Short summary - Andromaque - Jean Racine

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - Andromaque
Jean Racine

The source for this play was the story of Aeneas from the third book of Virgil's Aeneid. The action takes place in ancient times in Epirus, an area in northwestern Greece. After the fall of Troy, the widow of the murdered Hector Andromachus becomes a prisoner of Pyrrhus, the son of Achilles, Pyrrhus is the king of Epirus, he saves the life of Andromache and her son, which is opposed by other Greek kings - Menelaus, Odysseus, Agamemnon. In addition, Pyrrhus promised to marry Menelaus' daughter Hermione, but he pulls off the wedding and shows signs of attention to Andromache. The kings send an ambassador to Pyrrhus, the son of Agamemnon Orestes, with a request to fulfill their promises - to execute Andromache and her son and marry Hermione. Orestes is in love with Hermione and secretly hopes that Pyrrhus will give up his promise. After meeting with Pyrrhus, he tells him that if Hector's son survives, then in the future he will begin to avenge the Greeks for his father. Pyrrhus replies that it is not necessary to think so far ahead that the boy is his trophy, and only he can decide the fate of the descendant of Hector, Pyrrhus reproaches the kings for inconsistency and cruelty: if they are so afraid of this child, then why did not they kill him immediately , during the sack of Troy, when the war was going on and everyone was cut down. But in times of peace, "cruelties are absurd" and Pyrrhus refuses to stain his hands with blood. As for Hermione, Pyrrhus secretly hopes that Orestes will convince her to return to her father, and then he will breathe more freely, for he is attracted to Andromache.
Andromache appears, and Pyrrhus tells her that the Greeks demand the death of her son, but he is ready to refuse them and even start a war over the child if Andromache marries him. However, she refuses - after the death of Hector, she does not need either the glory or the glory of the queen, and since it is impossible to save her son, she is ready to die with him.
Meanwhile, the offended Hermione tells her maid that she hates Pyrrhus and wants to destroy his alliance with Andromache, that their sorrows are “her best reward,” but she still hesitates and does not know what to do - whether to give preference to Orestes, or to hope for love of Pyrrhus.
Orestes appears and tells Hermione about his unquenchable and hopeless love for her. Hermione plays a double game and answers Orestes that she always remembers him and sometimes sighs. She demands that Orestes find out what Pyrrhus has decided - to send her to her father or to marry her. Orestes hopes Pyrrhus will give up Hermione.
Pyrrhus also plays a double game and, when meeting with Orestes, declares that he changed his mind and is ready to give his son Hector to the Greeks and marry Hermione. He instructs Orestes to inform her about it. He doesn't know what to think. Pyrrhus tells his tutor Phoenix that he had sought Andromache's favor for too long and risked too much for her and all in vain - in response, only reproaches. He cannot finally decide what to do.
Orestes, meanwhile, is desperate - he wants to kidnap Hermione and does not listen to the reasonable arguments of his friend Pilad, who advises him to flee Epirus. Orestes does not want to suffer alone - let Hermione suffer with him, having lost Pyrrhus and the throne. Hermione, forgetting about Orestes, praises the virtues of Pyrrhus and already sees herself as his wife.
Andromache comes to her with a request to persuade Pyrrhus to let her and her son go to a deserted island to hide from people. Hermione replies that nothing depends on her - Andromache herself needs to ask Pyrrhus, for he will not refuse her.
Andromache comes to Pyrrhus and on her knees begs him not to give up her son, but he replies that she is to blame for everything, since she does not appreciate his love and patronage. At the last moment, Pyrrhus offers Andromache a choice: the crown or the death of her son. The wedding ceremony has already been scheduled.
Andromache's friend Sefiza tells her that maternal duty is above all and that she must yield. Andromache hesitates - after all, Pyrrhus destroyed her city of Troy, she decides to ask advice from the shadow of Hector.
