Medea (Ancient Greek: , Mdeia) 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 actions of Medea, a former princess of the "barbarian" kingdom of Colchis, and the wife of Jason; she finds her position in the Greek world threatened as Jason leaves her for a Greek princess of Corinth. Medea takes vengeance on Jason by murdering Jason's new wife as well as her own children (two sons), after which she escapes to Athens to start a new life.
Euripides' play has been explored and interpreted by playwrights across the centuries and the world in a variety of ways, offering political, psychoanalytical, feminist, among many other original readings of Medea, Jason and the core themes of the play.
Medea, with three others, earned Euripides third prize in the City Dionysia. Some believe that this indicates a poor reception, but "the competition that year was extraordinarily keen"; Sophocles, often winning first prize, came second. The play was rediscovered with Rome's Augustan drama; again in the 16th-century; then remained part of the tragedic repertoire, becoming a classic of the Western canon, and the most frequently performed Greek tragedy in the 20th century. It experienced renewed interest in the feminist movement of the late 20th century, being interpreted as a nuanced and sympathetic portrayal of Medea's struggle to take charge of her own life in a male-dominated world. The play holds the American Theatre Wing's Tony Award record for most wins for the same female lead character, with Judith Anderson winning in 1948, Zoe Caldwell in 1982, and Diana Rigg in 1994.
Medea was first performed in 431 BC at the City Dionysia festival. Here every year, three tragedians competed against each other, each writing a tetralogy of three tragedies and a satyr play (alongside Medea were Philoctetes, Dictys and the satyr play Theristai). In 431 the competition was among Euphorion (the son of famed playwright Aeschylus), Sophocles (Euripides' main rival) and Euripides. Euphorion won, and Euripides placed last.
While Medea is considered one of the great plays of the Western canon, Euripides' place in the competition suggests that his first audience might not have responded so favorably. A scholium to line 264 of the play suggests that Medea's children were traditionally killed by the Corinthians after her escape; so Euripides' apparent invention of the filicide might have offended, as his first treatment of the Hippolytus myth did. That Euripides and others took liberties with Medea's story may be inferred from the 1st century BC historian Diodorus Siculus: "Speaking generally, it is because of the desire of the tragic poets for the marvellous that so varied and inconsistent an account of Medea has been given out." A common urban legend claimed that Euripides put the blame on Medea because the Corinthians had bribed him with a sum of five talents.
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 are too general to support any direct link to Euripides' play. But the violent and powerful character of Medea, and her double nature both loving and destructive became a standard for later periods of antiquity, and seems to have inspired numerous adaptations.
With the text's rediscovery in 1st-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 with the development of modern literary criticism: Medea has provoked multifarious reactions.
Form and themes
The form of the play differs from many other Greek tragedies by its simplicity. Most scenes involve only Medea and someone else. The Chorus, here representing the women of Corinth, is usually involved alongside them. The simple encounters highlight Medea's skill and determination in manipulating powerful male figures. The play is also the only Greek tragedy in which a kin-killer makes it unpunished to the end of the play, and the only one about child-killing in which the deed is performed in cold blood as opposed to in a state of temporary madness.
Euripides' characterization of Medea exhibits the inner emotions of passion, love, and vengeance.
The character of Medea has variously been interpreted as either fulfilling her role of "mother and wife" and as acting as a "proto-feminist".
Feminist readings have interpreted the play as either a "sympathetic exploration" of the "disadvantages of being a woman in a patriarchal society", or as an expression of misogynist attitudes.
In conflict with this sympathetic undertone (or reinforcing a more negative reading) is Medea's barbarian identity, which some argue that it could antagonize a 5th-century BC Greek audience.
Medea is centered on a wife's calculated desire for revenge against her unfaithful husband. The play is set in Corinth some time after Jason's quest for the Golden Fleece, where he met Medea. The play begins with Medea in a blind rage towards Jason for arranging to marry Glauce, the daughter of king Creon. The nurse, overhearing Medea's grief, fears what she might do to herself or her children.
Creon, in anticipation of Medea's wrath, arrives and reveals his plans to send her into exile. Medea pleads for one day's delay and eventually Creon acquiesces. In the next scene Jason arrives to explain his rationale for his apparent betrayal. He explains that he couldn't 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 rescued you [...] I betrayed both my father and my house [...] now where should I go?"), and that she saved him and slew the dragon. Jason promises to support her after his new marriage ("If you wish me to give you or the children extra money for your trip into exile, tell me; I'm ready to give it with a lavish hand", but Medea spurns him: "Go on, play the bridegroom! Perhaps [...] you've made a match you'll one day have cause to lament."
