Medea | Study Guide


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Episode 4

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Episode 4 of Euripides's play Medea.

Medea | Episode 4 | Summary



Jason returns and demands to know what Medea wants from him. Medea begins by asking his forgiveness, saying she was foolish to be angry with him for seeking an advantageous marriage that will link their sons to royalty. She calls to the children to come and see their parents mending things. Medea cries holding the children, and the Chorus leader weeps, too, knowing what will come to pass. Jason tells his sons that they will grow up to rule Corinth alongside their future brothers. Medea weeps more. When Jason asks why Medea weeps, she gives him an expected, pat response—that tears are the normal response for women.

Medea says she will accept her own exile but asks Jason to implore Creon not to exile the children. To gain the princess's help in convincing her father, Medea says she wants to offer the princess the crown and gown as gifts, explaining that they were passed down from her grandfather, the god Helios. Medea tells the children to deliver them and to make sure they place them only in the princess's hands.


Euripides uses two types of irony in this section: dramatic irony and situational irony. Dramatic irony is when the audience or reader knows more about what will come to pass than the characters do. Dramatic irony takes place in this portion of the play because the audience knows Medea's plan while Jason does not. Although the audience can infer what is behind Medea's tears and words, he takes them at face value. Euripides adds layers to the dramatic irony because, while the audience knows Medea's plot and Jason does not, they must still make guesses about her character development. Where is her inner journey at this point in the tragedy? Does she truly weep for the children? Or is she just acting like a devoted mother releasing her children into another woman's arms? After all, everyone involved in the scene knows that those arms are the same ones that receive Jason into the princess's bed.

Situational irony is where the opposite occurs from what is expected. Jason expects that his efforts will bring unity between his old and new houses, but he is terribly wrong. In actuality, by having his sons present the poisoned gifts to the princess of Corinth, he will be instrumental in bringing down both houses. At this point in the play, Jason still cannot see his role in the destruction of the royal house of Corinth and the end of his own line.

Two symbols feature in this episode. First, the marriage house—the one broken by Jason's betrayal—is central to the dialogue between Medea and Jason. It is significant that all of the action of the play and dialogue takes place outside the marriage house and that Medea calls the children outside to speak with their father. The children do not speak or even react to the feigned reunion of their parents, and their silent presence in front of the broken marriage house casts an ominous shadow over coming events. The poisoned crown symbolizes Jason's ill-fated thirst for royal status, which he hopes to gain through his marriage to the princess. Medea assures him that "among mortal men,/gold works more wonders than a thousand words"—words that ring with dramatic irony and foreshadow the death her gifts will bring.

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