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Deus ex machina facts for kids

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Medea rappresentation (2009) 07
Deus ex machina in Euripides' Medea, performed in 2009 in Syracuse, Italy; the sun god sends a golden chariot to rescue Medea.

Deus ex machina (/ˌdəs ɛks ˈmækɪnə, ˈmɑːk-/ day-ƏS-_-EX-ma(h)k-IN, Latin: [ˈdɛ.ʊs ɛks ˈmaːkʰɪnaː]; plural: dei ex machina; English "god from the machine") is a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem in a story is suddenly or abruptly resolved by an unexpected and unlikely occurrence. Its function is generally to resolve an otherwise irresolvable plot situation, to surprise the audience, to bring the tale to a happy ending or act as a comedic device.

Origin of the expression

Deus ex machina is a Latin calque from Greek [ἀπὸ μηχανῆς θεός (apò mēkhanês theós)] Error: {{Lang}}: text has italic markup (help), meaning 'god from the machine'. The term was coined from the conventions of ancient Greek theater, where actors who were playing gods were brought on stage using a machine. The machine could be either a crane (mechane) used to lower actors from above or a riser that brought them up through a trapdoor. Aeschylus introduced the idea and it was used often to resolve the conflict and conclude the drama. The device is associated mostly with Greek tragedy, although it also appeared in comedies.

Ancient examples

Aeschylus used the device in his Eumenides but it became an established stage machine with Euripides. More than half of Euripides' extant tragedies employ a deus ex machina in their resolution and some critics claim that Euripides invented it, not Aeschylus. A frequently cited example is Euripides' Medea in which the deus ex machina is a dragon-drawn chariot sent by the sun god Helios, used to convey his granddaughter Medea away from her husband Jason to the safety of Athens. In Alcestis, the heroine agrees to give up her own life to spare the life of her husband Admetus. At the end, Heracles appears and seizes Alcestis from Death, restoring her to life and to Admetus.

Aristophanes' play Thesmophoriazusae parodies Euripides' frequent use of the crane by making Euripides himself a character in the play and bringing him on stage by way of the mechane.

The device produced an immediate emotional response in Greek audiences. They would have a feeling of wonder and astonishment at the appearance of the gods, which would often add to the moral effect of the drama.

Modern theatrical examples

Set design Act5 of Andromède by P Corneille 1650 - Gallica 2010
Characters ascend into heaven to become gods at the end of the 1650 play Andromède.

Shakespeare uses the device in As You Like It, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, and Cymbeline. John Gay uses it in The Beggar's Opera where a character breaks the action and rewrites the ending as a reprieve from hanging for MacHeath. During the politically turbulent 17th and 18th centuries, the deus ex machina was sometimes used to make a controversial thesis more palatable to the powers of the day. For example, in the final scene of Molière's Tartuffe, the heroes are saved from a terrible fate by an agent of the compassionate, all-seeing King Louis XIV — the same king who held Molière's career and livelihood in his hands.

Plot device

Aristotle (in the Poetics 15 1454b1) was the first to use a Greek term equivalent to the Latin phrase deus ex machina to describe the technique as a device to resolve the plot of tragedies. It is said by one person to be undesirable in writing and often implies a lack of creativity on the part of the author. The reasons for this are that it damages the story's internal logic and is often so unlikely that it challenges the reader's suspension of disbelief.


  • Avengers: Endgame writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely admitted the time travel plot device in the 2019 film was the result of having written themselves into a corner in the previous movie. Also, the sudden arrival of Captain Marvel in the climax of the film has been criticized as bordering on a deus ex machina because "her late arrival to the final battle ... feels like a function of her powers being too strong".
  • The Great Eagles in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings carrying Frodo and Samwise out of Mordor have been critiqued as a deus ex machina.
  • Lord of the Flies: A passing navy officer rescues the stranded children. William Golding called that a "gimmick"; other critics view it as a deus ex machina. The abrupt ending conveys the terrible fate that would have afflicted the children if the officer had not arrived at that moment.
  • Oliver Twist: Charles Dickens used the device when Rose Maylie turns out to be the long-lost sister of Agnes, and therefore Oliver's aunt; she marries her long-time sweetheart Harry, allowing Oliver to live happily with his savior Mr. Brownlow.
  • The War of the Worlds: The Martians in H. G. Wells's novel have destroyed everything in their path and apparently triumphed over humanity, but they are suddenly killed by bacteria.

In medicine

In medicine, the phrase is often used for supposedly "magical remedies" which are not likely to work in practice. For instance, in the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak, when double lung transplantation for terminal COVID-19 patients was suggested, it was immediately denounced as a deus ex machina. In 2006, when electronic fetal heart monitoring was being touted as a preventive measure for cerebral palsy, The New England Journal of Medicine denounced it as deus ex machina.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Deus ex machina para niños

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