AT: The Distrest Mother A: Jean Racine Pf: 1667, Paris Pb: 1668 Tr: 1675 G: Trag. in 5 acts; French alexandrines S: Pyrrhus' palace in Epirus, after the Trojan War C: 4m, 4f, extrasAlthough Pyrrhus is betrothed to Hermione, daughter of Helen of Troy and King Menelaus, he has fallen in love with the noble widow of Hector, Andromache, whom he has been given as one of the spoils of the Trojan War. Andromache however rejects his love, since she is devoted only to the memory of Hector and to her little son Astyanax. When Orestes, who desperately loves Hermione, arrives with an order from the Greek kings to surrender Astyanax to them in order to prevent him growing up to avenge his father's death, Pyrrhus seizes this as an opportunity to force Andromache into marriage. She complies in order to save her son, secretly planning to take her own life immediately after the wedding. The enraged and humiliated Hermione persuades Orestes to avenge her by taking Pyrrhus' life, but when Pyrrhus is mortally wounded, she is so disturbed at losing her beloved that she rejects Orestes and kills herself. Driven insane by guilt and by Hermione's treatment of him, Orestes is taken away by his companions, leaving Andromache and her son as the sole survivors.
AT: The Distrest Mother A: Jean Racine Pf: 1667, Paris Pb: 1668 Tr: 1675 G: Trag. in 5 acts; French alexandrines S: Pyrrhus' palace in Epirus, after the Trojan War C: 4m, 4f, extras
It has been said that while Corneille depicted people as they ought to be, Racine showed them as they are. Here, in this chain of unrequited love, Racine explores the destructive force of passion, which leads to the curious paradox that the ostensibly weakest characters, Andromache and her son, for the time being at least, emerge unscathed from the events of the play. Racine's supreme achievement is to portray these conflicts, hesitations, and reversals within the strict limits of the neo-classical unities and through the medium of alexandrine verse, which establishes a powerful tension between the formality of the language and the power of the emotion it expresses.