Essay, Research Paper: Agamemnon's Clytemnestra


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In Aeschylus' tragedy Agamemnon the character of Clytemnestra is portrayed as
strong willed woman. This characteristic is not necessarily typical of women of
her time. As a result, the reader must take a deeper look into the understanding
of Clytemnestra. In Agamemnon she dominates the action. Her most important
characteristic is like the watchman calls it, "male strength of
heart." She is a strong woman, and her strength is evident on many
occasions is the play. Later in the play after Clytemnestra murders her husband,
Agamemnon, and his concubine, Cassandra, she reveals her driving force and was
has spurned all of her actions until this point. Clytemnestra is seen by the
Elders of Argos (the Chorus) as untrustworthy and although suspicious of her
they still could not foresee the impending murders. Her words are plain but her
meaning hidden to all those around her. She more or less alludes to her plan of
murder without fear of being detected. Only the audience can seem to understand
the double meaning in her words. One example of how Clytemnestra hides meanings
in otherwise plain words is stated in her hope that Agamemnon and his soldiers
do not commit any sacrilege in Troy that might offend the gods. Now must they
pay due respect to the gods that inhabit the town, the gods of the conquered
land, or their victory may end in their own destruction after all. Too soon for
their safety, the soldiery, seized with greed, may yield to their covetousness
and lay hands on forbidden spoil. They have still to bring themselves home, have
still the backward arm of the double course to make. And if no sin against
heaven rest on the returning host, there is the wrong of the dead that watches.
Evil may find accomplishment, although it fall not at once. This can be
interpreted in two ways. The first being that her wish for Agamemnon to return
safely is so she may kill him herself. The second, is that of sarcasm. Perhaps
she really does wish for Agamemnon to upset the gods. That way when she murders
him she will divine sanction. Another instance that there is a double meaning in
her words is in her pleadings to the herald to take this message back to
Agamemnon, "let him come with speed to the people that love him, come to
find in his home the wife faithful, even such as he left her, a very house-dog,
loyal to one and an enemy to his foes..." The audience knows this to be
untrue because not only has she not been faithful, but the person she was
unfaithful with is the rival to Agamemnon's crown, his cousin Aegisthus. The
Chorus' distrust in her is shown by their comment to the herald in which they
are trying to explain her boastful and yet sarcastic attitude, "She speaks
thus to teach you; to those who clearly can discern, her words are
hypocrisy." Time and again in the play her strength is demonstrated when
she forces Agamemnon, Aegisthus, and the Elders of Argos to bend to her will.
For example, she influences the Elders to sacrifice to the gods for Agamemnon's
safe return and temporarily wins their trust and support. In fact they sing her
praises for suggesting it by saying, "Lady, no man could speak more kindly
wisdom than you. For my part, after the sure proof heard from you, my purpose is
now to give our thanks to the gods, who have wrought a return in full for all
the pains." Her shrewdness is also shown by the way she coaxes her husband
into submission. She wants him to walk on rich purple tapestries in hopes that
this would anger the gods and they will aid her in his murder. She does so by
challenging his manhood like in the statement, "Then let not blame of men
make you ashamed." In which she is basically calling him a
"chicken". He gives in and takes off his sandals and walks on the
tapestries even though he fears it may not please the gods. She single-handedly
plots the murder of Agamemnon and Cassandra. When she is successful in taking
away their lives she professes it loudly, " For me, I have had long enough
to prepare this wrestle for victory, though it has come at last. I stand where I
struck, over the finished work." According to Clytemnestra, she believes
she is doing right, "an offering of thanks to the nether god, to Hades,
safe keeper of the dead." Once again her persuasive tactics are put to good
use as she tries to persuade the Elders that she was correct in killing their
king, "So stands the case, nobles of Argos here; be glad of it, if you
will; for me, I triumph upon it." The Elders are shocked not only to find
their king dead, but at the hand of his wife, and now she has the audacity to
say she is right. They reply, " We are astonished that your mouth bears so
bold a tongue, to boost over your dead lord in such terms." They threaten
to cast her out in exile, but she asked why she must be banished for killing the
very person who sacrificed her child. Which in her own opinion was not
necessary. She says, "though his fleecy herds had sheep enough, he
sacrificed hid own child, the darling born of my pains, to charm the winds of
Thrace." With this the elders can't argue but the do warn, "you shall
find yourself friendless and pay retaliatory stroke for stroke." But
Clytemnestra with her cunning ways justifies this double murder by stating how
her husband was unfaithful with many women, husband-the darling of each
Chryseis in the Trojan camp!-and with him his captive, his auguress, his
oracle-monger mistress, who shared with him faithfully even the ship's bench and
the canvas! But they did it not unpunished! For here lies as you see, and she,
having sung swanlike her last sad song of death, lies by him lovably, adding to
the sweet of my triumph a spice of sex. After fighting back and forth over the
matter, the Elders are torn between love of their king and whether Clytemnestra
was right in killing him. Clytemnestra believes that she was in the will of the
gods because she was seeking revenge not only for her sacrificed daughter, but
Agamemnon's cousins (the brothers of Aegisthus, Clytemnestra's lover). She was
carrying out punishment for being unfaithful. According to her, she was
"allowed" by the gods because of these and other repeated sins toward
them (i.e. walking on the tapestries) as well as carrying out the curse of his
household. This situation arouses mixed emotions in the Elders and perhaps the
same in the readers. But if the audience would put themselves in the time and
culture of the Greeks, was a person not shunned unless revenge was taken for
their loved ones. The entire Trojan War was based on one act of vengefulness
after another, spawned from the seduction of Helen. So in that sense the reader
can offer only sympathy for a broken hearted mother whose rage encouraged by her
culture drove her to kill her husband and his concubine. And with this same
tradition of revenge for one act to another, she too will face a day when she is
killed for revenge by her son, and the cycle will continue.
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