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medea in athens

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If you would like some of the mythological background to this story, click myth

cast:

male servant
Cora, female servant
Medea, age 35
Aegeus
Circe, Medeaís aunt (a sorceress)
Danaus, age 2, Medeaís son
Theseus, son of Aethra

Prelude

[Medea alone on stage with steaming cauldron. She is both angry and tearful.]

 

What can I say?
I cannot invoke the gods
I who have done their bidding
since my birth

Even my prayers were
your commands
I only cursed where you hated
blessed where you loved

Now I love
a man whom Juno
has forsaken
whom Hecate ignores

I should ask your
blessings on my marriage
But what if You refuse
and curse me instead?

You gods have made mistakes.
You chose Jason for me.
You let Creon kill my babes.
You let Jason court Creonís daughter.

Iíll not ask your blessing
on my second marriage
I have been your sister
And by your whims, lost all.

Jason gone
children gone
curses gone
blessings gone

no mother
no brother
no fatherland
Worst of all, no gods!

Aegeus is marrying a godless woman!

What am I?
Without my gods!

Act 1, Scene 1

 

In inner courtyard. Cora is weaving at a loom, singing softly. Male servant enters, excitedly.

Male Servant

 

Have you heard? Aegeus has taken a bride! A princess! In love with her for decades, but she was married to another, and he was with Aethra. But now sheís free! Isnít it romantic?

Cora

 

A princess now! Sheíll never fit in. Athens is a democracy. Aegeus has bad luck with women. His child with Aethra wasnít really his, you know -- heíll never admit it, but she had an affair. He left her while she was still pregnant, to raise the child alone. And heís never inquired after either her or the babe, since. She was really a good woman, but she was childless and she went to a witch, who told her Aegeus was sterile. The only way sheíd ever have a child would be by another man. The witch arranged the whole thing for her.

Male Servant

 

This will be different! Heís so happy! And sheís beautiful! Even her name is beautiful. Medea!

Cora

 

What! That child killer! Heís not marrying that sorceress! Do you know what she did? Itís all over the market!

Male Servant

 

Sheís the one who saved the Argo and brought back the golden fleece. They say she knows all sorts of healing charms -- even more than you. [he covers his mouth]

Cora

 

Itís better not to know what she knows. The Gods will destroy her one of these days. Sheís just escaped from Corinth where she killed King Creonís daughter and then her own two boys!

Male Servant

 

Just marketplace gossip. You have better sources. Whatís happened to your vaunted thorough investigations? Are your powers waning?

Cora

 

Medeaís always been a bad one -- chopped up her own brother as she was leaving home. Then got Peliasí daughters to chop him into little bits, promising sheíd restore his youth in the morning -- but of course she was gone.

Male Servant

 

Even I know about Pelias, stealer of inheritances. He was a bad king, and Iím glad heís dead.

Cora

 

Medea leaves a trail of death and destruction wherever she goes. I wonít have her in my house! Her and that necklace with which she sees what no mortal should look upon.

Male Servant

 

Many local women have wanted to marry Aegeus. You have nay-said all of them. I do believe youíre jealous! Itís not like you to believe wholesale marketplace rumor!

[Medea enters, nursing a two-year-old child]

Medea

 

Are the rumors about me? What do they say?

Male Servant

 

Not much. Typical new bride stuff.

Cora

 

And that youíre a child killer!

Medea, haughtily

Iíve never killed anyone under eighteen.

Cora

 

What about your own children?

Medea

[holds her child out toward Cora as she speaks]

He is all I have left. Creon killed my other 13 children. [She hugs the child to her breast]

Cora

 

Word is you had but two children, and you killed them just to spite Jason, hero of the Argonaut, for marrying another woman.

Medea

 

You believe everything you hear? (pause) Believe your eyes! This is my only surviving child. True, I killed Creonís daughter -- but she was going to marry my husband. Any woman would have done that!

Cora

 

And now youíve married Aegeus. How will Jason feel about that?

Medea

 

Who cares how Jason feels? Iím in love!

[Aegeus enters]

Aegeus

 

There you are my darling. The City Council wants to meet with you -- itís only a formality for your declaration of citizenship. Let Cora fit you a pretty new dress. Then weíll dance in there...

Medea

 

Iíd really rather not. I promised my Aunt Circe that Iíd refrain from attracting the attention of the gods. The Council is sure to ask me to use my magic in their petty affairs.

Aegeus

 

What if Creon asks for your extradition? Youíll want the Council on your side. People are already spreading tales of your treachery in the market. Creonís story has many excited against you.

Medea

 

Thatís what people said when Jason and I settled in Corinth. But the natives came to love me. Quit worrying!

Aegeus

 

The Council will give you a forum for your version of the deaths at Corinth. Perhaps help you give Creon the ignominy he deserves. The world should know he killed your children, and tried to pin the blame on you! You donít want to go down in history as the woman who killed her children to spite her husband.

Medea

 

Youíre the one I care about. Not the people of Athens! You know the truth. You have power. They love you. Iím your wife. Theyíll get used to me as they see their businesses prosper in our happiness.

Aegeus

 

Donít you think we ought to do something to assuage their fears? They donít know you as I do. And Athens is your new home.

Medea

 

I agreed to come with you to Athens because itís one place Iíve committed no crimes. (pause) Have you noticed? This seems to be a gender issue. Jason is a hero and theyíre afraid of me. For the same deeds! Nothing I can say or do will change that.

Aegeus

 

You could at least present your side of the story to the council.

Medea

 

There will be plenty of time for my side of the story at social events. You know -- the wives will come up to me and say, ``Is it true that you and Jason...?íí And Iíll smile sweetly, and say, ``You couldnít possibly believe that. Aegeus couldnít have married me if that were true.íí

Aegeus

 

But that takes time. They may rally the council tonight. If Creon asks for your extradition, they may support him.

