Words of power are killing me,
while the sun displays its teeth.
All mockery is laughing,
all violence is cheap.
“These are my guns,
these are my furs,
this is my killing room.”
“You can play with me there sometimes
if you catch me in the mood.”
— EURYTHMICS, Savage
MEDEA: Priestess of Hecate, exiled princess, murderer and mother.
HANDMAIDEN: Medea’s adopted companion, confidant and plaything. She has followed Medea this far because she loves her “elder sister,” but fears not only for her own personal safety in a land where she is completely powerless but also for Medea’s sanity.
CREON: The syphilitic king of the city of Corinth. While it would be easy to portray his misogyny as high camp paranoia, that would be missing the point; Creon is the product of a whole culture that sees women as nothing more than slaves and political bargaining chips. The fact that Medea is a sorceress is beside the point. For Creon any woman who refuses to bow to her husband’s wishes is a threat.
JASON: If all our myths are filled with great men doing great deeds, ignoring all their failings in favor of singing their praise, then it is virtually impossible to give them a balanced treatment without redirecting the entire drama into a complex psychological examination of the male psyche. Seneca attempts this, somewhat, with having Jason actually recognize that he might be hurting Medea. Jean Anouilh’s Jason is full of ennui, wishing (but not acting on) a desire to simply disappear from any form of responsibility that his actions might have caused. I see no reason for that approach in this play. Jason lived off Medea for ten years, building up his own reputation off her skills and arts, having to have her save him time and time again. Creon might be highly repugnant by our modern sensibilities but he is the product of his own culture and values. Jason, though, is the closest the play gets to the sort of selfish wickedness that is being charged against Medea.
THE CHORUS: As in almost all Greek plays there were members of the cast whose purpose was to explain to the audience what was going on. They would be considered as “scantily clad info dumps” in this day age, telling Medea’s whole backstory in the prologue. Euripides’ Medea has a rather large chorus, which, if this was an opera, would make perfect sense, but as a play with so few characters simply becomes distracting. By keeping the number at two, making them citizens of the city in favor of the wedding between Jason and Creon’s daughter, Creusa, they give a more balanced view than what Medea and Jason represent.
A barren wasteland outside the city walls of Corinth. To one side of the stage is a crude tent, fashioned from rags. A low baleful wind forever cries. It is the realm of the dead, the damned and the souls of outcasts. MEDEA enters, carrying a letter. She is in her early fifties, with long black hair streaked with gray. Contrary to popular belief she is, at this time, neither insane nor bombastic. As she begins reading the letter she walks aimlessly around, absorbed. Suddenly her entire frame quivers, a look of amazement passes over her face and the letter flutters from her fingers to the ground. She stands, as if turned to stone, staring into space. A long pause. MEDEA crouches down, as if suddenly she had gone blind. She reaches out, finds nothing and then begins to pull at her hair. She starts to make a horrible, keening sound, inhuman, moaning and rocking back and forth. She looks up; tear stained, terrified, miserable. When she speaks it is in a hoarse whisper.
Hecate … gods … someone. Hear me … you who protect maidenheads and nuptial beds and the faithfulness of lovers … help me … please.
[MEDEA begins to crawl about on hands and knees, groaning.]
Where are my mothers with writhing hair and smoking torches? Where are my divine mothers, those who watch over the lives of their mortal daughters? Hecate, my queen, I call for you, remember that Jason of the Argonauts swore “forever.” Forever … who will punish those who break their oaths in love and marriage, punish those who offer up only empty promises?
Who is there? Will Grandmother Chaos end the world for me? Who will pull the sky down? Who will call upon the Dark Lady of bereavement? Call upon the Furies? Who will unleash the serpent-shaking nightmares? Who will be present now? Who will hear your wretched daughter?
[MEDEA finally gets herself under control, wipes her nose and eyes with the back of her hand. She stumbles to her feet. When she speaks again it is a long moan of pain.]
Heeeeeecate … you were present during our wedding rites and in our marriage bed. You tasted the blood I shed on the white cloth. You know the name of he who first entered me, he who swore on his mortal soul.
[MEDEA goes to pick up the fallen letter, looks at it.]
Mother, he says that he will find a new wife and a new bed. How can this be?
[Wraps herself in the cloak of Hecate’s priestess, begins mumbling to herself.]
… Hecate, mother … never once when I was a girl in service to your temple did I ever think that these hands of mine would be soaked in blood so willingly. Did I ever believe that I could cast my faith, or my family, or my people away so eagerly for a stranger … a man … a creature of clay? Can you hear me, Lady? My past is now a dream. It is now a nightmare. Children will recoil when I pass by. They will call me Madam Cataclysm, Madam Cat-Scratch, behind my back.
[MEDEA shred the letter in a burst of fury, then sags, waving her hands before her as if she had just burned them.]
