Literary Devices in The Medea
Chorus: A fundamental part of Greek drama, the chorus consisted of 12 to 50 actors who danced, sang, or spoke their lines in unison. The chorus explains the play to the audience and points out themes, especially the main takeaway or moral message of the play. They function as a type of ideal spectator who contemplates the larger themes of the play. In Medea, the chorus represents the ideal Corinthian woman. In abandoning Medea for Creon’s daughter Glauce, Jason upsets the natural order of Greek society. The chorus supports Medea’s murderous plot against Glauce and vengeance against Jason because of his betrayal. However, the chorus vehemently protests Medea’s decision to murder her children in order to punish Jason. They condemn her actions to indicate to the audience that this type of revenge is not acceptable by social standards. The chorus allows Euripides to communicate the moral message of his play and include a tragic plot that does not adhere to the social standards he seeks to proclaim.
Deus ex machina: Deus ex machina, or “the god in the machine,” is a Greek plot device in which an unexpected power, being, or occurrence enters the plot and saves a seemingly hopeless situation. In Greek drama this device often took the form of an actual god swooping in and rescuing the protagonist. In Medea, the god Helios sends a chariot pulled by dragons to save Medea from Jason’s wrath.
Dramatic Irony: Dramatic irony occurs when the audience knows something that the character does not know. It builds tension and suspense in a drama and causes the audience to feel more a part of the plot. In Medea, Jason is tricked by Medea’s change of heart and false support of his decision to marry Glauce. The audience knows that she will seek revenge against him even though he is blind to her deception.
Literary Devices Examples in The Medea:
"Thou canst not kill the fruit thy body bore! ..." See in text (The Medea)
Here, the chorus seems to turn on Medea. Throughout the play, the chorus has reinforced and supported Medea’s desire to seek revenge on Jason after he betrays her. However, when this vengeance crosses the line into killing her children, the chorus condemns Medea’s aims. Since the chorus is the moral center of the play, their reaction to her plans suggests that the audience should also condemn Medea’s bloodlust.
"My fathers' father, the high Sun..." See in text (The Medea)
In Greek mythology, Medea is a descendant of Helios, the god of the sun. Helios sends his chariot pulled by dragons to save Medea from Jason’s wrath. A god suddenly and unexpectedly intervening in the action of a play is a literary trope called deus ex machina, or the god in the machine. It generally occurs when it seems that the protagonist has no hope of escape. When Greek tragedies were performed, an actor playing a god would be physically lowered onto the stage by a machine—typically a crane— hence the name of the trope.
" I followed where The women's rooms are...." See in text (The Medea)
Notice that the audience only hears about the deaths of Glauce and her father, it is not portrayed on the stage. This is a literary trope called diegesis, a storytelling tool in which a story is recounted or told through a character rather than shown or enacted. This technique forces the audience to imagine the event in all its terrible detail. The images the audience can create in their heads is far worse than anything the actors could create on stage which involves the audience in the story.
"Will send her gifts, the fairest gifts that lie In the hands of men, things of the days of old, Fine robings and a carcanet of gold, By the boys' hands.—..." See in text (The Medea)
This speech is an example of dramatic irony. The audience has already heard Medea swear that she will have her revenge against Glauce and Jason. The audience knows that these gifts are poisoned even though Jason sees Medea’s actions and words as genuine peace offerings.
"I am full of hidden horrors!..." See in text (The Medea)
By this Medea means that she is full of anger and hatred. She goes on to claim that she will relinquish this hatred and “forgive.” This is an instance of dramatic irony. While outwardly this sounds like a claim that Medea will change, the audience knows that this is in fact a reference to her murderous plot to kill Glauce, Creon, and her children.
"He hath not dared to do, Jason, a thing so shameful?..." See in text (The Medea)
Jason’s actions defy the Greek concept of oikos, or the family unit. He has abandoned his family and therefore dared to do “a thing so shameful.” Aegeus’s tone of disbelief suggests that Jason’s actions are outlandish. Notice how the narrative of the play condemns Jason and his actions as it builds towards Medea’s own shocking sin.
"We must pay Our store of gold, hoarded for that one day, To buy us some man's love..." See in text (The Medea)
By this, Medea refers to the ancient Greek custom of dowry. Marriages were generally arranged by a couple’s families. A dowry was the money that the woman’s family would pay to the man’s family to secure the marriage. She remarks on the powerlessness of women to reject a man once her family has arranged marriage. The interesting thing about this speech is that Medea has not suffered any of the conditions that she complains about here. She appeals to her audience of Corinthian women by talking about their issues rather than pleading her own case.
"Chorus..." See in text (The Medea)
In Greek tragedies, the chorus was a group of actors who performed their lines together, singing or speaking in unison. The chorus modeled the “perfect spectator” for the play. They interpreted conflicts, characters, and events for the audience to demonstrate how the audience was meant to interpret the themes of the play. They often offered crucial insight into the character’s psyche and served as the moral center, condemning or praising the character’s actions throughout the play.