Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Farmhouse. Farm near the Greek city Argos. No farmhouse seems fitting for a princess to inhabit. In such locations one expects to encounter wholesome bucolic activities. Ironically, the place is used for royal machinations, including regicide and matricide. In Euripides’ version of the story the queen and usurping king are slaughtered by the queen’s children, not in a castle, but on a farm, where animals may be killed for food. The location challenges and reinforces other challenges in the play to conventional beliefs about the pitch of royalty.

The farm houses Princess Electra, in Euripides’ version of the story married off beneath her class in order to delegitimate any offspring she might have. Once nubile, but now twisted in her desires, Electra has maintained her virginity during her time in rural exile, while perversely embracing what she regards as the demeaning chores of a farm wife. Averse to frequent baths, a privilege of the rich, she ironically insists on hauling water from the well, actively underscoring her outrage at the mean place to which she has been relegated.

Euripides’ play suggests that the farm and its cultivator are morally superior to the palace, its scheming residents, and its exiles. The humble land of a decent farmer, is here a ground of virtue in relation to which the excesses, base motives, and seamy deeds of aristocrats can be evaluated. The farm, the farmer, and people like him are admirable. Tragically, the petty and untrustworthy nobility, who pursue their selfish ends in the guise of heroism, hold dominion over the good.

Electra Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Grube, G. M. A. The Drama of Euripides. London: Methuen, 1941. Offers a detailed interpretation of Electra, which Grube admires for its psychological insights into all the characters.

Kitto, Humphrey Davy Findley. Greek Tragedy: A Literary Study. London: Methuen, 1939. Labeling Electra a melodrama, Kitto argues that the play succeeds because of its characterization but lacks a universal theme. Compares Euripides’ version with what Kitto regards as the more tragic treatment of the story by Sophocles.

McDonald, Marianne. Terms for Happiness in Euripides. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1978. Analyzes Electra as a work that stresses the theme of friendship and shows that the traditional view of happiness is mistaken. Wealth, power, and victory do not produce the happiness enjoyed by the peasant who is married to Electra.

Michelini, Ann Norris. Euripides and the Tragic Tradition. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987. The first four chapters offer an overview of Euripidean criticism and discuss the literary conventions he inherited, his audience, and his style. Chapter 7 focuses on Electra, which Michelini regards as balancing comedy and tragedy.

Norwood, Gilbert. Greek Tragedy. Boston: John W. Luce, 1920. A good survey. Norwood admires Euripides’ handling of Electra and argues that Euripides refuses to take sides. Concludes that the play demonstrates the inscrutability of life.