Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s play Electra, which was first performed in Germany in 1903 (German title, Elektra) and published in English translation in 1908, is available in the volume, Hugo von Hofmannsthal: Three Plays, translated by Alfred Schwartz (Wayne State University Press, 1966). This volume is currently out of print.
Electra is a free adaptation of the play of the same name by the ancient Greek dramatist, Sophocles. The story focuses on the consequences of the murder of Agamemnon. Agamemnon was the king of Mycenae who was killed by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus upon his return from the Trojan War. The play takes place ten years after the slaying. Agamemnon’s daughter Electra still mourns her beloved father’s death and obsessively anticipates the moment when she will avenge him by killing her mother. The revenge comes when Electra’s brother Orestes returns from exile and kills both Clytemnestra and Aegisthus.
Electra is a study in mental disturbance and obsession. It uses the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud, which had been published only a few years before von Hofmannsthal wrote the play. Electra also employs powerful, lurid imagery that gives vivid insight into the disturbed minds of Electra and Clytemnestra, and it moves singlemindedly to its violent conclusion. Although rarely performed today, the play has become famous be cause von Hofmannsthal adapted it as the libretto for German composer Richard Strauss’s thrilling opera, Elektra (1909).