Picking up from where I left off in part one, the watchman has run off to let everyone know the signal fire is lit and Troy is taken. Enter the chorus, also known as the Old Men of Argos. They moan and groan about being old and how they couldn’t go fight in Troy. They long for Agamemnon’s return because they know Clytaemnestra is having an affair with Aegithus and they are powerless to do anything about it. They know that Agamemnon killing his daughter Iphigenia was an evil thing but they forgive their king for it because he was acting out of Necessity and obedience to the gods.
Onto the scene comes Cytaemnestra who lights the altar fires and prepares to make sacrifices. She is acting the good and dutiful wife, making sacrifices in thanks to the gods for the fall of Troy. The Old Men still have no idea why she is doing this. She explains about the signal fire relay she had in place and the men just gawp at her because a woman isn’t supposed to be smart enough to think of something like that. They tell her she must have been dreaming.
Time becomes neatly telescoped as a herald arrives to announce the fall of Troy and the imminent return of Agamemnon. Clytaemnestra lays it on thick as she tells the herald to relay this message to her husband:
the wife he left behind when he sailed,
awaits him in his house,
faithful as ever, watchdog at his door,
an enemy to enemies.
Nothing has changed,
no lock opened,
no seal broken.
Untouched by any man,
I have known no pleasure of men,
and scandal has no more fingered me
than I have been disloyal
to my husband’s interests.
And the old men mumble “innocent words to innocent ears.”
Soon after the herald’s departure Agamemnon himself arrives in a chariot with Cassandra, his war prize. The old men try to warn him something is not right:
There are many who are not honest
who play at seeming,
to whom appearance is all,
And these transgress against Justice.
But Agamemnon is oblivious to their meaning. He makes a little speech and Clytaemnestra makes a big speech about how loyal she has been and how well she has kept his house while he was away. And Agamemnon’s response? “Your speech was like my absence / long.”
Then Clytaemnestra has the slaves roll out purple tapestries and invites Agamemnon to walk on them into the palace. He balks. She insists. Eventually he gives in. This is an important moment in the play. As Hugh Denard explains in the introduction, the production of textiles is the duty of the wife. The number and quality are an exhibition of Agamemnon’s wealth. The textiles are a symbol of Clytaemnestra’s dutiful productivity, her skill and stewardship of the domestic, and also a symbol of patriarchal control and ownership of the female. By manipulating him to walk on the tapestries, she is forcing him to publicly acknowledge her as a good and faithful wife. They enter the palace together.
Cassandra, now a slave, is told to go into the palace too but she refuses. What follows is a powerful scene. Cassandra in the agonies of prophesying to the old men, crying out her hatred for Apollo who gave her the gift and at the same time asking for his mercy. She tells of Agamemnon’s impending death and then she sees her own murder at the hands of Clytaemnestra. And of course they don’t believe her. They don’t believe her because Cassandra is never believed, but also because they can’t believe that a woman could plan and carry out murder. Cassandra enters the palace to face her murderer and leaves the old men on stage.
They hear Agamemnon cry out from inside the palace and realize the truth of Cassandra’s prophesy. But they don’t know what to do. They scatter across the stage, each suggesting a different course of action. And then it is too late, the palaces doors open and there stands Clytaemnestra covered in blood with the bodies of Agamemnon and Cassandra beside her.
Even so the old men still can’t believe their eyes, they think Aegisthus did all this but he is nowhere to be found. Finally Clytaemnestra makes them believe and they wail and moan. She tells them:
I killed him, you say.
I am his wife, you say.
But you said better when you saw me
the destructive fury raging through this house,
the Spirit of Vengeance, ancient avenger
of Atreus’ cruel banquet.
That Fury killed him, not me.
I was the instrument of Justice that
slew this victim as payment for
She feels she has paid Agamemnon back not only for the deeds of Atreus but also for the death of her own daughter.
Aegithus finally makes an appearance with a bunch of guards in tow, claims himself the mastermind, and threatens the old men when they start to show some willingness to fight. But Clytaemnestra will not let Aegithus claim power over her acts or kill the old men. Her bloodlust abates and she says there has already been too much killing and death, reminds him that they are in power now. Then she takes him by the hand and they walk into the palace together and close the door.