In the following scene Medea encounters Aegeus, king of Athens. He reveals to her that despite his marriage he is still without children. He visited the oracle who merely told him that he was instructed "not to unstop the wineskins neck". Medea relays her current situation to him and begs for Aegeus to let her stay in Athens if she gives him drugs to end his infertility. Aegeus, unaware of Medea's plans for revenge, agrees.
Medea then returns to plotting the murders of Glauce and Creon. She decides to poison some golden robes (a family heirloom and gift from the sun god Helios) and a coronet, 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 and, in an elaborate ruse, apologizes to him for overreacting to his decision to marry Glauce. When Jason appears fully convinced that she regrets her actions, Medea begins to cry in mourning of her exile. She convinces Jason to allow her to give the robes to Glauce in hopes that Glauce might get Creon to lift the exile. Eventually Jason agrees and allows their children to deliver the poisoned robes 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.
In the next scene a messenger recounts Glauce and Creon's deaths. When the children arrived with the robes and coronet, Glauce gleefully put them on and went to find her father. Soon the poison overtook Glauce and she fell to the floor, dying horribly and painfully. Creon clutched her tightly as he tried to save her and, by coming in contact with the robes and coronet, got poisoned and died as well.
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.
While Medea is pleased with her current success she decides to take it one step further. Since Jason brought shame upon her for trying to start a new family, Medea resolves to destroy the family he was willing to give up by killing their sons. Medea does have a moment of hesitation when she considers the pain that her children's deaths will put her through. However, she steels her resolve to cause Jason the most pain possible and rushes offstage with a knife to kill her children. As the chorus laments her decision, the children are heard screaming. Jason then rushes onto the scene to confront Medea about murdering Creon and Glauce and he quickly discovers that his children have been killed as well. Medea then appears above the stage with the bodies of her children in the chariot of the sun god Helios. When this play was put on, this scene was 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.
Although Jason calls Medea most hateful to gods and men, the fact that the chariot is given to her by Helios indicates that she still has the gods on her side. As Bernard Knox points out, Medea's last scene with concluding appearances parallels that of a number of indisputably divine beings in other plays by Euripides. Just like these gods, Medea interrupts and puts a stop to the violent action of the human being on the lower level, justifies her savage revenge on the grounds that she has been treated with disrespect and mockery, takes measures and gives orders for the burial of the dead, prophesies the future, and announces the foundation of a cult.
She then escapes to Athens in the divine chariot. 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!
This deliberate murder of her children by Medea appears to be Euripides' invention, although some scholars believe Neophron created this alternate tradition. Her filicide would go on to become the standard for later writers. Pausanias, writing in the late 2nd century AD, records five different versions of what happened to Medea's children after reporting that he has seen a monument for them while traveling in Corinth.
Modern productions and adaptations
- Jean Anouilh adapted the Medea story in his French drama Mde in 1946
- Robinson Jeffers adapted Medea into a hit Broadway play in 1947, in a famous production starring Judith Anderson, the first of three actresses to win a Tony Award for the role. It was directed by John Gielgud, who co-starred as Jason, Medea opened on Broadway at the National Theatre on October 20, 1947, transferred to the Royale Theatre on December 15, and closed on May 15, 1948, after 214 performances. At the 2nd Tony Awards on March 28, 1948, Judith Anderson shared (with Katharine Cornell and Jessica Tandy) the Award for Best Actress in a Play. Another staging, produced and directed by Guthrie McClintic at the City Center, premiered on May 2, 1949 and closed, after 16 performances, on May 21. A staging in 1982, at the Cort Theatre, brought a Tony win for Zoe Caldwell, who played Medea, and a Best Featured Actress in a Play nomination for Judith Anderson as Nurse.
- 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
- Canada's Stratford Festival staged an adaptation of Medea by Larry Fineberg in 1978, which starred Patricia Idlette in the title role.
- Yukio Ninagawa staged a production called Ohjo Mediain 1978, followed by a second version in 2005
- In 1982, George Eugeniou at Theatro Technis London, directed Medea as a barefooted unwanted refugee played with "fierce agility " and "dangerous passions"by Angelique Rockas
- In 1983, kabuki Master Shozo Sato created Kabuki Medea uniting Euripides play and classical Kabuki storytelling and presentation. It debuted at Wisdom Bridge Theater in Chicago.
- 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
- The play was staged at the Wyndham's Theatre in London's West End, in a translation by Alistair Elliot. The production opened on 19 October 1993.
- Chrysanthos Mentis Bostantzoglou makes a parody of this tragedy in his comedy Medea (1993).
- 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 camp musical version of Medea entitled Medea the Musical that re-interpreted the play in light of gay culture. The production was first staged in 1994 in Berkeley, California.
- Christopher Durang and Wendy Wasserstein co-wrote a sketch version for the Juilliard School's Drama division 25th Anniversary. It premiered 25 April 1994, at the Juilliard Theater, New York City.
