One of the earliest plays to deal directly with a woman is the ancient Greek play “The Medea” by Euripides. In this play, the main character is Medea. She is a princess in her own lands and a descendent of the sun god Helios. Although she is relatively happy in her father’s court, she decides to break for her own form of freedom after she meets Jason and decides that she is in love with him. In order to win Jason for her own, Medea takes several steps that betray her father, her country, and her family, even leading to the death of her brother. She even uses her magic to help Jason survive the tests her father placed before him and then to accomplish other great deeds that make him famous back home. The play starts sometime after Medea and Jason have settled back in Corinth and the couple has had two sons who are presumably old enough to walk and talk on their own, but still very young. From this beginning, the play covers essentially a day in Corinth when the country loses its king and princess and Jason loses everything that was ever important to him.
The beginning of the play starts sometime after Medea has given Jason two sons and they have lived together for many years when Jason suddenly decides he would rather be married to princess Glauce, daughter of Creon. Although Medea is banished from the kingdom by Creon directly because he is afraid that she might harm his daughter, Medea can convince him to allow her to stay just one more day. Most of the play happens during this last day. Medea spends a lot of the play trying to explain the actions she’s about to take because she intends to show no mercy on the house of Jason for his betrayal regardless of what it might cost her. Since she can’t get close to Glauce, Medea sends her sons, as Jason’s sons, too, with gifts for the bride. The gifts that the children carry to Glauce are treated with a poison that kills as soon as the bride-to-be tries the clothing on. It also kills King Creon as he attempts to save his daughter. In the meantime, the two boys have returned to their mother and Medea kills them. Although this causes her a great deal of pain, she does it so that Jason’s house will be dead and so that no one can attack her children to get to her like she has attacked Glauce to get to Jason. The last Jason sees of her or his dead children is as Medea takes their bodies with her in her grandfather’s chariot of Helios.
One of the first questions that arise when one reads this play is why does Medea kills her own children instead of just take them away. This answer is actually contained in the text. First, Medea has nowhere to go once she leaves Jason’s house. She can’t stay in the same town because Creon has already told her she has to leave. She can’t go back home because she has betrayed her father and caused the death of her brother. She knows she will likely be killed if she goes home. She has made arrangements to go stay in a neighboring kingdom, offering her services as a witch to earn her keep, but it is unlikely she will be permitted to bring her children with her. All of this explains why she cannot take the boys with her, but doesn’t explain why she needs to kill them. This is understood more as it becomes clear that the only other place that the boys could go would be with their father and how this reflects on Medea. By giving Jason his sons, Medea is essentially allowing him to kill her off without complaint. He gets to just change his mind about whether he wants her in his life or not and begin living an entirely new life with his new family while completely ruining hers. Her pride will not accept this and she feels he needs to know he cannot play with other people this way. She feels that she cannot live with herself unless she has gotten her revenge on him. He took her whole family away from her so she has to take his entire family away from him. At the same time, she realizes that other people will be able to use her warm feelings for her sons as a means of controlling her and the only way to prevent this from happening is to make sure her sons are placed out of the reach of all men. The only way she can be sure of this is by killing them. Although Medea might seem like a very evil woman, I think she was just very misunderstood and mistreated in a world where women had very little control over their own lives or options when men decided they were done with them.