Wounds … blood … the last death rattle in failed childbirth. What cruel trick stole all that was glorious and good in me?
Jason! For ten years I have tried to be like you. I became your wife, the mother of your children, your shield against a world that would have destroyed you long ago. Ever since the first day when the Argo landed on the shores of Colchis have I tried to please you in every way that I can. But now I have been cast aside by the one that I called my husband, by the one whom I sacrificed everything for.
Jason, ten years is a long time to live a lie. Was I ever a wife? Was I ever a mother? Was I even human? All the oaths that you swore to me have suddenly been forgotten now that you are about to marry another, daughter of the king. This hurt that has been done to me is bitter every time I think about my father, my city, my own brother, my own flesh murdered by my own hands. And why?
[Lights, laughter, noise and music. MEDEA retreats to one side of the stage as the CHORUS enters, still celebrating the wedding of JASON and CREUSA.]
May the virile gods of the sky and earth be present and bless the marriage of our new prince, Lord Jason. May they grant the full happiness that a man might experience on such a night.
How lovely is the bride, our princess, the envy of Athenian and Spartan women. To find a rival for this unrivaled beauty one must look to the heavens, when the great gods’ passion for virgins brings them to walk among us.
Only a conqueror like Jason could be worthy such a hind.
Did you see how he whispered in her ear and caused a gentle blush as the dawn rouging the dewy meadows?
New vows mark a new day, and what has been said before must end. The perverse woman of Colchis has been replaced by one much more fetching.
CHORUS #2 [seeing MEDEA]:
Perverse, indeed! In all happy festivals there is one, of course, who scuttles back into her own self-made misery like a crab, moaning against our wedding songs and delight. I say let the crab go.
She is a foreign woman. Let her go back to her people, wherever the land of her birth might really be. Our ways have never been her ways. She was never charitable among us. She calls herself royalty but without a nation and without a state.
[The CHORUS takes their seats on the far side, away from MEDEA as she and her HANDMAIDEN return to center stage.]
This is a nightmare. I have nothing. Jason took it all and foolish I followed him here. Now I’m abandoned, alone, a stranger. How can this man that I loved toss me away as if I were nothing?
[MEDEA sits down and lets the HANDMAIDEN to comb her hair as she fumes.]
Yes, yes, I have done evil, so what? The poets say that love can accomplish anything, but I say so can hate. They say he is a man of honor, but I say that’s not true. For his honor he would have followed me to hell is I asked. A sword can cut through all the lies and a man’s cowardliness. If he loved me, as I love him, he would have refused, defied King Creon’s offer. He would have taken me and fled for love, if not for honor. Now I doubly cursed: unloved and dishonored.
[MEDEA stands up suddenly, clawing at her robes.]
Shall I choke in my own priestess robes? Never! I shall engineer such malice as will remind the groom and bride that sacred vows are not playthings of fools and the faithless. Let their marriage torches blaze bright and merry. My heart’s flames will not be contained so easily.
[MEDEA tears her robes from her, standing defiant and half-naked, her fists raised.]
Damn them all! Jason’s house will be smashed! Creon shall be king of rubble and ash! Creusa shall burn in her wedding bed. Little man, I gave up my life for you! I saved you more times than I can count. How do you repay me? Bah! You are a husband of broken pledges. You are a man whose words of love have all been lost to the wind. You act as if Medea didn’t exist anymore. More the fool you, for I do! I do and this city will burn once Medea’s towering flames have leveled it.
HANDMAIDEN [embarrassed for the older woman, hurriedly trying to redress her]:
Hush, elder sister, cover yourself up, I beg of you. Keep all of this to yourself.
I will try and help you come up with something, but bide your time. All you do is scream out threats as if the city were deaf.
MEDEA [finally dressed, haughty]:
Child, inconsequential grief is always easy to hide. Mine calls out for blood.
Please! Please, tell me what you’re going to do.
Fortune favors the bold and none are bolder than Medea.
But, elder sister, you’re only one. A mother and alone!
What is it about motherhood that makes you think the trade is so frail? I tell you, motherhood or no motherhood, I have led my father’s army into battle. I have used my dark arts to subdue whole nations. While Medea lives then there is hope for me and fear for my enemies.
But your wealth is gone. What can you do alone?
I am never alone as long as I have my wrath, fury, fire and malice.
What good is malice against jails they can throw us in to and never be heard of again? Men who can rape and kill with the king’s blessing? Flee!
For ten years I have fled. No. Not anymore.
Yes, I am Lady Medea!
You are a mother!
Child, don’t you think that I don’t know that?
Then flee, for your children’s sake … as well as your own!
Am I to be lectured to about responsibility by one whose breasts have yet to fill out her tunic? You think I am mad, and perhaps I do clutch tightly to those seeds, but I clutch them to help me survive.
If you act in violence they’ll hunt after you.