Medea

 

Creon doesnít want me back, so there will be no extradition. Look -- if I defend myself, I appear weak, and frightened. Crowds feed on fear. If I ignore the false charges, and the true ones, like a male politician, theyíll go away.

Cora

[to Aegeus]

I wonít have her under my roof! Sheís too dangerous.

Medea

 

My things are in the chariot. Bring them up to my room.

Cora

 

I wonít touch your poisonous things! You may be royalty, but you canít give me orders.

Aegeus

 

Cora, Medea is my wife. Youíll take orders from her just as you would from me.

Medea

[suddenly concerned]

Are you some kind of farm girl? I wouldnít poison my own luggage!

Male Servant

 

(eagerly) Iíll carry them.

[Male Servant exits.] [Medea follows him.]

Aegeus

 

Please be patient with Medea. Sheís not used to city life.

Cora

 

I donít care what sheís used to. Weíve been together for a long time -- the two of us. I feel itís my duty to warn you -- sheís nothing but trouble. Youíll rue the day you brought her here!

Aegeus

 

Sheís my wife. Show some respect!

Cora

 

I am showing respect by warning you. Sheís a sorceress. Get her out of here before she kills us all!

Aegeus

 

Medea has given her word to Circe -- sheís given up magic. Cursing has been a way of life for her, since childhood. Think of her as recovering from a long illness.

Cora

 

She nearly cursed me for not carrying her luggage. I canít be responsible for her tongue.

Aegeus

 

Do for her what you do for me. Soothe her. Pamper her. Be her counselor, her confidante. She will reward you well.

Act 1, Scene 2

[Bare stage. Medea and Circe pacing about the same circle.]

Circe

 

Why do you think you need the gods?

Medea

 

I need them to do magic.

Circe

 

Think carefully. When has magic really helped you?

Medea

 

My magic made Jason a hero. My magic saved the Argo. My magic fooled the Sirens. ...

Circe

 

I know all that. I asked, íwhen has magic helped you

Medea

 

It brought me Jason, children, the life of a hero.

Circe

 

Do you have that now?

Medea

 

No. Thatís why I want my magic back.

Circe

 

You want Jason back?

Medea

 

Never!

Act 1, Scene 3

In Aegeusí bedroom. Aegeus is in bed, shirtless. Medea is combing her hair, while sitting on a stool.

Medea

 

You imagine I long for domesticity? I who have a death warrant on my head in nearly every seaport? I who have braved the sirens? The dragons? Who have ordered the moon to hide her face that I might do my deeds? You imagine me the little wife pregnant and civilized? I thought you married me as a man tired of silly women might -- a man confident enough to wed his equal at last.

[Aegeus goes to her]

Aegeus

 

Will you not do for me what you did for Jason? We must leave a legacy for the world to follow. If we do not provide superior children, the world will fall apart under yoke of weaklings.

Medea

 

Those are the very words that Jason spoke to me. Yet he did not protect his children when his dream of the future changed.

Aegeus

 

You did try for domesticity once. You need not give up on that dream, any more than I need give up on my dream to have a child of my own. I knew when I met you that you were the wife the gods intend for me. Only you can be the mother of my child. Iíve waited all these years for you, and the gods have finally fulfilled their promise.

Medea

 

I dried up your loins the day we met.

Aegeus

 

I no more believe that, than I believe you killed your children.

Medea

 

You never inquired after Aethra?

[She holds her necklace -- a black orb edged with a silver crescent moon.]

I, who cursedˇyou, have seen her child (your child) many times in this black orb. He grows mighty as the days pass.

[Aegeus, clasps the necklace and looks into it]

Aegeus

 

I see nothing! Just my own reflection. He drops the necklace and looks hopefully at her. As I left, I placed my sword and sandals under a heavy stone in the kingís courtyard. When the boy was strong enough to roll aside the stone, he was to put them on and come to me.

Medea

 

You who waited twenty years for me have become impatient? [She strokes his head]

Aegeus

 

I grow old and my powers dim. I want our own -- Medeus -- a child with our strength would be a hero -- the like of which the world has never seen.

Medea

 

Heroes do not make the world a better place. Jason, and his shipmates Hercules, Theseus, Orpheus and Nestor leave a trail of blood. Men set tasks to try them -- tasks that never would have existed but for heroes. And in the fulfilling of these fruitless tasks, innocents die.

Aegeus

 

You are still grieving your loss. You enjoyed the life of a hero. Heroes keep us safe, give our young men something to strive for, provide interesting tales to tell in the market. Without heroes, our lives would be dull and passionless.

[Aegeus puts his arms around Medea passionately.]

Medea

 

[grabbing him]

You think I only have sex to get babies? You know nothing of womenís powers!

[Lights out.]

Act 1, Scene 4

[Bare stage. Medea and Circe pacing about the same circle.]

Circe

 

I ask you again. Why do you want magic?

Medea

 

If I tell you, will you give it to me?

Circe

 

Magic is not mine to give. But I do have magic, and I will use it for you if you tell me truly what you want.

Medea

 

I want power I once had. I want to make the big decisions. I want to overcome impossible odds. I want excitement.

Circe

 

Aegeus does that all the time, and he has no magic. Why do you want magic for an ordinary life?

Medea

 

I donít want an ordinary life.

Circe

 

What would you ask Hecate or Hebe to do for you? Iíll ask in my name. You only have to tell me.

Medea

 

Itís not what Iíd get with the magic. Itís being able to ask. Ask a poor woman what sheíd do with wealth. Thereís probably nothing she wants immediately. Itís the possibilities.

Circe

 

Iíll ask again -- have you ever used magic for your own benefit?

Medea

 

I saved the Argo.

Circe

 

That was for Jason.

Medea

 

I destroyed the bronze giant.

Circe

 

That was for Jason.

