Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 488
Racine combines in this play a plot and characters drawn from the ancient tale of the Trojan war with his own strict rule of the “three unities” of tragedy. The play unfolds in a single day, in one room, and all the characters and action are settled on one problem, the reconciliation of four incompatible passions.
Orestes, son of Agamemnon, loves Hermione, daughter of Menelaus and betrothed of Pyrrhus, Achilles’ son. Pyrrhus loves his captive, Andromache, but she is devoted only to her son and the memory of her dead husband, Hector. Orestes’ arrival as the Grecian envoy, demanding the death of Hector’s son, unleashes the conflict: Will Pyrrhus repudiate Hermione, daughter of Helen for whom Troy perished, in order to marry Hector’s widow and befriend his son? Will proud Andromache marry the son of her husband’s slayer, in order to save the last of Hector’s family? What is the reaction of Hermione to Pyrrhus’ indecisions and rejections? How will the unstable Orestes choose between his sacred duty as an envoy and the demands of the slighted Hermione? Racine defines his characters in such a way as to leave no escape. The supple and elegant alexandrine verses which paint their uncontrollable passions hurry them along to destruction.
By curtain’s fall, Andromache is acting as the widow of slaughtered Pyrrhus, Hermione is a suicide, Orestes runs mad and Fury-driven to future horrors. Racine has used the formal restraints of tragic verse and thematic restraints of classical myth to study human passion at its most intense.
Cloonan, William J. Racine’s Theatre: The Politics of Love. University, Miss.: Romance Monographs, 1977. Examines the profound unhappiness of the four principal characters in Andromache. Explores the destructive nature of Pyrrhus’ egotistical desire to dominate Andromache and the violence and irrational behavior of Orestes and Hermione.
France, Peter. Racine’s Rhetoric. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1965. An insightful analysis which examines Racine’s skill in using classical rhetorical devices in order to create many effective psychological tragedies. Discusses the portrayal of passion and solitude in Andromache.
Lapp, John C. Aspects of Racinian Tragedy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1955. Explores Racine’s artistry in using the conventions of French classical theater in order to compose psychologically powerful and aesthetically pleasing tragedies. Examines the heavy weight of the past on Andromache, whose suffering continues long after the end of the Trojan War.
Mourgues, Odette de. Racine or the Triumph of Relevance. London: Cambridge University Press, 1967. Examines Racine’s creative imitation of classical writers and his tragic vision of the world. Applies Aristotle’s theory of catharsis or purgation to Racine’s tragedies.
Turnell, Martin. Jean Racine: Dramatist. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1972. Contains a very good introduction to Racine’s eleven tragedies and also includes a lengthy bibliography of major critical studies on Racine. The chapter on Andromache examines representations of love and violence and the psychological complexity of its four principal characters.
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