The Structure of Aeschylus' Agamemnon

by Alfred J. Drake

Here is the plot of Agamemnon, the first play in Aeschylus' trilogy The Oresteia. Aristotle says that "plot is the soul of tragedy" and that even a bare recounting of a well-constructed tragedy's plot should have much the same effect as viewing the entire play. What do you think?

0001-0043: In Argos, Agamemnon's kingdom on the Greek mainland, in "tenth and final autumn of the Trojan War," Watchman addresses audience -- he sees beacon indicating Greeks have taken Troy.

0044-0256: Chorus speaks of Trojan expedition and their own fears; they see Clytaemnestra lighting altar-fires and ignoring their words.

0257-0357: Chorus Leader and Clytaemnestra debate the certainty of the beacon's news. Exit Clytaemnestra into palace.

0358-0492: Chorus all together, and, towards end, singly; then Leader speaks -- they all reassert their initial fear and doubt.

0493-0577: Herald tells Chorus Leader of certain victory, reminisces about wartime experiences. Herald remains, Clytaemnestra enters.

0578-0613: Chorus Leader, Clytaemnestra, Herald speak briefly. Clytaemnestra proclaims her joy at Agamemnon's return, declares she has remained true to him. Exit Clytaemnestra into palace.

0614-0682: Herald and Chorus Leader discuss fate of Menelaus, whose fleet is lost at sea and whose fate is yet uncertain. Exit Herald.

0683-0793: Chorus offers pronouncements about Trojan War's causes. At 0766, they greet Agamemnon as he enters triumphantly in his chariot, Cassandra behind him.

0794-0841: Agamemnon addresses Chorus exultantly, missing the import of the warnings they try to deliver. Sees Clytaemnestra, offers prayer.

0842-0864: Clytaemnestra enters and addresses Chorus, recounting the anguish and suspense of her wartime wait. Agamemnon listens.

0865-0907: Clytaemnestra welcomes Agamemnon in view of Chorus, bids serving women roll out "crimson tapestries" upon which he may tread to palace.

0908-0976: Agamemnon, offended at the tapestry's splendour, argues with Clytaemnestra, but gives in. Agamemnon enters palace, Clytaemnestra prays to Zeus, enters Palace. Doors close and "old men [of Chorus] huddle in terror."

0977-1031: Chorus speaks with foreboding.

1032-1068: Clytaemnestra reemerges, bidding Cassandra come down from Agamemnon's chariot and enter palace; Cassandra will not listen to Chorus Leader or Queen, who reenters palace.

1069-1368: Cassandra, Chorus Leader, and (occasionally) Chorus speak to one another -- Cassandra laments her situation and the destruction of Troy, utters prophecies, enters palace. As Chorus speaks, "Cries break out within the palace."

1369-1390: Clytaemnestra stabs Agamemnon -- he remarks two blows, and collapses. Leader tells Chorus to close ranks, but they scatter and speak singly.

1391-1604: Clytaemnestra, emerging from palace, exults in the murder and then defends her action against the reproaches of Chorus Leader and Chorus.

1605-1687: Aegisthus emerges from palace with his bodyguard, argues heatedly with Chorus Leader. Clytaemnestra comes between Chorus and Aegisthus.

1688-1708: Clytaemnestra counsels restraint to Aegisthus and then to Chorus, defending her deed as "destiny." Aegisthus and Leader continue to argue; Clytaemnestra advises Aegisthus, "We will set the house in order once for all."