Medea

 

I restored the golden fleece.

Circe

 

That was for Jason.

Medea

 

Okay, I see thereís a pattern here.

Circe

 

The gods only gave you magic to help Jason. He, not you, was their chosen one.

Act 1, Scene 5

The courtyard. Cora at her loom singing of Prometheus and Pandora. (This is a tale in which Pandora, the first woman, brought all woes to mankind. Jupiter made Pandora as a gift to Prometheus.) Male Servant enters, carrying basket of figs andˇgrapes.

Cora

 

Seen Medea this morning?

Male Servant

 

Sheís down at the market. She got there before I did.

Cora

 

Did you hear them last night. Youíd think even a sorceress needs time to recuperate from lovemaking like that! What was she doing at the market so early?

Male Servant

 

Seeking stories of the new hero, whoís making his way here from Troezen.

Cora

 

Aegeus isnít out of bed yet -- and heís due in Council this morning.

Male Servant

 

Heís a newlywed. The Council will understand.

Cora

 

For a few days, maybe.

Male Servant

 

Iíve heard a sorceress loses her power when sheís pregnant. Convince her to give Aegeus a child.

Cora

 

And after the child is born, their marriage will be stronger than ever. . .but youíre right -- itís worth a try -- it gives me nine months to think of something else.

Male Servant

 

Or perhaps youíll grow to like her.

Cora abruptly

So whatís new at the market?

Male Servant

 

The ships have arrived with fresh figs.

Cora

 

You know what I mean.

Male Servant

 

Just that new hero. Young man from Troezen, called Theseus. They say he has the strength of Hercules. And he might be King Aeetesí grandson.

Cora

 

Praise the gods. This is just what I need to convince Medea to get pregnant. Now that sheís given up magic, sheíll live in fear of heroes. And heroes donít kill pregnant women. Praise the gods!! (pause) And put the figs in the kitchen.

Male Servant

 

What are your plans for Medea now?

Cora

 

I am like the tides. Ebbing and flowing, but marking my borders well. My goal never varies -- Medea will leave this house. But my methods evolve. I must gain the confidence of both husband and wife. And when they both do my bidding, as confident advice, that will be her doom. But first, I must get that necklace -- the silver crescent edging the black orb of vision. Then Iíll see my way clear.

[Male Servant starts to leave.] [Medea enters, carrying basket of pita.]

Cora

 

I trust you had a restful night in your new home.

Medea, preening

 

I slept well. And Iíve been to market already. Hereís bread for the evening meal.

Male Servant

 

Did you hear about Theseus, the new hero? He carries a powerful sword that he found under a huge boulder in his motherís courtyard. Itís engraved with the letter `Aí like Aeetes, king of Troezen. Heís been using it to kill bandits and tyrants all along the road.

[Medea gives Male Servant a bracelet off her arm.]

Medea

 

Keep your ears open for more tales of this hero. Tell me everything.

[Male Servant starts to leave.]

Cora

 

First put that basket in the kitchen, and ...

Male Servant

 

(to Cora

I know my household duties. (to Medea Iíll listen in the market again tomorrow.

[Male Servant bows to Medea, then leaves.]

Cora

 

From the sound of last night -- should I be setting up the nursery?

Medea

 

Noise does not produce a child.

Cora

 

But Aegeus wants a child.

Medea

 

You know him well.

Cora

 

Why not give him one, then?

Medea

 

I canít.

Cora

 

Where did you get the other fourteen? Gifts from your servants?

Medea

 

When I first met Aegeus, I was jealous. He thought he was in love with Aethra. I used my powers and called down a curse from the gods. Aegeus will always be childless.

Cora

 

So itís true about Aethra. Her child is not his.

Medea

 

[Medea nods] You never doubted?

Cora

 

You could use your magic and lift the curse.

Medea

 

The gods will destroy me if I call on them even to undo my curses. Hecate and Hebe are more jealous than men -- they have spurned me forever.

Cora

 

They might be pleased that you are trying to do good.

Medea

 

You do not know the gods as I do. Good and evil are the same to them!

Cora

 

Then, do what Aethra did.

Medea

 

Aethra came to me! I used my powers to make her child appear to be Aegeusí.

Cora

 

An ordinary woman gives her husband a child. Youíre supposed to be better than ordinary women. How can you withhold this one boon from your new husband?

Medea

 

Aethra was no ordinary woman. She was a princess, like myself. We do not produce ordinary children.

Cora

 

All the more reason for Aegeus to expect a child from you. (pause) Why youíre just a spoiled naive princess. First you protect yourself with sorcery, and then with Jasonís sword. Now you have neither. You must do what ordinary women do and give your husband a child.

Medea

 

[fondling her necklace]

You think men are such simple malleable creatures? I had fourteen children with Jason and that did not bind him to me. Despite the myriad favors and murders I did for him, he left me for another princess of fairer skin and more powerful father. Itís you who know little of the world.

Cora

 

Aegeus is not Jason. Iíve served him all my life and know him well. Aegeus wants a child -- not a proof of his masculinity. (pause) And there is the matter of your safety, should this new hero come to Athens. Only a babe in your womb would save you. Heroes do not kill pregnant women.

Medea

 

Medea hide behind her womb? Medea fear a hero? I make heroes. Jason and the others are nothing without me! The idea disgusts me! (pause, as she touches her necklace)

Cora

 

Iím not suggesting a child out of weakness. I see this child as a last chance at power for both of you. You no longer have the gods to enforce your every curse. Aegeus is getting old. His voice and his body grow weak. A child would combine both your strengths with youth. A child is your real chance for power.

Medea

 

Even if I wanted to do this thing, thereís the matter of seed.

Cora

 

I know a place you can go in Turkey. No one will be the wiser. You can get a father while you are shopping for hens. Many local women use this service.

