Medea (play): Wikis


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The Medea
Medeia child Louvre K300.jpg
Medea kills her son, Campanian red-figure amphora, ca. 330 BC, Louvre (K 300)
Written by Euripides
Chorus Corinthian Women
Characters Medea
King Aegeus
Medea's two children
Setting Before Medea's house in Corinth

Medea (Greek: Μήδεια / Mēdeia) is an ancient Greek tragedy written by Euripides, based upon the myth of Jason and Medea and first produced in 431 BC. The plot centers on the barbarian protagonist as she finds her position in the Greek world threatened, and the revenge she takes against her husband Jason who has betrayed her for another woman. Euripides produced the Medea along with Philoctetes, Dictys and the satyr play Theristai, winning the third prize (out of three) at the City Dionysia festival for that year.[1]



The play tells the story of the revenge of a woman betrayed by her husband. All of the action of the play is at Corinth, where Jason has brought Medea after the adventures of the Golden Fleece. He has now left her in order to marry Glauce, the daughter of King Creon (Not to be confused with King Creon of Thebes) (Glauce is also known in Latin works as Creusa - see Seneca the Younger's Medea and Propertius 2.16.30). The play opens with Medea grieving over her loss and with her elderly nurse fearing what she might do to herself or her children.

Creon, also fearing what Medea might do, arrives determined to send Medea into exile. Medea pleads for one day's delay. In the next scene Jason arrives to confront her and explain himself. He believes he could not pass up the opportunity to marry a royal princess, as Medea is only a barbarian woman, but hopes to someday join the two families and keep Medea as his mistress. Medea, and the chorus of Corinthian women, do not believe him. She reminds him that she left her own people for him ("I am the mother of your children. Whither can I fly, since all Greece hates the barbarian?"), and that she saved him and slew the dragon. Jason promises to support her after his new marriage, but Medea spurns him: "Marry the maid if thou wilt; perchance full soon thou mayst rue thy nuptials."

Next Medea is visited by Aegeus, King of Athens; he is aggrieved by his lack of children, and does not understand the oracle that was supposed to give him guidance. Medea begs him to protect her, in return for her helping his wife conceive a child. Aegeus does not know what Medea is going to do in Corinth, but promises to give her refuge in any case, provided she can escape to Athens.

Medea then returns to her plotting how she may kill Creon and Glauce. She decides to poison some golden robes (a family heirloom and gift from the sun god), in hopes that the bride will not be able to resist wearing them, and consequently be poisoned. Medea resolves to kill her own children as well, not because the children have done anything wrong, but because she feels it is the best way to hurt Jason. She calls for Jason once more, falsely apologizes to him, and sends the poisoned robes with her children as the gift-bearers.

"Forgive what I said in anger! I will yield to the decree, and only beg one favor, that my children may stay. They shall take to the princess a costly robe and a golden crown, and pray for her protection."

The request is granted and the gifts are accepted. Offstage, while Medea ponders her actions, Glauce is killed by the poisoned dress, and Creon is also killed by the poison while attempting to save her. These events are related by a messenger.

"Alas! The bride had died in horrible agony; for no sooner had she put on Medea's gifts than a devouring poison consumed her limbs as with fire, and in his endeavor to save his daughter the old father died too."

Medea is pleased with her revenge thus far, but resolves to carry it further: to utterly destroy Jason's plans for a new family, she will kill her own sons. She rushes offstage with a knife to kill her children. As the chorus laments her decision, the children are heard screaming. Jason rushes to the scene to punish her for the murder of Glauce and learns that his children too have been killed. Medea then appears above the stage in the chariot of the sun god Helios; this was probably accomplished using the mechane device usually reserved for the appearance of a god or goddess. She confronts Jason, reveling in his pain at being unable to ever hold his children again:

"I do not leave my children's bodies with thee; I take them with me that I may bury them in Hera's precinct. And for thee, who didst me all that evil, I prophesy an evil doom."

She escapes to Athens with the bodies. The chorus is left contemplating the will of Zeus in Medea's actions:

Manifold are thy shapings, Providence!
Many a hopeless matter gods arrange.
What we expected never came to pass,
What we did not expect the gods brought to bear;
So have things gone, this whole experience through!"


Euripides's characterization of Medea exhibits the inner emotions of passion, love, and vengeance. Medea is widely read as a proto-feminist text to the extent that it sympathetically explores the disadvantages of being a woman in a patriarchal society,[2] although it has also been read as an expression of misogynist attitudes[3]. In conflict with this sympathetic undertone (or reinforcing a more negative reading) is Medea's barbarian identity, which would antagonize a fifth-century Greek audience.[4]

Euripidean innovation and reaction

Although the play is considered one of the great plays of the Western canon, the Athenian audience did not react so favorably, and awarded it only the third place prize at the Dionysia festival in 431 BC. A possible explanation might be found in a scholium to line 264 of the play, which asserts that traditionally Medea's children were killed by the Corinthians after her escape;[5] Euripides' apparent invention of Medea's filicide might have offended its audience just as his first treatment of the Hippolytus myth did.[6]Hippolytus (play)

In the 4th century BC, South-Italian vase painting offers a number of Medea-representations that are connected to Euripides' play — the most famous is a krater in Munich. However, these representations always differ considerably from the plots of the play or too general ones to support any direct link to the play of Euripides - this might reflect the judgement on the play. However, the violent and powerful character of princess Medea, and her double — loving and destructive -became a standard for the later periods of antiquity and seems to have inspired numerous adaptations thus became standard for the literal classes.

With the rediscovery of the text in first-century Rome (the play was adapted by the tragedians Ennius, Lucius Accius, Ovid, Seneca the Younger and Hosidius Geta, among others), again in 16th-century Europe, and in the light of 20th century modern literary criticism, Medea has provoked differing reactions from differing critics and writers who have sought to interpret the reactions of their societies in the light of past generic assumptions; bringing a fresh interpretation to its universal themes of revenge and justice in an unjust society.

