Summary and Analysis
Act III: Scenes 3-4
Cleone is made suspicious by this unusual restraint and warns Hermione that Orestes may be dangerous. Indeed, she is sorry for him, since it was apparently because Orestes arrived that Pyrrhus made up his mind to marry Hermione. Hermione denies it; if Pyrrhus marries her, it is because he is in love with her, and she is happy.
Andromache appears and appeals to Hermione to persuade Pyrrhus not to surrender Astyanax. She reminds Hermione that she too will be a mother one day and should understand a mother's grief. Andromache once persuaded Hector to protect Hermione's mother, Helen of Troy, from the angry Trojans, and now Hermione can do a similar service for her.
Hermione declares that she cannot go against her father's wishes on the subject of Astyanax. And if someone is to plead with Pyrrhus, Andromache, whom he has loved so long, must surely have more influence than she.
Self-delusion springs eternal in the human heart. In the previous scene Hermione has correctly assessed the reasons for Pyrrhus' change of heart: "self-interest rather than affection." But she prefaced it rather strangely with "I want to believe," indicating her reluctance to accept such an unpalatable truth. In Scene 3, the reluctance has been transformed into complete emotional blindness, and Hermione is now convincing herself that Pyrrhus has come back to her out of renewed attraction. She vehemently denies Cleone's implicit doubt about Pyrrhus' romantic intentions by claiming that Pyrrhus could not yield to considerations such as fear. He is marrying her for love and not because of the threats of the Greeks. Racine subtly uses Hermione's last argument to introduce a passage in which a young girl in love joyously celebrates the prowess of her hero.
In his concern with maintaining the dramatic pace, Racine cuts short Hermione's lyrical outburst and brings in Andromache. Her entrance introduces a breath of fresh air in the oppressive moral atmosphere of the play. Unlike the other characters, she seeks something more than the consummation of her desires. Andromache and Hermione's confrontation is the meeting of two different worlds. Andromache represents nothing but abnegation. She is possessed by mother love and unhesitatingly throws herself at the mercy of a hostile rival for the sake of her son.
By contrast, Hermione is callous to the point of cruelty. She responds to Andromache's appeal with a dry retort: "I understand your grief." She refuses her help with a transparent excuse and concludes with a taunt. Theatrically, Hermione's heartless reply prepares the audience for further developments. Andromache cannot passively accept her son's condemnation. She must now turn to Pyrrhus, who, we may be sure, will be responsive to her plea. Hermione's shortsighted bitterness against her rival has started a chain of events which will lead to her destruction.
In the Comédie-Française version of Andromache, Hermione is portrayed as scarcely out of her teens, in contrast to the older Andromache, and the play's characterizations justify this interpretation. Hermione has the arrogance, the passion, and the rashness of the very young; Andromache, sadder and wiser, portrays the resignation of maturity.