason and his wife to be, Glauce. But, after hearing that she and both of her children were going to be banished, she thought of a plan even crueler. She would let Jason live, but make him “grow old without a lover, without children, and without friends” [Her new plan is to kill her children]. (Weigel 1). Medea is a tragedy of a woman who feels that her husband has betrayed her with another woman and the jealousy that consumes her. This is an example of passion gone too far. Just because a husband or lover betrays us, we can not let our emotions rule our lives, nor can we let our...

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