Can you make me hate you Richard Armitage?

Well, fancy meeting you here!…I actually have a moderately substantive idea to post.  I apologize for my sporadic silence lately…at the moment, in addition to the normal household mayhem, which is about to explode into pre-holiday mayhem,  I’m teaching five courses with five different course preps, and I’m going a bit bonkers.  To add insult to injury, one of them is an online class which I find to be at least half again as much work as a face to face class.

Last week the online class, an aesthetics survey of art, music, literature, philosophy, theology from ancient times to the Renaissance, in seven weeks – I know right?! – hit the classical world.  My standard literature assignment for this section dovetails into the discussion aspect of the course.  Students read one of my favorite tragedies, Medea by Euripides, and then are asked to discuss the characterization of Medea.

For those who are not familiar, Medea is one of the most reviled female characters in classical mythology, largely due to Euripides’ version of the her.  Medea was not a Greek, but from Colchis, a kingdom on the Black Sea.  She was described as a devotee of Hekate and was known as one of the great sorceresses of the ancient world.  She came into the Greek sphere when she aided the hero Jason in his quest for the Golden Fleece.  Jason witnessed first hand on several occasions how powerful Medea was as she helped him escape with his prize, and used her witchcraft to his advantage after he brought her back to Greece as his wife.

Euripides’ Medea picks up when Jason has decided to trade Medea in for a newer model, Princess Glauke of Corinth, who will substantially increase his wealth and prestige.  The play develops as Medea argues with Jason about what he owes her and how he is abandoning her in a foreign land.  Jason is unmoved, going forward with his plans to divorce Medea and marry Glauke.  Medea’s rage is palpable as she converses with the chorus, but she tamps it down when she speaks to Glauke’s father Creon and Jason, lulling them into thinking that she has accepted the situation.

Medea escapes the scene... Source:

Medea escapes the scene…

Unlike the modern reader, the Greek audience knew what was coming next, but Euripides masterfully plays out the story as Medea systematically kills everyone important to Jason – including his two sons.  Her sons.

I’ve come to expect that my students, who have only a cursory understanding of things Greek, almost always take the easiest route and revile Medea for her actions.  Evil, What kind of mother, etc. come up often in discussions.  Not a surprise taken in a modern context, which is why I need to jump in and point out that they need to attempt to put this play back into its context.  What was Euripides doing with Medea?  Why does he have her commit this heinous act (most sources agree that this version of the myth begins with Euripides)?  What does this tell us about classical Greece?

Here’s my reading…people are supposed to be horrified by Medea.  She’s horrible.  For the Greeks though, the reasons her actions are so awful are completely different than they are for a modern reader.  The classical Greeks were pre-Christian, with very little inherent notion of the sanctity of life, or an otherworldly bond between mother and child.  This play was first produced in 431 BCE by the society that coined the term misogyny. 

It is a play written by a man in a male dominated society and produced for a predominantly male audience who shared the same values of patriarchy and male dominance.  Medea would have scared the shit out of them.  It’s no accident that Euripides used Medea, a foreigner, to send the message of this play.  No Greek woman, not even Clytemnestra, acted in this horribly.  Medea is an enormously powerful woman who has been let completely off the leash.  In that sense, Euripides is writing a clear cautionary tale about what happens if women are left uncontrolled.

As such, in the Greek view,  it is Jason who is really at fault here.  Jason is the one who brought a foreigner back as a wife (big no-no).  Jason is the one who is unable to control her.  Jason is the one who crossed her, knowing full well what she was capable of – Medea dismembered her brother and threw his bits off the back of their chariot knowing her father would stop to pick them up allowing her to escape with Jason and the Golden Fleece. 

I encourage you to take a look at Euripides’ characterization of Jason – I detest Jason as a character…of all the Greek heroes (admittedly, a narcissistic lot)  I really can’t stand Jason.  He’s whiny, he’s ineffective (he is one of the only of the Greek heroes to need the help of a woman, not a goddess, to complete his task) he’s mercenary, and he’s just plain stupid in some cases.

Richard Armitage looking Jason-ish Source:

Richard Armitage looking Jason-ish

So back to my original question:  For a while now, I’ve been wondering if Richard Armitage were to play Jason, in a production or an adaptation of Medea, would he be able to embody the him in such a way as to preserve my decades long enmity for the character, or would he be able to find something in Jason that might change my mind?  Or am I too besotted to care?

