The broader, general argument of your defense is that Medea represents a rejection of traditional, subordinate roles assigned to women in society. For this you will need to do a little research on women in Greek society at that time for some background information. Medea was produced in 431 B.C. Euripedes lived from 480 – 406 B.C. From the notes in my text, “Athenian rights and institutions were made for men; the women had few privileges and almost no legal rights.” Add to that the fact that they had to bring with them their dowry - for their husband - when getting married.
The Chorus in the play is made up of women and they believe she is right to seek revenge (you will find the comment, “You are in the right, Medea” immediately after Medea comes out of the house for the first time and makes a long speech). In fact, in that speech you will find an overview of what she thinks about the marriage arrangement in her society, her unfortunate position of being an outcast with no home of her own, and how a woman feels when “wronged in the matter of love.”
She does not possess the typical (in those times) female personality:
I. “I would very much rather stand three times is the front of battle than bear one child.” She rejects the role of child-bearer.
II. She certainly wasn’t passive or cowardly when it came to getting what she wants, as is evident in the way she takes action throughout the play.
III. She is definitely not submissive; when her husband decides to leave her for another woman, she doesn’t accept it as only natural for a man to do this sort of thing. She feels wronged, and she aims to do something about it.
IV. She doesn’t hold her tongue. Jason tells her, “With reasonable submission to our ruler’s will, you might have lived in this land … as it is you are going to be exiled for your loose speaking.”
V. She is too smart. She says, “Through being considered clever I have suffered much … and if you are thought superior to those who have some reputation for learning, you will become hated.”
VI. Jason breaks their marriage vows, yet she is being threatened with exile. Why? King Kreon tells her, “I am afraid of you.” He is afraid because she rejects the constraints they place on her, and is therefore powerful in that regard.
Arguing in defense of her acts:
1. She killed her brother to help Jason escape. It was done out of consideration for the man she loved, and not because she was an evil sorceress. “At home, I have, in kindness to you, made enemies … I killed, and so gave you the safety of the light. And I myself betrayed my father and my home … and then showing more willingness to help than wisdom, I killed him, Pelias … and took away your fear.”
Jason’s selfish response is that Aphrodite (goddess of love) was responsible for preserving his life. And that, “You have got from me more than you gave.” He claims marrying the princess is in “Your best interest and the children … that we might live well … bring my children up worthy of my position.” He is conceited and takes her for a fool; he must pay.
2. Taking revenge is her means of making Jason suffer. She kills the princess and her father, and why not? The bitch stole her husband and her father condoned it. They have power and she is a foreigner and female, so she doesn’t really matter. Dead wrong.
3. Ah, the killing of the children. If she is going to fully represent a rejection of what it means to be Woman, the children must die. Childbearing is the symbol of womanhood. And we already know her position on this – she would rather go to war.
On a more practical sense for the sake of your argument, she has no choice but to kill her children, because what will become of them after she has been exiled? “I am going into exile into another land … before I have seen you happy and taken pleasure in you.” This sums up what it means to be a parent: she will not be there to see them grow up and marry and lead their own lives. “What was the purpose, children, for which I reared you? … once the hopes in you I had, poor me, were high ones …”
In addition, when she is gone they will be mocked and ridiculed by her enemies and she cannot bear the thought of that.
Killing them also makes Jason suffer. Lovely! She has taken care of four birds with one stone (or rather, with two male children).
Read the play with these points in mind and approach the text as a commentary on their society, and supporting quotes/arguments will leap out at you. Point out the injustices, and make Medea the heroine rather than the villain – she existed to shatter the docile, complacent image of women, and in doing so emasculated the men in her world: her father, her brother, King Pelias, King Kreon, Jason, and her own children. The only man who is not destroyed in a sense by Medea, is King Aigeus. And guess what? King Aigeus is impotent. He is no threat (we all know a man’s power is in his phallus, haha!), and therefore happens to be the one who promises her a refuge in his kingdom.