- In November 1997 National Theatre of Greece launched a worldwide tour of Medea, a critically acclaimed production directed by Nikaiti Kontouri, starring Karyofyllia Karambeti as Medea, Kostas Triantafyllopoulos as Creon and Lazaros Georgakopoulos as Jason. The tour included performances in France, Australia, Israel, Portugal, United States, Canada, Turkey, Bulgaria, China and Japan and lasted almost two years, until July 1999. The play opened in the United States at Shubert Theatre in Boston (18 and 19 September 1998) and then continued at City Center Theatre in Manhattan, New York City (23 to 27 September 1998), receiving a very positive review from The New York Times.
- 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 LaChiusa created a Broadway musical adaptation work for Audra McDonald entitled Marie Christine in 1999 . McDonald portrayed the title role, and the show was set in 1890s New Orleans and Chicago respectively.
- Liz Lochhead's Medea previewed at the Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow as part of Theatre Babel's Greeks in 2000 before the Edinburgh Fringe and national tour. 'What Lochhead does is to recast MEDEA as an episode-ancient but new, cosmic yet agonisingly familiar- in a sex war which is recognisable to every woman, and most of the men, in the theatre.' The Scotsman
- In 2000 Wesley Enoch wrote and directed a modern adaptation titled Black Medea, which was first produced by Sydney Theatre Company's Blueprint at the Wharf 2 Theatre, Sydney, on 19 August 2000. Nathan Ramsay played the part of Jason, Tessa Rose played Medea, and Justine Saunders played the Chorus. Medea is re-characterised as an indigenous woman transported from her homeland to the city and about to be abandoned by her abusive social-climbing husband.
- 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.
- 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
- In November 2008, Theatre Arcadia, under the direction of Katerina Paliou, staged Medea at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (University of Alexandria, Egypt). The production was noted (by Nehad Selaiha of the weekly Al-Ahram) not only for its unexpected change of plot at the very end but also for its chorus of one hundred who alternated their speech between Arabic and English. The translation used was that of George Theodoridis
- 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
- Paperstrangers Performance Group toured a critically acclaimed production of Medea directed by Michael Burke to U.S. Fringe Festivals in 2009 and 2010.
- Luis Alfaro's re-imagining of Medea, Mojada, world premiered at Victory Gardens Theater in 2013.
- Theatre Lab's production, by Greek director Anastasia Revi, opened at The Riverside Studios, London, on 5 March 2014.
- The Hungry Woman: A Mexican Medea by Cherre Moraga takes elements of Medea and of other works
- 14 July 4 September 2014 London Royal National Theatre staging of Euripides in a new version by Ben Power, starring Helen McCrory as Medea, directed by Carrie Cracknell, music by Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp.
- 25 September 14 November 2015 London Almeida Theatre a new adaptation by Rachel Cusk, starring Kate Fleetwood as Medea, directed by Rupert Goold.
- 17 February 6 March 2016 in Austin at the Long Center for the Performing Arts starring Franchelle Stewart Dorn as Medea and directed by Ann Ciccolella.
- May 2016 MacMillan Films released a full staging of the original Medea which was staged for camera. The DVD release shows the entire play. complete with the Aegis scenes, choral odes and triumphant ending. Directed by James Thomas and starring Olivia Sutherland, the staging features Peter Arnott's critically acclaimed translation.
- Chico Buarque and Paulo Pontes, Gota d'gua (musical play set in 1970s Rio de Janeiro, based on Euripides, 1975). Several times revived, including a 2016/2017 production starring Laila Garin (celebrated for her title role in the highly regarded musical biography of Elis Regina, staged in Brasil in 2015).
- February 2017: the play was staged in South Korea, directed by Hungarian theatre director Rbert Alfldi, with Lee Hye-young in the titular role.
- Pier Paolo Pasolini adapted the legend into a movie of the same name in 1969 starring Maria Callas as Medea
- In the 1983 film Storia di Piera by Marco Ferreri, Isabelle Huppert as the protagonist learns the part of Medea at school and plays it when she is an adult actress.
- Mexican filmmaker Arturo Ripstein adapted the plot for his 2000 film Such Is Life
- Asian-American filmmaker Michael Justin Lee reinterpreted the story into a film noir short film set in modern-day America starring Amy Gordon as Medea. (2018)
- Australian actress Zoe Caldwell's performance in the 1982 Broadway adaptation of the Jeffers' script was recorded for broadcast.
- Lars von Trier made a version for television in 1988, based on the script adaptation by Carl Theodor Dreyer.
- Theo van Gogh directed a miniseries version that aired 2005, the year following his murder.
- OedipusEnders, a documentary broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 13 April 2010, discussed similarities between soap opera and Greek theatre. One interviewee revealed that the writers for the ITV police drama series The Bill had consciously and directly drawn on Medea in writing an episode for the series.
