Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Critics have focused their attention on a central problem in Andromache: The subject of the drama completely disappears midway through the play. The action falls basically into three stages that are connected only by the slenderest of threads. In the first stage, Andromache provides the focus, as her life and that of her small son are imperiled by Hermione’s jealous hatred; in the second, Hermione, beside herself with fear after her plot fails, is rescued by her old lover, Orestes. In the last stage, after Neoptolemus is brutally murdered by Orestes, his aged grandfather Peleus mourns his death until his divine mate, Thetis, appears to comfort him.

Some critics complained of the discontinuous plot structure, but others proposed that the play’s episodic plot is compensated for by a unity of theme and characterization. It is suggested, for example, that Andromache is a bitter attack on the Spartan national character, particularly on its arrogance, treachery, and ruthlessness. This theory is certainly supported in the first two parts of the play when Andromache, generalizing from the individual wrongs committed against her, denounces all Spartans as liars and cheats, and Hermione’s vengefulness and Menelaus’s cowardly bullying and bragging nature seem to confirm her judgment. The interpretation is much less convincing, however, when applied to the last portion of the play, since it is never made clear that Orestes is meant to represent Spartan villainy. Other readings see the play variously as a denunciation of slavery, as a dramatization of the political failure of Greek alliances, and as a warning against forced or inadvisable marriages.

Perhaps more convincing than these views, as well as more consistent with the values Euripides expressed in his other dramas, is the interpretation of Andromache as a portrayal of the tragedy of war. The theme of war—its trivial...

(The entire section is 786 words.)