Medea enters at the door. She tells the Chorus of Corinthian women that she has come out because she does not want them to blame her for being reclusive. She says there is no justice in people's judgments and that a foreigner, like her, must take special care to conform to the rules of her new state. Her heart is broken, she tells them. She has lost all joy. She wants to die.
Medea considers it her duty to respond to the Chorus's curiosity and to win them over so they will recognize her innocence. She assures them that, though an exile and foreigner, she respects and values them and the laws of their society despite her grief and despair.
Her husband, Jason, she says, is the most despicable man, and adds that, of all creatures on earth, women are worst off. She explains that women must buy a husband with a dowry, that what they buy is someone to rule them, that they must be clairvoyants (have psychic powers) to know what kind of man their husbands will turn out to be, and that, if a woman works really hard to make her husband content in marriage, then life can be bearable.
Medea offers Jason as an extreme example, calling him the worst man imaginable. She contrasts the condition of even the best of women, who are marginalized by societal customs and laws, with Jason's success in Corinth. Even if life is good for a woman, Medea argues, it's only because she is the servant of a decent man.
If a woman can't make her husband content, Medea says, it is better for her to be dead. She argues that childbirth is more frightening and painful than fighting in war and that, despite what men say, women's lives are no safer than theirs. The women of the Chorus, Medea says, have a home, but she has no family or safe place to go.
Medea makes what at the time would have been considered radical claims about the difficulty of life for women, even going so far as to suggest that the equal or greater suffering of women should give them equal standing with men. Once again, Medea's general abjectness is amplified by her exile.
She asks the Chorus for a favor, not to say anything if she can find a way to punish her husband for what he has done. The Chorus agrees to her request and interrupts to say the ruler, Creon, is approaching. Creon arrives at the door and orders Medea into exile with her two sons. Medea asks Creon why he is banishing her, and Creon says because he is afraid she will hurt his daughter. He has heard reports that she is threatening Jason, the Princess, and him.
Euripides creates dramatic irony by giving the audience and some characters (Medea and the Chorus) knowledge that is unknown by other characters (Creon and Jason). This enhances the tension and suspense. Creon enters and unjustly banishes Medea based on hearsay and his own emotions—his action is pre-emptive and without evidence. In acting in this selfish way he fails to uphold his duty as ruler. (Of course, he's right to be fearful of Medea, but that does not excuse his behavior.)
Medea tells Creon that he is acting based on her reputation as a clever and conniving woman and not based on her actual actions. It is her reputation that is always doing her harm. She says that, because she's clever, people are jealous of her, that, in reality, she is not so clever and that, as an outcast, she is in no position to cause any harm, especially to rulers like Creon. What wrong has she done him? she asks. She doesn't grudge him his success and claims that she wishes him, Jason, and the Princess good luck. Then, for good measure, she concedes defeat and begs Creon to take pity on her and allow her to stay in Corinth.
Medea challenges Creon and the ancient audience's assumptions about her as a woman by calling attention to Creon's injustice. She argues that there are rumors circling about what kind of person she is, but that these rumors don't get at the truth. She reminds Creon that she is an exile, so she deserves extra sympathy, charity, and pity. She untruthfully argues that she respects Creon as a ruler and wishes the best for him and his family, saying he has nothing to fear and should let her stay. In other words, Medea pretends to be the weak, dependent woman that she mocked earlier. She uses her cleverness to hide her cleverness.