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A Short Analysis of Aeschylus' Agamemnon

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Aeschylus- Agamemnon

Characters- The Watchman

Clytaemnestra

The Herald

Agamemnon

Cassandra

Aegisthus

The Chorus

1). The Watchman:

Ð'* The watchman sets the time and place for the play (Agamemnon's palace in Argos, the house of Atreus); he describes the many miserable nights he has spent on the rooftop of the palace watching for the signal fires that will herald the fall of Troy.

Ð'* The watchman is one Aeschylus's small characters, but like the herald he serves an important role as he not only sets the scene but also perhaps portrays the mood of Argos awaiting their king and soldiers return.

Ð'* "That woman Ð'- She manoeuvres like a man" is the important first reference to Clytaemnestra, it ominously refers to her doing a man's job and her "male" qualities e.g. intelligence and pride etc (unnatural). He hints at fear of Clytaemnestra and seems to miss Agamemnon the king but for what reason it is clearly not his place to say as demonstrated by the "The Ox is on my tongue" on the next page. In this way the watchman ominously points to the events of the play but cleverly reveals no detail at this early stage.

Ð'* Even when the watchman notices the signal fires "You dawn of the darkness, you turn night to day- I see the light at last" his initial joy is undermined by a sinister anxiousness as he expresses his wishes that Agamemnon return home.

Ð'* The fire that the watchman sees is compared to dawn, but it is perhaps a false dawn as it is of mortals not the gods, also it brings no joy to Argos only more misery and sorrow when the king is murdered upon his homecoming.

Ð'* The watchman leaves to tell Clytaemnestra the news of her husband's imminent return.

2). 1st Choral Ode: the purpose of the chorus is to direct the audience, provide a time lapse and to praise the gods.

Ð'* In the first choral ode the chorus establishes it's identity within the play, provides a time lapse to allow the watchman to inform Clytaemnestra of the news of the fall of Troy and directs the audience by informing them that it has been ten years since Agamemnon set out for Troy. The reason for this war is Paris's betrayal of the laws of hospitality by stealing Helen from Menelaus.

Ð'* Agamemnon and Menelaus are likened to "vultures robbed of their young, the agony sends them frenzied" where Helen equates to their "young." The vultures are described "they row their wings" another significant metaphor as it reminds us of the many ships which were sent to invade Troy.

Ð'* Helens promiscuity is alluded to as she is described as a "woman manned by many" and the cause of the Trojan War.

Ð'* The chorus talks about the inevitability of crime and punishment by the gods. Zeus will punish Paris because he is the god of hospitality and it is his laws of hospitality that have been broken; they also suggest that there is no way to "enchant away the rigid fury".

Ð'* The Chorus introduce themselves as "the old dishonoured ones, the broken husks of men" alluding to the fact that they are the old men of Argos and could not go to war "old men are children once more" makes us sympathise with the Chorus in their old age.

Ð'* A change of pace in the chorus's speech signals that the chorus have become narrators outside the action of the play and are given divine wisdom and knowledge "The gods breathe power through my song"

Ð'* At this point the chorus narrates the omen of the birds and the hare; Agamemnon and Menelaus are likened this time to two eagles which fly from the palace west towards the sea (and Troy) and kill a pregnant hare which represents the city of Troy full of life and prosperity. The fact they are likened to eagles is important because eagles are the kings of birds and they have beaks just like the prow of a ship.

Ð'* There is a long section of praise to Zeus. The chorus then speak of a price to pay for the Trojan War (the sacrifice of the as yet unnamed Iphigenia) and hint at Clytaemnestra as "the architect of vengeanceÐ'... growing strong in the house with no fear of the husband." further building her image as a dangerous woman.

Ð'* The prophet Calchas revealed that a sacrifice must be made to appease Artemis for the death of the pregnant hare and for Troy as in this play the gods are not restricted by the passage of time and act with an awareness of the future.

Ð'* There follows a long section of praise to the gods where after the chorus detail the events at Aulis where Iphiginia the daughter of Clytaemnestra and Agamemnon is sacrificed by Agamemnon. Before this he deliberates over the act but in the end decides to go ahead with it and his ruthlessness is accentuated in the description of his daughters sacrifice "here, gag her hard a sound will curse the house" Before Agamemnon or Clytaemnestra speak the description of Iphigenia is a bad mark on Agamemnon and a point of sympathy for Clytaemnestra. Iphiginia and Helen are two women who are not featured in the play but are referred to repeatedly by the Chorus and Clytaemnestra among others.

Ð'* The events of the Agamemnon and the background in this Choral Ode allude to the fact that the story is a series of social injustices from Paris' stealing of Helen, to Agamemnon's murder of his daughter, and finally Clytaemnestra's murder of her husband. The theme of host and guest is repeatedly used (Clytaemnestra is a form of host as she welcomes Agamemnon home). This chain of suffering continues throughout the Oresteia.

Ð'* The chorus resumes their normal roles and begins a conversation with Clytaemnestra.

3). Clytaemnestra and the leader of the Chorus:

Ð'* The leader of the chorus approaches Clytaemnestra and asks her what the commotion is, to which she replies the Greeks have finally taken the city of Troy, again she likens her signal fires to the dawn of a new day.

Ð'* The leader initially reacts with disbelief

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