The doors of the palace open on the bodies of Agamemnon and Cassandra. Clytaemestra is standing over them menacingly. In her first few lines the queen reveals how all this time she has been dissembling, waiting, plotting. Defiantly, she confesses to the murders and wishes to "unsay" all the lies she was forced, out of necessity, to maintain. Her trap, she says, has finally been sprung. There is no longer any need to pretend. Clytaemestra seems to enjoy describing the details of the murder, especially how her husband's blood spattered on her. Though only two cries were heard outside the hall, she struck him thrice.
The Chorus is stunned. They immediately rebuke her vaunting such a heinous crime. But the queen argues that he deserved it. The Chorus threatens and accuses Clytaemestra of selfish action, of murder committed out of a vengeance. But Clytaemestra refuses to allow this facile judgement to pass. She claims that she was an instrument of fate, that justice for her child's sacrifice compelled her to strike. There is, however, something disturbing and unwholesome in Clytaemestra's speeches.
The Chorus compares Clytaemestra to Helen and condemns them both. The replies comes that they should not blame Helen so much, for she too was an instrument. After calling on Zeus for guidance, the Chorus begins to lament the death of their fallen king. But the Chorus stops suddenly, unsure how to proceed. The meaning of Agamemnon's death has not been clearly determined yet.
Clytaemestra holds that Iphigeneia's death demanded her husband's. She is adamant. As for Agamemnon's burial, the queen sees no reason for concern. Together, the Chorus and she can handle the affair quietly and officiously. The Chorus, on the other hand, wants nothing to do with her. And although they begin to come around to Clytaemestra's side, they are still worried about the curse.
Just then, Aegisthus, son of Thyestes and Clytaemestra's secret lover, enters with his bodyguards behind him. He rejoices over the dead king and lauds Clytaemestra's fine execution. He retells the story of Atreus and Thyestes, then relates that he was the one responsible for planning the regicide. Finding a braver voice, the Chorus insults Aegisthus for not having killed Agamemnon himself. Aegisthus, for his part, mocks the age and impotence of the old Chorus. He promises to silence any dissent with cruel slavery. The Chorus voices its hope for Orestes' return. Clytaemestra intercedes; and after cooling Aegisthus, reminding him that they now have the power, the doors to the palace close.
A series of complex questions arise in the wake of Agamemnon's murder. Most of them are introduced by the Chorus. We might usefully think of this as the beginning of a kind of internal interpretation. The repercussions of Clytaemestra's action must be determined in order for the final "healing" to come to Argos. Is the murder, as she says, the will of the gods? Or, as the Chorus asserts, an act of cruel, bloodthirsty vengeance? These are crucial ethical questions.
Following the death of Agamemnon, the Chorus, as representative of the state, or society, finds itself in a state of chaos and disarray. They cannot decipher the ultimate meaning of the climax. Was it necessary? Did the gods ordain it? How should they mourn Agamemnon? All of these tricky questions need untangling, and most of them remain unanswered at the end of the play. In fact, this is as it should be. Explication of the crime committed in Agamemnon forms the subject of the next two plays of the Oresteia. But it costs us little to speculate. Judging from the pleasure Clytaemestra derives in the carrying out of the murder, it is reasonable to assume she has not acted by divine sanction alone. Furthermore, there are the prophecies of Cassandra, Aegisthus' tyranny over the Chorus, and the anticipated return of Orestes that foreshadow Clytaemestra's culpability and her eventual demise at the hands of her son (in the next two plays).
Ideas concerning womanliness and manliness underlie much of the social discussion in the play. We know that Clytaemestra has taken on a traditionally male role, ruler, in the absence of her husband. Her "male strength of heart" is remarked upon early in the play by the Chorus. At various other points, she appears, in the context, conspicuously unwomanly. Furthermore, she has been robbed of her child-unmothered, symbolically speaking, by the same husband. Thus her social role is undetermined. As we reach the climax, it becomes apparent that one internal interpretation of the "cause" for Clytaemestra's crime is that she has lost or left her gender. Clytaemestra argues her blamelessness: "Can you claim I have done this?"-and in a way she is justified. But her cold premeditation and her infidelity far from exonerate.
Females in the play are almost unilaterally adulterous. Clytaemestra being the most obvious, there is also Helen, the "cause" of the Trojan War in the eyes of the Chorus. But we remember that Helen was abducted by Paris and bewitched by a god. And Cassandra's illicit affair, as well, was compelled by a god. Although the Chorus would like to push all the blame on women, Clytaemestra objects at one significant moment to such a facile explanation. Thus the pattern of treacherous and unfaithful women is rather unstable. In other words, within the play itself, the stereotype is under criticism.
Agamemnon, the "man" of the play, embodies his own breed of violence-callousness, ambition, over masculinity-the folly of the warrior. His departure and the sacrifice of Iphigeneia causes the instability of Argive society, his wife's unsexing, and his own downfall. Looking ahead to the return of Orestes, it is possible to see how the avenging son, a male, will restore patriarchal order. After all, Aegisthus' virility is ridiculed by the Chorus, who recognizes cowardice in his failure to execute his plan himself. Surely, he will not bring the relief, the cure, so badly needed in grief-stricken Argos.