Medea

 

No wonder youíre still a servant, and Aegeus hasnít freed you. Youíve the mind of a housefly.

[Medea exits.] [Cora goes back to her song about Pandora and Prometheus.]

[Aegeus enters.]

Cora

 

I trust married life agrees with you. You look well rested.

Aegeus

 

Were we that loud? (pause) Oh never mind. I really need your advice -- help me convince Medea to give me a son.

Cora

 

I already suggested that very thing to her this morning before she went to market.

Aegeus

 

Truly you are the best of servants! And Medea the best of wives! What a glorious morning!

Cora

 

When you go to Council this morning, you might pass on to them a warning from the marketplace -- a new hero is coming. I pray heíll skip Athens, but they never do.

Aegeus

 

You women seem to think these heroes are nothing but trouble! I actually enjoy them. But -- Medea -- he must be kept away from Medea -- I promised her sheíd be safe in Athens!

Cora

 

Iíd be more afraid of Medea seducing him, than of him killing her. She was at the market first thing this morning searching out tales of him. She asked me what I knew, and has returned to the marketplace for more.

Aegeus

 

Sheís probably afraid. Now that sheís sworn off sorcery, everything frightens her. She used to just utter a curse to solve any problem -- from pesky flies to ships filled with enemies. Now she has no defenses, except what I can provide. And Iím an old man.

Cora

 

I saw her preening while she heard the tales. And fondling that necklace of hers.

Aegeus

 

All women pretty up when they go to market.

Cora

 

I donít want to keep you from your Council meeting. But do think about what Iíve said.

Aegeus

 

[Aegeus exits during the speech.]

Iíll pass on your warning to the Council. I promised Medea sheíd be safe here.

Act 1, Scene 6

[Bare stage. Medea and Circe pacing about the same circle.]

Circe

 

Have you decided the sorcery you want from me?

Medea

 

I want Aegeusí child.

Circe

 

Iím not a man --

Medea

 

Aegeus is a man. Give him seed.

Circe

 

(laughs) You curse a man childless. Then you give him one child by Aethra. Now you want to give him another from your own body. Every man will want you to make him childless, so he may have two such fine children.

Medea

 

Will you do it?

Circe

 

Iíll ask the gods.

Act 1, Scene 7

Cora is again at her loom singing of Apollo.

Medea enters with a basket of woven fabric.

Cora

 

(offended) There was no need for you to buy cloth. Iíd weave for you. You only need to ask.

Medea

 

I prefer the Turkish weave.

Cora

 

That wonít go over well in Council. You must think of your husband and the reputation of our house -- not just yourself!

Medea

 

I have been. These fabrics are for my disguise, when I go to get his child.

Cora

 

Then youíve decided to do it? Iím so happy for you! (pause) But you canít fool me. This morning, you did not want a child. What did you learn in the market?

Medea

 

Many years ago, Aegeus had a consort. She gave him a child, he has never seen. If that child shows up here, and we have no child of our own, Aegeusí loyalties could be divided. Our marriage could be threatened.

Cora

 

You knew that before you went to market. When do you expect his child to arrive? (pause) Itís that hero, isnít it?

Medea

 

Not bad for a housefly!

Cora

 

Houseflies can bite!

Medea

 

Iím like a mirror. Never offer me what you do not wish upon yourself.

Cora

 

More bluster. I know youíve given up magic. Itís about time you gave up your princessy ways as well.

Medea

 

[changing pace]

Look, Theseus is headed towards Athens. He is a threat not only to me, but to the entire civilized world. Without magic, I canít stop him by myself. You can help. Aegeus relies on you. Do your best to poison his mind against Theseus. And promise not to tell him that Theseus is his son.

Cora

 

Will you give me that necklace?

Medea

 

Arenít you afraid it will poison you? The power it gives is of no more use to me. But the temptation alone might kill the unprepared.

Cora

 

The bracelet you bestowed earlier has caused no harm. Youíre just bluster and gall. But to amuse me, tell me the story of the necklace. Then, if I still want it, weíll strike our bargain.

Medea

 

[looks around]

This orb belonged to my mother, who died during my birth. In the moonlight, it gives visions. Itís a two-way glass. You may look on whom you wish, but the seen see you as well, and know they are observed. Hecate looks on viewer and viewed and intervenes in the affairs of women. Iíve given up sorcery. In giving you this, I forever break my bond with the gods. I, who was nearly a goddess. Their visions have brought me nothing but pain.

Cora

 

[Cora takes necklace]

Our bond is sealed. Iíll influence Aegeus against his son. Now tell me more. I cannot imagine you a child. And you say you have no mother. Who nursed you?

Medea

 

My older sister gave me suck. She was weaning my nephew as I came forth into the night. My father brought me to her, still bloody from my motherís death.

Cora

 

So you began your life with murder!

Medea

 

Yes. Does that surprise you? An auspicious beginning for a powerful sorceress. My father gave my sister the necklace to use for my safety. I took the necklace with me when I leaped aboard the Argo.

Cora

 

[clutching necklace to her breast]

I may find a use for this.

Act 1, Scene 8

[Cora at her loom. Male Servant enters with basket of bread.]

Male Servant

 

How many days can it take to buy hens? I wish Medea would return.

Cora

 

What for?

[Aegeus enters and stands in a corner listening.]

Cora

 

Is it because you love telling her about the hero?

Male Servant

 

She loves tales of heroes -- the new hero, heroes of old. Sometimes she tells me about Jason and the Argonaut.

Cora

 

For a woman who says she wants peace, I think she shows too much interest in heroes. As a new bride, donít you think her interest should be in her husband?

Male Servant

 

Iíve seen you in the market. Youíre no slouch in the hero tales department yourself. And Iíve seen you in the moonlight, trying to use that necklace. Have you seen Theseus in that stone?

Cora

 

Never you mind!

