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Agamemnon | Plot Summary

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Summary

In the Greek city of Argos on the roof of the royal palace, a watchman long and impatiently awaits news of the outcome of the Trojan War, hoping the Argives (Greek forces) have captured Troy. When he sees the signal fire indicating victory, the Watchman rejoices and enters the palace to spread the news.

The Chorus, a group of Argive elders, comes onstage to speak collectively. They have been hoping for victory for 10 years and ask the Argive queen, Clytaemnestra, for news.

The Chorus reveals the Argive prophet, Calchas, predicted the Argive victory and recalls how the goddess Artemis forced Agamemnon, leader of the Argive forces, to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia so his troops could set sail.

Exiting from the palace, Clytaemnestra tells the Chorus the Argive armies have captured Troy. The Chorus reflects on the destruction caused by Paris and Helen, whose kidnapping started the war, and laments the damage and sorrow war causes. Individually Chorus members discuss whether Clytaemnestra's news can be trusted.

A herald arrives to confirm Troy is captured. Clytaemnestra determines to give her husband, Agamemnon, a hero's welcome home. The Chorus tells the story of Helen's arrival in Troy, laments Troy's grief, and warns of doom for the violent.

Agamemnon returns with Cassandra, a prophetess from Troy and captured member of the royal family, now his war prize. He praises the gods for saving him and says he will work with the Chorus to establish a democracy. Seemingly worried about her husband, Clytaemnestra greets Agamemnon and promises she has been faithful.

When Clytaemnestra lays out a purple carpet for Agamemnon to walk on, he protests, saying the honor is fit only for a god, not a human. He and Clytaemnestra disagree about this, but finally he walks across the carpet into his palace. The Chorus senses dread. They worry something terrible will happen, and they know justice will be served.

Clytaemnestra and the Chorus urge Cassandra to enter the palace and take her place as a slave. She refuses. Cassandra cries out in horror and claims she sees murder and tragedy in the palace. She tells the Chorus her visions, which become more specific: a woman, Clytaemnestra, will kill Agamemnon and Cassandra herself. The Chorus members are confused and distressed, unsure whether to believe her. Distraught, Cassandra enters the palace, knowing she, too, soon will die.

The Chorus begins to speak about the inevitability of fate, but screams from the palace interrupt them. The Chorus members panic and scatter, debating whether Agamemnon is dead and whether his killers will capture the city of Argos.

The palace doors open, revealing Clytaemnestra with blood on her hands. She has killed Agamemnon and Cassandra. She claims Agamemnon's death was revenge for the sacrifice of their daughter Iphigenia. Because Cassandra was Agamemnon's lover, Clytaemnestra killed her as well. When she tries to justify her actions, the Chorus argues with her. The Chorus members grieve for the slain Agamemnon, but Clytaemnestra says he brought his death on himself.

Aegisthus, Agamemnon's cousin, appears—he is Clytaemnestra's lover and assisted in her plot. He is now content believing justice has been served for past crimes. Long ago Aegisthus's father, Thyestes, was betrayed by Atreus, Agamemnon's father. As part of their power struggle, Atreus tricked Thyestes into eating his own young children, then banished him from the city. Taking Aegisthus with him, Thyestes left Argos and called down a curse on the House of Atreus, ensuring its members would die violently. Aegisthus tells angry Chorus members they now will have to serve him. They insult him and say they are ready to die. They hope Orestes, Agamemnon's exiled son, will return.

The play ends with Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus, now rulers of Argos, returning to the palace. As guards surround the gate, after denouncing the murderers, the Chorus separates.

Agamemnon Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction

Introduction

1 The watchman sees the signal fire announcing victory.

Rising Action

2 Clytaemnestra prepares for Agamemnon's homecoming.

3 The herald confirms news of Argive victory and shipwreck.

4 Agamemnon returns to Argos with Cassandra.

5 Clytaemnestra convinces Agamemnon to walk the carpet.

6 Cassandra predicts Agamemnon's death and her own.

Climax

7 Clytaemnestra murders Agamemnon and Cassandra.

Falling Action

8 Clytaemnestra justifies her deeds to the Chorus.

Resolution

9 Aegisthus explains his revenge and threatens the Chorus.

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