Alienation and Awareness Corinth, where the events of The Medea unravel in, is a society that regards the atypical as threatening and gives hardly any rights to women and foreigners – a common characteristic of Athenian societies during the play’s publication. Since Medea is part of the two groups in Athenian society that are treated discriminatorily and her cleverness is seen as menacing, the rulers of Corinth want to exile her almost immediately upon Jason’s betrothal to the princess of Corinth.
Because of her alienation, Medea feels like she has no one to go to when Jason disrespects their marriage vows and, as a final point, she turns to revenge – one of the most primitive, brutal human impulses. The Medea reveals how poisonous isolation and betrayal can be when met simultaneously. Not only does Medea’s refusal to conform to societal norms make her a target for estrangement, but also the fact that others feel threatened by her unconventional nature impassions her anger.
Ultimately, the awareness Medea has of her unintentional, threatening demeanor compels her to commit those murders because she knows that is the only way she will be able to get what she wants – revenge. In the beginning of the play, the nurse of the house warns Medea that “the wildness and bitter nature of [Medea’s] proud mind” will be harmful not only to society but to Medea as well (lines 103-104). However, Medea does not need to be reminded of her intimidating disposition. She recognizes that this is why others feel endangered by her presence and, by default, alienate her.
Feeling the overwhelming amount of isolation from Corinthian society, Medea feels vulnerable for a moment and expresses her misfortune. In her speech to the women of Corinth, Medea stresses how she is isolated by Corinth and, in recognizing her threatening nature, ignites her plan for vengeance. “I am deserted, a refugee, thought nothing of by my husband” she says (lines 255 – 256), “for in other ways a woman is full of fear, defenseless…but when once she is wronged…no other soul can hold so many thoughts of blood” (lines 263-266).
Medea knows that it is unheard of for a woman to pursue justice for the wrongdoings committed against her by her husband. She also knows that it is a difficult task to do. Yet, she refuses to submit to this societal norm. Medea feels that she has had her pride torn out from underneath her and will do whatever it takes to get that back. In voicing her emotions and true feelings, Medea becomes empowered by her anger and her bloodlust transpires. In today’s society, a clever, intelligent, and proactive woman is seen as normal. However, in Medea’s time, those characteristics were seen as perilous.
Creon, the king of Corinth, saw these traits Medea possessed as frightening and saw her as “a clever woman, versed in evil arts” (line 285). The “evil arts” Creon is referring to might just be Medea’s unconventional character. Women who were intelligent and voiced their concerns were almost nonexistent or not recognized in Athenian society. He might have thought that, coupled with her being foreign, these characteristics were signs of witchcraft or sorcery. And since supernatural powers were the only things more powerful than the supremacy of the king, Creon was “afraid of [Medea]” (line 282).
In associating Medea’s intelligence and cleverness with an “evil art”, Creon only heightens Medea’s feeling of estrangement and invigorates her ambition for revenge. And, by confirming his fear of Medea, Creon ultimately condemns himself to Medea’s wrath. After insultingly calling her “an enemy of [his]”, Creon tells Medea she is to be exiled along with her children (line 323). Nonetheless, Medea being as clever as she is, remembers that Creon has a soft spot for children and begs him to let her stay one more day so that she can make arrangements for her children.
Reluctantly, Creon agrees. Aware of how intimidating and clever she really is, Medea’s plot for bloodlust intensifies. She sees the power in her isolation and, once again, uses that to advance her quest for revenge. Towards the climax of the novel, Jason comes in to reiterate for Medea the reason that she is being exiled. Ironically, the reasons Jason points out are the same reasons Medea is able to commit her murders: voicing her opinions, her intelligence, and her cleverness.
Jason tells her that “[she] is going to be exiled for her loose speaking,” and that he “tried to calm down the anger of the king…but [she] will not give up her folly…and so [she] [is] to be banished” (lines 455-458). At first, Medea is saddened by Jason verbal abuse at her free speech. But somewhere in Jason’s rant, recognizes that he is only trying to put her down because he feels weak against her and he is uncertain of what she might do. Medea decides that the best thing for her to do right now is to let Jason eat his words.
So, again, Medea finds strength in her alienation to convince Jason to let her send some gifts to his new bride – gifts that, unknown to Jason, are laced with deadly poison. Medea knows that Jason, feeling flattered that she is selflessly giving one of her few nice belongings to his new bride, will accept that “[her] mind has turned to better reasoning…like the clever woman [she] [is]” and allow the children to present his new bride with the gifts as a wedding gift before Medea’s exile (lines 911-913). She also knows that Jason will feel less threatened by her if he feels that she is submissive to his wants.
Medea’s mind may have turned to better reasoning, but not in the way Jason is thinking. The better reasoning Medea is doing is allowing Jason be unaware of the implications of his acceptance of the gifts, which make her crimes all the more heinous. She sees a darker, more fulfilling revenge in having Jason play a critical part of his own demise. Medea is the epitome of the poisonous nature of a woman scorned. Her anguish, originally caused by Jason’s ignominy of their marriage vows, is amplified by alienation due to her intelligence, will power, and cleverness seen as perilous characteristics throughout the play.
Devoid of her husband’s love and society’s acceptance, she is driven to murder. Because she was alone, Medea had nothing to loose. But, perhaps, if she had someone to turn to the conclusion of the story could have been different. Ultimately, the characteristics society felt threatened by were what fueled Medea, igniting a question: was society justified in their paranoia and intimidation of an atypical woman? Perhaps. But at the end of the day, Medea’s unconventional (of that time) pride wouldn’t allow her to be dishonored – which is what impassioned her anger and motivated her vengeance. Passage from Euripides’ The Medea (lines 255-266)
Medea: … But I am deserted, a refugee, thought nothing of By my husband – something he won in a foreign land. I have no mother or brother, nor any relation With whom I can take refuge in this sea of woe. This much then is the service I would beg from you: If I can find the means or devise any scheme To pay my husband back for what he has done to me – Him and his father-in-law and the girl who married him – Just to keep silent. For in other ways a woman Is full of fear, defenseless, dreads the sight of cold Steel; but, when once she is wronged in the matter of love, No other soul can hold so many thoughts of blood.