In this particular passage of Medea, Jason confronts Medea immediately after she has murdered their sons, finally reaping what he has sown for his ignorance and abuse of Medea throughout the play up to that point. Throughout the scene, the tactics of these respective characters are clear – Jason hoping to shame Medea out of guilt for murdering their children, Medea hoping to use the murder of the children to prove a point about Jason’s infidelity and “to cause [him] pain” (line 1401). After seeing that Jason cannot get anywhere with Medea, even to get him to “touch the soft skin of [his] children,” he appeals to the gods to understand and pity his desire to see his children again (lines 1406-1407). The structure of the scene is capped off by the Chorus’ admission that unexpected things happen, and the gods are under no obligation to honor the wishes and desires of man: “What we thought would happen remains unfulfilled while the god has found a way to accomplish the unexpected” (lines 1421-1422).
The scene itself is a masterwork of understandable moral ambiguity – seen in a vacuum, Medea seems like a cold, cruel individual for killing her children, spitting back words of revenge and anger at Jason (who merely seems to be concerned with loving and caring for his children). However, in the context of the play, it is clear that Medea is getting her just revenge for the grief and sorrow Jason has inflicted upon her for marrying Creon. It is only after Jason loses his children that he seems to care for them, as he was ready to abandon them and start a new family before all of this happened. This plays into the cathartic nature of the play’s feminist narrative, allowing a Greek woman to have a rare chance to exert agency over her life, even if it is in the most horrifying of ways.
The scene also touches on the theme of divine intervention (or lack thereof), as Jason’s cries to “the Fury roused by our children / and Justice, the avenger of bloodshed,” and Zeus to avenge his children’s deaths and his own grief are answered by the Chorus’s admission that the gods will do what they want (lines 1388-89). These moments secure the world of Medea as a cruel, patriarchal world that guarantees no protection, with Medea being driven to revenge in order to address her husband’s infidelity. In a world in which the gods protect no one, those without power (i.e. women) must take their lives into their own hands in order to achieve justice.
Antony and Cleopatra
In this scene from Antony and Cleopatra (Act III), Antony finds himself with a renewed sense of vigor regarding his chances in battle, egged on by the machinations of Cleopatra. Throughout the scene, Antony monologues about his newly-invigorated sense of battle: “Ill set my teeth, / And send to darkness all that stop me” (180-181). His new willingness to risk his life is explicitly likened to his sexual attraction to Cleopatra and his obsession with wine and material comforts: “Come, let’s have one other gaudy nightFill our bowls once more. / Let’s mock the midnight bell” (lines 181-184). Leavening the excitement, love and glee of this scene is Enobarbus overhearing them, cautioning to himself that he no longer trusts Antony’s judgment (“To be furious, / Is to be frighted out of fear; and, in that mood, / The dove will peck the estridge” ) (194-196).
This scene is incredibly important in selling the overarching theme of love and how it can overcome sound judgment and reason. Antony, with the help of Cleopatra, has lost his discipline and dedication, becoming a silly reveler who simply wants to drink wine and sleep with Cleopatra, risking his armies and his own life to prove himself a man to her. Cleopatra encourages this, paying compliments to his warmongering by warming up to him (“since my lord / Is Antony again, I will be Cleopatra”) (lines 186-187). Enobarbus, meanwhile, remains the voice of reason, cautioning against the danger of operating according to your passions, and asserts that he will remove himself from this volatile situation. Because the play ends tragically for both Antony and Cleopatra, both killing each other as a result of passionate mistakes, this theme of passion overriding reason is given an early bit of foreshadowing in this scene.
The larger significance of this passage lies in the strange, unconventional love that Antony has for Cleopatra. Their willingness to go into battle, drink well past midnight and throw caution to the wind is both disconcerting and uplifting, and their dedication to their passion for each other - even in the face of overwhelming odds and the likelihood that Antony might die in battle - is admirable. While Enobarbus understands that he himself is in danger because of this blind passion, there is something touching and admirable about Antony and Cleopatra’s desire to live in the moment.
Shakespeare, William. Antony and Cleopatra.