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Outside of Jason's adopted house in Corinth, a nurse recounts and laments the chain of events that have lead to the present crisis in the city, where Medea's "world has turned to enmity" (line 15). Jason and the crew of his ship, the Argo, began this history by sailing to Colchis, a city in Asia and Medea's home, in search of the legendary Golden Fleece. Medea, a sorceress and princess, fell in love with Jason, used her magic to help him secure the Fleece, and eventually fled with him to Iolcus, Jason's home. There she continued to use her magic and to participate in intrigues within the royal house, eventually tricking the daughters of a rival king, Pelias, into poisoning their own father. After accepting sanctuary as exiles in Corinth, Jason and Medea had two children, now young boys, and achieved a degree of respectability, earning them a "citizens' welcome" (line 12) in the city. Recently, however, Jason has abandoned Medea and his own children in order to remarry with Glauce, the daughter of Creon, king of Corinth. Jason hopes thereby to advance his own station, perhaps even to succeed as king.
The nurse's lament expresses an impossible desire: to undo the past. Medea, Jason, the chorus, and others will replay their own versions of this futile wish at various stages in the play. Jason and Medea each express remorse at having inaugurated the events the nurse recounts here; their past love has doomed them in the present.
Tragedy, as an art form, often imparts a very basic message: actions, premeditated or not, bear consequences that must be recognized and endured. A great deal of drama simply revolves around a hero or protagonist suffering through his or her actions and generating a perspective in relation to them (think Hamlet ). Medea, however, is a play that conspicuously lacks any...