Thursday, January 15, 2015

Madea - Euripides

Let's start with basic plot points.
  • Jason (of Argonaut fame) has been gifted the hand of a princess in marriage by the king of Corinth.  This is a problem, since he is already married to the sorceress Medea and they have two sons.
  • Medea is not at all happy about this.
  • Medea meets with the king of Athens who promises to give her shelter if she should ever need it.
  • Jason tells Medea that she should calmly accept what has happened since it will bring their family status.
  • Medea decides to kill the princess.  She gives her a poisoned cloak.  The king sees his daughter in agony and tries to save her.  He is also poisoned.  Both die horribly.
  • Medea kills her sons because she reasons that a) they'll be killed by the Corinthians in revenge and b) their deaths will cause Jason agony.
  • She kills the poor boys
  • Jason shows up again and she taunts him with their dead bodies.  She won't allow him to hold them again or to bury them.
  • Medea flees in a dragon drawn chariot.  She will live safely in Athens.
What a play!  There is so much awfulness that it's hard to look away.  Who is worse, Jason the jerk, who callously throws aside his family for glory and position?  Or Medea, who kills her own children as part of a revenge plot?  Ok, probably Medea. 
But she really is treated horribly.  Prior to the events of this play, she betrayed her own father and fled her homeland all so that she could help Jason, whom she had fallen in love with.  She gave up so much and now she is being treated awfully.  If she had simply accepted her fate, she'd be a more sympathetic figure but why should she accept it? 
I can't help but wonder (and not for the last time), what the Athenians made of Euripides.  He won awards for his works but he must have been shocking.  Think of this passage, spoken by Medea:
And yet they say we live secure at home, while they are at the wars, with their sorry reasoning, for I would gladly take my stand in battle array three times o'er, than once give birth.
Did they yell, or shun him?  Did they roll their eyes?  Or did he divide them and force them to rethink their positions?  Probably all three but that last is why we remember him today.  In the finest Western tradition, he questioned the status quo and shook things up.

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