Though princess of Argos, Electra is give in marriage to an old Argive farmer to prevent her from bearing a son who might avenge Agamemnon’s death. Still, this marriage serves Electra’s purpose. It allows her to remain chaste and plot the double murder. She lives for her brother Orestes’ return and remains intent on revenge. Obsessed by Agamemnon, Electra allows no man to touch her, not even her brother when he returns in disguise.
Electra often reveals a morbid attachment for her murdered father. Significantly, the old farmer, who becomes for Electra a father surrogate, eventually identifies Orestes, reunites him with Electra, and suggests the double killing. With delight, Electra plans her mother’s death. Appropriately, the farmer plays a key role in the plot. He will announce to Clytemnestra the birth of his non-existent son. This will bring her to Electra’s cottage and to her death.
Caught up in the scheme, Electra tells the farmer to guide Orestes to the place where Aegisthus performs sacrifices; there, Orestes will murder his mother’s lover. Subsequently, a messenger announces that Aegisthus was killed as he was sacrificing to Zeus. Orestes returns, and he and Electra encourage each other in the murder of Clytemnestra despite unfavorable omens.
Clytemnestra enters only to fall by Orestes’ sword. The play ends with the appearance of the Dioscuri, the stars Castor and Pollux, who stop the action by proclaiming the future of Electra and Orestes. The new marriage they foretell for Electra to Orestes’ companion and foil, Pylades, is typical of Euripides’ cynicism. It implies both the annulment of Electra’s arranged marriage and her unsuitability to any other man.
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.