On Revenge and Medea

Revenge and vengeance are basic tools of human instinct. Whether society chooses to accept or blind itself to this fact, it is an indisputable truth. Francis Bacon examines this truth in “Of Revenge”, a view of society and literary characters that reflects the strive for vengeance. However, “Of Revenge” deeply underestimates the corruption of the human spirit and soul. It completely disregards the presence of the basic human instinct which thrives on the manipulation and destruction of others, for the sake of satisfaction.

Though Bacons inferences to the book of Job or Solomon are perfectly viable to a character that chooses to take revenge after they have been wronged, to believe that “no man does evil just for the sake of evil” annihilates any complete sense of credibility that Bacons thoughts imply. The authors aspirations of the seeking of revenge solely as a means of retribution for oneself, and not to satisfy the evil within the human soul, is a beautiful and idealistic hope which belongs in some earthen utopia.

Unfortunately, it has no bearing on the modern world. Though the beliefs of Bacon expressed in “On Revenge” fulfill the traits of characters such as Medea, they neglect the human thrive for meaningless vengeance in characters such as Shakespeares Iago. Euripidess Medea uses the theme of the search for revenge in order to instigate the downfalls and deaths of many characters. This theme is expressed through the character of Medea, who fits directly into the mold laid out in the guidelines of “Of Revenge”.

Medeas search for revenge commences after her husband, the famous Greek hero Jason, leaves her for the power and prestige of the daughter of the King of Corinth. Medea becomes distraught over the news, especially after she reflects upon all that she had destroyed for Jason. She murdered her brother, was willingly ostracized from her homeland, gave Jason two sons, and killed most of Jasons enemies using her knowledge of black arts. In short, Jasons inability to remain faithful to a woman who obsessed over him, causes Medeas search for vengeance.

The wrongs committed by Jason with respect to Medea mirror Bacons belief that “revenge makes a man but even with his enemy” as well as “we are commanded to forgive our enemies; but never read that we are commanded to forgive our friends”. In this case, Medea cannot forgive her husband and takes revenge by murdering the king of Corinth and his daughter, Jasons fiance, as well as murders Jasons two sons. Though this form of revenge is cold-blooded and sadistic, Bacon would have believed that Medeas actions were justified due to the wrongs Jason committed against her.

It is for this reason that the character of Medea is carefully crafted to fit Bacons mold of a person seeking revenge, as well as illustrates the importance of the theme of revenge in the play. Though Bacons views are illustrated through Medea, they are grossly disproportional to the character of Iago in Shakespeares Othello. Bacon quotes, “there is no man doth a wrong for the wrongs sake”. However, Iago is considered one of the most disgusting and vengeful characters in literature that destroys the lives of innocents for his own behalf.

In fact, the only substantial ploy for revenge in the case of Iago is Othellos appointing of Cassio to the position of lieutenant, and disregarding Iago, thinking of him only as his “ancient”. Granted, this is a viable sore spot for Iago, but by no means justify his actions in the play. Iago also claims he suspects Othello had slept with Emilia, Iagos wife, but later in the play admits that he knows this fact is not true. However, Iago devises a plot to destroy the relationship between Desdemona, Othellos wife, and Othello, which leads to the deaths of nearly every character in the play.

Meanwhile, Iagos plot is eventually discerned and he is placed in jail, but the deaths of Desdemona and others far exceed Iagos punishment. As illustrated through the search for revenge of Iago, Bacon disregards the evil longings present in many human souls. As taken directly from Much Ado About Nothing, Don John, a mirror of Iago, convincingly declares he chooses to “do evil for the sake of doing evil”. This fact is overlooked by Bacon, who instead believes that revenge is always justified by the wrong committed against the vengeful party.

The image of a man seeking revenge for his own enjoyment, “thorn that pricks only because it can do no other” hardly scratches the surface of the character traits of Iago or Don John. It is the complete neglect for the existence of people who do a “wrong for wrongs sake” that denounces Bacons views of the justification and means surrounding revenge. After revenge is thoroughly dissected into its means, actions, and results, the substance of the act reverts back to a characters morals and strengths, which in turn are overshadowed by the unending battle of good versus evil.

In Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson claims that every man is really two men, one good and the other evil. The good gives man his morals and values whereas the evil gives man his strength and tenacity. It is the combination of these two men that make up the traits of a person. In “Of Revenge” Francis Bacon considers the good and evil sides of man, and thus draws conclusions given the relationship between the good and evil in a character is equal. Therefore, a character such as Medea, who possessed many virtuous qualities, as well as detestable ones, fits the mold of Bacons beliefs of the justification of revenge.

However, Bacon disregards the fact that in some men, their is more evil than their is good, and the strength and tenacity of that man override moral views. It is this imbalance that leads characters like Iago to do “evil for the sake of evil” and though they are not justified in their search for revenge, they endlessly endeavor to disrupt the natural flow of good to satisfy their evil cravings. Bacon discounts this amoral view of the human race which irrevocably overshadows the conclusions he draws as to the justification of human vengeance.

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