Let the dogs come. I will toss them such a bone as to send them howling for cover.
Your boldness will undo you. Not even a princess can remain regal when she bathes in blood. Humble yourself. Remember that we are alone.
“We?” Little sister, all that is left to me is what no one can take away: my anger, my soul, my revenge. But I promise you this, before dawn shows her face, my feckless husband will have wished that the Argo had broken itself into splinters before reaching my father’s shores.
[Sudden noise of marching feet, clang of armor, etc. HANDMAIDEN exits, MEDEA retreats to the right side of the stage, CREON and two soldiers enter.]
The witch is still here? Fie! She is scheming up some new devilry, no doubt. It’s in her blood. These barbarian whores don’t understand the value of compassion and love. A pox! I wanted her executed, drawn and quartered, thrown to the wild dogs, but my daughter and her new husband demanded that her life be spared. Exile is too good for this succubus, eater of men’s vitality, Mistress of Impotence. But all I can do now is see that she is cast out immediately and without all her usual moaning.
[MEDEA approaches CREON, who takes a nervous step backward.]
Damnation! See how she walks like a minx, like a shameless slattern! Keep her away. I don’t want to see her or hear her. Tempter of men! Do not let her come closer.
Away, you! You are disgraceful. Phew! Go! You should not be permitted to breathe our same air.
She might spread her womanly disease, somehow, simply by passing by.
MEDEA [genuinely confused]:
“Keep away?” But what have I done? Why do you cover your nose as if I were a miserable leper?
Witch! Why do you approach the royal person?
I ask for justice.
“Justice?” You taint justice with your sore-encrusted presence. Your sick desires pervert all that you touch. I am a king. My word is law. There is nothing else. You must obey.
A grave wrong cannot be suffered.
A pox cannot be suffered! My son-in-law has told me stories of your Colchis orgies, of your debaucheries, of your corruption. You break down all natural gates. You make men mad with your hunger and cravings. Return to the palace of your father, if he will take in such an unworthy daughter.
I see. Well, then, let the one who brought me to you take me back.
And pollute the royal body even more? Don’t be absurd! It’s too late. He’s is saved from your tetters and scabs.
MEDEA [ignoring the last insult with an arched eyebrow]:
So, king, I am to be divorced and cast out all in one day and yet my case was never heard.
Meh. You talk pretty but so does everyone with a forked tongue. Very well, I am listening. What words do you have in your defense?
King Creon, listen closely. I know what desire can do. You once said that love ruins the body, and I tend to agree. When everything that you do for love turns you into an object of pity, leaves you forsaken, an exile among strangers, then it is very hard not to be cynical of the very same love that brought you so low. You talk about the royal body. I once lived in a palace, as well. The blood of Hecate runs through my veins. I drank from crystal and silver goblets just like you. Princes from a hundred lands came to woo and sue for my hand. Had you known me back then you would have called me your “little sister.” But what is a royal body when it no longer can be called royal? The gods’ favor and man’s brief glory can be snatch away. What do the poor know about loss if they’ve had nothing to lose in the first place? But you and I? Without the royal “we” then we are monsters. Everything that we do is monstrous and we are only forgiven for our deeds because the gods smile on us. Today you look on me with scorn but remember, it was I who saved the Argo … I did that. I saved your son-in-law and all his brave companions. Castor and Pollux live only because of me. Zetes, Calais and Lynceus, too. All these men who are now your allies with kingdoms of their own; they all owe their lives because of me. You treat me like a criminal, a petty thief, but tell me, what are my crimes? What laws of your city have I broken that requires me leaving here forever?
There have been told tales of many shameful acts.
“Shameful acts?” Yes, of course. Everything that I do, in your eyes, is shameful. I will not pretend that I ever tried to pass myself off as a noble Grecian. But are those crimes? What charges, what legal charges, I mean, have been made against me? If I’m to be punished then at punish my coconspirator as well.
What do you mean?
If I have sinned it was because of Jason.
You can stand there and talk philosophy all you want and pretend to be outraged when someone mentions the evil that you have done all you want. The stories that my son-in-law has told me have set my teeth on edge. Why do you think my neighbor, King Acastus, has a warrant out for your head on account of what you are said to have done to his father in Thessaly? Jason might have been young and brash when he was with you, but so are all men when they are in a harpy’s spell. It was you, Medea, who charmed Peleas’ daughters into cutting up their father and boiling his body with tales of immortality and secret potions and brews! You are a monstrous woman and treacherous. You act as you can’t imagine what I’m talking about, but I must purge cancer from the royal body before it spreads any further.
Market rumors and stories of old women is why you are driving me away? Then give me back my ship and my captain, too. We arrived together and we share in the same guilt. If I killed Peleas–
–it was not done for me. Everything I’ve done was for my husband. We fled together after I killed my brother for him.