- Playwright Mike Bartlett was inspired to create a modern-day suburban Medea after adapting the Euripides play for a theatre production in 2012. Bartlett's 2015-2017 BBC1 miniseries Doctor Foster follows the structure of the Greek tragedy. A Korean remake of the series, The World of the Married, became the highest rated cable drama in Korean history, with its final episode reaching a nationwide rating of 28.371%.
- Michael Wodhull, 1782 verse
- Edward P. Coleridge, 1891 prose: full text
- Theodore Alois Buckley, 1892 prose: full text
- Gilbert Murray, 1912 verse: full text
- Arthur S. Way, 1912 verse
- F. L. Lucas, 1924 verse
- Augustus T. Murray, 1931 prose
- Countee Cullen, 1935
- R. C. Trevelyan, 1939 verse
- Rex Warner, 1944 verse
- Peter D. Arnott, 1961 verse
- Philip Vellacott, 1963
- John Davie, 1996
- James Morwood, 1997 prose
- Paul Roche, 1998 verse
- Ruby Blondell, 1999 verse
- George Theodoridis, 2004 prose: full text
- Stephen Esposito, 2004 verse
- Joseph Goodrich, 2005 verse: full text
- Graham Kirby, 2006 verse (The Bloomsbury Theatre)
- Diane Arnson Svarlien, 2008 verse
- Robin Robertson, 2008 verse
- J. Michael Walton, 2008 prose
- Ian C. Johnston, 2008 verse: full text
- Tom Paulin, 2010 - full text
- Judith Mossman (classicist), 2011 prose
- Brian Vinero, 2012 verse: full text
- Mike Bartlett, 2012 play
- Diane Rayor, 2013
- David Stuttard, 2014 prose
- Alan Chriztopher R. Aranza, 2015 prose
- DuBois, Page (1991). Centaurs and Amazons: Women and the Pre-History of the Great Chain of Being. University of Michigan Press. ISBN0-472-08153-5.
- Ewans, Michael (2007). Opera from the Greek: Studies in the Poetics of Appropriation. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. ISBN978-0-7546-6099-6. ISBN978-0-7546-6099-6
- Gregory, Justina (2005). A Companion to Greek Tragedy. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN1-4051-0770-7.
- Griffiths, Emma (2006). Medea. Taylor & Francis. ISBN0-415-30070-3. ISBN978-0-415-30070-4
- Hall, Edith (1991). Inventing the Barbarian: Greek Self-definition through Tragedy. Oxford University Press. ISBN0-19-814780-5.
- Mastronarde, Donald (2002). Euripides: Medea. Cambridge University Press. ISBN0-521-64386-4.
- McDermott, Emily (1989). Euripides' Medea: the Incarnation of Disorder. Penn State Press. ISBN0-271-00647-1. ISBN978-0-271-00647-5
- McDonald, Marianne (1997). "Medea as Politician and Diva: Riding the Dragon into the Future". In Ckauss, James; Johnston, Sarah Iles (eds.). Medea: Essays on Medea in Myth, Literature, Philosophy, and Art. Princeton University Press. ISBN0-691-04376-0.
- Mitchell-Boyask, Robin (2008). Euripides: Medea. Translated by Diane Arnson Svarlien. Hackett Publishing. ISBN978-0-87220-923-7.
- Powell, Anton (1990). Euripides, Women and Sexuality. Routledge Press. ISBN0-415-01025-X.
- Rabinowitz, Nancy S. (1993). Anxiety Veiled: Euripides and the Traffic in Women. Cornell University Press. ISBN0-8014-8091-4.
- Sad, Suzanne (2002). "Greeks and Barbarians in Euripides' Tragedies: The End of Differences?". In Harrison, Thomas (ed.). Greeks and Barbarians. Translated by Antonia Nevill. Taylor & Francis. ISBN0-415-93959-3.
- Sommerstein, Alan (2002). Greek Drama and Dramatists. Routledge Press. ISBN0-203-42498-0. ISBN978-0-203-42498-8
- Tigani, Francesco (2010), Rappresentare Medea. Dal mito al nichilismo, Aracne. ISBN978-88-548-3256-5
- Mossman, Judith (2011). Medea: Introduction, Translation and Commentary. Warminster: Aris & Phillips. ISBN978-0-856-68788-4.
- Structure of the tragedy.
- ClassicNotes about "Medea"
- The Medea of the modern times
- Cultural Organization "Theatre Arcadia"
- link to photographs and reviews of Medea directed by George Eugeniou at Theatro Technis and Angelique Rockas in the title role
- Medea public domain audiobook at LibriVox
- see the famous 3rd Choral ode of Medea from the Olivia Sutherland Medea