Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Andromache was Racine’s first tragic masterpiece. This play describes the destructive links between love and violence and shows how the four major characters tried to destroy one another through manipulation and threats. As this tragedy begins, Andromache (widow of the Trojan military hero Hector) is a prisoner with her young son Astyanax in Epirus, where the Greek king, Pyrrhus, reigns. Pyrrhus is engaged to the Greek princess Hermione, whom he wishes to repudiate so that he can marry Andromache. Hermione still loves Pyrrhus, but she is loved by Orestes, whom other Greek cities have sent as an ambassador to Epirus to demand that Pyrrhus execute Astyanax. The Greeks have an irrational fear that if Astyanax reaches manhood, he will avenge his father’s death and conquer Greece. Andromache begins a full year after the destruction of Troy.
In act 1, Pyrrhus seems to be a very sensible monarch who values human life. He argues that it is morally unacceptable for the Greeks to seek the death of an innocent child. Pyrrhus is, of course, correct. In the very next scene, however, Pyrrhus is revealed as a hypocrite. In a very formal style, he tells Andromache that Astyanax will be promptly executed unless she agrees to marry him. His extreme brutality and overt abuse of political power inspire terror in Andromache. When Hermione first appears in act 2, she describes herself as a vulnerable and unstable character with a tendency toward violence....
(The entire section is 579 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Orestes, son of the Greek leader Agamemnon, journeys to Epirus to tell Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, that the Greeks are fearful of Astyanax, the young son of Hector and Andromache. It is believed that Astyanax might someday try to avenge the fall of Troy. Because of the Greeks’ fear, Orestes had been sent to Epirus to request that Pyrrhus put Astyanax to death.
Pyrrhus has fallen in love with Andromache, however, and, at first, afraid of losing her love, he refuses to grant the request. To Orestes, who has long loved Hermione, betrothed of Pyrrhus, the news of Pyrrhus’s love for Andromache is welcome. Orestes thinks he sees in the situation a chance for him to win Hermione for his wife. Orestes’ friend Pylades is amazed, for Orestes had previously sworn that his love for Hermione had degenerated into hate because she had spurned him.
Pyrrhus refuses to kill Astyanax or turn the child over to the Greeks, so Orestes threatens him. Pyrrhus swears that he will make Epirus a second Troy before he permits the death of Astyanax. Pyrrhus, hoping that his decision will lead her to forget her dead husband, tells Andromache what he has done, but she makes no response to his overtures. Angered, Pyrrhus tells her that unless she marries him the child will die.
Meanwhile, Hermione, spurned by Pyrrhus, is trying to decide whether she loves or hates the king, and whether she wants to flee with Orestes. When Pyrrhus, rebuffed by Andromache, goes to her, they decide that they are still in love. Reconciled to Hermione, Pyrrhus promises to love only her and to give Astyanax to the Greeks.
Hermione, however, changing her mind, prepares to flee with Orestes to inflict punishment on Pyrrhus, after Orestes tells her that Pyrrhus has renewed his suit of Andromache. Pyrrhus returns while they are speaking and announces that he is ready to give the boy to the Greeks because Andromache has again spurned his love and aid.
Convinced that Pyrrhus has decided to marry Hermione only to keep her from her Greek lover, Orestes plots to flee with the girl. Pylades, his friend, agrees to help in the abduction. When Hermione meets Orestes, she speaks only of her...
(The entire section is 895 words.)