You shed the blood of your own family? Atrocious!
And you have not? Where is your uncle now? Where are his sons who were a threat to your reign? Yes, I killed my own brother for Jason. For him I deserted my father. But you have it confused. Don’t the Greeks preach that wives are simply the vassals of their husbands? To be used like slaves? You call me a barbarian and yet by your own twisted logic, I was simply doing my husband’s bidding. I am blameless.
You waste your words. You waste my time.
I see. So nothing I can say will change your mind?
There is nothing to change. You are a witch and a whore.
I am also a mother. Allow me one last request. My sons are innocent in all this. Do not allow their barbarian mother to taint their futures.
CREON [with vile contempt]:
Do not worry about their future. For as long as they are with me I shall be as a doting father to them.
MEDEA [reading the threat unspoken in CREON’S words]:
So … I ask you one thing more. By all that you hold holy, by the marriage of your son-in-law to your daughter, I beg you; delay my exile for one more day. Allow me a mother’s farewell to my sons.
Why? I trust you no more than a poxed temple priestess. You’ll use the time for wickedness.
You give me too much credit, king. What can one woman, alone, do in a day?
What can’t you do?
Would you deny the sons of your son-in-law one last parting with their mother?
I would if I could. But today, on this festive day, I cannot. Very well, siren, you have one day to bid your sons goodbye, forever.
You are right. “Forever” is the right word for it.
Bah! You are wasting a man’s precious time. One day! Then, if you are found within the walls of this city you shall die. No mercy! No pleas. No charms. Do you understand?
[CREON stares at MEDEA for a long, hard moment.]
Goodbye. You will excuse me now. I am late for my daughter’s wedding feast.
[CREON and SOLDIERS exit left; MEDEA exits right. The CHORUS stands.]
The king talks of the Spartan disease and the foul rot of his loins. Who first brought such strange fruit back into this land? Who was the first to look across the sea and wonder what mysteries lay beyond the horizon? Who was the first to watch the coast dwindle away to nothing and not turn back? Ships, like faith, are frail. Wood is said to be the only thing standing between us and Poseidon’s kingdom.
Yes, yes, yes. Now we long for the dim past when no one ventured far from his own farm. We long for a time, if it ever existed, when reading the stars and navigating the waters were unknown, were feared and seen as a sign of madness.
But now we have hungers uncontrolled. From distant shores we hunt for unruly passions and commit crimes against nature that we could never have once imagined.
If only there weren’t monsters. If only there weren’t terrors, enchantresses and foreign agents to invade and bring with them their foreign strangeness, new pests and diseases. But of all the horror brought to us, the worst, by far, is the anarchic Medea. I have sailed through waterspouts on the silver surface of the sun-kissed sea, but nothing and no one is more vicious than Medea.
Is she a curse? Do the gods turn on us for some ancient wrong not even our grandfather’s grandfather can remember? We bow and supplicate for crimes we do not understand still punishment follows.
Are the lambs guilty when a wolf prowls among them? How could we have known that the woman that we once welcomed among us would be the bearer of terrors more ghastly than those that Prometheus must live through? Her malice is impossible to ignore. She intends to do harm to all who live in Corinth.
She came on that damned ship and it is said that the figurehead of the Argo was carved from the wood of Lady Diana’s trees; holy wood taken from the sacred oaks that were able to speak to mortals in the gods’ voices. They said that the figurehead could warn Prince Jason of the dangers that lay ahead. Why was it silent for us, innocents, when the ship first appeared in our harbor? Why did not the earth scream out when Medea disembarked for the very first time?
[A half-naked MEDEA enters, hurrying out of her tent, in her Hecate possession. She is chased by the HANDMAIDEN, afraid and distraught.]
Wait, elder sister! Restrain your passions. I beg you! Get a hold of yourself. For shame’s sake! Listen! Listen to me. I beg you …
[MEDEA continues to wander about the stage, pulling at her hair, clearly out of her mind.]
Furious Maenad! Raving One! Love of my heart! Medea is possessed. Her hair is undone. Her breasts run red from blood drawn by her nails. Her eyes blaze with a hallowed fervor. Dark Lady! Hecate! I am terrified now to behold your daughter. See! She gags; she sobs, she screams and then turns and is silent. I try to pet and calm her but the raving only begins again. I fear it will end in something appalling. I fear and fear.
[MEDEA suddenly turns, dark and terrible, approaches HANDMAIDEN glaring]
Mother, mother, mother, how did I end up here? Abandoned and my lady raving mad.
MEDEA [a burst of anger, then slowly her anger drains away so that she is speaking in a monotone]:
Blood and Fury! There are no limits to love, nor should there be to hate … for they are two aspects of the same. Fierce as a wounded beast I shall turn … on my attacker to swing and slash, eager to bring … them down … no fire can match the burning … within my neither-soul.
