The Themes Of The Medea And Antigone English Literature Essay

1595 words (6 pages) Essay

1st Jan 1970 English Literature Reference this


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The plays Medea by Europides and Antigone by Sophocles explore many themes including betrayal, passion, pride, tragedy and love. Love plays a motivating role which determines the actions of the main characters in both plays; it drives both Medea and Antigone to violate the rules of social behavior when the former commits a murder ruthlessly and the latter defies man’s law despite knowing that it could cost her own life. Love is important in terms of the central characters because it is the primary factor which establishes the decisions made by Medea and Antigone.

Medea’s undying love for Jason in the play Medea leads her to commit several morally questionable acts which are abhorred in the Athenian society. As a woman of passionate nature, the love she felt for Jason overpowers her own moral judgment which then causes her to carry out the despicable act of murdering her own children. If Medea had not fallen in love with Jason, the Nurse states, “then neither would Medea, My mistress, ever have set sail for the walled town of Iolcus, mad with love for Jason…” Jason’s improbable act of leaving Medea for Glauce causes Medea to be “scorned and shamed”, “she will not eat; she lies collapsed in agony,/ Dissolving the long hours in tears”. It incites Medea to murder her own children and this demonstrates the power of the love that she has for Jason. The power of Medea’s love is highly significant in terms of the central premise as the tragedy which befalls upon her sons is caused by her love for Jason.

Throughout the course of the play, it can be seen that the desire to get revenge against Jason is driven by her love for him, with her passionate nature. The appalling scene of murdering her children exemplifies the power of Jason’s betrayal of Medea, which consequently shows Medea’s passionate character, when driven by love, causes her to perform the murder. Her murder was seen as an aberration to the Athenian society as it was exorbitant; even though the power of Jason’s betrayal is paramount, it is not an excuse to kill the innocent. The fact that they are her own sons further magnifies Medea’s selfish and rapacious character, whose only motive is to destroy Jason because of his betrayal. Yet this event had been prognosticated by the audience when Creon asserts: “Your words are gentle; but my blood runs cold to think/ What plots you may be nursing deep within your heart”. The murder of her sons signifies the intensity of the hatred that she felt against Jason as without his sons, there is no one else to carry Jason’s family line after he is gone. This relates to the values of the Athenian society where sons are regarded as more important than daughters because they will carry the family line in future generation. Through the action of killing her sons, it is evident that her love for Jason is immense and thus shows that love is a primary factor which determines the actions of the primary character in Medea.

Medea’s love for herself is also another primary factor which leads to committing the murder. Her pride causes her to act immorally; the immense love she has for Jason drives Medea to contemplate on ways to destroy him after his betrayal. In the conversation that Medea has with Creon, she states: “Oh, what evil power love has on people’s lives!” Euripides uses the character of Medea as a literary device to illustrate the power of love and the consequences which follow. The passion she feels for Jason and Jason’s actions causes her to be filled with vengeance, a vengeance, when motivated by love, is strong enough to kill her two sons. The amount of love that she has for herself, the pride within her, causes her to plot violently against her victims: “I have in mind so many paths of death for them,” “Should I set fire to the house,/ And burn the bridal chamber? Or creep up to their bed/ And drive a sharp knife through their guts?” (page 28) Throughout the play, it is evident that love is one of the primary motivation which leads to the ultimate tragedy of the play.

In the play Antigone by Sophocles, Antigone’s love for her brother is proven strong enough to drive her to commit an act which eventually leads to her own death. Antigone broke man’s law “the order/ Says he is not to be buried, not to be mourned;/ To be left unburied, unwept, a feast of flesh/ For keen-eyed carrion birds” to ensure that her brother has a proper burial. The act of burying Polyneices portrays Antigone’s passionate nature, where she is determined to challenge man’s law and instead follow God’s law. Antigone asserts “that order did not come from God. Justice,/ That dwells with the god’s below, knows no such law.” This further demonstrates her strong-willed character and consequently shows that the love for her brother has caused her to attempt to bury him at the cost of her own life, “And if I die for it, what happiness!/ Convicted of reverence – I shall be content/ To lie beside a brother whom I love.” In terms of character, both Medea and Antigone are strong-minded; they are determined to get what they want, no matter what the cost is. The love both characters have drives them to sacrifice lives. Instead of sacrificing anyone else, Antigone had sacrificed her own life to restore her brother’s honour.

Antigone believes that it is her “duty to the dead” even if it means sacrificing her own life to respect her brother and bury him in order to keep her brother’s honour, “I have given my brother burial./ What greater honour could I wish?” When she was called in by Creon, she argues that he has no right to defy God’s law and in response to her argument, Creon states: “We’ll have no woman’s law here.” He emphasizes on the fact that woman have no place in stating the laws and discriminates Antigone because she is a woman and this relates to the theme of gender roles, how woman is looked down upon in the Athenian society where men are considered more superior than women. In the play, the description of the burial described by the Sentry is significant because as a woman, she defies Creon’s law as described by the Sentry: “Then she picks up the dry earth in her hands,/ And pouring out of a fine bronze urn she’s brought/ She makes her offering three times to the dead.” Throughout the play, Antigone holds to the idea that divine law is higher than man’s law and is resolved from the beginning to follow divine law. The play accurately depicts the power of love and its effect on the main character, Antigone, as it acts as a primary motivating factor to commit acts which leads to her own tragic death.

The suicide of Haemon, Antigone’s fiancé, illustrates that the love that he felt for Antigone is immense, strong enough for him to kill himself. Haemon had rather kill himself than live without Antigone. This event is delineated in a way that love causes people carry out preposterous and usually negative acts which have a tremendous effect on their own lives, and other people’s lives. When the Messenger brought news to the Chorus, he alleged that “Haemon is dead,/ Slain by his own-… His own hand./ His father’s act it was that drove him to it.” It magnifies the power of love that Antigone had for her brother, the same way Haemon had loved Antigone. The death of Antigone had been unbearable for Haemon; he was found “with his arms around her, there stood he/ Lamenting his lost bride, his luckless love,/ His father’s cruelty.” Haemon “Leaned on his sword and thrust it deeply home/ In his own side”. The description of his death, “his spurting blood staining [Antigone’s] pale cheeks red” and the imagery used by Sophocles is important in describing the tragedy that befall upon Creon, because of his own pride and actions.

Creon’s love for his own self causes him to lose both his son and wife, as his wife, too, killed herself after hearing the news of her son’s death as the Messenger relates to Creon: “She is dead – your wife, the mother of him that is dead – /The death-wound fresh in her heart.” Creon then curses his ‘stubborn will’ and is aware that his harsh punishment on Antigone had caused his family’s death. This relates to the theme of pride, where Creon is ruled by his own pride of being a King, and cruelly punishes Antigone. This is significant as his self-love contributed to his own downfall and the tragic deaths of both his son and wife.

In both plays Medea and Antigone, love acts as a motivating factor to commit acts which inevitably led to several tragic deaths of its characters. The only contrast is the type of love that the primary characters had for their loved ones. Antigone’s decisions were caused by the strong family bond shared between herself and Polyneices while Medea’s undying love was from the affection that she felt for Jason, the person whom she had abandoned her family for. Both of the primary character’s love for the other had caused lives to be sacrificed- Glauce, Creon and Medea’s sons in the play Medea and Antigone, Haemon, and Creon’s wife in the play Antigone.

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