Male Servant

 

Anyway, why didnít you go to get the hens? Thatís no work for a princess like Medea.

Cora

 

Medea decides what is her proper work.

Male Servant

 

Well I miss her. I love telling her about the hero.

Cora

 

What does Medea like best about Theseus?

Male Servant

 

His name. Theseus, like one of the Argonaut heroes.

Aegeus

 

[stepping forward into the center courtyard]

For someone whoís had such an exciting life, itís amazing how well Medeaís adapting to city life. Sheís even gone to buy hens.

Cora

 

Do you really believe that story?

Aegeus

 

And what do you believe?

Cora

 

Maybe sheís gone to find the hero. Medea is the kind of woman who needs heroes in her life.

Male Servant

 

Nonsense! You know she loves Aegeus!

Cora

 

I think youíre sweet on her yourself.

Male Servant

 

Youíre joking! Iím content just to be near her.

Aegeus

 

(to male servant) Medea speaks highly of you, and I, too, eagerly await her return.

(to Cora

Iíve given you the special task of befriending Medea. Has she confided anything to you that might account for her absence?

Cora

 

She told me sheís gone to see a witch. So she can have a baby.

Intermission


Act 1, Scene 9

[Bare stage. Medea and Circe pacing about the same circle.]

Circe

 

I see you did not wait for my magic.

Medea

 

I told you. I want power. You yourself said, even an ordinary man like Aegeus has power.

Circe

 

So you think you got a baby under your own power.

Medea

 

(laughs) Iím starting to like this. This independence from the gods. Theyíll be sorry they freed me.

Circe

 

No more magic ointments. No more life-giving brews.

Medea

 

Those were all for Jason. The gods never cared for me. They only used me to help their darling Jason.

Circe

 

The gods still exist, Medea. They can still command your life, as they did those whom you have killed.

Act 2, Scene 1

The courtyard, Cora at her loom. Male Servant

enters with a basket of grapes.

Male Servant

 

The hero is getting closer to Athens. Now heís used his magical sword to remove the feet of Procrustes the Stretcher. Procrustes deserved it you know! He was always tying travelers to his bed and either chopping them or stretching them to fit.

Danaus runs across the stage and takes a bunch of grapes from the basket.

Male Servant

 

Look how that boy runs. Medea certainly makes strong babies.

Cora

 

Get to the point. Why are you dallying here, instead of putting that food away?

Male Servant

 

I thought you wanted Medea to go away. Since sheís become pregnant, Aegeus loves her more than ever!

Cora

 

You have only begun to watch. Great hatred from great love grows. If Aegeus is to throw her out once and for all, she must betray him while she has his greatest trust.

Male Servant

 

Youíve told me the child is not his. Why not tell Aegeus that Medea carries the spawn of a chicken farmer?

Cora

 

Thatís too easy to forgive, and too easy for her to lie about convincingly. Pay attention, and youíll see great things happen here.

[Aegeus enters.]

Cora

 

How did the Council meeting go?

Aegeus

 

Same as usual. They canít make up their minds what to do about that new hero. They canít make up their minds whether to increase tributes from the conquered lands. The only thing they could agree on was to order more wine for the next meeting.

Cora

 

Then youíd better take matters into your own hands. Invite the hero to dine with you. Get to know him, find out his plans. Let him know that Medea is in your care and no threat to anyone. Iíll prepare a feast. He will think kindly on Athens after our hospitality.

Aegeus

 

And put Medea in danger? I know you donít like her, but thatís beneath even you.

Cora

 

Hear me out! If you invite the hero here, heíll see that Medea is pregnant.

Aegeus

 

What of his powerful sword? He could have Medeaís head before he noticed her belly.

Cora

 

Iíll take that risk on myself. Medea can hide in her room, and Iíll pose as your wife in the courtyard. Under moonlight, we look much alike -- the young man wonít know the difference.

Aegeus

 

Iíll bring your ideas up with Medea. She may not like hiding, and she may have other plans. Good night.

Act 2, Scene 2

[Bare stage. Medea and Circe pacing about the same circle.]

Circe

 

So, howís my godless niece?

Medea

 

Doing fine, thank you.

Circe

 

You think you have no gods, and that the gods ignore you. Yet you copy them in everything you do.

Medea

 

Why not?

Circe

 

Do you admire the gods?

Medea

 

No! Theyíve used me. Theyíre not worthy of admiration.

Circe

 

So, why do you copy them?

Medea

 

I want to be powerful like them.

Circe

 

Emulation is the sincerest form of admiration.

Medea

 

So, the gods have such vanity that they take even my independence as worship?

Circe

 

Exactly.

Medea

 

But, I like power.

Circe

 

Why?

Medea

 

It lets me control other people.

Circe

 

Why do you care what other people do?

Medea

 

Ordinary people have no sense of destiny.

Circe

 

I thought you liked being married to Aegeus.

Medea

 

Yes. So?

Circe

 

You did not arrange that. You did not tell Jason to wed Creonís daughter and expel you from Corinth. Your happiness comes from events that you did not plan and would have prevented.

Medea

 

I canít control everything.

Circe

 

Then why control anything?

Act 2, Scene 3

[In Aegeusí bedroom.] [Medea combing her hair, Aegeus removing his shirt as he speaks.]

Aegeus

 

As I see it, weíve got two options. We send soldiers to block the roads, or we roll out the welcome mat.

Medea

 

Those are both short term solutions. If heís a hero, heíll conquer your soldiers. And if you let him into Athens, heíll kill where he likes, anyway.

[Aegeus strokes Medeaís rounded belly.]

Aegeus

 

I wonít let him hurt you.

Medea

 

I may have given up sorcery, but I am not powerless. Bugs still scurry from my path. Merchants in the market watch where they put their thumbs when they sell to me. I know what to do with heroes. Set the hero a task, an impossible task, from which he will not return. Send him to destroy the Minotaur that lurks in the labyrinth at Crete.