[MEDEA sags. As if in a trance, wraps her arms around the HANDMAIDEN, pulls her close.]
Child. Child? I was a child once, in my father’s palace. I dreamed that I would one day wreak such havoc upon men that they would whisper in horrified awe of Medea for a thousand years. What was Jason thinking? How can a lover’s passion pale that way? He still could have come to speak to me, to explain, to bid me farewell. But not a word, as if he feared me, too. The son-in-law of the king, he could have pleaded in my behalf, for my children’s sake, for mine. But nothing, nothing, nothing. I have but a single day to set the world ablaze. I shall make do. Don’t I always make do? Ah, child, child, darling of my heart. I shall make do.
HANDMAIDEN [completely out of her depth as to what to do, simply clinging to MEDEA]:
Elder sister, please, calm down.
MEDEA [shaking her head as if waking from a dream, looks down at the HANDMAIDEN, slowly pulls herself away from the girl’s embrace]:
Ah! The only calm for me is in death, stillborn and ruin. As I drown so shall I drag them down with me.
HANDMAIDEN [calling after MEDEA in despair]:
What can you do all alone? Your strength is nothing compared to theirs. You can only hurt yourself!
JASON [seeing the HANDMAIDEN who shrinks from him]:
Ah! I came looking for my wife and found her adopted daughter instead. Child, you are as beautiful now as I remember. Remember the first time I took you? All with your mistress’ consent. It was a pleasure breaking you …
[The HANDMAIDEN rushes off stage, miserable.]
… and now how quickly she flees from me. They say bitter medicine is what is best for our ills and yet all that I have faced tastes sweet in my mouth. She calls me faithless and fickle, but in the city they call me a hero. What is a hero but a man who takes what he wants? You can’t be both. If I must be judged let them say Jason was full of anguish, passion, fury and love.
[Enter MEDEA, under self-control, dressed and respectable.]
If there was ever the opposite of anguish, passion, fury and love then it approaches now.
MEDEA [unexpectedly gently, at least at first]:
Husband. So you’ve come to take me away. Are we to flee one last time? You remember how we lived, don’t you? It was ten years that we were together, fleeing together, fighting together, forever and together? But … no. I see it in your face. The letter that you sent did not lie. Where can Hecate’s daughter go to? Do you think I would return to Colchis and the palace drenched with mv little brother’s blood? Everywhere is now closed to Medea and her Jason. Tell me, where can I go? Ah, I see! The son-in-law of the king does not know. He just commands, and prays that I shall yield, that I go uncomplaining back into the shadows while he soaks up the sun’s love.
[MEDEA stands dangerously close to JASON then goes spinning away, laughing.]
My, my, my. I suppose that for reasons confused and muddy you hoped that Medea deserves to be punished for her folly. Ungrateful, little man, do you remember the dragon’s teeth and the armed men who sprang out of the ground to destroy you? Of course you do and had it not been for me, puppy, you would have suffered a hideous death. Not because Jason was clever or wise but because he had Medea. Or think of my poor brother, dead, dismembered, scattered. Did you escape my father’s palace because you were crafty or clever? No. You let me murder my own flesh for which now I am being damned, all to save your worthless hide. Think of King Peleas, too, whom, through my dark arts, I bid his daughters cut up so that you might be a bigger tyrant than ever he was. And now you call it butchery? And now the king who raped his aunt and sold his own daughter to a cut-throat outlaw judges me as sinful? I swear to you, Jason, husband, little man, by the monstrosities that we conquered, by the dangers that we endured; by the heavens and all the hells; by darling Hecate who was witness to our wedding rites, I ask for compassion. Do not think that you are safe or innocent in any of this. I know what I gave away, forfeited, sacrificed for you, because you asked, because I loved you. Can you give me back my father, brother, native land, my maidenhead, as well as the wealth of the Indies and Scythian gold piled high? No. You have neither the skill, or art or heart for magic. Now that all of it gone, spent by you, you will abandoned me for one with a bigger dowry. I used up all my money on you, baby, and I want it back.
I tell you, Creon wanted you killed. I pleaded, begged for your life.
Of course you begged. You’ve been begging all your life.
Go while you can. The anger of kings is dreadful.
“The anger of kings?” There is only one anger you need to fear and it does not hide behind the whims of the crown and scepter.
Why should I fear that?
Why? Is that a serious question or has your brain gone soft on all the praises Creon heaps on you every day. “Hero of the Argos,” and “Jason of the Golden Fleece.” Why? Because you profit on all the blood I have spilt in your name. My sins are yours. You think that the world will accuse me and somehow remain silent for you? You will go to Creon and maintain that I am guiltless, if you are going to try and claim that you are guiltless.
That would be dishonorable.
Honor? I have never met a less honorable man than you. And yet you cling to this lie despite all this?
