Medea Thematic Structure
—Werner Jaeger, Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture
Daniels, Antonio Maurice. "Gender in Medea." McClinton-Temple, Jennifer ed.Encyclopedia of Themes in Literature. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2011.Bloom's Literature. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 3 Mar. 2016
Set in an Athenian society that does not treat women equally, Euripides' Medea provides a classic account of one woman's struggle to engage in subversive actions to defy the oppressive impact of patriarchal rule. In Medea, gender serves as a dominant and significant source of conflict. A truly subversive character, Medea makes a dramatic effort to redefine gender and expose double standards associated with it. In her first speech to the women of Corinth about her sorrow after her husband (Jason) leaves her for another woman, she laments the plight of women by emphasizing that men fail to understand that women do not "lead an easy life, safe at home while they risk all at the point of a spear," but she contends that she would "rather stand three times in battle with shield and spear than give birth once."Medea complicates the traditional notion of the role of a woman by arguing that she would much rather replace her "easy life" with the dangers men experience in battle. Therefore, she provides a subversive view of what the female gender is capable of and questions men's traditional notion of the natural desire of women to reproduce. In essence, she posits that men are the individuals who really live the "easy life." Medea's argument is so subversive and shocking because Athenian women were expected to refrain from anything that would be perceived as "masculine." Her argument highlights the capability of women to participate in war—undermining this capability as an inherently masculine attribute.
Euripides is widely regarded as a realist in that, though he deals with mythological characters, some of whom have familial ties to the gods (Medea herself is the granddaughter of Helius), his plays revolve around human conflict and a virtuous representation of emotional response. So it is with the tragedian's treatment of the theme of abandonment, which drives the plot of Medea. The play's original Athenian audience would have already known the back story and would thus have understood that, long before the action of Euripides' work, Medea and her husband, Jason, abandoned their homelands before arriving in Corinth, the play's setting. Each has been displaced following Medea's acts of familial murder. Each murder was motivated by the deep love Medea felt for Jason. Far from being a given circumstance of the tragedy, loss of one's homeland is a woe actively lamented by the Chorus of Corinthian Women. Medea has willingly abandoned her homeland and her sense of familial loyalty. She reminds Jason of this sacrifice and how she "willingly betrayed [her] father and [her] home." This act of abandonment was no small matter, and Medea herself admits that it demonstrated "more willingness to help than wisdom."
From: Encyclopedia of Themes in Literature.
Greek tragedy always examines human suffering, and Euripides found an excellent vehicle in the story of Medea. The play opens with the Nurse's description of Medea's condition as one of perpetual agony: "She lies without food and gives herself up to suffering, wasting away every moment of the day in tears. So it has gone since she knew herself slighted by [her husband]." This opening speech continues, painting a vivid picture of the given circumstances of the drama.Medea finds herself in mourning for love lost (since her husband Jason has chosen a new royal bride) and for the country she left and the kin she has murdered to assist Jason in his ascent to greatness.