Modern Adaptations

Clio-Danae Othoneou
as Medea in Epidaurus (Summer 2005)


  • Jean Anouilh adapted the Medea story in his French drama, Medee, in 1946.
  • Robinson Jeffers adapted Medea into a hit Broadway play in 1947, in a famous production starring Judith Anderson.
  • Ben Bagley's Shoestring Revue performed a musical parody off-broadway in the 1950s which was later issued on an LP and a CD, and was revived in 1995. The same plot points take place, but "Medea in Disneyland" is a parody, in that it takes place in a Walt Disney animated cartoon.
  • The 1990 play Pecong, by Steve Carter, is a retelling of Medea set on a fictional Caribbean island around the turn of the 20th century.
  • A 1993 dance-theatre retelling of the Medea myth was produced by "Edafos Dance Theatre", directed by avant-garde stage director and choreographer Dimitris Papaioannou.
  • John Fisher wrote a campy musical version of Medea entitled Medea the Musical which gave privilege to the gay culture. The production was first staged in 1994 in Berkeley, California.[7]
  • Neil Labute wrote "Medea Redux", a modern retelling, first performed in 1999 starring Calista Flockhart as part of his one act trilogy entitled Bash: Latter-Day Plays. In this version, the main character is seduced by her middle school teacher. He abandons her, and she kills their child out of revenge.
  • Michael John LaChuisa created a musical adaptation work for Audra McDonald entitled Maire Christine in 1999 . McDonald portrayed the title role, and the show was set in New Orleans and Chicago respectively in 1999.
  • Tom Lanoye (2001) used the story of Medea to bring up modern problems (such as migration and man vs. woman), resulting in a modernized version of Medea. His version also aims to analyze ideas such as the love that develops from the initial passion, problems in the marriage, and the "final hour" of the love between Jason and Medea.
  • Kristina Leach adapted the story for her play The Medea Project, which had its world premiere at the Hunger Artists Theatre Company in 2004 and placed the story in a modern day setting.[8]
  • Peter Stein directed Medea in Epidaurus 2005.
  • Irish Playwright Marina Carr's By the Bog of Cats is a modern re-telling of Euripides' Medea
  • Incorporated with musical verse, the play was re-written by Yasmine Gad and Shahd Al-Shemmari and performed in Kuwait University, Faculty of Arts in 2008. Centering around a feminist reading of Euripides' play, the writers exposed Medea's struggle in light of the injustices inflicted upon her.
  • US Latina playwright Caridad Svich's 2009 play Wreckage, which premiered at Crowded Fire Theatre in San Francisco, tells the story of Medea from the sons' point of view, in the afterlife.





  1. ^ Gregory 2005, 3.
  2. ^ See (e.g.) Rabinowitz 1993, 125-54; McDonald 1997, 307; Mastronarde 2002, 26-8; Griffiths 2006, 74-5; Mitchell-Boyask 2008, xx.
  3. ^; Williamson, A. (1990). A woman's place in Euripides' Medea. In Anton Powell (Ed.) Euripides, Women, and Sexuality. pp.16-31.
  4. ^ DuBois 1991, 115-24; Hall 1991 passim; Saïd 2002, 62-100.
  5. ^ Ewans 2007, 55.
  6. ^ This theory of Euripides' invention has gained wide acceptance. See (e.g.) McDermott 1989, 12; Powell 1990, 35; Sommerstein 2002, 16; Griffiths, 2006 81; Ewans 2007, 55.
  7. ^ David Littlejohn (1996-12-26). "John Fisher: The Drama of Gender". Wall Street Journal. 
  8. ^ "Hunger Artists Theatre Company - The Medea Project". Hunger Artists Theatre Company. Retrieved 2010-01-09. 


  • DuBois, Page (1991). Centaurs and Amazons: Women and the Pre-History of the Great Chain of Being. University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-08153-5
  • Ewans, Michael (2007). Opera from the Greek: Studies in the Poetics of Appropriation. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 0-7546-6099-0, 9780754660996
  • Gregory, Justina (2005). A Companion to Greek Tragedy. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 1-4051-0770-7
  • Griffiths, Emma (2006). Medea. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 0-415-30070-3, 9780415300704
  • Hall, Edith (1991). Inventing the Barbarian: Greek Self-definition through Tragedy. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-814780-5
  • Mastronarde, Donald (2002). Euripides Medea. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-64386-4
  • McDermott, Emily (1989). Euripides' Medea: the Incarnation of Disorder. Penn State Press. ISBN 0-271-00647-1, 9780271006475
  • McDonald, Marianne (1997). "Medea as Politician and Diva: Riding the Dragon into the Future." Medea: Essays on Medea in Myth, Literature, Philosophy, and Art. James Clauss & Sarah Iles Johnston, edds. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-04376-0
  • Mitchell-Boyask, Robin (2008). Euripides Medea. Diane Arnson Svarlien, trans. Hackett Publishing. ISBN 0-87220-923-7
  • Powell, Anton (1990). Euripides, Women and Sexuality. Routledge Press. ISBN 0-415-01025-X
  • Rabinowitz, Nancy S. (1993). Anxiety Veiled: Euripides and the Traffic in Women. Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-8091-4
  • Saïd, Suzanne (2002). "Greeks and Barbarians in Euripides' Tragedies: The End of Differences?" Antonia Nevill, trans. Greeks and Barbarians. Thomas Harrison, ed. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 0-415-93959-3
  • Sommerstein, Alan (2002). Greek Drama and Dramatists. Routledge Press. ISBN 0-203-42498-0, 9780203424988

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