Medea, calm yourself. Think of our children. What I do is for their sake.
“Our children?” The ones that Creon hints that he will mistreat if I do not leave tonight?
My father-in-law would never hurt our sons.
Why do you want to ruin a good future for you children? I’ve done the best I could. You should go now.
Ah yes, the best anyone could. It might surprise you, but Creon has heard my modest proposal. I have time enough to say a proper goodbye.
JASON [becoming nervous]:
The what do you want? Tell me what you want and I shall do it.
You’ll do what I want?
I am nagged everywhere I turn: on one side a king, on the other –
By your wife! By Medea! And little man you know that I am the wickeder one by far. Had you come begging me to protect you, as you have done countless times before when it was only your worthless hide at stake, then I would have gladly let the king struggle with me and you would have been a pretty trophy.
Woman! Enough! Say what you want me to do. Hurry! Do not cause the Furies to turn on us.
Until the Furies have always listened to my advice.
King Acastus has sworn to kill you.
Kill us. And you think marriage into Creon’s house will save you? You think the cousin of the father-in-law will somehow not get his way in the end? Creon is old and afraid and sees enemies in every shadow.
So what? Are you suggesting that if I ran away with you one more time that I could somehow be better off than I am now? What if they hunted us down?
Let those two do what their hearts please; and the kingdoms of Colchis and Aeetes, as well. Throw in the mewling Scythians and the Pelasgians, too. The whole world can turn on me and I will destroy them all.
You joke. You’ve been away from your beloved Hecate for so long you delude yourself into thinking you’re a goddess yourself.
You have seen me and my dark arts. You have watched me lead an army into war. Maybe here in Greece women are slaves and broodmares but not Medea.
JASON [unnerved and incensed]:
Enough. We have taken too long already. You must go.
You think that I mad, that I am out of control. But that is just fear. Dumb, stupid fear. For ten years you have slept at my side. You think that you can trick yourself into believing that I am a monster. That I can summon up the heavens to rain thunderbolts down upon you, that I can call up avenging fires to shake the dull rock of your new world. You think this because you’ve seen me do it before. And because you know what I can do you’d rather see me in a pure, blind rage, a rage so vast that it would consume Medea along with it. But having to confront a calm woman? A composed wife who states only the facts? You are helpless before such power.
Quit calling yourself that! I call all displays of womanly tantrums, no matter loud or soft, a weakness. You talk too much and listen far too little. Consider what you need for your exile. I shall supply whatever you request.
Of course you will. I ask for my children. Give me back my children. You will have new sons and daughters with your new wife. I cannot. I thought leaving my sons with you and Creon would be a blessing for them, but I fear the worse. Let me have them as companions in my grief. I would rather have them by my side in certainty than abandon them to uncertainty.
I wish that I could do that, for your sake. But as a father, I have to think what’s best for them. King Creon would not permit it in any case, for, if they went with you, he would always fear them.
MEDEA [to herself]:
So Jason and Creon have turned my own flesh and blood into the very weapons that will guarantee their own destruction? This is indeed a nightmare and I am powerless to stop it. Hecate! I need your wisdom.
So be it. But you will let me say goodbye, will you not? I shall be the only mother that they know. Do not deny me so little. If anger burnt in me, if its smoke blinded my eyes, it is spent.
Of course, you may see your children before you go. I only ask that you control yourself in a womanly manner.
Of course. “In a womanly manner.”
Unbelievable! He walks off like that? As if he hadn’t a care in the world? How can he forget who I am? What I’ve done? Ten years! For ten years I’ve been by his side and today he acts as if it had never happened.
He acts as if his hands are clean, as if he has no memory of what we have done. Vicious hands, blood-spattered crimes, terrible love. Others have called me shameless, I know I am fearless, but can I be heartless? If I must. If I must …
[To her HANDMAIDEN.]
Girl, go to the tent and in my chest there is a robe, a treasure of given to me by my aunt, Circe. There is also a headdress from the highlands of Urartu, set with precious gems. Let my sons bring these precious gilts to the bride.
[The HANDMAIDEN exit.]
But let me first prepare an exquisite poison. I will call on Hecate. I will pray for the powers of darkness and death.
Ugh! Nothing in nature, nothing in war, nothing any mortal man can do, terrifies as much as a woman’s disgust.
You cannot argue with women when they rave. They seem to enjoy destroying the world around them for no other reason than to watch it burn.
We pray that Jason may be safe. What is the point of going out to achieve marvelous exploits if you come back home and find worse and more sordid troubles than you ever did on the surface of the sea?
Women are the undoing of all the great heroes. Orpheus went to hell but when he came back was he then happy? No. a frenzy of women tore him apart.
The exploits of heroes are like that; splendid to hear about but then, at the end, there’s dreadful reversal. Even Hercules, striding the earth, perished in a poisoned shirt.
