In which Shakespeare plays and through which characters is the Electra Complex notable?Concrete examples and names of plays and characters.  

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shakespeareguru | Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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First, let's define the Electra Complex.  As it relates to Freud's definition of the Oedipal Complex, it is defined as:

the psychoanalytic theory that a female's psychosexual development involves a sexual attachment to her father, and is analogous to a boy's attachment to his mother that forms the basis of the Oedipus complex,

and was coined, in fact, by Carl Jung, and not Freud.  It means to relate the story of Electra, who wanted revenge upon her mother for murdering her father, to the story of Oedipus, who (unknowingly) married his own mother.

There are many plays in Shakespeare which have father and daughter characters, but no mother present.  It is almost ubiquitous in Shakespeare's comedies:

  • A Midsummer Night's Dream has Egeus and his daughter Hermia
  • Much Ado About Nothing has Leonato and his daughter Hero
  • In As You Like It, both Dukes have daughters, Rosalind and Celia, and no mothers in sight
  • In The Merchant of Venice, Shylock has a daughter, Jessica, but no wife
  • In The Taming of the Shrew,  wifeless Baptista has two daughters, Bianca and Kate
  • In Two Gentlemen of Verona, the Duke has a motherless daughter, Silvia.

However, in none of these plays is there any hint of sexual relationship with or fixation upon the father from the daughter characters.  In fact, all of the daughter characters mentioned above fall in love and marry by each play's end.  It should also be noted that the mothers, for the most part, are not even mentioned in these plays.

Notable father/daugther relationships in the tragedies include Juliet and Capulet in Romeo and Juliet, Lear and Cordelia (and Regan and Goneril) in King Lear, and Brabantio and Desdemona in Othello.  Of all of these, the only one that examines at length the love between father and daughter is King Lear.  But no mother exists here to be jealous of and there is decidedly nothing sexual about this father/daughter love, so this play and it's main daughter character, Cordelia, don't fit either.

Interestingly, if you were looking for Shakespeare plays that simply bear resemblance to Electra the play (and not the Complex), then Hamlet would be your best bet.  Here are the similarities between the two:

  • Hamlet feels that he should avenge his father's murder by his new "father," his uncle (and possibly his mother as well).  Electra is driven by her need to avenge her father's murder by her mother and her mother's new husband, her uncle.
  • Hamlet's mother, Gertrude, pleads with Hamlet to "get over" the past and move on.  Electra's mother, Clytemnestra, pleads with Electra to get over the past and move on.
  • Hamlet plans his revenge in secret, aided by a few accomplices, as does Electra.
  • Hamlet feels that he and he alone really loves and holds the memory of his father in a place of honor.  Electra shares this opinion about her father.

So, I'm sorry to say that, if you're looking for daughters who are jealous of mothers and have a sexual interest in their fathers, you won't find this in Shakespeare's plays, that I know of.  If, however, you would like to draw favourable comparison between the play Electra and one of Shakespeare's plays, there are many similarities between it and Hamlet.

Please follow the links below for more on the Electra Complex and how Hamlet and Electra relate to each other.

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