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Electra


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A: Sophocles Pf:c.425–410 bc, Athens? Tr: 1649 G: Greek trag. in verse S: Before the Palace of Mycenae, some years after the Trojan War C: 4m, 3f, chorus (f)Accompanied by his tutor and by his friend Pylades, Orestes arrives at his birthplace, from which he was taken as a child after his mother's brutal murder of his father Agamemnon. Orestes is determined to avenge the death of his father by killing his mother Clytemnestra. In order to gain access to the house, his tutor pretends to be bringing news of Orestes' death. Clytemnestra is overjoyed to be free of the fear of vengeance, but the news is devastating for Orestes' sister Electra, who has been awaiting Orestes' arrival for many years. Electra now determines to carry out the deed of revenge herself, despite the admonitions of her sister Chrysothemis. Moved by Electra's suffering, Orestes reveals his identity, and there is a touching reunion. Soon, however, Electra spurs Orestes on to commit the deed of vengeance. He murders his mother in the palace. Aegisthus her lover comes triumphantly to view the supposed corpse of Orestes, only to discover that it is that of Clytemnestra. He too is led into the palace to his death.

A: Sophocles Pf:c.425–410 bc, Athens? Tr: 1649 G: Greek trag. in verse S: Before the Palace of Mycenae, some years after the Trojan War C: 4m, 3f, chorus (f)

The story of Orestes and Electra avenging their father's death is the only one treated in the extant tragedies of all three major tragedians, in Aeschylus' The Libation-Bearers, here by Sophocles, and in Euripides' Electra. Sophocles and Euripides must have both known Aeschylus' version, but, since the dating is uncertain, it is not clear which of the later versions was written first. Sophocles focuses on the predicament of Electra. In Aeschylus Orestes finds himself at the centre of a cosmic dilemma: in order to obey the will of the god Apollo, he must incur the guilt of matricide. In Sophocles, he commits the deed, and that is that; there is no suggestion that he will be pursued by the Furies. The complexity arises in the figure of Electra, who suffers powerlessly, yearning for the return of her brother, only to have her hopes dashed by the false news of Orestes' death. Sophocles' portrayal of her commitment to the violent death of her mother is shocking and tragic in a young woman, yet she shares what Goethe called one of the tenderest moments of world literature, in the reunion with her brother. Hofmannsthal's intense rewriting of Electra (1903) is now best known as an opera by Richard Strauss, and modern-dress adaptations were written by Benito Pérez Galdós (1900) and by O'Neill in Mourning Becomes Electra. Giraudoux wrote a version in 1937.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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Sophocles (496—406 bc)


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