ENG111 -- Introduction to Literature: Beholding Violence in Drama and Film

Prof. Eileen Joy

Summer 2011

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS #3 (Euripides, Medea)

Figure 1. Jason and Medea (Fiona Shaw) in modern adaptation of Medea

Respond to TWO of the following prompts [be sure to read the back-story of Jason and Medea's relationship before pursuing any of these prompts]:

1. Look at Medea's first big speech (addressed to the Chorus). Medea is making an argument here about the role of women in Greek society. What kind of argument is she making, and do you sympathize with her point of view here? Why, or why not?

2. Look at the first exchange (and argument) between Jason and Medea. Jason tries to "reason" here with Medea and to explain to her the common sense of what he has done and plans to do, and Medea explains to Jason why she believes he is wrong and has unfairly betrayed her. Both of them also comment on relationships between the sexes (and between husband and wife, or between lovers). Who would you argue has the most reason on their side in this argument, and why? [Do not just restate what Jason and Medea say, but spend some time really explaining why and how you think certain statements are compelling as arguments. You will also need to explain, in detail, how you define "reasonable" in this context.]

3. Is there any way we can understand how Medea goes about getting revenge against Jason, and why or why not? Another way of putting this might be: Do you find Medea sympathetic, utterly abhorrent, or somewhere in between? [Be sure to isolate specific elements in the play that cause your reaction.]

4. Is Medea a monster, and not a "woman," as Jason implies (Jason actually calls her "a tiger; a Tuscan Scylla" and "a polluted fiend" in some translations)? Why, or why not? [If you choose this prompt, you will want to have some kind of working definition of what you think human/humane as opposed to monster/monstrous.]

5. Jason is a somewhat ambiguous character. How do you feel about him by the end of the play? Do you sympathize with him or do you think he gets what he deserves, and why or why not?

6. Medea's name means both "genitals" and "clever plans": how do you think her name captures some of the social and cultural anxieties that circulate throughout the play about women's power? [You might reflect on this question in relation to the character of Clytemnestra in Agamemnon as well.]

7. In her review of a modern novel adaptation of the story of Medea by the German author Christa Wolf, Margaret Atwood (a novelist herself) writes that the story of Medea is ultimately "a study of power, and of the operations of power, and of the behavior of human beings under pressure when power squeezes them tight." As to why this story endures over time and in many adaptations, Atwood also writes that the story "is no two-dimensional allegory. Like a tunnel full of mirrors, it both reflects and echoes. The question it asks the reader, through many voices and in many different ways, is: What would you be willing to believe, to accept, to conceal, to do, to save your own skin, or simply to stay close to power? Who would you be willing to sacrifice? Hard questions, but the posing of them is the troubling yet essential task." Comment in any way you see fit on these quotations from Atwood and your own thinking on the "troubling" operations of power in Euripedes's play.

Please respond to the questions with full, complete sentences. You should write approximately two typed, double-spaced pages (total) in response to the prompts you choose (but let's not get distracted by these fine points of detail--what matters to me is that you respond to these prompts with thoughtfulness and care and show me that you have something of substance to say in relation to the reading and discussions we have had, and what that ultimately means is: MORE is always better than less, but one page per response is the minimum). The questions are always interpretive in nature, and therefore there are NO right or wrong answers, only your opinion (an opinion, nevertheless, that's hopefully grounded in a close reading of the text as well as a close attention to background material presented through online links). You will want to refer to and/or quote specific passages from the text in order to support your observations and ideas.

Responses should be saved as .doc or .docx [Microsoft Word] files and sent to eileenajoy@gmail.com as email attachments.