The playwright portrays Clytemnestra as the most complex character in Agamemnon while creating an analysis of her most prominent traits. She is the wife of Agamemnon. She seems bitter towards her husband at the start of the play. It is because her husband sacrifices their daughter Iphigenia while leaving her to suffer for ten years. Her anger overpowers her due to which she has a desire for revenge.
Clytemnestra can take any type of risk. She can go to any end in order to achieve her goals. She is not only powerful but a cunning woman. Besides her matrimonial relationship, she has an affair with Aegisthus who is the son of Agamemnon’s predecessor. She along with him plots to kill Agamemnon and take revenge for the death of their family members.
Clytemnestra manages Agamemnon to walk on the red carpet. She knows that it will make him vulnerable to attack. Agamemnon symbolically enters into the realm of the gods by walking on the carpet. His act of humility becomes an act of hubris or excessive pride. Afterwards, Clytemnestra makes several blows of the sword to him one after another which results in the death of Agamemnon. She takes great pleasure in doing so as she considers that justice has been served. She avenges Agamemnon for the death of her daughter.
Table of contents
- Brief Summary of the Play
- Physical Traits of Clytemnestra
- Characteristics of Clytemnestra
- Clytemnestra’s Role in the Plot and Themes of the Play
- Good and Bad in Clytemnestra’s Character
It is necessary to understand brief summary of the play in order to understand and create an in-depth analysis of the character of Clytemnestra in the play “Agamemnon”
Brief Summary of the Play
Greek playwright Aeschylus wrote one of the prominent tragedies Agamemnon. It is the first part of a trilogy called The Oresteia. The writer portrays themes of justice, revenge, suffering, deceit and the consequences of violence in this play.
The play starts when it is the end of the Trojan War. Agamemnon is the king of Argos, who returns home to his wife Clytemnestra. He meets his children after ten years of war. However, his wife is not happy with him. She is bitter and resentful towards him as he has sacrificed their daughter to the gods in order to gain a favourable wind for the journey to Troy.
Agamemnon enters the palace and Clytemnestra stabs him repeatedly and kills him. She does so firstly because she wants to avenge her daughter’s death; secondly, she does so on the asking of Aegisthus as she has an affair with him. Electra, daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra becomes a witness of the murder and vows to avenge her father’s death. The play ends but the story continues to complete the trilogy.
Physical Traits of Clytemnestra
The playwright does not create a detailed analysis of the physical attributes of Clytemnestra. However, there are a few hints and references to her appearance throughout the play.
For instance, the chorus describes her as a “woman fierce of heart, unmeasured of mood, queenly in her aspect, and pitiless” at the beginning of the play.
The playwright mentions the carpet as “purpled with the dye of a sea-born shell”. It may be the symbol that he uses to describe Clytemnestra’s majestic outward behaviour.
The writer gives Clytemnestra dialogues that she utters in an artificial manner. She often uses metaphorical and poetic language when she talks. In this way, she maintains an image of herself as a refined and sophisticated queen.
Characteristics of Clytemnestra
So far as other inner traits of her character are concerned, she is the most complex character in the play. She grabs the attention of the audience not only at the time when she talks but at the time when she is behind the curtains. She compels the audience to think twice about her actions though her actions are not unexpected. Let’s explain her traits one by one with strong examples from the play.
Clytemnestra brings up the desire for revenge from infancy against her husband. She is resentful towards Agamemnon after the death of her daughter. However, it is not the only reason she wants revenge on her husband. She is motivated to plant her husband’s murder on the asking of Aegisthus. She reveals her anger towards Agamemnon in her speech:
“My hatred of him, it will never die.”
Clytemnestra is a cunning lady. The assassination of Agamemnon is a well-planned murder. She does not give him any clue that she has already planted her murder. In fact, it is not wrong to say that she is a master manipulator. She has the ability to deceive and outsmart those around her. Aegisthus remains successful in avenging his predecessor’s death only by using Clytemnestra’s wit and intelligence.
She somehow manages to manipulate the chorus into believing that her actions are justified. She also nearly proves that she acted in the best interests of the kingdom. It proves that she has a cunning nature.
She does not give up on her goals. She decides to take revenge and until she does not find a way to do so she continuously takes risks. No one can stop her if she once decides to act in a certain way. Her plans were discovered by others yet she is not afraid to take risks. She does not leave her affair with Aegisthus even if it leads to her downfall.
She is a Queen too. Royalty, dignity and authority are three major traits of her character. She speaks in a formal and poetic manner and her presence commands respect throughout the play.
Undoubtedly, she is a villain but at the same time, she is a tragic figure. She has suffered greatly at the hands of her husband. Her desire for revenge is understandable though it is not justifiable by any stretch of the imagination.
All in all, she proves to be a complex and multidimensional character.
Clytemnestra’s Role in the Plot and Themes of the Play
From the so far in-depth analysis of the character of Clytemnestra, it is clear like crystal that being one of the major characters, her role is central to the plot and themes of the play. Some of the key ways in which Clytemnestra’s character functions in the play are:
Catalyst for Action
Clytemnestra’s desire for revenge against Agamemnon sets the plot of the play in motion. Her actions, not even before the arrival of Agamemnon but also after his arrival drive the narrative forward and set the stage for the unfolding tragic events.
Exploration of Themes
Many wonderful themes are associated with her character. Her actions and motivations make her a rich and dynamic character. She remains successful in raising important questions about morality and the nature of power in the minds of the audience. Some important themes that the playwright associate to her character are:
Comparison with Agamemnon
The writer portrays Agamemnon as a heroic warrior whereas Clytemnestra is a cunning and vengeful woman. It makes the differences between male and female powers. The play sheds light on gender roles and expectations in ancient Greek society through her character.
Her seductive power of revenge is apparent from the red carpet. She lures her husband to his death. She justifies her act through poetic language. Even, she manipulates the chorus with the power of words.
Let’s create an analysis of the good as well as bad qualities of the character of Clytemnestra.
Good and Bad in Clytemnestra’s Character
It is very difficult for the critics and students of literature to identify good and bad qualities in her character due to its complexity. Some examples of her good qualities include:
She quests for justice in a desire to avenge the death of her daughter Iphigenia. From her perspective, Agamemnon’s decision to sacrifice Iphigenia for the sake of the war was a great injustice. She feels a moral obligation to make him pay for it.
There are moments in the play where she displays empathy and compassion towards others despite the fact that her primary motivation is revenge. For instance, she expresses sympathy for Cassandra, who is also a victim of the Trojan War. She offers her protection from harm.
So far as bad qualities from the perspective of the audience are concerned. Here are those:
She indeed deceits her husband. She plans to murder Agamemnon. Her plan is based on deception and manipulation. She pretends to welcome Agamemnon while using the red carpet as a trap but actually, she plots his demise.
Lust for Power
It cannot be said directly that she has a lust for power as Clytemnestra’s desire for revenge is understandable but on many occasions, the audience feels that she is power lusty. For example, she desires to rule the kingdom with Aegisthus.
It should be remembered that whether Clytemnestra is seen as a good or bad character will depend on one’s perspective and interpretation. Her actions are driven by a complex mix of emotions, including love, anger, grief and ambition.
Her motivations are also not always clear-cut. Most of her acts are responses to other people’s actions. What is clear in the analysis, however, is that the character of Clytemnestra adds depth and nuance to the play. She is the one that causes to raise important questions about justice, revenge and the consequences of violence in the play.