The Greek Plays Themselves. A Quick Overview of The Most Important Dramas. Agamemnon by Aeschylus. First a little about Aeschylus: He lived from about 520 to 456 BC. He wrote the earliest plays that we have. He added a second actor; before that there was only one actor and the Chorus.
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The Greek Plays Themselves
A Quick Overview of The Most Important Dramas
The events of Agamemnon
take place against a backdrop
that would have been familiar
to an Athenian audience.
Agamemnon is returning from his victory at Troy, which has been besieged for ten years by Greek armies attempting to recover Helen, Agamemnon's brother's wife, who was stolen by the treacherous Trojan Prince, Paris.
The tragedies of the play occur as a result of the crimes committed by Agamemnon's family. His father, Atreus, boiled the children of his own brother, Thyestes, and served them to him. Clytemnestra's lover, Aegisthus (Thyestes's only surviving son), seeks revenge for that crime.
Moreover, Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter, Iphigenia, to gain a favorable wind to Troy, and Clytemnestra murders him to avenge her death.
The weight of history and heritage becomes a major theme of the play, and indeed the entire trilogy, for the family it depicts cannot escape the cursed cycle of bloodshed propagated by its past.
The play's mood carries a heavy sense of impending doom.
From the Watchman's opening speech through the Chorus' foreboding words and Cassandra's prophesies, the drama prepares the audience for the King's murder.
The actual act of violence occurs off-stage, a traditional practice in Greek tragedy.
Thematically, the murder of Agamemnon must be understood in the context of three other acts of violence, all of which precede the action of the play.
1. The theft or kidnapping of Helen and the Trojan War—the chorus blames Helen for this.
2. The sacrifice of Iphigenia which justifies Clytemnestra's resolve to murder her husband.
3. Atreas gruesome murder of his nephews which justifies Aegisthus’ murder of his cousin.
But in a broader sense, it is the source of the ancestral curse that pervades the trilogy, as one act of violence leads to another.
She says that she would never have taken upon herself the responsibility of defying the edict for the sake of a husband or children, for husbands and children can be replaced; brothers, once the parents are dead, cannot. In Antigone we see a woman so in need of familial connection that she is desperate to maintain the connections she has even in death.
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