Analysis

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Last Reviewed on February 25, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 407

Andromache as a play is first and foremost a satire that exposes the humanity and fallibility of those who society has imbued with power and influence. In their earliest manifestations, the play’s principle characters present themselves as positive archetypes of their political roles. Pyrrhus is the honorable king who will not countenance the murder of a young child; Oreste is the honest diplomat who speaks with the voice of all the Greeks; Hermione is the ideal princess, dedicated to the man she is betrothed to; Andromache herself is a devoted mother who is determined to remain loyal to her dead husband. These external impressions, however, crumble as the selfish and deceptive behaviors of the respective characters play out. While Racine subscribed wholeheartedly to the concept of a feudal nobility, a system he would benefit from during his lifetime in France, his depictionl in Andromache of kings, diplomats, and noblewomen being subject to their emotions reflects his Jansenist beliefs in the inability of human beings to adhere faithfully to their principles.

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Racine had multiple involvements with women, mainly actresses, prior to his marriage in 1700, and these women appear to have played a positive role in his life. It was an actress who encouraged him to write both his first and his second play. His portrayal of women in Andromache is not especially favorable, however. Hermione is portrayed not only as emotionally fragile but as violent, having no scruples over committing murder to achieve her aims, while Andromache, though portrayed as a heroic figure initially, ultimately comes across as an opportunist who takes her chance at power after the death of King Pyrrhus. Racine’s antipathy toward women might perhaps be put down to a conscience routinely pricked by the memories of his Jansenist past and to guilt over the accusations of his moralistic family, who wholly disapproved of theater.

Racine feared the capacity of a single emotion to consume the human mind, a theme that appears in a number of his plays, notably in his first tragedy, La Thébaïde: Ou, Les Frères ennemis, where the hatred between two brothers consumes them both beyond redemption, and in Mithridates, where a ruler becomes dazzled and befuddled by his love for a young Greek woman. His vacillations as to the moral value of women are embodied by his publishing a second version of Andromache, in which Andromache is portrayed more sympathetically at the end of the play.

Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 225

*Epirus

*Epirus (ih-PAR-rahs). Region along the northwestern Greece coast and what is now southern Albania. In ancient times Epirus was a Greek kingdom whose most famous ruler was Pyrrhus.

Pyrrhus’s palace

Pyrrhus’s palace. In the preface to Andromache, Racine quotes a passage from Vergil’s Aeneid that identifies the place, action, and major characters in his own tragedy. After the defeat of the Trojans, Hector’s widow Andromache becomes Pyrrhus’s prisoner, but other Greek leaders grow concerned by his behavior. His rejection of his fiancé, Hermione, and announced intention to wed Andromache convince them that he is unreliable. In Racine’s tragedy, Pyrrhus’s palace becomes the center of gross violations of basic human rights in which he tells Andromache that he will execute her son if she does not marry him. Pyrrhus’s palace also contains separate cells for Andromache and Astyanax and execution chambers. Pyrrhus seems to conform to no accepted codes of conduct, and this makes his palace an unreasonably dangerous place not only to his prisoners but also to his subjects and to other Greek city states as well. His irrational and violent behavior makes it clear to everyone but himself that he will be killed, either by his own subjects or by other Greek leaders, so that chaos can be ended and moral order restored to Epirus.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 228

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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