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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 681


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Electra (ee-LEHK-truh), the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. On his return from the Trojan War, Agamemnon was slain by Clytemnestra and Aegisthus, her lover, who now rules in Argos. For his own safety, Orestes, Electra’s brother, was smuggled out of the kingdom. Electra remained, was saved from death at the hands of Aegisthus by Clytemnestra, and was married to a poor farmer by Aegisthus. The farmer, out of respect for the house of Agamemnon, has never asserted his marital rights. In her first appearance, Electra is thus a slave princess, unwashed and in rags, longing for attention and some emotional outlet, morbidly attached to her dead father and powerfully jealous of Clytemnestra. Orestes appears and, posing as a friend of the exiled brother, discusses with Electra the conduct of their mother and Aegisthus. In her speech to him, she betrays herself as a woman whose desire for revenge has, through continuous brooding, become a self-centered obsession. Her motive for the murder of Clytemnestra has become hatred for her mother rather than love for her father, and she is an ugly and perverted being. Her expression of joy in the thought of murdering her mother causes Orestes not to reveal his identity until an old servant recognizes him. Electra takes no part in plotting vengeance on Aegisthus but arranges the murder of her mother. She sends a message that she has been delivered of a son and needs Clytemnestra to aid in the sacrifices attending the birth. When the body of Aegisthus is brought in, Electra condemns him. The language in her speech is artificial and stilted; it contrasts sharply with her passionate condemnation of Clytemnestra shortly afterward. Electra never realizes that she is committing exactly the same atrocity for which she wishes to punish her mother. She leads her mother into the house and guides Orestes’ sword when he hesitates. It is only after the deed is committed that she feels the burden of what she has done. At the end of the play, she is given by the gods in marriage to Pylades.


Orestes (oh-REHS -teez), Electra’s brother. He returns secretly from exile under compulsion from Apollo to kill Aegisthus and his mother. Guided by the oracle, he does not share Electra’s extreme lust for revenge. He kills Aegisthus by striking him in the back as he is preparing a sacrifice to the Nymphs and then, driven on by Electra, stabs his mother when she enters the house of Electra. The gods reveal that he will be pursued by the Furies of blood-guilt for his actions but that he will find release at Athens before the tribunal of the Areopagus, where...

(The entire section contains 681 words.)

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Critical Essays