The Chorus considers Cassandra’s prophecy. They conclude that if the prophecy is indeed true, and that if Agamemnon can have the help of the gods to win a military conquest, but still be struck down for a crime his father committed many years prior, then it is just as they thought—life must be predetermined by fate after all.
Once again, the Chorus grapples with the layers of predetermination in the play. At this point the dramatic irony is at its peak, as Aeschylus continues to build up the suspense before the action itself.
All of a sudden, from within the palace, Agamemnon screams twice. The Chorus goes into a state of panic, each member suggesting conflicting ideas for what to do next.
This is one of the only moments in the play where the Chorus breaks up into many distinct members. This gesture is used to create a flurry of tension and discord in the moments leading up to the play’s resolution.
The palace doors open, revealing a blood-soaked Clytemnestra standing over the dead bodies of Agamemnon and Cassandra. Clytemnestra openly confesses to killing Agamemnon and details how she murdered him by stabbing him twice. The Chorus wants Clytemnestra to be banished, but she retorts that their judgment is a double standard—the Chorus did not ask for Agamemnon to be banished when he brutally sacrificed Iphigenia.
From Clytemnestra’s perspective, Agamemnon’s murder is the ultimate act of retribution for her daughter Iphigenia. Also, the Chorus’s desire to exile Clytemnestra once again demonstrates a societal partiality towards men. Agamemnon’s murder of his innocent daughter was grudgingly condoned, while Clytemnestra’s murder of her guilty husband is condemned.
The Chorus calls Clytemnestra ambitious and arrogant. Unfazed, Clytemnestra interrupts them and goes on to reveal that Agamemnon’s cousin Aegisthus is her lover. She reflects on the two dead bodies and explains that, unlike her loyal new lover, Agamemnon was unfaithful and abusive. She declares that her husband and his concubine deserved to die.
This moment complicates Clytemnestra’s otherwise neat revenge-plot. Clytemnestra wants revenge on her husband for sacrificing their daughter, and also for being unfaithful while at war. However, she admits that she herself has been unfaithful with Aegisthus, making her more difficult to sympathize with.
The Chorus laments that all this violence and suffering was for the sake of woman, and connects this murder to all the destruction that the Chorus blames Helen for inciting. Clytemnestra comes to Helen’s defense, saying that Helen did not kill anyone herself. But the Chorus continues to compare Clytemnestra and Helen’s unfeminine qualities.
Clytemnestra makes a good point about the Chorus’s tendency to blame women. Although they are right in blaming Clytemnestra for Agamemnon’s murder, the choice to go to war in Troy was made by Agamemnon himself—not Helen.
Clytemnestra continues to justify her revenge to the Chorus and admits no guilt for the murder. The Chorus cries out in grief for the casualties of the curse on the house and suggests that Clytemnestra is now connected to the curse too. The Chorus continues to wonders how this cycle of violence can possibly end, when one violent act always leads to another.
This discussion of how to end the curse of revenge and violence foreshadows the next play in the trilogy (The Libation Bearers), in which Orestes will plot to kill his mother, but also seek to end the cycle of murder and the curse on the House of Atreus.
Aegisthus enters from the palace with a cadre of soldiers. In a long speech, he expresses joy at Agamemnon’s murder, and recounts in detail the incident where Agamemnon’s father Atreus cooked Aegisthus’ brothers and fed them to Aegisthus’ father, Thyestes. The Chorus then accuses Aegisthus of being cowardly and womanly for not fighting in the war, and for allowing Clytemnestra to carry out the revenge instead of doing it himself.
The Chorus has accused Clytemnestra of masculine qualities throughout the play, so it follows that they find her new lover to be feminine, or at least less dominant than Agamemnon. Even though Aegisthus is in a clear position of power at this point, the Chorus still insults him for not living up to its gender standards.
Aegisthus threatens the Chorus with his soldiers, but Clytemnestra stops the moment from escalating into more violence. As Aegisthus and Clytemnestra enter into the palace together, the Chorus holds its ground and prays for Orestes to come to Argos and alleviate the suffering in the House of Atreus.
The play concludes in a moment of political unrest for Argos—turmoil that has been caused by the aftermath of the Trojan War. Although one chapter of revenge has been closed, Clytemnestra’s deeds will not go unanswered, and Aeschylus’s trilogy of plays continues.