Aegeus

 

Heís only one man. How much harm can he do? He might be amusing dinner company. And perhaps, if you regale him with tales of Jason in his youth, this hero will see wisdom and give up his pursuits of fame.

Medea

 

What is it with you city folk? Iíve lived my life with heroes. They are born and die that way. Wisdom is not in their birth -- they see only glory, adventure, power! Talk a hero into the life you live? You may as well convince a bird to bark.

Aegeus

 

Now whoís making this a gender issue? You were a hero. You gave it up. Do you think men less capable than you?

Medea

 

Yes.

Aegeus

 

Heroes understand power. I can make him a general in our army -- give him great power in Athens. All for the price of your safety. That should be a good bargain. One a hero could understand.

Medea

 

But what of the Council? Will they want him to settle here? Perhaps join them in local power? Hire him to lead our ships of conquest? He fires up the local imagination. The servants never tire of retelling his exploits that they hear in the market.

Aegeus

 

The Council can decide nothing. The truly important decisions will be made at our table. [he strokes her belly again] How does it feel to be back in the seat of power?

Medea

 

When have you seen me powerless?

Aegeus grabs her. Lights out.

Act 2, Scene 4

[Bare stage. Medea and Circe pacing about the same circle.]

Circe

 

Still want power?

Medea

 

I want what the gods have. I want to know everything.

Circe

 

Wouldnít that be boring?

Medea

 

It would be ultimate power.

Circe

 

You didnít answer my question.

Medea

 

Are you saying the gods are bored?

Circe

 

Why else do you suppose they created people in the first place? Why do you imagine they meddle in the lives of men?

Medea

 

If you believe that, why do you go along with them?

Act 2, Scene 5

[The courtyard. Cora at her loom.] [Medea enters.]

Medea

 

I thought we had a deal. You were supposed to turn Aegeusí mind against the hero. Now he wants to invite him for dinner! Canít you keep a bargain? [Medea reaches for necklace. Cora clutches it to her chest.]

Cora

 

Youíre missing the big opportunity here! Once the hero is at your table, eating your food, you can poison him. That requires no magic.

Medea

 

Youíve got a line for everything, donít you? Youíre setting me up. I kill the Theseus. The Council banishes me. Simplistic housefly thinking. I asked you to turn Aegeusí mind against the hero. Surely you can keep your part of the bargain.

[Male Servant enters, carrying more grapes and figs.]

Male Servant

 

Theseus approaches. He has slain all the bandits on the road from Troezen. Now at every crossroads, he challenges all comers, just for the heroics of battle. So far, none have so much as scratched him with their swords. Perhaps someone in Athens can put him to the test.

Medea

 

Too bad heís not headed toward Corinth. Jason would be sure to challenge him, and no matter who won, the world would be plagued with one less hero.

Male Servant

 

How can you say that? Heroes are gifts from the gods. Heroes bring us glory, and riches. Why one day a hero may free us from the Minotaur.

Medea

 

Hero worship! Youíre both such children!

[Medea exits.]

Cora

 

I think sheís secretly in love with him. After her glory days on the seas and in foreign ports with Jason, Aegeus is foolish to think sheíll settle down with an old man like him.

Male Servant

 

She became pregnant awfully fast after her trip to Turkey. Do you think she went to a witch for fertility herbs. Or do you think she went to visit the hero instead? Is she carrying the heroís child?

Cora

 

I wouldnít put anything past Medea.

Act 2, Scene 6

[Medea alone with steaming pots of herbs. Evening.]

Medea

 

Hecate. Hebe.
I beseech you as your daughter.
I am snake, pregnant with myself
My eyes glitter in your fire
I am snake, sloughing skin,
renewing youth, without rebirth
My brother dragon sleeps at my command
From his teeth spring mighty warriors
Yet I would coil by the cooled ashes
watching oíer the hearth abandoned.
I mix the bran, the wax, the milk and wine,
coltsfoot, pulverized lizard, spin and smoke

For what?
What is womenís power that
glorifies men
but does us only damage?

What is your power?

Where is mine?

Act 2, Scene 7

[In the courtyard:]

Aegeus

 

I thought you gave up witchcraft. What are you doing!

[Medea sways over the steaming pot]

Get away from that pot! This sorcery will affect the child!

[Medea continues to sway, dancing around the pot]

I take you in -- to my home, to my heart -- and you pretend to bear my child? In the market, they say you carry the heroís spawn. You did not use herbs for your fertility -- you used the excuse of a trip to seduce the hero.

Medea

 

I do not seduce children!

Aegeus

 

Prove to me this is not so! I do not want to believe such treachery from you, my dear Medea. Give me proof the child is mine!

Medea

 

How do I prove such a thing? I can prove the yeast if it raises bread. I can prove wine by its ferment. But how do I prove what never happened and left no sign?

Aegeus

 

Then swear to me by the fire in the earth and the fire above. Swear you did not bed this hero.

Medea

 

[leaves her pot and strokes Aegeus]

I swear to you by the fire in the earth and the fire above. Iíve never laid eyes on this hero, let alone laid in his bed. Had I seduced him as you say, Iíd be bound to protect his life, as I am Jasonís. Yet this night, Iíll make up poison that you may offer Theseus in drink. His death will be proof that the child is yours.

Aegeus

 

Brave words, Medea. Worthy of my wife. But isnít the heroís death a little extreme to prove your loyalty to me?

Medea

 

You want proof I do not love the hero? You want to protect me from his wrath? Earlier, you said he is a danger to me. If you now believe he is my lover, then you believe he poses me no threat, but rather threatens you. If he is a threat to either of us, his death is our only safety.

[Medea exits.] [Aegeus paces alone in the courtyard]

Aegeus

 

Who would have thought married life would be so complicated?