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Later, Andromache reveals her plan to Sephise. Having learned the will of Hector, she decides to agree to become a Pyrrhic wife, but only until the wedding ceremony ends. As soon as the priest finishes the ceremony and Pyrrhus swears to become a father to her child in front of the altar, Andromache will stab her with a dagger. In this way, she will remain true to her duty to her lost husband and save the life of her son, for Pyrrhus will no longer be able to renounce his oath in the temple. Sephisa will have to remind Pyrrhus that he has sworn to love and raise his stepson.
Hermione, learning that Pyrrhus changed his mind and marries a Trojan horse, demands that Orestes avenge her shame and kill Pyrrhus during a ceremony in the temple. By doing this he will earn her love. Orestes hesitates: he cannot decide to kill the king by stabbing him in the back, for no one will praise such an act in Greece. Orestes is ready to fight "in a straight and honest war." Hermione demands that Pyrrhus be killed in the temple even before the wedding - then her shame will not be disclosed to the entire people. If Orestes refuses, then she herself will go to the temple and kill Pyrrhus with a dagger, and then herself - she would rather die with him than stay alive with the cowardly Orestes. Hearing this, Orestes agrees and goes to the temple to commit murder.
Hermione meets with Pyrrhus and listens to his excuses: he says that he deserves her reproach, but cannot resist passion - "weak-willed and in love", he longs, despite reason, to call his wife the one who not only does not love him , but just hates. This is the main idea of Racine's play - "to hinder passions in vain, like a thunderstorm." The heroes of Andromache, like many of the playwright's plays, cannot act according to reason and duty, not because they do not want to. They know what their duty is, but they are not free in their actions, since they cannot overcome the passions that gripped them.
Hermione replies to Pyrrhus that he came to show off his dishonesty in front of her, that he “honors only arbitrariness” and does not keep his word. She reminds Pyrrhus how he killed the old king Priam in Troy and "strangled" his daughter Polyxena - that is what heroism he was "famous for."
Pyrrhus remarks in response that he was wrong before, believing that Hermione loves him. But now, after such words, she realizes that she wanted to become his wife only out of duty, and not out of love. The easier it will be for her to bear his refusal.
Hearing this, Hermione is furious - didn't she love Pyrrhus? How dare he say that! After all, she sailed to him "from the other side of the world," where more than one hero was looking for her hand, and waited a long time for Pyrrhus to announce his decision to her. Now she threatens him with retribution: the gods will take revenge on him for breaking his promises.
Left alone, Hermione tries to sort out her feelings. She is torn between love and hate and yet decides that Pyrrhus must die, since he did not go to her, for she sacrificed too much for him. If Orestes does not dare to kill, then she herself will commit it, and then she will stab herself. She doesn't care who dies - Orestes or Pyrrhus, just to somehow pour out her anger.
Orestes appears and tells Hermione about how his squad entered the temple and, after performing the ceremony, hacked Pyrrhus to death. She, hearing this, becomes furious and curses Orestes. Instead of rejoicing, she accuses him of the heinous murder of the hero. Orestes reminds her that he did everything on her orders. She replies to him that he believed the words of a woman in love, whose mind had darkened, that she did not want at all what she said, that her "heart and mouth are at odds with each other." Orestes had to let her come to her senses and not rush to vile revenge on Pyrrhus.
Orestes alone ponders how he could, forgetting the arguments of reason, commit a dastardly murder and - for whom? - for the one who, having imposed on him the vile role of a murderer, repaid everything with ingratitude! Orestes despises himself after all that has happened. His friend Pylas appears and urges Orestes to flee Epirus, for a crowd of enemies wants to kill them. Hermione, it turns out, committed suicide over the corpse of Pyrrhus. With these words, Orestes realizes that the gods decided to punish him, that he was born unhappy and now he has to drown in the blood of Pyrrhus, Hermione and his own. He is delusional - it seems to him that it is Pyrrhus, and not Pilad, standing in front of him and Hermione kisses him. Then he imagines Erinyes, whose heads are entwined with snakes. These are the goddesses of vengeance, pursuing Orestes for the murder of his mother, Clytemnestra. According to the myth, Orestes took revenge on his mother for the murder of his father, Agamemnon. Since then, he has been haunted by the Erinians all his life. At the end of the play, Orestes asks Erinius to give way to Hermione - let her torment him.