Do you have a “Jason” for Richard Armitage to test?

71 comments on “Can you make me hate you Richard Armitage?

  1. Servetus says:

    I *love* this idea. I bet he’d be fantastic as Jason. The question is who you’d cast against him as Medea. Great post.

  2. Perry says:

    Iago comes to mind.

  3. Servetus says:

    I always go with Prospero, who isn’t a villain in the sense of Iago but has a lot of villainous characteristics. That’s my ideal role for him. But I love the idea of Jason and I’m thrilled you proposed that.

    • obscura says:

      Jason *should* be sympathetic (especially from a modern perspective), but he has bungled everything so badly (up to and including his last booty call to Medea where he passes out and she kills the kids) I don’t know how anyone can find him so.

  4. Marie Astra says:

    He would undoubtedly find a twist to Jason that would make us find him sympathetic. That’s what he does. I would not want him to play Iago. I hate Iago. Can’t quite see him as Prospero, either. Shylock?

    • obscura says:

      It’s certainly possible…but wouldn’t the same hold true for you in his depicting Iago? I promise not to throw eggs if he ever really nails the detestable Jason 🙂

      • Servetus says:

        My issue with Shylock, and I admit it’s totally a prejudice, and a potentially anachronistic one at that, is that the best Shylocks I’ve seen in person or on vid of any kind have been Jews. I saw a clip of Patrick Stewart doing Shylock and he’s been much lauded for it, but it didn’t ring true for me, especially not in comparison to David Suchet. Not that I think that Jews should be obliged to play roles with anti-Semitic stripes — and apparently, before the early 20th c. Shylock was considered a partially comic role — but I cannot imagine Armitage as a Jew. I have tried and tried and tried, to the point of using face in hole to put his face in typical Jewish bodies and outfits. I can’t go there. A failure of my own imagination.

        • Perry says:

          I had no idea David Suchet ( hmm David could have been a clue) was a Jew. I can see Armitage as a Jew, with proper make up. I think in some photos, where he looks darker than he is, it’s easier to imagine, but there’s something about a very tall Shylock that doesn’t seem right. I thought Al Pacino did a very good Shylock when I saw him last summer. That’s the only live production I can recall seeing. Is David Suchet available on film, or was it live theater?

          • Servetus says:

            If you have a chance, check out Suchet’s performance of Melmotte (another stereotypical Jewish character) in the BBC adaptation of The Way We Live Now. I used to go around and around with my colleagues if we could show it to students. The performance is fabulous but we were afraid we were disseminating evidence for antisemitic viewpoints among people who would conceivably never meet a Jew.

            Let me see if I can find the Suchet clip this afternoon. I think it’s in my email. Pesky is a big fan, he was the one who told me about it and I had meant to write about it on the blog but never got around to it.

            re: Armitage as Jew … maybe as a sabra … the reason I said it was potentially anachronistic is that I think the picture I have in my mind is heavily influenced by the Jews I know, who are mostly Ashkenazi. I assume Shylock (insofar as he is anything beyond a figurehead for a concept) is supposed to be a Sephardi.

          • Perry says:

            I’ve seen it!! It was one of the BBC miniseries that I watched the very same weekend when I discovered North and South. Netflix has it ( maybe- they just got rid of a lot of stuff).
            Do you mean because some Ashkenazi are more fair while Sephardic are Mediterranean looking? It is true- but in my family, and we are Ashkenazi, and half are fair and half are not. BUT, I think it’s true that if someone wants a person to look like a Jew – he’s going to give you an olive skinned, dark haired person with a noticeable nose- and may nonetheless throw in light eyes. I always think of Shylock as Sephardic. Off the top of my head I don’t recall now when the Eastern European Jews started to come more west to Amsterdam and other places.

          • Servetus says:

            1648 — Chmielnicki Massacre (ask a historian — actually I lecture about that off and on). Reversing the trend in the other direction that had been prevalent since 1492.

            The Ashkenazi phenotypes I’m familiar with (and associate with the idea “Jew” in my mind) are shorter, the nose is different (though now we know he has curls, but not the “right” kind) and yeah, the coloring is really different — olive skin, freckled, even fair but his hair is not fair. It’s hard for me to generalize about Sephardim because I know about four of them.

