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In this essay I shall explore the how far the Agamemnon reflects the Perfect Tragedy. This means that I shall look at the following factors that make the Perfect Tragedy: the plot, themes, outcomes and unity of time and place; character, diction, melody, spectacle and catharsis. I shall see how all these factors contribute to the ideas put forward from Aristotle and see how far these factors support or contradict his view. The Agamemnon may have some factors that prove it is a perfect Tragedy however, Aristotle thinks that a tragedy must hold all the factors in it’s stead.
The Plot in the Agamemnon is a simple plot, this is a plot that is not easy to follow and the audience find it hard to understand what is happening. Aristotle prefers a more complex plot, where the events that take place are a lot more believable to the audience and they understand how and why these events happened. It is also put forward that a simple plot involves a change of fortune but no peripeteia or anagnorisis.
Aristotle says that the plot is the most important factor for a perfect tragedy, this is more important that the influence of character, the plot is the “soul of a tragedy”.
As the plot is not what is outlined by Aristotle it can be seen that a simple plot is not as good as a simple plot, and Agamemnon has a simple plot. In the play there is no unity to the time or place, it is supposed to take part in real time, and in the Agamemnon the Watchman sees the beacon many days before Agamemnon returns from Troy.
The main idea that it must all take place at one time means that the Agamemnon is not fully a perfect tragedy. In the plot there is no real outcome to the play, Aeschylus’ work is fully shown in the trilogy, the Oresteia.
This really does not show what Aristotle thinks of a Perfect Tragedy and the play is not in a full entity. The themes that are in the Agamemnon are also important in other plays written in other plays. The key point is that the Agamemnon and the other plays have to teach you a lesson, and this really puts forward that even though Aristotle says nothing about themes in his Ars Poetica the themes in each play are always similar. For example, Dike and justice from Zeus is always in a play because there must be justice in a play, something must come that is right.
In respect to character, there are three main ones, Agamemnon, Clytemnestra and Cassandra. In brief, any of these characters could be tragic heroes, but they do not fit all of the things needed to be a tragic hero, Orestes is the tragic hero in the trilogy. Aristotle looks for five main things in a character, he looks for whether the character is “good”, has “propriety”, is “true to life”, they have “consistency” and whether they are “necessary or the probable”. Looking at the main characters only I shall briefly analyse the characters.
Agamemnon speaks due to his importance as the king of Mycenae and his arrogance is shown through the way he speaks. As a king he behaves very arrogantly and this is allowed because he is a king and the valour about him is allowed because he is a man. He is true to life as a character, he strives to do what he thinks is right, even though he is not always right. He is consistent throughout the play and he does not have an anagnorisis before he is murdered. He is a necessary character because he needs to be killed for the trilogy to continue.
Clytemnestra is the Queen of Mycenae so she is of good stature, and she does have a lot of dialogue but her position is not as important as a man so this is not as true for a Perfect tragedy because she is not inferior, she is very controlling and man-like. She is quite consistent through the play, till the end where she has a slight anagnorisis that she may get killed for what she has done and the thought of more violence, this almost shows that she is more inferior than she seems throughout the rest of the play.
She is quite necessary to the play because she is the justice of Zeus, and she is needed in the following play because the trilogy needs to move forward. Cassandra has the longest scene in the Agamemnon and she really shows the truth in the plot, she makes everything kind of believable in the play. Her status of Princess of Troy and Prophetess is shown fully in the dialogue that she gives. She behaves as a prophetess should and even though she is slave she is not shown as this throughout the play. She is the most true to life than any of the other characters as she knows what she has to do, she knows that death is her only route.
She is consistent through the play and she knows what she has to do. It could be argued that she is not necessary to the plot because she is not an important character, she only shows the audience the truth, and Clytemnestra did not need to kill her. From this you can see that none of the characters are really the tragic hero, they are more tragic characters and Orestes is the tragic hero of the trilogy. Aeschylus’ approach to tragedy is not really the Perfect Tragedy that Aristotle says it should be. The diction used, according to Aristotle is the type of language that is used, Aristotle prefers that diction is used rather than spectacle.
