Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

"I heard the voice, nay, heard the shriek . Of the hapless Colchian dame.

Is she not calmed? Old matron, speak;
For through the double portals came
A voice of wail and woe."

The nurse tells them that Medea "in no way is calmed," and again from within is heard the plaint of the unhappy and indignant princess:—

"Woe! woe!
Oh lightning from heaven, dart through my head!
For what is my gain to live any more?"

The Chorus express their sympathy, but the assurance they give that "Zeus will judge on her side" is not satisfactory to her perturbed spirit. Yielding to the wish of these sympathising friends, Medea at length comes forth from the inner chamber, and, considering her circumstances, makes a more temperate address to the Chorus than, after hearing her exclamations behind the scenes, they might have expected. She expatiates on the hardship of being a woman, and, after some remarks on the few prizes and many blanks in the lottery of marriage, she begs them to befriend her so far at least as to keep her counsel if she communicates her purpose at any time to them. This they promise to do, and tell her that, so far as regards her husband, she has good right to avenge herself on him—a sentiment that, if the Athenian ladies were permitted to applaud in the theatre, was probably greeted with much clapping of hands.

King Creon now comes on to tell Medea officially what the old servant has already intimated to the nurse. "Thou sullen-browed woman," he says,

"Medea, I command that from this realm
Thou go an exile, taking thy two sona;
And linger not, for mine is the decree,
Nor will I enter in my house again
Till I have driven thee past the land's last bounds."

This decision of Creon cuts up, root and branch, all Medea's projects for revenging herself on Jason, his father-in-law, and his new wife. "Now," she says,

"My enemies crowd on all sail, And there is now no haven from despair."

She speaks softly to the king, even kneels to him, to turn away his wrath. But Creon is too much in dread of her devices to revoke his sentence of banishment. All he will concede is for her and her sons to depart to-morrow instead of to-day. That morrow, Medea may have said to herself, you shall never see. She has gained time for compassing her revenge.

In her next speech she lets the Chorus into her secret so far as to make them sure there will be bloody work in the palace before the sun sets. "Fool that he is !" she says; "he has left me now only one thing to find—a city of refuge, a host who will shelter me after I have done the deed, since in this day three of my foes shall perish by dagger or by drug,—

"The father and the girl and he my husband.

For never, by my Queen, whom I revere
Beyond all else, and chose unto my aid,

By Hecate, who dwells on my hearth's shrine,
Shall any wring my heart and still be glad."

A noble and appropriate chorus follows this magnificent speech of Medea's. There is room only for the first strophe, in which the women hail the £Ood time coming:—

"The hallowed rivers backward stream
Against their founts: right crooks awry
With all things else: man's every scheme

Is treachery.
Even with gods faith finds no place.
But fame turns too: our life shall have renown:
Honour shall come to woman's race,
And envious fame no more weigh women down."

Jason now enters: he comes with the intention of remonstrating with Medea about her indiscreet demeanour towards Creon and the royal house; tells her that, but for her abominable temper and rash tongue, she might have remained on good terms with himself and all in Corinth: she has to thank herself alone for the decree of banishment. For his part, he has done all in his power to avert her doom; and even now, though she is for ever calling him "the worst of men," he will not let her go forth penniless; she shall have a handsome provision for herself and children, for, he adds,—

"Many hardships
Do wait on exile, and, though thou dost hate me,
I am not able to desire thy harm."

Unless Euripides meant to represent Jason as a fool, as well as base and ungrateful, he could hardly have devised for him a less discreet or a more irritating speech than this. Medea now turns from red heat to white; recapitulates Jason's obligations to herself, the services she has done him, the crimes she has committed for him, and casts to the winds all his shallow, hypocritical pretences of having done his best for her and their sons. We imagine that no one will feel any pity for Jason, or deny that he richly deserved the words that, like "iron sleet of arrowy shower," fall, in this scene, upon his head,—terrible, yet just, as the fulminations hurled against Austria's Duke by Lady Constance in "King John:"—

"Thou slave, thou wretch, thou coward,
Thou little valiant, great in villany!
Thou ever strong upon the stronger side!
Thou fortune's champion—thou art perjured too,
And sooth'st up greatness. Thou cold-blooded slave!"

Jason keeps up, like Joseph Surface, his fair speeches to the last, and this connubial dialogue closes characteristically on either side :—

"Jason. Then do I call the gods to witness this,
How I desire to serve thee and thy sons;
Yet thou'lt not like good gifts, but wantonly
Dost spurn thy friends, therefore shalt mourn the more.

Medea. Begone, for longing after thy new bride
Seizes thee, so much tarrying from her home:
Take her, for it is like—yea, and possessed
By a god I will declare it—thou dost wed
With such a wedding as thou'lt wish undone."

After a brief but very beautiful song, in which the Chorus celebrates the power and deprecates the wrath of Venus, and deplores the exile's lot, the real Deus ex machind of this tragedy presents himself—not hovering in the air, nor gorgeous in apparel, nor a god or the son of a god, but a rather commonplace, prosy gentleman, iEgeus, king of Athens, on his way home from Delphi. Of him no more need be said than that, by promising by his gods to shelter Medea, and yield her up to none, he removes the one difficulty in hei way which still perplexed her. Now at last she is armed at all points—she has an assured home and protector, time to strike down every foe, weapons they cannot guard against, and means to escape if pursued.

Her wronged children shall be the instrument of her vengeance. As to Jason himself, she has changed her purpose; he shall not have the privilege of dying, for she can make life to him more wretched than many deaths. She summons him again to her presence j pretends to regret her late hot words; will even conciliate his new wife with such gifts as none but kings' daughters can bestow. Her conditions are, that if the robe and crown be accepted by Glauce, the children shall not quit the realm. Jason, thinking that Medea is now in her right mind, assents to both proposals, and goes out to prepare his new wife for the presents. The Chorus, who are in the secret, apprise the audience that these gauds are far deadlier than were Bellerophon's letters:—

"By the grace and the perfect gleaming won,

She will place the gold-wrought crown on her head; A. o. vol. xii. G

« AnteriorContinuar »