Sarah Bernhardt in the role of Medea in the Catulle Mendès's eponymous play, drawn by Alphonse Mucha
Most Writers Are Male
"νῦν δ΄ ἐχθρὰ πάντα͵ καὶ νοσεῖ τὰ φίλτατα." English
—Euripides, Medea, Line 16
, and what male cannot understand the hardship and dangers of dealing with a jealous and angry ex-girlfriend? What makes Euripides
' play so interesting is that the protagonist is not The Hero
but the Psycho Ex-Girlfriend
—and she's justified
Euripides' adaptation of the myth of Jason and Medea starts when the couple have returned to Corinth after all their adventures, quests, and battles. Medea, being not only a genius schemer but something of a sorceress, abandoned/betrayed her family and people to be with Jason and help him succeed, even when it required arranging her brother's death. Now they have two young sons together. She has suffered horribly
for love of him. So now that the adventure's over, it's time for The Hero
and his Magical Girlfriend
to settle down and live Happily Ever After
Wrong! It's time for Jason to dump the "barbarian" now that he has no more use for her and marry the beautiful princess Glauce. Nothing personal, he says. He's not even marrying her for love but for the money and power, which he'll use to keep Medea and the kids in their gilded cage. He tells Medea to accept this peacefully and be content as the woman on the side
.What an Idiot
! Jason has created the original Woman Scorned
, and for the Greek Chorus
, it's only a question of whom she intends to kill—herself, or Jason. She chooses — neither
. Medea kills the new girl
and Glauce's father (King Creon, not be confused with Creon of the Thebes tetralogy), who arranged the marriage, but decides simply killing Jason would be too good for him. A conversation with the as-yet-childless Aegeus teaches her the cruelest, most painful, most unbearable punishment to inflict on a man—the death of his children. She takes their two children off-stage and kills them... but she struggles with it a bit first.
As was the standard for Greek Tragedy
, all the deaths occur off-stage
and are narrated on-stage by eyewitnesses. The play ends with Medea refusing Jason's request to at least give him his sons' bodies for burial before she takes the bodies and flees to Aegeus' kingdom, Athens (by way of a magical chariot, drawn by dragons). The chorus then marvels at the cruelty of the gods that such tragedies happen. Medea is not condemned for her actions
And yes, Fate/stay night
fans. THIS is the real origin story of Caster
Medea provides examples of:
- Audience Monologue: Opens with one from the Nurse explaining what's happened. Lampshaded when the children's tutor comes and asks why she's talking to herself.
- Black Magician Girl: Medea.
- Bowdlerization: Apparently, there are versions where it wasn't her killing her kids, it was angry townsfolk, who later bribed the guy who wrote the play. After that it wasn't okay to sacrifice children to gods anymore. Here are some infobits.
- In another version, Medea killed her children because Jason was essentially going to declare her an unfit mother on top of everything else, take away the only happiness she had, and (it was implied) raise the children in an environment that would indoctrinate them against the barbarians, aka their mother.
- Character Title
- Deus ex Machina / Deus Exit Machina: Medea carries the bodies of her sons away with her in a flying chariot drawn by golden dragons given to her by the Sun God Helios, her grandfather.
- In Seneca the Younger's version of the play, there is no chariot carrying Medea away and, correspondingly, no deus ex machina. The play ends just after she kills her children laughing in Jason's face. Because, really, if you're going the whole nine yards like she is, how much do you care about getting out?
- Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Medea would rather have revenge instead.
- Downer Ending
- Fate Worse Than Death
- Greek Chorus
- God Save Us from the Princess!: Not likely since the gods think she's right.
- Gory Discretion Shot
- Horse of a Different Color: Dragon chariot! Gotta wonder how performances represent that.
- I Gave My Word: Not that Jason keeps it. Medea points out throughout the play that he has broken his marriage oath to her.
- In Medea Res
- Karma Houdini: While contextually, Medea was justified, she still killed four people, two of whom were her own children and hurt her husband horribly, and in the end flies away in a magical chariot with no consequences for her actions other than her own guilt.
- Love Hurts
- Love Martyr: In Medea's backstory; she sacrificed everything so she could be with Jason, which is why his betrayal of her is so awful.
- Magical Girlfriend: Deconstructed, showing just what happens when she gets mad.
- Mama Bear: Medea can't see any way to protect her children other than killing them... so that's what she does.
- Mercy Kill: It tends to get lost due to Values Dissonance, but this is one reason Medea kills her own children, since as a foreign-born woman her children lost their Greek citizenship, and therefore their inheritance, when Jason remarries. It's also very likely that they would have been sold into slavery.
- Murder the Hypotenuse
- Offing the Offspring: Arguably the Trope Codifier, at least for women killing their own children.
- Hence the term the Medea Complex.
- Original Generation: Jason and Medea were new characters created for a Massive Multiplayer Crossover. This play is an Original Generation sequel that drops the crossover characters and focuses on the new characters.
- Second-Hand Storytelling
- Smug Snake: Jason is depicted here as being a big one of these. The first thing he says when Medea (lyingly) claims that she has decided he was right all along is 'I am glad, Medea, that you have changed your mind'. That's just asking for it.
- Too Dumb to Live: Oh, Jason, you tosser. Of course, in the end, she decides that death is too good for him. Glauce and Creon count as well.
- Tragic Mistake: Jason's pride and machismo lead to his downfall and the deaths of his bride and children.
- The Unfettered: Medea is willing to kill anyone — even her own children — to gain her revenge.
- The War on Straw: There have doubtlessly been many essays written on whether Medea and Jason's representation of each other is accurate or not. On the whole, though, this is actually subverted.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Medea gives one to Jason.
- Woman Scorned
- Yandere: Medea, according to modern interpretations, and therefore, the original.
- Your Cheating Heart