is indicative of a more progressive
view of society and human nature than many other Greek plays
. It fully takes into account the power that a passionate woman can have when provoked. It does not necessarily condone the cold-blooded murder
of kings, women and children
as a method of revenge, but it does not keep her from doing it either. It is on par with Lysistrata
in the sense of portraying women as able to rebel against the traditional values that keep them down, easily abused and seen as inferior.
The Nurse, at the very beginning of the play, steers us to believe that it is Medea’s own will, not the aid or the will of the gods, that causes the events of the drama to go forth, when she worries that “hers is a dangerous mind, and she will not lie down to injury.” Medea’s wailings, moreover, only invoke the divine when she is plotting oaths against her husband. She does not ask them for help, only swears by them that she will have her revenge. However, the Chorus still believes that these events have come from divine sources when they tell her that “God has steered…Medea into an unmanageable surge of troubles.” Medea’s response is that “ill fortune is everywhere” but that she has plans for the bride and groom that will make their fortune even worse, to “make their marriage a torment and grief to them,” without mentioning help from any divine entity.
Her plans to kill the princess and Creon were made completely on her own, from arranging her escape to the method she would use to kill them as well as her decision to kill her children. In this play invocation of the gods is made much less frequently than in any other. Medea seems not to care what the gods’ will is. She knows exactly what she must do on her own to make Jason regret his decision to leave her. Creon, as well, does not seek the guidance of the gods either in his decision to send Medea into exile or in his decision to let her stay one more day to “complete...plans for departure.” Would anything have been any different had Creon asked one of the gods or goddesses to assist him in this decision? There were no prophets or fortune tellers, no gods or mortal messengers of the gods to forewarn anyone of this disaster. The plan played into Medea’s hands because of her own cunning.
Her own struggle to decide whether or not to kill her children also was a decidedly human characteristic. Again, there was no invocation of gods to assist her with this decision, nor were any oaths sworn. The only invocation was to her own heart, which is a symbol of the power to do as she pleases, by what is just in her own eyes. Killing one’s own children is an unnatural act, one that the gods would have definitely been against. Her decision to go through with it and kill her children, in spite of her own doubts, without conferring with any gods to give her guidance or help with the decision (knowing that they would have never condoned the murder of the children) shows that her human nature and desire for revenge took the upper hand against anything that the gods would have wanted.
Medea got away with it. It seems that her ability to leave the country unpunished could have been seen as the gods’ protecting her and condoning her unnatural act. In a very improbable deus ex machina ending, with Medea making her exit in a chariot that the Sun had given her “to protect against her enemies.” How could the Sun have given her an escape vehicle if the gods were not partial to Medea’s actions? Medea was a very resourceful woman, however, and it would stand to show her will even eclipsing that of the gods if she were to have convinced them that she needed this magic chariot and keep them from knowing why she truly needed it or what she would have done to have a reason to escape. She was seen as a foreigner that the king was suspicious of, and could have used that to gain the pity, even the favor of the gods.
Medea was not outwardly remorseful after killing her children. Her mourning of them lasted only a short time until she received news that the king and the princess were dead. Her sadness turned into an evil curiosity when she asked if it was a horrible, painful death, and was pleased that it had gone so well. In her conversation with Jason, she played the part of the cold mother who only did what she had to do in order to get even with the husband who had wronged her. This does not sound like a woman following the will of the gods, who value balance and events going in a natural manner.
We do not know what happened to Medea after she escaped, whether, like Orestes, she was pursued into madness by the Furies for doing such a base deed, or whether Aegeus found out what she had done and rescinded his promise of asylum to her so that he would not be punished by the gods for harboring a woman who had killed not only her own children, but a king and a princess of a neighboring state. The only thing we are left with is the Chorus’ attempt at understanding the events of the day, trying to equate Zeus’ will in with what had occurred, saying that “many things beyond expectation do the gods fulfill. That which was expected has not been accomplished; for that which was unexpected has God found the way,” not even entertaining the possibility that Medea’s passion to fulfill her agenda may have even surpassed the will of the gods.