Adaptations of Euripides’ Medea Story - The Pivotal Role of the Nurse and the Beggar in the Processes of Re-Contextualisation
Mythical literature depends upon, incites even, perpetual acts of reinterpretation in new contexts, a process that embodies the very idea of appropriation.1
Euripides’ play Medea, based on a Greek myth about Medea has been made in a sheer endless number of new adaptations for the stage. Betrayed after leaving her home with Jason, Medea kills both her children. This core of the story usually remains but new contexts are explored in the appropriation and re-interpretation of the original. The power of such new adaptations partly comes from a sense of immediacy that is created through a connection between stage and real life of the audiences. This connection is reached through contextualisation of the performance. Through the addition of new layers of meaning, directors of the ‘new’ Medea stories give the plays new contexts in time and space. In the following essay, I argue that this contextualisation and adding of new layers can be reached through the aesthetic choices about marginal characters like the nurse and the inclusion of a figure like the beggar. Their presence adds depth and complexity to the new issues that are explored in the Medea stories.
Whereas Magnuson’s version called African Medea (1967) is placed in a colonial context, Fleishmann’s Medea (1994) is placed in the post-apartheid South Africa. Fleishmann adds new layers of meaning and a political discourse through the figure of the beggar. The nurse figure aids both Fleischman’s and Magnuson’s play in the creation of a new context. Thus, although the figures of the nurse and the beggar on the first glimpse do not seem very important, they have a pivotal role in enhancing the credibility and complexity of the new contexts in which the plays are re-interpreted and positioned.
To start with, the figure of the nurse is important in most of the Medea versions. She is important as an additional voice and narrator, and in her connection to Medea. Nevertheless, she seems marginal, not as important as the main characters Medea and Jason, as well as marginal considering her position in society. Like in Euripides’ typological Medea, where the nurse is a slave, she is of inferior status in both Fleishman’s and Magnuson’s play. Despite of her status, the nurse has a great insight into the lives of Medea and Jason. “I will keep your secret,” the nurse says to the tutor in Magnuson’s play, “[w]e servants are good at that” (46). As a servant, she remains detached from the action, hence offers a seemingly objective perspective, but also has a lot of insider information. She enjoys a deep trust from Jason and Medea, calls Medea “my child” (48) and even Medea’s children “my children” (61). This shows her involvement in the action. In Euripides’ Medea the nurse sets the scene as someone who has deep knowledge about the action, when she mourns in the conditional that “[i]f only they had never gone” (21). Thus, although seemingly marginal, in most versions the nurse offers a different, insightful, detached and somewhat objective perspective on the action and even foretells parts of it.
The nurse, in Fleishman’s Medea, does not only add complexity to the play as an insider but also adds meaning through her presence and her language. Right at the start of the play, she appears and buries the Golden Fleece in the sand. This shows her involvement in the events. The nurse also helps the audience to understand Fleischman’s Medea, as the play is a very complex performance due to the “collaborative venture with multiple performance traditions” (Macintosh 28). When in “Scene Four” the past becomes present, she helps this transition. “Jy luister nie. Jy luister nie”, she says to Medea in Afrikaans and suggests that Medea is in fact indigenous (77). The Afrikaans language places the performance immediately in the South African context. Linguistically, the code switching as well as the dance adds a local reference. Making the nurse an Afrikaans-speaking character opens new doors of identification and adds aspects of South African political and socio-cultural context to the play.
1 Sanders cited on page 78 in Griffiths, K. Emile Zola and the Artistry of Adaptation.
- Quote paper
- Markus Emerson (Author), 2011, Adaptations of Euripides’ “Medea” Story, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/310564