There is quite a lot of diction in the Agamemnon and this shows that is slightly more of a Perfect tragedy. I shall look at the characters that use diction well. The chorus are very important in their use of diction as they use metaphors very regularly especially the eagle and the hare or Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, this builds tension and foreboding in the audience because we know exactly what Clytemnestra is going to do from the metaphors that the chorus are using very regularly. They point out the fact that there is good and bad very, very regularly.
Cassandra has quite a lot of diction as she is always using exclamation in both her tone and cries during her big speech, this really makes her fall all the more devastating for the audience. We know that her downfall is very near and the catharsis will soon happen for her, the diction just emphasises the fact that she will die. Clytemnestra’s speech really emphasises her character as she really shows her control from the way she speaks. She has declarative statements which are short and sharp and this represents her clarity and calculating scheme for Agamemnon to be murdered.
Clytemnestra is really crucial to the fact that she shall get her glory and revenge and nothing can stop her scheme. Agamemnon is really the best character to study diction in the play from because it really shows how stupid and arrogant he is as a character. He has long sentences and has a monologue which is full of excitement and has a fast pace, this really makes him seem less intelligent than he actually is and the long sentences do make him seem a bit grand but mostly puerile or childish. The watchman and the herald have the same kind of thing in their diction.
They are very down to earth in approach and they have loyalty and longing for the return from Troy. They both use very simplistic language which really shows how scared they are of Clytemnestra. The Chorus are the only characters that actually use a lot of melody in their speeches. Most of the time the use of punctuation in the choral odes give a very rhythmic lyricalism as there is always a structure to how the chorus speak to the audience. The odes do not always rhyme but the way that they are punctuated by two lines gives a rhythmic element because there is a flow to how the odes are spoken.
Aeschylus has his own style and even though this is not put forward by Aristotle his style actually works in its own way to make it melodic. It is almost like a lyric tradition, this is a very early play and therefore the Perfect tragedy perspective does not take into account how melodic the play is. Spectacle, according to Aristotle, is not as important as diction however there is quite a lot of spectacle in the Agamemnon to help us to understand what is going on in the play.
There are so many metaphors in the play to give the spectacle of what is going on. For example, there is the crimson tapestries gives us the view that there is an artery of blood going into the palace. Other examples are the eklyclema or trolley, the dead bodies, the “nets of doom”, the almost destruction of Cassandra’s prophetic robes and the chariot that Agamemnon rides in. The final thing that must be involved in the play is Catharsis, according to Aristotle purgation which means to clean or to purify.
Catharsis is a really important part of the play because there must be some kind of cleansing, although in Clytemnestra’s eyes this has been met, there actually needs to be some kind of end to a curse. Aristotle also says that “Tragedy through pity and fear effects a purgation of such emotions”, we do have a lot of pity for the situation of Cassandra and Agamemnon but in no way does this show that there has been a cleansing. We do not get any catharsis from this play, it only comes if the full trilogy has been read.
Cassandra and the Chorus do show us that Orestes will come and put it all to right, so this gives us glimmers of hope. In conclusion, the Agamemnon does meet the Aristotelian definition in some ways because the themes shown in the Agamemnon is similar to ones of other plays like Oedipus. All the characters, collectively, are show to consist of the main things needed in a character and to some extent there is a tragic hero. The diction used in the Agamemnon really proves that it is a perfect tragedy because all the characters use diction to show the way they act to its full stature.
Also, there is a melody involved in the play so proving that there is a rhythm to some extent. However, the plot does not fit in with Aristotelian definition because Aristotle prefers a complex plot rather than a simple plot, the play must be based in one day, which it isn’t, and there is also a lot to know about what happened before the play started. The outcome of the play is not complete, Aeschylus uses the trilogy to emphasise the final outcome. There is also no tragic hero, as Orestes is the tragic hero but he is not in the Agamemnon as he is with a “family friend”.
Aristotle does not like Aeschylus’ style of melody as he thinks there should be more of a concise rhythm to it. Aristotle does not think spectacle is important in a tragedy and Aeschylus uses these lots in the play which is not right for a Perfect tragedy. The most important thing that does not happen in the Agamemnon is catharsis and even though we get glimmers of hope it is not right for Perfect tragedy. Finally, I think that the Agamemnon is not the Perfect tragedy and contradicts Aristotelian definition quite a lot.
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