Hermione, speaking to her confidante Cleone, is not sure she wants to see Orestes. Even though she has often wished for his presence, she is ashamed that he will see her rejected by Pyrrhus. Her father has instructed her to leave Epirus with the Greek embassy if Pyrrhus refuses their requests, but even though she hates Pyrrhus for his treatment of her, she is not certain but that she still loves him too. If he were to return to her . . . but no, he will not; all she can do to avenge herself is to urge the Greeks to demand Andromache’s death too. Cleone protests; it is evident, she says, that Andromache does not want Pyrrhus and is not to blame.
Alas, says Hermione, the mistake was hers in opening her heart to Pyrrhus too promptly. Seeing him, hero of the Trojan War, returning with the Greeks in triumph, she fell in love with him immediately and promised to wed him. But he has proved unfaithful, so now let Orestes plead his own cause.
If the exposition can be dispatched in one scene, the presentation of the characters cannot be as succinct. Scene 1 presents at length one of the principals, Hermione. As we observed in the case of Phaedra, Racine’s simplicity can be deceiving. To be sure, he does not attempt to present the human pageant. He does not even present human beings in all their complexity. In his treatment of most of the major characters Racine concentrates on love, and only a particular kind of love: an intense desire that cannot stand rebuff. Hermione resembles Pyrrhus and shares the same vindictive personality which can only experience love or hate. Even her language is reminiscent of Pyrrhus:
Pyrrhus: Henceforth, my heart, if it does not love ecstatically, must hate furiously.
Hermione: Ah! I loved him too much not to hate him.
There is nothing rigid about the parallel, however. Hermione possesses certain traits absent in Pyrrhus. She has a feminine vanity and would find it flattering to be the wife of a conquering hero. She has a greater lucidity than Pyrrhus. Pyrrhus is a primitive without discernment. He does not suspect how offensive his declarations are to Andromache. Hermione, in spite of a pathetic and wishful attempt to keep her hopes alive, is fully aware of Pyrrhus’ indifference.