          • Perry says:

            So when Shakespeare wrote the play he would have been familiar mostly with Sephardim. I’ve had some heated conversations about this play. I think it’s anti semitic- which is not a fault with it, since it reflects the times, so I think Suchet has it right. IMO,people try to pass it off as being just about greed because they don’t want to deal with antisemitism in the play. The Public Theater created quite a controversy when it featured the play last summer for Shakespeare in the Park- when the parks in question were smack in the middle of liberal Jewish neighborhoods. This lead to arguments along the lines of Stewart’s- that it was about greed and not about Jews.

          • Servetus says:

            I don’t think there were actually any Jews in England during this period. They were expelled in 1280 and come back sometime well after Shakespeare’s death, iirc. Maybe 1 or 2 merchants in London or something. I think that’s part of why people say it can’t be about Jews, because Jews are a symbol in early modern England, not a reality. But I think saying it’s a play about greed misses the point — why would Shakespeare try to make greed in any way sympathetic (“if you prick us, do we not bleed?”)

          • Perry says:

            Right! The play takes place in Florence. He wouldn’t make greed sympathetic. And there are other lines in the play- maybe the same speech- that can be read to mean that part of Shylock’s motivation is the way he’s been treated by the Gentiles, because he’s Jewish. Payback.

          • Oh, wow. I didn’t realize it was even up for debate whether or not Shylock’s Jewishness is essential to the themes of The Merchant of Venice. It’s generally accepted that Shakespeare blatantly ripped off Marlowe’s (superior) The Jew of Malta in order to present a money-making comedy of his own for the London stage, and Barabas most definitely is a character you could/would never separate from his Jewishness in trying to understand his function and his messages. (I studied both plays at university in a course with the best course title ever: “Dangers of the culture, court, and closet: homosexuals, crossdressers, Jews, and usurers in Renaissance drama.” Seriously, how could I *not* take a class called that?)

          • Perry says:

            That professor should have been in PR or advertising!

          • He was hot, too. Let’s just say I never had trouble motivating myself to attend that particular class. 😉

          • Perry says:

            Another Armitage Insomniac, I see. Coincidentally, my Shakespeare prof was my hottest. I took 4 courses with him.

          • obscura says:

            Clearly, all the hottest academics teach Shakespeare! I never had a classical drama prof. who approached “hot” by any definition of the term…although, I did have to ward off a few advances from one of them – does that make me the hot prof? (Or prof. In training, as was)

          • Perry says:

            Really? No Indiana Joneses? I think it does make you a hot prof if you were subject to passes. I also had a student with a big crush on me, but he was 13.

          • obscura says:

            Not a single one (unless you count the studio poster of Harrison Ford that travelled with me cross country to three campuses).

            Maybe I was a hot senior thesis student :). It was super awkward, the pass maker was dating my roommates mother at the time! Ever pragmatic, I let him down gently…never know when you might need a recommendation! (How awful does that sound?).

          • Perry says:

            Oh..I misunderstood. I thought it was a student who made a pass at you. Yes, profs. One law school prof actually jumped my bones in his office. I burst out laughing. Lucky for me grades were already in.

          • obscura says:

            LOL…yeah ! He’d just handed me back my graded thesis before he leaned in and planted a big slimy kiss on me…yuck! I think I was in shock, or I would have fallen out of the chair in a fit 🙂

          • obscura says:

            Yeah, you gotta watch out for those 13 yr olds! At least all my students are legal :). Oh, if I wasn’t married and it wasn’t a total career ender for female profs! (Complete double standard there IMO – male profs who dally in the student pool get a slap on the wrist…women? I don’t personally know anyone who’s been in that position, but I gather that stoning is still the preferred method for dealing with such Jezebels!)

          • Perry says:

            I’ve had some professional experience in this regard and it astounds me that, although Universities and Colleges all have anti sexual harassment policies ( they have to)-they don’t enforce them as stringently as they ought. Yet, two of the most cited examples, at least 5 years ago when I looked at the issue. both involved females- one a prof and student, and one a department chair and tenure track prof.

