Summary and Analysis
Act IV: Scene 1
Andromache has promised to marry Pyrrhus, and Cephise is ecstatic to think that her mistress will soon be restored to her former glory. Pyrrhus will give her anything she asks; he has even ordered his own royal guard to protect Astyanax while he himself goes undefended. When Andromache says she must see her son, Cephise protests that there is plenty of time for that.
But Andromache disillusions her: She is going to see Astyanax now for the last time. She has promised to marry Pyrrhus, but immediately after the ceremony she plans to kill herself. Pyrrhus, impetuous but sincere, will still keep his vow to protect her son. Only in this way can she fulfill her obligations to Astyanax, Pyrrhus, and the dead Hector. Cephise, however, must remain alive to watch over Astyanax, to tell him tales of his heroic ancestors, to speak to him of his mother. And, if necessary, Cephise may also bring Pyrrhus back to his duty to Astyanax by speaking to him of Andromache, reminding him that she was his wife, and that her respect and esteem for him were sufficiently proved by the fact that she left her son in his care. The two women then leave to avoid an interview with Hermione.
Andromache has made her predictable decision: the decision which is going to have fateful repercussions and provide a dramatic climax. But it is not in the straightforward terms that we might have expected. Without straining for effects, and by remaining completely natural, Racine manages to surprise us. Andromache will give Pyrrhus his victory, but a hollow victory. After the wedding she will escape him in death. She achieves a kind of grim triumph of weakness and virtue over brutality and power.
But Racine would not be a great playwright if he were concerned only, however successfully, with suspense, surprise, and reversals — in other words, pure theater. Every incident is based upon and often underlines a profound human truth. Thus Anromache's decision, her planned suicide, is psychologically inevitable. With his customary integrity, Racine has hinted at it ever so subtly.
To a moral human being like Andromache, compromise is unthinkable. There are certain absolutes with which one cannot tamper. On the other hand, these same absolutes, not to speak of mother love, make it mandatory for Andromache to save Astyanax. She has a duty to preserve Hector from a second death in the death of his son. Therefore, she determines on suicide.
It is also Andromache's heartbreaking humanity that is dramatized rather than the necessities of the plot in what has aptly been called Andromache's last will, her final recommendations to Cephise. In a kind of incantation created by the repeated imperatives, she thinks about the past, makes plans about a future in which she will not share, and contemplates her doom.
Andromache's decision forms the crisis of the play. Her action will set Hermione in motion, and Hermione, in turn, will stir up Orestes. From this moment on, events inexorably follow one another to the denouement.