They say Art imitates life, so what happens when life imitates Art, can it be too close for comfort?

Many years ago a celebrated Classical Actress visited us to film a Workshop for the Open University of Euripides ‘Medea’.  A bloody tale of murder.  Medea had her reasons;   her ” passionate grief”,” her dark mood”, her emotions battling against her husband Jason’s  infidelity and  his  ‘civilized’, in the Greek sense, indifference.  A man who says(lines 573-575)

” If only children could be got some other way

Without the female sex!  If women didn’t exist,

Human life would be rid of all its miseries.”

She commits infanticide.  Then feeds her brood to her husband as a  feast of revenge, behaviour expected in a Greek Tragedy!

The Idea

Film a group of Liverpool based Actors tackling the modern relevance of Greek Tragedy.

Well it is relevant.  There’s the knowledge we revel in ( we being tabloid society here) juicy murder, exploitative headlines, distancing us from the ‘apparent’ aberration of demonic mothering and cannibalism. There is our artistic quest for academic/classical worthiness.  Then there is the actual  reality of modern life, mental illness and family,  which continue like an umbilical cord threading its way from ancestors to present day preoccupations.

Expectantly we gathered, the workshop begins, we sit in a circle on the floor, our social drama heads on.  One by one we are to introduce ourselves to the circle and  state why this classical play has relevance for the modern audience.  Yes it is relevant people still murder members of their own families.  It’s my turn.  I speak, I speak the truth.

“Well I think the story of Medea is very relevant today” I say. “Recently my friend murdered his Mother”  What have I said!   The truth, the awful, terrible, heart-breaking truth. Stated as it is, not overly dramatic, just real.

THIS IS A REALITY, faced by real families, it is dreadful we fear it, but it is part of our human condition, our frailty.  The proverbial hole opens up, that’s not what I was supposed to say!  This is a play, art, we’re supposed to be ‘being arty’ and intellectual, not be that real, that grim, that raw.  Art and life are inextricable linked though.


I wasn’t a Mother at the time, I viewed life with a romantic sentimentality of what might be, the expectant bliss of future motherhood with a tragic twist,  I continued,  “If I were a mother I would much rather my child murder me than anyone else ”

Years later I am a Mother and my friend’s Mother still haunts me.  I look at my baby, if he grows up to be a murderer I’d still much rather he murdered me than anyone else, not that I fear being a murderers mother.  I’d still love him with the deep, deep love that caresses the heart.  With the power that connects him with my very soul, even after death.  But how could I bare some other Mothers loss at the hands of my wombs work.

Medea’s  reputation as a mother is murdered; she is not seen as civilized, she is too emotional.  She had her reasons.  My friend had his reasons, his lack of ‘reason’, he was swept up in the blind raging panic and pain of mental distress.

The workshop was re-shot elsewhere.   No one mentioned Murdering  their Mother.


About Ruthy Rabbitt

Ruth Rabbitt it the facebook persona of Performance Artist Rachèle Howard.  She trained at Bretton Hall and has spent over 25 years performing, directing, devising shows and happenings, hanging from a trapeze and making art.  She now combines the membership of Mewee with Glass Art, Motherhood …Read more

4 Responses to “MEDEA and the Murdering of a Mother”

  1. Jasmine Gauthier

    Your juxtaposition of Medea and the reality of infanticide and matricide in today’s society I found particularly interesting.

    In my dissertation last year I focused on the metaphoric ideas of eating/killing of the child and the mother respectively, but as I read over it now, the writing glosses over any real-ness. I attempt to explain it purely as a metaphoric act of wanting to incorporate one or the other into the body, I look at it in terms of melancholia, I look at it in terms of witches and gingerbread houses, but there is no grim-ness, on a topic that is a reality for many today.

    So thank you for your juxtaposition, I had never thought of my work in that way and it does good to turn things on its head.

    For me, from the moment I first read Medea when I studied it at school, I felt some sort of ‘understanding’ of Medea. I can’t comprehend killing my own children for any reason but the part of the play that gets me every time is the moment where she doubts herself, doubts her actions, where we see her humanity. She symbolises our fragility, our desperation, the irrational thoughts we can have as human beings in times of distress… It always made me so sad that the rest of the class were so easy to condemn her as purely a psychotic monster.

  2. Lena Simic

    I remember when I first had my boys who were only two years apart and when i was attending toddler groups on daily basis I felt such a sense of loss of my female identity. All I was, was the mother. So I remembered Medea, as the ultimate Anti-Mother figure and I thought she would be interesting to juxtapose with real experience of motherhood, which had to do with so much loss of identity and a sense of failure, especially so when one first becomes a mother and is faced with idealized versions of motherhood, in NHS leaflets, Emma’s Diary and glossy commercials and magazines. Medea was for me not so much about the killing of the children, but the killing of the idealized Mother (capital M).

  3. Helen Sargeant

    I have always wanted to read that book Tell me about Kevin by Lionel Shriver, and must re-open Beside the Sea by Veronique Olmi. I left reading it, its beautiful but the subject is difficult and my mood slips so low sometimes I cannot manage it. Beside the Sea is a short book perhaps best left for a weekend without the children……read cover to cover with lots of tea breaks. x

  4. Ruthy Rabbitt

    What’s been interesting for me is my re-examining of her character as my life has changed. Medea is so often interpreted as a psychopath. When studying at A level I didn’t have the life experience, to really examine the fragility of her human condition, within the real context of her political situation or her family circumstances.
    When I was younger I saw her as an incredibly strong female character, I longed to ‘play the role’ on stage; I overlooked her real tragedy, her humanity; her counterpoint to Ancient Greek acceptability, and therefore its influence on our contemporary ideas of what society is.
    I went along with the demonising of a Mother.


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