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.)