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Tower Beyond Tragedy


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Robinson Jeffers (1887—1962)

Judith Anderson (1898—1992)

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Free-verse drama by Jeffers, published in Tamar and Other Poems (1924).

In this original treatment of the Electra theme, Jeffers represents the homecoming of Agamemnon to Mycenæ; his murder by his queen Clytemnestra and her lover Ægisthus; the entry of Agamemnon's spirit into the body of the captive Trojan princess, Cassandra, to prophesy the retribution at the hands of Orestes; and the escape of the child Orestes with his sister Electra. When Orestes reaches manhood, he and Electra, determined to accomplish their filial obligation, return to Mycenæ, where Clytemnestra and Ægisthus have established their rule. With the assistance of Cassandra, who has served as the queen's slave, they arouse the palace, and Orestes kills both his mother and her consort. The people choose their returned prince to be king, but the horror of matricide drives him temporarily insane, and he spends a night in the hills. The following morning he reappears, announcing to Electra his return to sanity, despite a dream vision in which he possessed her, “entered the fountain,” as he had, in a different sense, by killing his mother. Electra tries to persuade him to remain as ruler, even offering, with some eagerness, to accept him as her lover. The youth declines, asserting that his crime and the consequent derangement have left him with a new wisdom, which impels him to lead a wandering life away from the city. Lying on the hillside at night, he came to realize that men have gone mad by a sort of racial introversion. He himself has discovered peace by a pantheistic identification of himself with all nature. He has attained “the pure flame and the white,” having “fallen in love outward.” With this phrase, the key to the author's philosophic pantheism, Orestes dismisses Electra's plea, and departs to pass his life in exile from humanity, having…climbed the tower beyond time, consciously,and cast humanity, entered the earlier fountain.

Subjects: Literature.


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