One of tragedy’s most intriguing (and unseen) characters is, to my mind, the Corinthian princess, Glauce. With her impending marriage to Jason proving a catalyst to Medea’s murderous actions, Glauce’s role is an integral one and yet Euripides does not depict her on stage. Ancient dramatic convention rules that even in death she exists to the audience only via reportage (see the Messenger speech in Medea 1136-1230).
The vacuum that Glauce’s absence creates is ripe for exploration:
- Did Glauce want to marry Jason?
- What did she think of Medea?
- How was her relationship with her father, Creon?
And I am not the only one to have asked these questions. Watch this sequence from Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1969 film version of the Medea (the entire version of which is available on YouTube):
In this first clip we see Medea (played by Maria Callas) appear to give her blessing to Jason in his marriage to Glauce, preoccupied only with the welfare of their children. Sending her children off with gifts for the princess, it appears as though Medea is playing out the role we recognise from Euripides. Even Glauce’s attendant warns her against accepting their offerings. The tension mounts as the princess slowly tries on the robes and jewellery sent by Medea. Finally the crown is placed on Glauce’s head and the plot of Euripides’ Medea is executed, with both Glauce and Creon burning to death in agony. But then by 6.35 we see Glauce again…unharmed. What we saw wasn’t the fulfillment of Euripides’ plot but Medea’s own self-conscious (and perhaps sub-conscious) reference to it. It was all Medea’s dream…
Moving onto the second clip, we come to the end of Medea’s successful persuasion of Creon, who agrees to grant her a day’s respite from exile. Creon hints at Glauce’s ambivalence towards the marriage and her sense of pity, perhaps even solidarity, with Medea’s predicament. Skip forward to 6.30 and we’re back to Euripides and Medea’s dream as she gives her children gifts for the princess…
Again, Glauce accepts and puts on her gifted robes…is Medea’s Euripidean wish coming true? Glauce stares at herself in the mirror for a long time. Those who have watched the film from the start will know that Glauce’s new clothes are infact some that we have seen Medea wearing herself earlier in the film. Sadly (?) Glauce turns away from her Medea-esque reflection. We hear gasps…is this her death from flames all over again? Just as before, Glauce runs into the courtyard and Creon follows, alerted by the attendants’ cries. The princess stops. Father and daughter look at each other. What does Glauce see? Are Medea’s robes significant? Could Glauce’s sadness at her reflection be down to the solidarity that she feels with Medea that Creon hinted at earlier? Looking in her fathers’ eyes, does Glauce just see another Medea, to be used and married off for politics-sake? And so she runs…back across the city walls where Medea’s dream had seen her burn. She stops at the top of the cliff…and jumps.
Why? What is Pasolini, with his meta references his Euripidean source be getting at with Glauce’s suicide? My reading, from a feminist perspective, is that Glauce resorts to suicide as the only way to exert control over her narrative. Resisting the immolation of Euripides (and Medea’s dream) as well as her exchange-as-bride by Creon, a pawn of political machinations (just like Medea?), Glauce’s suicide is one of desperation but also resistance.
Things to think about:
- What characters in the plays you read (if any) are mentioned, but not depicted on stage?
- What room for interpretation does their absence create?
- How could the narrative pan out differently if these characters were shown?
Christa Wolf’s fictional retelling of the Medea also introduces the character of Glauce and asks questions of the canonisation of Euripides and the Medea-myth as well as its relationship with patriarchy:
Wolf, C. 1998  Medea: A Modern Retelling (trans. J. Cullen). Nan A. Talese: NY.
For secondary literature you may want to look at:
Clauss, J.J. & Johnston, S.I. (eds) 1997. Medea: Essays in Myth, Literature, Philosophy, and Art. Princeton.
Hall, E., Macintosh, F. & Taplin, P. (eds) 2000. Medea in Performance, 1500-2000. Oxford.
Rabinowitz, N.S. 1993. Anxiety Veiled: Euripides and the Traffic in Women. Ithaca.
Skinner, M. (ed.) 1987. Rescuing Creusa. New Methodological Approaches to Women in Antiquity. (A special issue of Helios, New Series, 13(2).) Lubbock.