Medea study guide
Themes used in Medea
- Passion and Rage
Medea is a woman of extreme behavior and extreme emotion. For her passionate love for Jason, she sacrificed all, committing unspeakable acts on his behalf. But his betrayal of her has transformed passion into rage. Her violent and intemperate heart, formerly devoted to Jason, now is set on his destruction. The Greeks were very interested in the extremes of emotion and the consequences of leaving emotion unchecked; they also tended to see strong passion and rage as part and parcel of greatness. Medea is an example of passion carried too far, in a woman perversely set on choosing rage over mercy and reason.
The seductive appeal of revenge is part of the play's enduring popularity. Medea is willing to sacrifice everything to make her revenge perfect. She murders her own children, paradoxically, to protect them from the counter-revenge of her enemies; she also kills them to hurt Jason, although in slaying them she is dooming herself to a life of remorse and grief. But part of Medea's appeal is its power as a revenge fantasy; just like Medea, all have at one time or another been beset by enemies whose power is institutionally protected and unfair. And like Medea, we have fantasized about the satisfaction of a perfect revenge. Like the Chorus, we watch Medea with a mixture of horror and excitement.
- Greatness and pride
The Greeks were fascinated by the thin line between greatness and hubris. Throughout their literature, there is a sense that the same traits that make a man or woman great can lead to their destruction. Euripides plays with the idea of greatness here, often to surprising effects. Medea has some of the makings of a great hero, but Euripides distorts and dislocates these traits, twisting some of the conventions of his art. Her greatness of intellect and self-absorption are beyond doubt, but the reduced field for these talents makes her into a monster. Pride, closely...
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