Greek soldiers enter the stage, pulling Andromache and her baby Astyanax on a wagon, piled with other spoils of war. The Chorus announces her arrival and calls to Hecuba to come see her daughter-in-law and her grandchild.
Andromache and her child are lumped in with the inanimate spoils of war. They have been dehumanized to the point that they are transported like objects to be stripped from the city and claimed by the Greeks.
Hecuba and Andromache begin to sing together, alternating phrases. Andromache announces that she will soon go with the Greeks, and wonders if her grief will cause Hecuba to cry as well. They lament the sad destiny of Hecuba’s children, and the sad destiny of the city of Troy.
Andromache calls out to Hector, her dead husband and Hecuba’s son. Andromache wants to die and join him. She believes the people of Troy must be “hated of the gods.” She can think of no other way to explain how Troy fell because of a “worthless woman” (Helen), or why its young men were killed and its women taken captive.
The two women stop singing and begin to speak. Hecuba says she sees the destruction of Troy as “the work of gods who pile tower-high the pride / of those who were nothing, and dash present grandeur down.”
Both Hecuba and Andromache believe that their current fate is the work of the gods, but they no longer rely upon the gods to raise their fortunes again.
Andromache reveals that Hecuba has lost another daughter; Polyxena was killed to “pleasure dead Achilles’ corpse.” Hecuba, who had not understood Talthybius earlier, finally understands what he was gently trying to tell her.
Talthybius, in his attempt to be gentle and respectful, accidentally deprived Hecuba of the full knowledge of her daughter Polyxena’s fate. He was able to delay her pain, but was unable to prevent it.
Hecuba begins to mourn Polyxena. Andromache tries to comfort her. Andromache saw Polyxena die, and was able to perform some funeral rites. She also argues that “to die / as she did was happier than to live” as the two women do now. Hecuba disagrees, but Andromache pushes back.
Andromache believes that death is better than a life of pain. The dead cannot grieve, and they cannot contemplate their suffering. Still alive, Andromache is acutely aware of the losses she’s endured, and how far her fortunes have fallen.
The indignities that Andromache has been forced to endure since the Fall of Troy make Polyxena’s fate seem almost desirable. While Andromache continues to suffer, Polyxena has experienced her last humiliation.
Andromache reflects on what a good wife she was — she rarely talked back, and she knew when and how to compromise. But now she feels that her reputation has ruined her life. Neoptolemus has picked her as his slave based on her good reputation, and now she must go to Greece with him. She isn’t sure what to do or how to feel—she hates the idea of women who cast off old lovers for new ones, and can’t imagine being a “traitor” to her dead husband, but she also knows she must comply with the desires of her new master.
Ironically, the same behavior that brought Andromache and the people she loved joy in her past life will bring her misery in her future. Because she so perfectly played the ideal wife with the husband she loved, she’ll have to do the same with a man she hates. This is a complicated situation for her—she is used to being compliant and so her instinct is to humor her new master, but she resents women like Helen who do not respect their old husbands when they move on to a new one.
Andromache remembers the beginning of her relationship with Hector, and compares it to her life now. She is expected to have a sexual relationship with Neoptolemus, but knows it will be nothing like the love she felt for her husband. Andromache then turns to Hecuba. She argues that her fate, which binds her to Neoptolemus, is worse than Polyxena’s. She has no hope to go on; she never expects to be happy again.
Andromache’s life was centered around her husband. Her life now is worse without him, and her marriage to Neoptolemus is terrible in two ways—she dreads their nonconsensual sexual relationship, and she dreads “betraying” her deceased husband by appearing to move on with her captor.
The Chorus leader, who has been listening to Andromache’s story, feels solidarity with her. In verbalizing her own suffering, she has also described the pain of the other Trojan women.
By speaking out about their pain, the women come together and manage to ease some small amount of their suffering.
Hecuba describes her own suffering through metaphor. As she grapples with an onslaught of woe, she feels like a ship’s crew overwhelmed by a storm. Her suffering is so great she has been “swamped” by disaster, and was unable to respond to Andromache during her earlier speech. Now, however, Hecuba has her voice back.
Hecuba often compares her body, and the bodies of other women, to the city of Troy and other large, stable structures. Describing her feelings proves too difficult, and she can only convey the magnitude of her pain and devastation by using metaphors like these.
Hecuba advises Andromache to serve her master well, and to make him love her as protection. If Andromache and Neoptolemus have children together, Hecuba suggests these babies could grow up, return to Troy, and rebuild the city.
While Andromache is worried about betraying her husband’s memory, Hecuba sees that by giving in to Neoptolemus’ advances Andromache could serve a greater master than either husband—she could serve her wider family and the city of Troy itself by bearing more Trojan children.
Talthybius returns to the stage with his entourage of soldiers. He has come with terrible news, and is reluctant to deliver it. Andromache appreciates his sensitivity, but eventually he must speak: Odysseus has declared that Andromache’s son (Astyanax) must die. He refuses to let Hector’s child, a “hero’s son,” continue to live.
The Greeks can only see Astyanax as a potential future man and soldier. This means that they perceive him as a threat, not as the child that he is. Talthybius, gracious as always, empathizes with Andromache and realizes the faulty logic of his fellow soldiers, but is powerless to stop their orders.
Astyanax will be thrown over the wall of Troy, Talthybius says, and he advises Andromache not to fight this decree. He asks her to consider “how can one woman hope to struggle against the arms of Greece?” He warns her that if she fights or says anything against the Greeks, her son will be denied his funeral rites, and will not be buried at all.
Andromache says a tearful farewell to her child, explaining that his father’s valor has proved a death sentence. She feels that all the love and pain of motherhood was all for nothing, only vanity. She then turns her attention to the Greeks—why “kill this child, who never did you any harm?”
Andromache and Astyanax’s suffering is some of the most intense and tragic in the whole play. Although the audience has heard Hecuba and Cassandra recounting past grief or imagining future hardship, the onstage separation of mother from child underscores the brutality of war and its aftermath.
Andromache ends her speech by cursing the gods. She knows that if her son is to be killed it is because the gods “damn us to death,” and there is nothing she can do. She demands Talthybius take her to “that sweet bridal bed,” which she can only reach “across the death of my own child.” Talthybius takes Astyanax from her, and Andromache is wheeled offstage in the wagon she rode in on.
Andromache, who had little hope to begin with, now has none left. Her previous concerns of dishonoring her husband pale in comparison to her devastation at the loss of her child. She is too disheartened to even pray to the gods, who she assumes, like Hecuba before her, have damned her to this fate.
Talthybius speaks to Astyanax sweetly before passing him to a set of Greek guards, who carry the baby offstage. Talthybius explains he is not the man for the job; he has too much pity, too much shame to kill a child. He exits after the guards. Hecuba begins to chant. She wonders what suffering could possibly be left for her and the women of Troy.
Talthybius retains some decency and empathy. Even though Astyanax is technically his enemy, he cannot kill him alone. However, despite his sensitivity, he allows the orders to be carried out.