Last Updated on February 25, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 484
Deception and Selfishness
This play is filled with deceptions, mostly deceptions motivated by love. The character of Hermione in particular, inspired by her pathological affection for Pyrrhus, deceives and manipulates Oreste, even to the point of regicide. However, she is far from alone in her deceptions. Pyrrhus, whose lack of conviction in the face of Andromache’s sorrow leads him to alternate between the play’s two principle female characters, resulting in him giving each woman false hopes in turn. What the play’s many deceptions have in common is selfishness. All the characters, with the exception of Andromache, have responsibilities as influential political figures, but none of them act for any other reason than for gaining the individual they love, or in Andromache’s case, preserving the life of one she loves.
The characters in this play initially appear as manifestations of classical virtues, which the playwright then undermines. In his initial decision to deny the Greeks' request for the life of Astyanax, King Pyrrhus comes across as a strong and principled figure, yet his subsequent threat to kill the boy if Andromache doesn’t marry him reveals that he made this stand to impress her and win her affection. Similarly, while Oreste is initially unwilling to assassinate Pyrrhus at Hermione’s request, preferring the more honorable course of war against him, he allows himself to be persuaded when Hermione promises to marry him as a reward. Hermione herself laughs at the debt she has to Hector in his championing her mother against his countrymen when Andromache evokes it, and she later makes use of the feminine ideals prevalent in classical Greece to preserve herself from guilt. She explains to Oreste that he was wrong to listen to her, that she had been rendered irrational by the grief and distress that she as a woman had suffered following her rejection by Pyrrhus. Even Andromache, the play’s most sympathetic character, is shown in the earlier version of this play’s ending to act opportunistically, seizing the instruments of power after the death of Pyrrhus.
The Insignificance of Human Life
Human life in this play is portrayed as having little value. Pyrrhus and Oreste talk of war casually, as a means of obtaining glory, giving little regard to the cost war would have in terms of human life. Astyanax is little more than a pawn, a means of manipulation wielded by various characters in order to obtain their desires. Even his mother chances his survival on the strength of Pyrrhus’s principle, trusting that after her suicide he will honor the pledge he made to her. The instinct to survive consistently comes after the emotional compulsions of romance and of sex, as exemplified when Oreste, having been informed by his men that his life is in danger, appears not to care, submitting to a state of apathy in the knowledge that his lover is dead.
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