Top positive review
Hell hath no fury...
on February 17, 2004
I didn't read Medea when I was in school, but I have now read through this slim tragedy twice over the last month, and the more I think about it the more I find the story line and its captivating protagonist fascinating and current.
Before opening the play, my knowledge of Medea had been limited to the occasional reference to it in news reports involving infanticide -- not something that made me eager to read the original.
Though Medea does take the lives of her children in a twisted revenge plot, it would be a serious mistake to consider that unforgettable act the central part of the play. Instead, it is Medea's evolution that is most important.
Despite the fact that she gave up her life to follow Jason, Medea is revealed as a kind of proto-feminist early on in the story, a woman defined more by cleverness than by rage ... and yet never seeming merely cunning or calculating. Sadly, this kind of dominating and complex female character would be somewhat unusual by the standards of popular literature today; she must have been exceptionally remarkable in the day of Euripedes, the play's author.
The tragedy itself indicates this kind of reversal in several ways, ranging from the manner in which Creon reacts to Medea in their conversation near the end of the story to the way the chorus makes mention of streams flowing upwards in the mountains.
But for all its value, Medea does not stand on its own. Readers must know what ancient Greek audiences already knew: that Medea sacrificed everything, including her life in her home country, to help Jason win the treasured Golden Fleece and to mother his children. But soon she is abandoned in favor of a woman of more noble birth, which is where the play begins. This edition -- not the play itself -- loses a star for failing to explain that context in what could have been a very brief but invaluable introduction.