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Medea | Glossary of Literary Terms and Devices

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  • Choral ode: an ode sung by the chorus in classical Greek drama; an "ode" is a lyric poem with complex stanza forms. Each stasimon in Medea is an ode that offers an emotional response to the events of the preceding episode. The first ode (Stasimon 1) expresses the Chorus's recognition that Jason's betrayal of Medea has reversed the natural order of things: "The waters in the sacred rivers/are flowing in reverse./ ... /For now a stronger woman/rules in your household,/queen of Jason's marriage bed."
  • Denouement: the resolution of the issues of a plot; the end of the action in a story. In Medea the denouement begins when Medea has heard that her plot against the princess and Creon has succeeded. Now she must force herself to kill her children before others capture and execute them: "I, who gave them life,/will kill them. Arm yourself for this, my heart./Come, pick up the sword,/ ... /For this short day forget they are your children/and mourn them later. Although you kill them,/still you loved them." The resolution ends as she leaves a shattered Jason behind and carries away the bodies of their children.
  • Deus ex machina: a plot device that introduces an unexpected power or occurrence that saves the day. The term, which means "god from the machine," originated with ancient Greek drama, in which a "god" would often swoop in at the end, having been hoisted by a crane (the "machine"), to rescue the protagonist, just as Helios allows Medea to use his winged chariot to escape Corinth.
  • Double entendre: a word or expression that might have multiple senses, interpretations, or two different meanings. Medea uses a double entendre when she says, "I shall bring others to their homes," where home can refer to either a dwelling place or the grave.
  • Irony, Dramatic: commonly found in plays, movies, and some poetry, a plot device for creating situations where the audience knows more about the situations than the leading characters do. An example of dramatic irony in Medea occurs at the end of the play when Jason arrives to take his sons from Medea; even as he states his intentions, the audience knows the boys are already dead.
  • Irony, Situational: an occurrence when the opposite of what is expected happens. In Medea, when Jason expects that by marrying the princess he will unite two royal houses, it is situational irony that the opposite occurs. By betraying Medea he sets in motion a series of events that will end in the destruction of both houses.
  • Irony, Verbal: the use of words that denote the opposite of what is actually meant. This occurs in Medea when the Chorus admits that only very few women are actually able to learn from their Muse—"in a crowd of women you might find one"; this is ironic because the role of the Chorus—which in Medea is made up of women—is to provide wise counsel.
  • Motif: a recurring element, such as an image, a sound, an action, or a literary device, with symbolic significance, which contributes to the development of the themes. A notable motif in Medea is the heroic quest; this is mentioned, for instance, whenever characters refer to Jason's quest for the Golden Fleece and his efforts to retake the throne of Iolcus from his traitorous uncle.
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