Mother Medea and Her Children: Maternal Ambivalence in the Medean Plays of Marina Carr, Cherríe Moraga, and Rachel Cusk


Verna Foster


Euripides' Medea continues to generate numerous adaptations because it lends itself to some of the most pressing issues that have engaged the cultures that have reworked it, including the rights of women, the ostracism of women perceived as others, and women’s experience as mothers.

Marina Carr’s By the Bog of Cats . . . (1998), Cherríe Moraga’s The Hungry Woman: A Mexican Medea (2000), and Rachel Cusk's Medea (2015) address all of these concerns but especially the maternal ambiguity that finds its most extreme symbolic expression in infanticide. The plays critique the coercive norms of patriarchal motherhood as it exists in late twentieth-century Catholic Ireland, in Chicano/a America, and in contemporary England from the viewpoints of Medean mothers each of whom is motivated by her own particular circumstances and her own understanding of motherhood. By focusing on their protagonists’ individual experiences as mothers (and as daughters and wives), complicating their motives for committing infanticide, and developing the roles their children play, Carr, Moraga, and Cusk illuminate from different perspectives why Medea offers audiences an important resource for coming to terms with the conflicts of contemporary motherhood. Medea's intellectual honesty, complex reasoning, and emotional turmoil make her a particularly compelling paradigm for the exploration of ambivalent motherhood in contemporary theatre. Psychologists have argued that women need to be able to talk about and tolerate their conflicting feelings for the sake of their own psychic health and that of their children. Medea in her diverse contemporary manifestations provides an important cultural resource for eliciting this important conversation.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.