Clytaemnestra play Summary
“Agamemnon” is the first play in a trilogy of plays called “The Oresteia,” written by Aeschylus. In this story, there is one character who the audience tends to side with and have sympathy for. This character is Agamemnon’s wife, Clytaemnestra. Clytaemnestra’s daughter, Iphigenia, was sacrificed by Agamemnon so that he could obtain favorable wind to carry the Greek fleet to Troy ( The country with which he had conflicts.) During is ten-year long absence, Clytemnestra takes on Aegisthus, Agamemnon’s cousin, as her lover. Also during this time, Clytemnestra plans to murder Agamemnon with ruthless determination and feels no guilt after his death.
Clytaemnestra’s infidelity and lack of a pure heart lead us to ask one of the play’s central critical questions: should the audience support Clytaemnestra? Is she a wronged woman seeking revenge, or a murdering adulteress? Clytaemnestra has been having an affair with another man and she has used deception in order to gain favor and sympathy from those around her. She also, in cold blood, murders her husband and his innocent slave and mistress, Cassandra, who was kidnapped from Troy. These facts are all evidence supporting the truth that Clytaemnestra was not innocent, but that she was a murdering adulteress.
When Clytemnestra is informed that the war over Troy was won, she quickly and deceptively acts thrilled. She makes claims about how much she missed her husband and how faithful she has been to him. She says, “ May he returns to find her true at the hall, just as the day he left her, faithful to the last.” (601-602) Clytaemnestra knows that she has not been faithful, but she also knows that it is right and favored in society’s eyes when a woman is faithful. She has slept with Agamemnon’s cousin, Aegisthus, for the past ten years and is very guilty of infidelity. Clytaemnestra tries to hide her adulteress ways because she knows it does not reflect well on her and her ‘innocence.’
She goes so far as to glorify herself for her feigned fidelity by saying, “This is my boast, teeming with the truth. I am proud, a woman of my nobility – I’d hurl it from the roofs!” (609-611) This attitude creates a sense of sympathy and of liking toward Clytemnestra from the other characters in the play, as well as the audience. However, this paradox between her actions and her words shows that Clytaemnestra is a liar and a fraud. Her lack of righteous actions and true words discredit her innocence. Her reasoning behind killing Agamemnon is no longer justifiable because, like him, she has also wronged those around her. True, Clytaemnestra has been wronged by Agamemnon, but she has also wronged him through lies and infidelity, therefore her vengeance is not reasonable or legitimate.
Not only does Clytaemnestra kill Agamemnon, but she kills his slave and mistress from Troy as well. Clytaemnestra’s violent act toward Cassandra can only be characterized as cold-blooded murder. Cassandra was kidnapped from Troy and has wronged Clytaemnestra in no way. Although it was Cassandra’s fate that she would be murdered, she did nothing to deserve it. Clytaemnestra’s reasons for killing Cassandra are none other than jealousy. She clearly hates Cassandra from the time of their first encounter by stating, “ She’s mad, her evil genius murmuring in her ears…that’s the last I waste on her contempt!” (1064, 1067) Cassandra’s actions that prompted this response from Clytemnestra were simply that she was silent.
This overreaction on Clytaemnestra’s part is a sign that she is bitter and will murder Cassandra out of immature jealousy. Her quick and angry words point to her lack of self-control and to the fact that Cassandra’s murder was completely illegitimate. Clytaemnestra does not even try to give a good reason for killing Cassandra. She simply calls Cassandra Agamemnon’s “spear-prize” and accuses her of sharing her husband’s bed. (1467-68) Her bitterness and lack of a truly good reason for Cassandra’s murder are reinforced when as Cassandra lies dead, Clytamestra says sarcastically, “ What wonders she beheld!”(1468) Clytaemnestra had no reason to take the life of Cassandra. She did it with cruel intentions and an impure heart. There was no legitimate reason for killing her, therefore, this constitutes heartless murder on the part of Clytaemnestra.
Agamemnon appears only briefly in the play and comes across as a vindictive husband and an arrogant ruler. However, Clytaemnestra is no different. She is an arrogant woman with malicious intentions. Although we sympathize with her for much of the play, her evil actions remind us of her true self. Her involvement with Aegisthus and her murder of the innocent hapless Cassandra remind us that she is not an avenger but an adulteress and a murderer whose crimes cannot be justified.
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