In this paper, I am attempting to answer questions such as howMedea behaves like a female, how she acts heroically from a male point of view,why she killed her children, if she could have achieved her goal without killingthem, if the murder was motivated by her barbarian origins, and how she dealswith the pain of killing her children. As an introduction to the play, the status of women in Greek societyshould be briefly discussed. In general, women had very few rights. In theeyes of men, the main purposes of women in Greek society were to do houseworksuch as cooking and cleaning, and bear children.
They could not vote, ownproperty, or choose a husband, and had to be represented by men in all legalproceedings. In some ways, these Greek women were almost like slaves. There isa definite relationship between this subordination of women and what transpiresin the play. Jason decides that he wants to divorce Medea and marry theprincess of Corinth, casting Medea aside as if they had never been married.
This sort of activity was acceptable by Greek standards, and shows thesubordinate status of the woman, who had no say in any matter like this. Even though some of Medea’s actions were not typical of the averageGreek woman, she still had attitudes and emotions common among women. Forinstance, Medea speaks out against women’s status in society, proclaiming thatthey have no choice of whom to marry, and that a man can rid themselves of a woman to get another whenever he wants, but a woman always has to “keep hereyes on one alone.” (231-247) Though it is improbable that women went aroundopenly saying things of this nature, it is likely that this attitude was sharedby most or all Greek women.
Later in the play, Medea debates with herself overwhether or not to kill her children: “Poor heart, let them go, have pity uponthe children.” (1057). This shows Medea’s motherly instincts in that she caresabout her children. She struggles to decide if she can accomplish her goal ofrevenge against Jason without killing her children because she cares for themand knows they had no part in what their father did.
Unfortunately, Medea’sdesire to exact revenge on Jason is greater than her love for her children, andat the end of the play she kills them. Medea was also a faithful wife to Jason.She talks about how she helped Jason in his quest for the Golden Fleece, thenhelped him escape, even killing her own brother. (476-483).
The fact that shewas willing to betray her own family to be with Jason shows her loyalty to him.Therefore, her anger at Jason over him divorcing her is understandable. On the other hand, Medea shows some heroic qualities that were notcommon among Greek women. For example, Medea is willing to kill her own brotherto be with Jason.
In classical Greece, women and killing were probably notcommonly linked. When she kills her brother, she shows that she is willing todo what is necessary to “get the job done”, in this case, to be with Jason.Secondly, she shows the courage to stand up to Jason. She believes that she hasbeen cheated and betrayed by him.
By planning ways to get back at him forcheating on her, she is standing up for what she believes, which in this case isthat she was wronged by Jason, but in a larger sense, she is speaking out against the inferior status of women, which effectively allows Jason to discard Medea at will. Third, she shows that she is clever and resourceful. Ratherthan use physical force to accomplish her plans, she uses her mind instead: “it is best to..
.make away with them by poison.” (384-385) While physical strengthcan be considered a heroic quality, cleverness can be as well. She does in factpoison the princess and the king of Corinth; interestingly, however, she doesnot poison them directly.