So long as the immense passion of the tragic heroine of the play is considered, Euripides's Medea is a work of pathetic tragedy from Aristotle's point of view. It opens up with a major conflict between the heroine and her husband; the anger of a woman hero for her dishonest husband.
Throughout the play, we see the culmination of anger and hatred rising to a point where everything dissolves and an anticlimactic end is attained through the accumulation of revenge in Medea. This is actually a shortcoming for a piece of tragedy because it does not reach to the highest possible quality and complexity from a plot as Aristotle would term it. The most important integral aspect in tragedy is its plot, the imitation of action. Because of the faulty treatment of the subject in hand, Euripides fails to achieve a complex plot in Medea. When Aristotle plunges into the components of a plot that make it complex, he cites three necessary elements successively; reversal of intention, recognition, and catastrophe. Accordingly, both reversal of intention and recognition must go hand
in hand in a cause-and-effect chain that ultimately in turn creates the catastrophe in the play for the best effect. However in Medea, we can observe no real reversal of intention as Medea is well determined to take revenge from Jason in some way or the other right from the very start. Although there is an event where Medea directs her anger over her own children, this occurs in such an unexpected manner that it is difficult to consider it as a reversal of intention because there is no reasonable explanation or recognition for it to come afterwards. This unquestionably results in Medea lacking a recognition as there is no reversal of intention that precedes it. Medea already knows about the marriage of Jason to Creon's daughter, and there is no other slight recognition that can be said to change the fortune of the tragic heroine. One could say that Aegeus's assurance of security in Athens for Medea is a discovery that allowed Medea to further proceed with her plans, but this is somewhat questionable as we can clearly see that she is determined to execute her planned scenario whether or not Aegeus's sudden appearance was included. The only surprising event that we can find remarkable is when Medea slays her own children. This action is the one and only tragic incident that Aristotle would see as tragic. If this one and only tragic element did not exist, we could hardly say that Euripides's Medea was a tragedy even with a simple plot. But again, a surprising event can be favored only when it has relevance and a cause-and-effect relationship with the plot. That is however not exactly the case for Medea's decision to kill her children. Nevertheless, the intended action is executed in the end by the heroin, an act that is better than intending and not doing. When Aristotle comes to the skill of a tragedian to create a perfect unified play, he emphasizes the importance of firstly the complication, and secondly, the unraveling of the plot. To him, the best tragedian is one who can succeed in making these two parts equally well. But as long as in Medea there is no reversal of intention and recognition except for a simple catastrophe, the unraveling lacks the magnitude of the complication where Medea strategically makes plans, prepares for revenge, and tries to survive the pain.
Moreover, the denouement of the play by a Deus ex Machina, a God interfering and allowing Medea to escape with a chariot, is very irrational for Aristotle as it does not arise out of the plot naturally. The Deus ex Machina used in Medea can be seen as faulty from another point which attributes to Aristotle's moral understanding. Medea's escape or somewhat survival is morally not acceptable as she commits a cruel deed in killing her own children. We know that she is a descendent of a god and is the daughter of a king. But other than such circumstances she is in, she is in fact no better than us. Her tragic flaws such as extreme passion and anger all surpass being small frailties but they are rather vices. Though we see Medea's feelings of suffering through the visible evils of Jason, it is not easy for the audience to sympathize with a child murderess. Additionally, the past life of Medea is also full of blood and sin which are reminded to us from time to time either by the Chorus and even Medea herself. This ultimately results in the significant problem of Medea as a tragedy, as it fails in invoking catharsis towards the audience as little emotions of pity or fear can be aroused by the downfall of an utter villain.
In Medea there is only one major plot which gives it a credit as a tragedy in Aristotelian terms. The struggle between a dishonest male and a sorceress female is the one and only simple basis of this plot. We don't see the level of complexity and perfection that Aristotle would seek, but our attention is not lost as Euripides does succeed us to be focused on the passionate angers and emotions of Medea throughout the whole play. Thus, the effect of tragedy is to a somewhat certain extent achieved in Medea but still fails in the main and most important purpose; the emotional cleansing that the audience is supposed to feel towards Medea.
Statement of Intent
Euripides's Medea revolves around the central passion of revenge towards her adversaries by the main protagonist, Medea as a result of her husband, Jason's betrayal towards her by an engagement to the daughter of Creon, King of Corinth.
I decided to write a critical review of Medea through an Aristotelian perspective as to how Aristotle would criticize it if he had the chance. As Medea was different to the Aristotelian tragedies of the time, I expected that the Athenian audience would have responded in confusion and disfavor. I took Aristotle's works of the Poetics as a backbone to my criticism.
I tried to make the review critical in the sense that it not just only explains as to how the elements in Medea differ from Aristotle's theory of tragedy, but attempts in exploring as to what effects were lost and why it mattered. In the early stages of my review, I criticize how Euripides's failure in creating a complex plot of one that Aristotle would expect results in how Medea's character is portrayed in a very limited and monotone manner in which her fate is seemingly doomed to lead to the final catastrophe from the very start. By breaking up the structure and examining its lack of Aristotelian concepts of tragedy in Medea, it allows one to lead to the discovery that the common understanding of Medea as a tragedy is actually an oversimplification and that one could even come to the conclusion that it barely qualifies to be even a tragedy by Aristotelian understanding. The criticisms towards the structural component of plot in Medea link into the characteristic flaws of Medea through my criticisms towards Euripides's use of the Deus ex Machina to resolve the plot in the final moments of the play. This sudden denouement in the play would strongly matter to Aristotle as its irrational manner would lack a unity where the action of each event leads inevitably to the next in a structurally self-contained manner that is connected by internal necessity, not by external interventions such as the one used by Euripides. Moreover, the Deus ex Machina has the strongest effect on the audience in which it ultimately fails to invoke the tragic emotions of pity and sympathy in the form of a catharsis towards the protagonist despite Euripides's attempts at doing so through the easily visible exposures of Jason's atrocities. This failure is not only just simply due to the immoral nature in which Medea kills her children, but from the fact that her life is full of atrocities which she does not seem to feel guilty as she confesses in her quarrel with Jason, "I lit the way for your escape... I betrayed my father and my home... I killed King Pelias...All this I did for you. And you, foulest of men, have betrayed me". (P33, Lines 460-468)
Despite all the criticism that I have given to Euripides in my review, I do give credit to Euripides as to how he still manages to grasp hold of the audience's attention and involvement in the play.
Nevertheless however, I still conclude with the Aristotelian perspective that the play still lacks the magnitude and perfection that Aristotle would have expected, which ultimately result in my greatest criticism that Euripides fails in creating the effect of convincement towards his audience to sympathize with Medea's emotions through catharsis.
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