[Cora enters, sits at her loom, and weaves]

Aegeus

 

Cora, do you think the child is mine?

Cora

 

I hate it when men talk about owning people. My wife. My child. My slave! Of course the childís not yours. He will be born a free man.

Aegeus

 

Or woman.

Cora

 

Medea only has men children.

Aegeus

 

I count on you to be my eyes and ears. I asked you to befriend Medea. Now, tell me, has she shown any interest in the hero? (pause) I mean of course everybody is interested in the hero -- heís the talk of the market -- has she shown any undue interest?

Cora

 

Medea is not a normal woman. Sheís interested in every detail about the young man. She asks over and over as if hoping to gain some secret information that even I donít know Iím telling. But that may not be undue interest from Medea. She asks me to describe his sword -- down to the decorations on the handle. She asks me how he wears his hair, and what he says when he kills his prey. But that may not be undue interest from Medea. She asks if he has secret ointments to protect him from evil. She asks which gods he credits with his victories. Which gods guard him and bring him fortune. But that may not be undue interest from Medea. She asks more questions about him than she does about planning meals, or designing clothing, or even her sonís whereabouts. But that may not be undue interest from Medea.

Act 2, Scene 8

[Bare stage. Medea and Circe pacing about the same circle.]

Circe

 

So, you no longer want power?

Medea

 

I no longer want laws.

Circe

 

You said you want to be as unlike the gods as possible. That means giving up power.

Medea

 

They took my power when they took Jason. And youíve shown me -- it was never my power. It was always theirs. I cannot renounce what I never had. I can only recognize the truth.

Circe

 

But thereís the other power. The power mortals have to manipulate others -- by kindness and by cruelty.

Medea

 

I renounce that. Those are laws. Iíll be kind where it suits me and cruel where it suits me. Mortals and gods may react as they choose.

Circe

 

How is that attitude different from the godsí?

Medea

 

The gods want worship. I donít.

Circe

 

Thatís not what I asked.

Medea

 

Are you saying that the more I try to be unlike the gods, the more I become like them?

Act 2, Scene 9

[Medea, visibly pregnant, with cauldron.]

Months now. No word from you.
You who were always
in my thoughts, in my mind
Now you are nothing.
To think -- I called you sisters!
I was your slave!

Hecate. Hebe.
Women falsely credit you
with their own strength.
Sacrifice to you
those things that honor
themselves alone.

I thought life without you
unbearable, without power.

Bereft. Resourceless. Alone. No more! The fires I thought were yours -- burn within me. I need not ask you for what is mine already. I am the sunís grand daughter.

[she scoops up a cup from the brew, then tips over cauldron, which is mostly smoke.]

[Aegeus enters.]

Aegeus

 

Is the poison ready?

Medea

[nods]

All is ready.

Act 2, Scene 10

Cora in rocking chair in courtyard, fondling necklace, peering into it.

Cora

 

He approaches.

[Medea and Aegeus hide in the shadows of a pillar at stage left.]

Medea

 

Has he brought his sword?

[Before Cora can answer, Theseus enters, wearing his sword.] [Theseus walks directly to Cora, hugs and kisses her in a filial manner.]

Theseus

 

Dear Medea! Iíve seen you in the night. In the orb.

[he points to necklace.]

Cora

 

Ssshh! Not now.

Theseus

 

Medea! Beautiful name. Beautiful woman. Mother...

[Aegeus approaches.]

Aegeus

 

Thatís enough. This woman is my servant, not my wife. I placed her in the courtyard in case you meant to harm Medea. Now that I see you come in love, Welcome!

Theseus

 

I understand your need to test me. I bear you no anger. But I do have a message for Medea. Where is she?

Aegeus

 

You may meet with her in the dining room. [He gestures off to stage left.] [Theseus and Medea exit stage left.]

Cora

 

[to Aegeus]

Not so fast. I felt his hands, meant for Medea. This visit is not innocent. This hero bears love for Medea, beyond filial duty or heroic brotherhood. His caresses were too familiar.

Aegeus

 

Yet he mistook you for her. If he were truly her lover, surely, he would have known...

Cora

 

It is evening. The light poor. I wear the necklace by which he knows her, has known her since his birth.

Aegeus

 

But if theyíve been lovers, heíd have known her smell.

Cora

 

I wear her perfume.

Aegeus

 

Send Medea to me. I must speak with her before we dine.

[Cora exits stage left.]

Aegeus

 

I fear the hero. And yet I fear Medea. All my plans and all my power become useless in the face of unknowable truth. Cora has always hated Medea. Yet she has always been my loyal servant. Medea has always loved me, even in her marriage to Jason. Both are treacherous. And now this hero -- more treachery...

[Medea enters, with Danaus by her side. Her pregnancy is large.]

Medea

 

Our guest awaits us. Why the delay?

Aegeus

 

Cora told me how the hero embraced her. Professed his love. Tell me -- is the child mine? Or the heroís? Have you been making love to this hero? Bearing his child, telling the world heís mine?

Medea

 

Itís sweet to see you jealous, but you have no cause. Theseus loves me because his mother taught him to love me. Aethra also loves me love, and she is no more my babyís father than he is. You have the cup of poison I made for the hero. He is nothing to me. Use the poison. I could not say this if I bore his child.

Aegeus

 

He is no threat to you, and still you urge me to kill him?

Medea

 

I have killed many for Jason who were no threat to me. I do the same for you!

[Aegeus embraces Medea.]

Aegeus

 

Truly you are the best of wives! Letís join our guest.

Act 2, Scene 11

[Bare stage. Medea and Circe pacing about the same circle.]

Circe

 

Is there any sorcery I could do for you this evening?

Medea

 

Iíve sworn off the stuff.

Circe

 

Not too long ago, you were begging for the stuff.

