The events of Medea take place in a male-dominated society, a society that allows Jason and Creon to casually and brutally shunt Medea aside. The play is an exploration of the roles of men and women, both actual and ideal, but it is not necessarily an argument for sexual equality. Creon and Jason find Medea's cleverness more dangerous and frightening because she is woman. "A sharp tempered woman…" Creon says, "Is easier to deal with than the clever type who holds her tongue." The chorus, too, feels it can offer Medea advice on what behavior best suits a woman. "Suppose your man gives honor to another woman's bed," it says. "It often happens. Don't be hurt./ God will be your friend in this."
Everyone, it seems, has a different opinion on what a good woman or a good man is and does. Jason says it would be better if men "got their children in some other way" and women didn't exist at all. "Then," he says, "life would have been good." Medea herself frequently weighs in on the subject, "We women are the most unfortunate creatures." Despite the plethora of opinions, many of them contradictory, the question isn't necessarily resolved in the play. Jason insists Medea is "free to keep telling everyone [he is] a worthless man"—not a difficult opinion for him to hold, given the comfort of his new position as Creon's son-in-law and member of the royal household. Medea promptly assures him that he is a "coward." She names him such in "bitterest reproach for [his] lack of manliness." The play is imbued with a sense that neither men nor women are doing as they should, neither are behaving as they ought, and, perhaps more importantly, that if they were, the tragedy might have been averted.
The Roles of Men and Women ThemeTracker
The Roles of Men and Women Quotes in Medea
The people here are well disposed to [Medea],
An exile and Jasons's all obedient wife:
That's the best way for a woman to keep safe –
Not to cross her husband.
But now her deepest love is sick, all turns to hate.
The middle course is best in name
And practice, the best policy by far.
Excess brings no benefit to us,
Only greater disasters on a house,
When God is angry.
Tell us, Nurse. At the gate I heard [Medea]
Crying inside the house.
I don't like to see the family suffering.
I sympathize with them.
My husband has turned out to be the most despicable of men.
Of all the creatures that have life and reason
We women have the worst lot.
A woman, coming to new ways and laws,
Needs to be a clairvoyant – she can't find out at home,
What sort of man will share her bed.
If we work at it, and our husband is content
Beneath the marriage yoke,
Life can be enviable. If not, better to be dead.
The fools! I would rather fight three times
In war, than go through childbirth once!
Medea, scowling there with fury at your husband!
I have given orders that you should leave the country:
Take your two sons and go, into exile. No delay!
The direct way is best, the one at which
I am most skilled: I'll poison them.
…But we are women too:
We may not have the means to achieve nobility;
Our cleverness lies in crafting evil.
You vile coward! Yes, I can call you that,
The worst name that I know for your unmanliness!
Zeus, you granted men sure signs to tell
When gold is counterfeit. But when we need to tell
Which men are false, why do our bodies bear no stamp
To show our worth?
As for your spiteful words about my marriage with the princess,
I'll show that what I've done is wise and prudent;
And I've acted out of love for you
And for my sons…
Jason, you have put a fine gloss on your words.
But – I may not be wise to say this – I think
You've acted wrongly: you have betrayed your wife.
All for nothing tortured myself with toil and care,
And bore the cruel pains when you were born.
Once I placed great hopes in you, that you
Would care for my old age and yourselves
Shroud my corpse. That would make me envied.
Now that sweet thought is no more. Parted from you
I shall lead a grim and painful life.
Hateful creature! O most detestable of women
To the gods and me and all the human race!
You could bring yourself to put to the sword
The children of your womb. You have taken my sons
and destroyed me.
No Greek woman
Could ever have brought herself to do that.
Yet I rejected them to marry you, a wife
Who brought me enmity and death,
A lioness, not human…