What good is the gift then? How which are the blessings and which the curses. Better therefore not to be noticed. Keep your head down, live simply and never adventure. The roads have dangers, the woods are bad, but the sea is the worst; cruel and vindictive.
[The HANDMAIDEN enters.]
My soul shakes at the terrible vengeance fermenting in my lady’s heart. She shines with a beauty that terrifies me. The sun and moon grow pale at the monstrous things that she concocts. These rites I have seen before, they are hideous. Serpents’ milk is not so deadly. Unclean carrion birds are not so foul. At her Hecate’s shrine she recites her incantations and performs her grisly ceremonies to bring forth her dark arts. She prays to Mistress Rage and Lady Fear to accept her devotion, sanctify her spite and inspire dread in a big payback. As she prays the air around her turns foul with pollution and vile haze rise up around her and yet she blooms, laughs, looks ten years younger. As I stand near, helpless, her Greek neighbors walk to and fro, snickering over what they jest at our primitive beliefs, simple-minded superstitions from far away. And still she prays and chants and meditates. My lady, elder sister, Medea!
[Begins pacing, much like MEDEA herself.]
The question that she asks is whether it’s worse to do evil in a sane and orderly world, or admit that there is no order or sanity, that chaos spins our empty lives this way and that to make a momentary pattern, perhaps, perhaps even a pleasing one, as the ash that swirls from a fire makes a random dance in the air, but it is meaningless to try to find a deeper meaning from it. If there is structure or form to be found it is the reckless structure of rage, the form of despair. Torture has its own code. Pain its laws. To these obscene commandments is my lady driven, and from all that burns in her heart only grander sins can come.
[Enter MEDEA, carrying a small cauldron on a tripod which she places in the middle of the stage.]
I am Medea, daughter of King Aeëtes of Colchis, niece to the goddess Circe Invidiosa, granddaughter of the sun god Helios, and Medea has returned. I invoke the gods and demand that they rouse themselves from their indifference over mortal affairs. Come down and come to my need. I pray to and call upon the moon goddess, my Hecate, grisly queen of the night. Be with me now, mother, in your most dire shade. I need your hands to help me now.
[Takes out a small knife.]
For Hecate I cut my long hair short, for you I take off my sandals, and walk in a barefoot circle. For you I call on heaven to open and pour down blood like rain.
[Cuts off her long hair, throws it into the cauldron.]
Hecate, hear me! I offer all that is me to you. My power is your power and my honor is yours, and the passion … and the revenge. Accept my gifts, O queen!
[Raises up one of her bare arms, places the knife across her wrist.]
Hecate, I offer blood for blood, cutting myself until I grow mad like a Maenad. The hand that holds the knife is yours. The arm that divulges the blood is yours. Accept this gift and lend me your breathtaking power.
[MEDEA cuts her arm and lets the blood flow into the cauldron. She waits for a moment, looks around, then speaks to one only she can see.]
Yes, mother, I know. I have returned to you once more. [pause] No, no. You have always been kind grateful and I have been a fool. [pause] Yes, Jason … again. But mother, mother, what am I to do?
[Startled, MEDEA takes a phial out of her pocket and stares at it. She then pours its contents into the cauldron as well.]
Poison. Of course. So it begins.
[MEDEA moves over to the tent and removes a robe from her chest. The robe is magnificent, what MEDEA herself wore when a princess back in Colchis. She places the robe on the ground.]
Creusa’s funeral dress. My lady, let this cloth cheat the eye. Let smoke arise from her body as if, on a spit, she were roasting alive, her hair incandescent. Let the flames consume her, let them burn her flesh down to her her marrow, make her virgin blood boil. But then, and then, and then, let them begin their magic, penetrating the skin and veins and the bones with their burning. Let her screams float on the wind to silence the world.
[MEDEA pours a thick liquid from the cauldron onto the dress. There is a terrible hiss as the fabric soaks in the poison.]
MEDEA [turning to her HANDMAIDEN]:
My prayers are heard. Now are my powers inexorable. Bring my sons so that they might carry this gift of mine to the bride.
[MEDEA’S TWO SONS are brought in.]
Ah, my darlings, born to a most unfortunate fate. This gift will help you to win the love of your new mother. Take it to Creusa. When you are done, return to embrace your mother for the last time.
[The TWO SONS exit toward the palace while MEDEA exits opposite across the stage, carrying the cauldron with her.]
What was that all about? These heathens with their odd and primitive rites; it is a blasphemy for such a woman as Medea to utter nonsense to her gods.
Perhaps, but I think she was rather impressive with all her mumbo-jumbo. Emotion like what she just treated us to can be alarming if real. If only she had gone into theater instead of turning outlaw. One would hardly think that a foreigner, a powerless woman, could ever pretend to have bottled up so much violence hidden inside such a small frame.