Medea

 

You showed me that I never used it for myself. And the best things in my life have come about when my magic failed.

Circe

 

So, now you embrace anarchy?

Medea

 

Thatís the only honest position. When the gods use me to help Jason, why should I cooperate? If I donít know my own best interests, thereís no point in making requests of the gods.

Circe

 

I could tell you what will happen tonight.

Medea

 

Could you change it?

Circe

 

No. But I have seen what will be. It might help you to know.

Medea

 

I know my goals. That is enough.

Act 2, Scene 12

[In the dining room. Aegeus, Medea, Cora, Danaus, and Theseus standing near dining table. Male Servant

stands guard by door.]

Medea

 

[to Theseus]

Iíve been thinking. Heroes need brave deeds. The only challenge befitting a hero in our times is the Minotaur of Crete.

Aegeus

 

Heís just sat down to dinner. Let him think on it after his belly is full.

Theseus

 

I want to hear about it. Medea is right. I live to free the earth of villainous creatures.

Medea

 

This year, when you send your youths and maidens to feed the Minotaur, Theseus could be among them.

Aegeus

 

Heís not a citizen of Athens. The Minotaur demands citizens.

Theseus

 

I can get citizenship. And, I have a plan. The king of Crete has a daughter, Ariadne. Princesses just love heroes.

[He nods at Medea.] And I am a hero. Iíll get her to fall in love with me. Then sheíll tell me how to defeat the Minotaur.

Medea

 

Must the gods use women so?

Theseus

 

Did any monsters ever eat Jason?

Medea

 

Of course not. I didnít let them.

Theseus

 

My point exactly. Ariadne can do for me what you did for Jason.

Medea

 

And then youíll dump her like Jason dumped me!

Theseus

 

Perhaps. When she has served her purpose. How can you compare one jilted lover to the insatiable appetite of the minotaur who consumes Athensí youth year by year? The gods know that womenís worth is not tied to their men. But if a woman can help a hero. . .

Medea

 

(to Aegeus

Predictable, isnít he?

Theseus

 

You have a fine marriage now with Aegeus. You have nothing to complain of.

Aegeus

 

Just the loss of her children, her brother, her fatherland, and a death warrant on her head in nearly every port. We even had to have Cora pretend to be you because we feared you might want to kill her. The life of a heroís jilted wife is not easy.

Theseus

 

I hear she killed her children by her own hand.

Aegeus

 

Lies told by Creon, to protect his own image in Corinth. You know Iím starting to think Medea is right. Women do get a bad image for the same events that make men heroes.

Theseus

 

But think of her role in history. And look. She is pregnant already. She has lost nothing irreplaceable. And never forget -- she gave the world a hero. Ariadne will do the same for me!

Medea

 

I told you heroes were all alike. They think children are replaceable like candles.

[Aegeus pours from the special cup that Medea gave him earlier into a serving glass. He pours wine over it, and then into all the other glasses. He passes out the glasses.]

Aegeus

 

A toast! To the wives and knives that bring us greatness!

[As he speaks, Theseus turns, and the sword he carries glints in candle light. Theseus brings the cup towards his lips. Aegeus knocks it from his hand.]

Aegeus

 

Let me see that sword!

Theseus

 

[handing sword to Aegeus]

I thought you trusted me. Must I be unarmed to drink in your house?

[Aegeus embraces Theseus.]

Aegeus

 

My son!

[As they embrace, Cora sidles up to Medea.]

Cora

 

Our secretís out. Letís see you get out of this one.

Medea

 

I told you Aethra gave you a fine son.

Aegeus

 

And you tried to poison him! How could I have trusted you?

Medea

 

I gave you the poison because you did not trust. And now you have cursed Theseus here -- When he marries King Minosí daughter, she will seduce his son, your grandson. Alas poor Phaedra!

Aegeus

[to Theseus]

Ignore that. Sheís given up cursing.

Cora

[to Medea]

By the gods, woman. Donít you know how to ingratiate yourself?

Medea

 

What for? Iím a free woman!

Aegeus

 

Surely youíre not as strong as you claim. You didnít know Theseus was my son when you made the poison.

Medea

 

Of course I knew. Theseus said it himself -- the loss of a child is a thing of no value. Children are replaceable like candles. Look -- you have another here. [points at her abdomen.]

Aegeus

 

No wonder thereís a death warrant on you in nearly every port.

Theseus

 

If she were not pregnant, Iíd kill her myself.

Medea

 

So this is the mind of a hero! Itís okay to use women on your way to power. Itís okay to kill children, so long as you think of them as womenís children, and men do the killing. But look -- now that Theseus is a manís son...

Cora

[to Medea]

Youíd best leave this house while you still can. Thereíll soon be a death warrant on you in Athens.

Medea

 

No need for that. My future is not here, nor that of my sons.

[grabs a carving knife from the table, stabs Cora, removes her necklace as Cora falls, and brandishes knife, and exits with Danaus in one arm.]

Male Servant

[to Medea]

She said sheíd make you leave.

Theseus

 

At the price of her own life. Aegeus -- she truly loved you.

Aegeus

 

No. Cora hated Medea, and used us both. Now she has destroyed my marriage, and deprived me of my child. My only comfort is that you still live. Do not denigrate her memory even lower by calling her a hero.

Male Servant

 

Medea truly loved you.

Act 2, Scene 13

[Medea at her cauldron, bare stage]

Women are not gods --
to manipulate others lives
The gods have lied
promised power while enslaving.

When we would be puppeteers
we become string-bound
expected to fall when severed.
expected to beg for new string.

I do not fall.
Gods, men and women all
make plans to use me
for their pleasure

Power is false toy
the gods give to distract
mortals from their freedom
It gives no lasting joy.

Iíve had no gain from
obedience to otherís wills.
Now no laws govern me
I do as I will!

[Medea exits.]