Saturday, January 19, 2008

Katherine Heavey: "Translating Medea"

Katherine Heavey
Durham University

Translating Medea into the Sixteenth Century


Anonymous said...

I like how this essay is scholarly and well-argued but also accessible! I find it really interesting how you argue that to humanise Medea, to make her a sympathetic character with flaws which a reader can identify with, it is necessary to deprive the character of her power and the threat that she represents. Also find it interesting how Medea represents a double-threat - towards male-dominated society through her actions as a murderous woman, but also towards Christian mores through her magic.

Shane said...

I really enjoyed this paper - looking at changing perceptions of a single literary figure over time seems like a very fruitful approach. Are you planning to expand this approach to other figures?

Liz said...

This was a really interesting and thought-provoking paper. Your research highlights how much the treatment of such figures in the hands of renaissance writers reveals about the preoccupations of their own age, and Medea's a particularly fascinating case! Interesting also to consider how the treatment of Medea compares to that of male magicians in renaissance literature, such as Faustus.

mary lindroth said...

Your paper entitled “Translating Medea into the Sixteenth Century” was particularly interesting because of its attempt to consider how a sixteenth century audience, and specifically a male one, influences and shapes dramatic as well as poetic storytelling. Your point that when Richard Robinson (and others) translate the story of Medea, they do so to “provide a cautionary example against female wickedness” – a cautionary example not present in the classical text – reminded me of the numerous early modern texts urging men to control their wives or warning women of the consequences of disobedience. Many of these texts such as Joseph Swetnam’s “The Arraignment of Lewd, Idle, Froward, and Unconstant Women” or “A Homily of the State of Matrimony” don’t appear until the beginning of the 17th century and so are outside the limits of your paper, but the resonance is striking. The connection to Tamora in Titus Andronicus as well as work by Thomas Heywood is also quite suggestive. The opening Robinson quote with Medea claiming “I played the whore, the murdresse and the theefe” made me think of the scene in which Tamora presents the tableau of Revenge, Rape and Murder together with her sons Demetrius and Chiron to Titus. Medea’s statement also made me think of Tamora’s partner, Aaron, who states at the end that “I must talk of murders, rapes, and massacres.” I wonder if you think there is more to be done with such a connection especially since one of Medea’s most important manifestations is as a dramatic character to be performed before an audience.

Katherine Heavey said...

Many thanks for your comments everyone, I will try to responds to them! Shane, yes, I am considering representations of Helen of Troy alongside Medea in the same period, with a similar emphasis on the way her power is stressed to an extent, but also undermined, since it is so threatening. Helen is of course an interesting foil to Medea, because she doesn't have the same kind of objective power or agency - her sexuality only becomes a potent force because (some) men respond to it. She features in The Rock of Regard and the Reward of Wickedness, and is used in a similar fashion to Medea. At the moment I'm reading sixteenth-century poetic miscellanies, and here the typical use of her power is to acknowledge her as the most beautiful woman in the world, but concurrently to undermine her, and her only power, by declaring her not as fair as the speaker's lover.
Liz, thanks for your comment on Faustus - obviously Marlowe's play features in my discussion of Helen in the sixteenth century, but I shall certainly point up the ways Medea's and Faustus' magic is handled differently. Off the top of my head, Medea's magic often serves the male community, while Faustus' magic is more self-centred. Medea's magic is also treated more seriously, while the episodes with the servants appropriating magic/the horse of straw show Faustus' magic being treated more comically - perhaps because representing a magical man was less threatening, and thus could be expanded upon? (I could continue this point with reference to Propspero in the Tempest, which I discuss in reference to Medea). Finally, of course, both the Renaissance Medea (unlike the classical) and Faustus must face the real (and often explicitly Christianised) consequences of their actions - a way of ultimately containing the threat they have represented.
Mary, thanks for the comments on Titus - I do discuss Tamora in my account of the Renaissance Medea. Critical debate over how well (or at all) Shakespeare knew either Seneca or Euripides means the parallels have to be carefully considered - though of course he would have found reference to her murderous tendencies in the Metamorphoses. Though he represents Tamora as Tamora, not as Medea, textual evidence from The Merchant of Venice and The Tempest particularly make clear that Shakespeare was well accquainted with Medea's story, and I think the parallels are close enough to justify Titus' inclusion (though of course it may be worth considering why he doesn't represent Medea directly, as he represents Helen, Lucrece, Cressida etc, but instead relocates the character to 4th century Rome). In my work, I suggest that Tamora's disguising herself as Revenge, in order to trick Titus, evokes Medea's disguising herself as Artemis to trick Pelias in Diodorus Siculus' Library of History (c.1stC BC, but there was an English translation in 1569). As with Lady Macbeth, Tamora's language, her propensity for violence and her attitude to men and to action ally her closely to Medea, and thus i discuss her although she isn't actually a personification of Medea. Indeed, in his 1678 adaptation of Shakespeare's Titus (which he appeared to hold in pretty low regard) Edward Ravenscroft underlines the connection between the two women more explicitly, having his Tamora stab her baby son in a fit of rage at Aaron. Medea (though more commonly Helen) is also used in sixteenth and seveteenth century collections as a brief reference to advise men to take care in their choice of a wife. Surprisingly, she is often treated more sympathetically than Helen, held up as a Chaucerian abandoned woman, suffering from Jason's fickle and selfish nature, as she is in Robinson's work.

Thanks again for your comments everyone, please be in touch if you have anything to add!