But I am a Queen!
Why does Medea still matter 2000 years after it was originally written, let me count the ways: Medea is important because it codifies the long standing trope of the righteously wronged women who refuse to take their fates standing down, the Lady Macbeths and the Heras and the Clytemnestras, Medea is important because it invokes the sheer power of love and how twisted that power can become, Medea is important because it thrusts a woman into the decidedly male world of vicious vengeance and instead of absolving her of her sins the way many a male protagonist has been, demands her penance. I promised I’d say more about Medea than it invokes the line “Drag my teeth Across your beating heart” from Florence and the Machine’s “Howl” but to be honest, that’s what Medea is about: love to the point of ruin, love for Jason, love for her children, and more so the absence of love to the point it drives her mad because at the crux of it, Medea is a queen and that still wasn’t enough to earn the love she so cleaved.
First and foremost, Medea is a madness tale, that of a woman, a witch to be specific, queen of so many, who loses her mind and murders so many innocents including her own children. Jason (of Jason and the Argonauts fame) has abandoned her and her two children with him and hopes to marry Glauce, the daughter of Creon the king of the city the play is set in. It’s strangely voyeuristic in a sense because Medea’s anger at Jason’s betrayal is the same as so many women’s all over the world through time and space; she gave him everything she had, abandoned everything she knew, and she was a demigod, a queen of women, and it still wasn’t enough for him. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?
It’s not that Medea’s murder of her children and of Glauce and Creon is remotely excusable but there’s a strange appeal in Medea compared to the Hannibal Lectors and even the Hamlets of the world because she actually actively questions the morality of her actions. Her monologues are rife with the anxiety she feels for what she is to do and yet her desire to make Jason suffer for how he has made her suffer is just too strong. That’s not a remotely maternal or really positive quality at all but it’s fascinating to consider on a holistic scale because those sorts of emotions are generally reserved for male antivillains, to put it quite bluntly. Not to mention, Medea is clearly mad. She’s not of stable mind, and yet her rationality is extraordinarily sound, particularly when it comes to issues of gender roles and perceptions in her society. There’s a difference between her very obvious mental breakdown and her destruction of her own family and life and the sentiments which drive her actions, which are entirely valid and rational.
This line, “I am not an evil woman. I am a skillful woman. Because I am skillful, I make distinctions. Because I make distinctions, some people hate and fear me,” encompasses what made Medea herself so powerful and memorable to me. Medea knows her worth as a woman, as a person, and her frustration with being disregarded and set aside because of her gender is apparent. She doesn’t truly want to hurt others, but she’s entirely capable of it and more so, she’s aware of that ability which is frightening to others. It hearkens to the idea that women are meant to be beautiful/intelligent/funny/witty but unaware of their worth because that sort of confidence makes them unsettling. It’s all very “What Makes you Beautiful;” the girl in question is beautiful because she doesn’t know she’s beautiful and a society where women think they have inherent worth is one that is diametrically opposed from the one we currently live in. And, change is terrifying to those who currently benefit from the status quo. *Obligatory High School Musical reference where you should imagine a bunch of angry people yell singing “Stick to the Stuff you know!!!!”
The point: Medea is short, bloody, and tragic and it’s dark but it’s also enlightening in a way few plays are. It’s not remotely relaxed or calming; it’s consecutive punches of emotion and anger and violence and personally, that’s the literary aesthetic I’m most attracted to because I’m not a calm person. I can wear all the flowing Lanvin and Anthropologie in the world but the crux of my personality is a constant Spin on the axis of my own neuroses, and I’m not going to shy away from expressing it, since suppressing herself is partially what caused Medea’s descent into madness. If I have to live the mortal coil of my own anxieties, then I’m going to acknowledge it because that death drive is what sustains me and I can only do my best to apply it in whatever way I can, and hold off on plotting the murders of my only children.