Most Writers Are Male, 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, right?
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.
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.
- Body Horror: The description of Glauce and Creon's death. The poison Medea puts on Glauce's clothes burns and mutilates her skin so badly that no one but her father can recognize her face. Creon is physically stuck and melted into the jacket when he tries to take his daughter in his arms, leaving him helpless as he dies as well.
- Bowdlerization: Believe it or not, Medea murder of her children might be this. There are versions of the myth that predate the play where the children aren't killed by their mother, but by a mob of Corinthians, either in protest against Medea's foreign presence or in revenge for Creon and Glauce's murder. Legend has it that the city of Corinth bribed Euripides to change the plot. Here are some infobits.
- Cruel and Unusual Death: The deaths of Glauce and her father.
- Cruel Mercy: At one point, Jason begs her to kill him and she refuses, letting him live to suffer the pain for the rest of his life.
- A Deadly Affair: Jason cheating on Medea ends up leading to the deaths of their children, his new wife, and her father.
- Deadpan Snarker: Medea when talking to Aigeus - and that is when she speaks to the closest she ever gets to a friend.
- Deus ex 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.
- The Exile: Medea is going to be exiled from Corinth.
- Fate Worse than Death: At the end Jason lives, but his children are slaughtered along with his prospective family. Medea lets him live on purpose.
- Gory Discretion Shot: None of the ancient versions of the play have Medea kill her children on stage, instead the details are given via the Greek Chorus.
- 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.
- Ignored Epiphany: When talking to her children, Medea realizes she loves them and cannot bear to kill them. But she changes her mind, telling herself she can't be a coward and not go through with it.
- In Medias Res: The drama starts when Jason has already dumped Medea and is going to marry Glauce.
- 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.
- Killed Offscreen: Most of the deaths, though Medea's children are notable in that you can hear them screaming and begging offstage
- Light Is Not Good: Medea is the granddaughter of the sun god gets to exit on an appropriately sun-themes chariot, and, while sympathetic and having good reason for her actions, she is very ruthless in her revenge.
- Love Hurts: Oh Medea, you wouldn't have thought it could end up like this the day you left your family behind?
- 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.
- Moral Dilemma: Medea wants to not just punish Jason but keep her honor by taking revenge on him, and believes that anything less would be horrible cowardice - but then she determines the best form of revenge is killing one's children, and she still loves her children. She ultimately decides to kill them anyway.
- Murder the Hypotenuse: Medea murders Glauce, although at that point she wasn't even considering getting back with Jason - she did it for revenge.
- Offing the Offspring: Arguably the Trope Codifier, at least for women killing their own children.
- Hence the term the Medea Complex.
- Outliving One's Offspring: Jason and Medea (who did it to herself) obviously, but also Creon, who watches his daughter die, and shortly after gets killed by the same poison that killed her.
- 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.
- Pride: Jason full stop. He's extremely condescending the whole play, talking down to Medea and dismissing her feelings and arguments because she's a barbarian and a woman.
- Psycho Ex-Girlfriend: Ladies and gentlemen, we have found the Ur-Example. Jason would rue the day he dumped Medea, since she went to the extremes of kill his new girl, his new dad, and his old kids.
- Revenge by Proxy: Medea kills the children instead of going straight for Jason because he will suffer more. (So will she, but by this point she's decided it's worth it.) This is a lot more explicit and gorier in the Latin version—she has a whole speech about how she wants to murder everyone he loves and then drive him out to wander, exiled and alone, for the rest of his life.
- Second-Hand Storytelling: In keeping with most deaths in Greek plays, the demise of Creon and Glauce is described by a messenger who is equally horrified by the poison that killed the two and Medea's joy upon hearing these ill tidings.
- Slave to PR: Jason remarries because of how being with Medea harms his reputation. According to him, he is trying to give Medea and the children a better social standing as well, but Medea is just too obsessed with marital fidelity to see he is actually helping her.
- 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.
- Creon, whose Establishing Character Moment involves him gloating about sending Medea into exile, soon finds himself dead at the hands of the very woman he mocked.
- Tempting Fate: Creon, when he states that Medea´s hate will not affect him.
- 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.
- Ungrateful Bastard: Both Jason and Medea think this of each other. From Medea's perspective, she did most of the work on their quest, saving him multiple times, and betrayed her whole family for him, but he easily sets her aside when she's a liability to his reputation. From Jason's perspective, he was helping her and her children by securing the children a Greek mother, and she will be able to live in wealth and happiness now - though, of course, he doesn't consult her on doing this "favor" because he sees her as an irrational woman who will foolishly oppose it on principle.
- Unwitting Pawn: Medea gets her children to deliver the gift of clothing to Glauce that is actually poisoned.
- 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. A well-reasoned one, given that not only he has dumped the woman who sacrificed everything for him and whom without he wouldn't even succeed in his mission, but also it makes uncertain the future of their sons.
- Woman Scorned: And how. She's probably along with Hera the Ur-Example.
- Yandere: Medea, according to modern interpretations, and therefore, the original. Boy, is she Not Good with Rejection.
- Your Cheating Heart: All the madness starts with Jason's ill-fated idea of marrying Corinthian princess Glauce and keeping his Magical Girlfriend Medea and the mother of his children as a mere concubine.