[Enter a MESSENGER, running, from the direction of the palace.]
Disaster! Catastrophe! Ruin! Complete devastation! The walls of the castle have fallen, our city has toppled, and father and daughter are dead. They are nothing but ashes!
What? Tell us what has happened!
A trick? Explain yourself.
What is there to explain? The fire rages, the house is fallen, the city burns and quakes with terror.
If the city burns why are you here? We must fetch water!
Water? Water only feeds the flames. All that was ordered by Nature has now been cursed.
[Enter MEDEA and her HANDMAIDEN.]
HANDMAIDEN [to MEDEA]:
My lady, flee! You can still get away. Go at once, wherever you will but go!
Me? Go? That is funny, indeed! My vengeance has only just started. Why should I go when I can stay here and look and listen? These men in their arrogance and hubris have awoken a dragon. Now, I am a fury, I am Medea. For years I used the red threads of fate to draw Jason to me, but tonight I shall snip each and every one. Anyone can kill a brother; that happens every day. Anyone can steal their father’s treasure and run away. But to utterly crush a man’s spirit? to burn down all that he stood for and to watch him spend the end of his days hated and alone? Such an act requires dreadful and astonishing things. It is a beautiful thing. Not one shred of Jason’s glory shall remain. Not one! If he won’t love me for who I am then he will fear me for what I can do. You heard him say it! He would keep them for himself. They are not mine! Their blood is not my blood. Better be rid of such an unspeakable past.
[MEDEA begins to cry, with superhuman strength pulls herself together.]
My tears are nonsense; they are not for anyone else but Medea. Was I a good mother? Did I love them? I was. I have. But he took ten years from me; now I will take a lifetime from him. I will tear them from his arms and watch as their blood like tears gushes over their father’s upturned face.
[Calling to the HANDMAIDEN.]
Bring my children here! The Furies assemble, waving their torches and all I can do is think of my poor brother, Absyrtus, calling out in the Underworld for justice with his severed limbs piled around him in a heap. Brother, I will make your death meaningful. Watch. There’s nothing Medea cannot endure.
[MEDEA’S TWO SONS enter.]
Ah, my darlings, come here!
[To the eldest.]
You will go to your uncle, the old man who said he would dote on you. You are his from now on.
[MEDEA kills him. Noises can be heard offstage.]
What is this? Cowards rushing to prevent a disaster? Ah, and here comes the biggest coward of them all.
[To her YOUNGER SON.]
Come, darling, we’ll go to our sleeping mat, where you slept by my side all the days of your life. Don’t be afraid. You shall sleep deeply soon.
O my soul; be strong! Let the whole world see what you have done, what you are about to do, and tremble.
[Exit MEDEA, leading her SON by the hand. JASON enters, armed, leading soldiers. He addresses the CHORUS.]
People of Corinth! Your prince would speak! Where is she? Bring the witch to me! Show me where she is, the butcher, the cunt and I shall make her answer for this and pay her back for all that she has done. There! The tent! Burn it, with her inside. Raze it to the ground.
MEDEA [stepping out from the tent, carrying the limp form of her SON in her arms, facing down JASON]:
A princess restored, mistress of all that I see. All the things that I once held dear — my father, my poor brother, Colchis, the Golden Fleece — matter not. The deed is done and the vengeance begins. I abide to a terrible and incontrovertible law, in fact, the only law both gods and mankind cannot escape from. It is a law that—I confess — I obey with joy.
A harpy up until the very end; by all the gods as my witness I will strike you down and kill you where you stand!
No, Jason, you will not. Funny, little Jason. Your beautiful young wife is dead, and your rich and powerful father-in-law, too. A horrible death befell them. From my hands. Because of you.
No! By the gods, you how could you?
I was just curious to see if a man who abandoned his wife was even capable of feeling anything for anyone other than himself.
Damn you! One child lies senseless on the ground, the other hangs in your arms. I call on you as a mother to let them go.
Let them go? But of course.
[MEDEA turns the corpse on the ground over with her foot, revealing that the front of his shirt is soaked in blood]
[MEDEA drops the corpse in her arms, wearing a matching blood-soaked shirt, next to the first. JASON falls to his knees, howling.]
Still … little man, two is not enough. A thousand would not be enough. If I found in my children of yours lurking deep between my thighs, I’d take the most bitter of women’s herbs to deliver only blood, disaster and stillbirths.
JASON [groveling on the ground]:
Why? Why! Where are the gods?
Where they always are. Deaf and mute unless they take time from their games to laugh at the misfortunes of lesser creatures. And you are, certainly, Jason of the Argonauts, a lesser creature. Remember who I was and who I am. I return to the land of nightmares, for nightmares are all that you monsters can see in me.
[MEDEA gestures with her arms. A huge golden chariot pulled by two dragons descends from the sky. She climbs onboard and is borne away.]