Saturday, October 3, 2009

Medea, meet Ed Ricketts

"Adults, in their dealings with children, are insane.  And children know it too.  Adults lay down rules they would not think of following, speak truths they do not believe.  And yet they expect children to obey the rules, believe the truths, and admire and respect their parents for this nonsense.  Children must be very wise and secret to tolerate adults at all."  Ed Ricketts

I was reminded of the Ricketts statement as I watched a News Hour reporter interview Annette Bening about her latest theater role, the lead in the Greek tragedy Medea, by Euripides.
Briefly, this is a play about a woman who falls in love with Jason and aids him in his quest for the Golden Fleece by, among other acts, killing her brother.  True love, indeed!
This is followed by some travel, bad luck, and another atrocity until we reach the 'heart of the matter' as the romantics are fond of saying.  Jason cannot marry Medea because she is a foreigner.  Worse yet, her intensity turns him away and he seeks to marry another woman.  This causes deep powerful anger in the heart and mind and soul of Medea.  She feels herself wronged and seeks revenge.
Revenge is what she gets and the audience is suitably shocked.  What is her revenge?  Among other deaths, she murders the two sons she had with Jason.
For me, this play reeks of misogyny. But why would Euripides gives these words to Medea to speak?

"Of all things upon earth that bleed and grow,
a herb most bruised is woman. We must pay
our store of gold, hoarded for that one day,
to buy us some man's love; and lo, they bring
a master of our flesh! There comes the sting
of the whole shame. And then the jeopardy,
for good or ill, what shall that master be....
home never taught her that - how best to guide
toward peace the thing that sleepeth at her side.
And she who, laboring long, shall find some way
whereby her lord may bear with her, nor fray
his yoke too fiercely, blessed is the breath
that woman draws! Else let her pray for death .
Her lord, if he be wearied of her face
within doors, gets him forth; some merrier place
will ease his heart; but she waits on, her whole
vision enchained on a single soul.
And then they say 'tis they that face the call
of war, while we sit sheltered, hid from all
peril! False mocking! Sooner would I stand
three times to face their battles, shield in hand,
than bear one child."

And probably, these words are part of the reason that actresses love this role.  This mother, Medea, is, as Bening says, "more interesting than a good mother".  'Interesting' is not the word I would have chosen.  But then, what do I know?  I'm a man.  But so was Euripides.
For me, the most remarkable thing about this play is that the children have no names.  The boys are little more than props for the playing out of a white trash relationship.

Footnote:  for those who aren't familiar with Ed Ricketts, he was a marine biologist (1897-1948) and a close friend of John Steinbeck.  They collaborated on the book The Log Of The Sea Of Cortez.

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