          • obscura says:

            I’m not surprised at all…this stuff happens all the time with male profs (I have a friend who married a prof when she was a grad student) and rarely does anything come of it. There is a serial philanderer on my campus…not even tenure should protect this, but he’s still there…something of a pariah, but still employed and afforded a hunting ground. I wonder if it has something to do with female students being unlikely to report. I don’t doubt that there are women who abuse their power, but I do that the policies are enforced evenly regardless of gender.

          • obscura says:

            I’ve got a course titled, “Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves – Women in Antiquity”
            It’s actually the title of the seminal text on this subject, but when I incorporated it into the course title, enrollment jumped 25% over when it was just called “Women in Antiquity” – marketing indeed!

          • Perry says:

            Oh to hear Richard Armitage speak with a Yiddish accent! I might die laughing.

          • Servetus says:

            die laughing? or die crying? I dunno 🙂

          • Perry says:

            There’s a favorite character of mine from a suspense/spy series of books- Gabriel Alon, He’s an Israeli Mossad agent/renaissance art restorer and contemporary artist.A tortured, guilty, dangerous character. I’ve dreamed of Richard Armitage playing him- Alon is “shorter than you would expect” has ” a mass of black and silver curls” and “piercing emerald green eyes” and he’s “wiry.”

          • Perry says:

            He’d need a perm.

          • Servetus says:

            It even made NPR.


            To me Suchet leaves Stewart in the dust. But then I agree with Suchet that Shylock is essentially a Jew (as opposed to just a representation of greed).

          • Perry says:

            You don’t need to convince me because I am not a fan of Patrick Stewart at all in anything,

          • Servetus says:

            oh, interesting!!! I admit that I’ve only seen him in Star Trek and on video clips on YT in other things. I still have the old N&S discs, unopened. But wow, he was fantastic as Jean-Luc Picard. What are your impressions of him?

      • Marie Astra says:

        LOL! I think Jason would be a challenge, even for him!! Hmm, like you feel about Jason, I feel about Iago. I see nothing remotely sympathetic about him. Shylock, on the other hand…. I don’t really want him to play either. I wish he would get heroes, to twisted villains to play!

      • obscura says:

        PS…I would sell a kidney to get to NY if he were to do Medea on Broadway!

  5. guylty says:

    That is a very interesting question. I would like to think that he *could* make me hate the character that he is playing – but I actually doubt it. I am shallow, I am besotted – any character with *that* face and body probably gets all my sympathy, undeservedly and irrationally. Sorry, Richie – it appears I am immune to your talent, but not to your appearance…

    • obscura says:

      Never say never….I don’t know that he’s really tackled a truly detestable character yet – at least one that had no apparent redeeming qualities. Paul Andrews and John Mulligan are deliberately faceted I think. That said, I would love to see what he would do with a character of that detestable type…like he did with Heinz Krueger? Develop a back story that explains without justifying the characters motivation? IDK…fascinating to ponder for me.

      I double dog dare him to find something redeeming in that louse Jason – did I mention that I don’t care much for Jason? 🙂

      • Faceted – I found Mulligan to be frightening, but not completely detestable – especially since he makes such valid points. Andrews was just a very weak man. I detested that he was “whiny”, and that was deliberate as I see it. I didn’t even detest Ian Macalwain, even though that is what they (the writers) wanted, based on the miserable outcome there. *shivers* – no pun intended. 🙂

        For Medea, I would have said Dame Helen Mirren. I realize age might be an issue. But certainly that caliber would be needed.

        Indira Varma has the look and the beauty and is a strong actress, I think. Morena Baccarin certainly has the look. She is a rather understated actress, however. She can play vile and mean, but only where subtly are required. I don’t know if she would be capable of going as far as would be needed, but maybe. Both of them would certainly look stunning alongside Richard, I think.

        I think Lena Headey might be perfect. Cersei Lannister is so very close.

        • obscura says:

          I don’t know Morena Baccarin – will investigate…I like Indira Varma a lot actually…as long as we’re talking Rome alums, Polly Walker was absolutely amazing as the calculating Atia. Headey’s Cersei Lannister does have that Medea quality doesn’t she (I’m seeing that scene during the siege when she’s preparing to kill her youngest) *rubbing hands together* Excellent food for thought!

  6. Cindy says:

    Hitler. I can ‘t imagine even RA being able to portray Hitler with any redeeming or sympathetic qualities

  7. Joanna says:

    Stepmother of Cinderella? 😉

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