Last Updated on February 25, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 374
Andromache is a tragedy set in the aftermath of the Trojan War. The characters are Greeks and Trojans whose lives are joined by love and separated by their varying goals and allegiances.
Hermione, the daughter of Menelaus and Helen of Troy, loves Pyrrhus; the pair are engaged. Oreste, the son of Agamemnon, loves Hermione. Hermione is jealous of Pyrrhus's infatuation with Andromache and she conspires with Oreste to have Andromache and Pyyrhus killed. However, she later laments her actions, realizing too late that she truly did love Pyyrhus.
Pyrrhus, the son of Achilles, is now King of Epirus. Although engaged to Hermione, he loves Andromache, the widow of Hector, to whom she has vowed perpetual fidelity. This inappropriate love, combined with Pyyrhus's arrogance, has derailed his reason and caused him to betray his warrior status. He is ultimately killed by Oreste's men on what would have been his wedding day.
Andromache was widowed when her husband, Hector, the hero of Troy, was killed. Pyrrhus, wild with desire, has enslaved her, but she steadfastly remains faithful to Hector’s memory. Pyrrhus alternates between menacing and indulgent behavior; he both threatens to kill Astyanax, her son, and lavishes her with luxuries to distract her from her prisoner status. Her central dilemma centers on her desire to remain faithful to her deceased husband and her need to save her son, whatever the cost.
Menelaus and Helen of Troy
Hermione’s parents were Menelaus and Helen of Troy. As a dutiful daughter, Hermione follows her father’s wishes that she become engaged to Pyrrhus, who is tempted to abandon her for Andromache. Hermione’s pride leads her to reject Andromache’s plea for her help in saving Astyanax. In her anger and jealousy toward Pyrrhus, she toys with Oreste’s affections. Spurned by Pyrrhus, she aids Oreste in planning his murder. Confronting the reality of her fiancé’s death and her role in it, brought home by seeing his body, propels her to suicide.
Oreste, the son of Agamemnon, is melancholic and immature, likely cursed by the gods. His duty in Epirus is to take Astyanax’s life, but he is distracted by his love for Hermione. His lack of self-control, culminating in Pyrrhus’s murder, drives him mad.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 799
Andromaque (ahn-dro-MAHK), the widow of Hector, the Trojan hero, and mother of his small son Astyanax. Andromaque, now a slave of the Greek hero Pyrrhus, spurns his advances; she has promised to be true to her dead husband. Pyrrhus does nothing to bring Andromaque to a real understanding of her situation as his slave. Frantic with love for her, Pyrrhus threatens to kill her son if she will not marry him, but he counters his extravagant threats against the boy’s life with equally extravagant promises for the future of Andromaque and her son. Pyrrhus actually fosters Andromaque’s capacity to live in a dream, in a world of words, of codes, of courtly manners, until her mind is filled with a view of her past estate so incurably romantic that she cannot comprehend her present condition. Pyrrhus finally abandons hope of marrying Andromaque and repledges himself to Hermione, whereupon Andromaque begs Hermione to spare the life of Astyanax. Still jealous of Andromaque, Hermione rejects her plea. Andromaque, to save the life of her son, consents to marry Pyrrhus, but she remains full of unrealistic contrivance. Having obtained Pyrrhus’ promises to guard her child forever, she plans to kill herself immediately after the wedding rites. Andromaque is still on this high note of idealistic foolhardiness when Pyrrhus is killed by the soldiers of Oreste.
Pyrrhus (peer-REWS), the king of Epirus, Achilles’ son, betrothed to Hermione. He has come to regret his exploits in the Trojan War because they may have cost him Andromaque’s love. He tries to move Andromaque by threatening to kill her son. He is so wild with love that, like Oreste, he becomes unreasonable and unmanly. Aristocratic and demanding, he must have his way with Andromaque, whatever the cost and despite his pledge to Hermione, who also must have her way. Caught in a situation designed to reveal the follies of a passion out of control and out of bounds, Pyrrhus is not so much a character as passion’s ruin, although there are glimpses of the regal man he might be when rational.
Hermione (hehr-MYOHN), the daughter of Menelaus and Helen of Troy. Oreste loves her, she loves Pyrrhus, and Pyrrhus loves Andromaque, who has solemnly vowed to be true to her dead husband Hector. This situation brings out the worst in the four lovers. Each seeks his or her own satisfaction so that not a single altruistic action is born from the love of one for another, and tragedy ensues. While Pyrrhus vacillates between his promise to marry Hermione and his desire to wed his slave, the beautiful Andromaque, haughty Hermione vacillates between loving and hating Pyrrhus. Hermione rejects Oreste to accept the hand of Pyrrhus, encourages Oreste when Pyrrhus turns from her, rejects Oreste and triumphs over Andromaque when Pyrrhus returns to her, recalls Oreste to her side when Pyrrhus again rejects her, and arranges with Oreste the murder of Pyrrhus. After the death of Pyrrhus, the proud and wretched Hermione spurns Oreste once again. She admits to him at last that she has always loved Pyrrhus and that she lied when she told Oreste she could not marry him because she was betrothed by her father and bound by her duty as a Greek princess to Pyrrhus. Although cruel and treacherous, Hermione is also pitiful in her plight. She commits suicide after viewing Pyrrhus’ body.
Oreste (oh-REHST), the son of Agamemnon, sent to Epirus to demand the death of Astyanax. Oreste morbidly longs for his own death. He is melancholic, self-centered, adolescent, and driven to frenzy whenever his passions are thwarted. Oreste believes himself born to be a living example of the wrath of the gods. For Hermione’s sake, he forsakes the course that his honor and his reason suggest to him. Careless of honor and duty, he arranges the murder of Pyrrhus on Pyrrhus’ wedding day, only to have Hermione reject him because he has murdered the man she loves. Wild with disappointment, Oreste takes leave of his senses and in madness is borne from the stage.
Pylade (pee-LAHD), Oreste’s good friend. He provides the voice of reason to balance Oreste’s passion, but his friendship leads him to conspire in the wild plot to kill Pyrrhus.
Cléone (klay-OHN), Hermione’s handmaiden. She counsels reason and self-control.
Céphise (say-FEEZ), Andromaque’s good friend and counselor, another voice of practical good sense and duty in the midst of the emotional storms that agitate the characters in this drama.
Phoenix (fay-NEEKS), the old man who counsels Pyrrhus. Phoenix’s wise advice is ultimately an instrument for furthering the tragedy. The tides of passion cannot be stemmed in the young by the advice of the rational and the old.
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