Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 681
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 Apollo will accept responsibility for the matricide.
Clytemnestra (kli-tehm-NEHS-truh), the regal mother of Electra. She took Aegisthus as her lover before Agamemnon returned from Troy. Together, the pair plotted the murder of the husband. Her attempt to justify the murder on the grounds that Agamemnon had sacrificed her daughter Iphigenia is unsuccessful. Her cruelty, vanity, and sordid private affairs alienate her from any great sympathy, but she did save the life of Electra and has enough affection to answer Electra’s request that she help in the sacrifice to celebrate the birth of her daughter’s son. She is murdered by Orestes, at his sister’s urging.
A farmer, a Mycenaean to whom Aegisthus gave Electra in marriage. He understands and accepts his station in life with nobility. Electra acknowledges her gratitude for his understanding behavior.
Pylades (PIHL-eh-deez), a mute character. He is the faithful friend who accompanies Orestes during his exile and is given Electra as a wife by the gods.
An old man
An old man, a former servant in the house of Agamemnon who is still faithful to Electra. Summoned by her, he recognizes Orestes and helps to devise a plan for the murder of Aegisthus.
Castor (KAS-tohr) and
Polydeuces (pol-ih-DEW-seez), the Dioscuri, brothers of Clytemnestra. They appear at the end of the play to give Electra in marriage and to foretell the future of Orestes.