Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 712
Electra (ee-LEHK-truh), the daughter of Clytemnestra and the murdered king Agamemnon. Consumed by grief for her dead father, Electra has dedicated herself to perpetuating his memory by observing daily the appropriate rites for the dead, hoping that eventfully, when her brother Orestes returns, she can assist him in exacting rightful revenge. In the meantime, humiliated and abused by her mother and Aegisthus, she has lived abjectly in the palace like the lowest of servants. She is sustained through her suffering by wrathful hatred and graphic fantasies of vengeance, which she frequently expresses openly to those around her. Confronting her sister Chrysothemis, she screams out contempt for her complacent acceptance of injustice and asserts her own independent will to resist. With her mother, after a pretense of cordiality, she unleashes her hatred in furious words, threatening her with eventual terror and death. When Orestes at last returns, she is unable at first to recognize him; once his identity is established, she rejoices at his determination to punish the criminals immediately. Her joy is expressed in a frenzied dance that she performs while her brother slaughters the guilty within the palace. She then falls to the floor and remains rigid, probably also dead, her extreme exultation having likely cost her her life.
Clytemnestra (kli-tehm-NEHS-truh), the widow of Agamemnon and mother of Electra, Chrysothemis, and Orestes. She is now the wife of Aegisthus. After helping her lover, Aegisthus, to slay her husband years before, she sent her son into exile, forbade her daughters to marry, and treated them like servants, abusing them physically and mentally. She is obsessed, however by overwhelming feelings of guilt for her crimes. Her sleep is troubled regularly by terrible nightmares for which no relief has yet been found. Never daring to murder her own children, she still fears the just retribution that they may exact from her when Orestes returns. She pleads one evening with Electra to suggest a remedy for her frightening dreams, but her daughter derides her with taunts and threats of Orestes’ violent revenge to come some day. Joyfully greeting a stranger whom she believes carries news of her son’s death, she welcomes him into the palace, then she discovers that he is actually Orestes. With a piercing cry, she dies at the hands of her son.
Chrysothemis (krih-SOTH-eh-mihs), Electra’s sister and Clytemnestra’s youngest daughter. Unlike Electra, who mourns for the losses of the past, she wishes to try to forget the cruel murder of her father and allow her mother’s crimes to pass unpunished so that she may marry, bear children, and enjoy the pleasures of ordinary family life. She tries to persuade Electra to abandon the project of revenge and settle instead for a happy private life within an admittedly corrupt state. She mourns the loss of her brother, however, when false news of his death is received. After his acts of revenge are accomplished, she is left alive, ready to begin a new life that the retribution accomplished by her brother has made possible.
Orestes (oh-REHS -teez), the brother of Electra and Chrysothemis, brought up in exile, ignorant of his family background. Informed of these circumstances and instructed by the gods to return to Mycenae to exact revenge on the murderers of his father, Orestes returns to his birthplace to perform the terrible but required deeds. He encounters Electra, and when their identities become known to each other, they rejoice at their reunion and plan their revenge. Having been invited inside the palace, Orestes slays first his mother, then the returning...
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Aegisthus, thus fulfilling the commandment of the gods.
Aegisthus (ee-JIHS-thuhs), the consort of Clytemnestra and ruler of Mycenae. Having slain Agamemnon, with the assistance of Clytemnestra, many years earlier, he claimed both the kingdom and the wife of the dead king and established himself firmly on the throne. Showing no shame or remorse, he revels in his newly acquired power and wealth. He is thought by the palace servants to be harsh and cruel. While out in the fields, he hears that messengers have arrived, bearing news of Orestes’ death. Returning to the palace, he is met by Electra, who lights his way to the door. Once within, he is slaughtered by the waiting Orestes.
Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1241
Aegisthus Aegisthus is the lover of Clytemnestra, and together they killed Clytemnestra’s husband, Agamemnon. Aegisthus is presented as a weak man and a bully. One of the servants says that he beats Electra. Electra refers to him as a woman, and speaks sarcastically of ‘‘that brave murderer.’’ Aegisthus appears only near the end of the play and is murdered by Orestes as soon as he goes into the house.
Chrysothemis Chrysothemis is Electra’s younger sister. She is a gentler spirit than Electra and unlike her sister, she is not obsessed by the murder of her father. She is, however, deeply disturbed by her current situation. Frightened and confused by day and night, she cannot remain still and runs from room to room. She feels as if she is lost to herself and blames Electra for the fact that they are both confined to the palace. If Electra were not so unmanageable, Chrysothemis says, Clytemnestra and Aegisthus would let them out of what she calls their prison. She longs to escape so that she can lead a normal life. Her great desire is to marry and bear children, but she is conscious that she is no longer young and life is slipping by. She is frightened when Electra discloses her scheme of vengeance and refuses to take part in it, even though Electra, who has the more dominating personality, tries to force her into compliance.
Clytemnestra Clytemnestra is the mother of Electra, Chrysothemis, and Orestes. With her lover, Aegisthus, she murdered her husband Agamemnon after he returned from the Trojan War. Clytemnestra, who is pale and wears a scarlet robe, is tormented by guilt, even though she cannot remember anything about the murder of her husband. The incident was so traumatic that she has repressed all memory of it. Now, her relationship with Aegisthus appears to have turned sour and she feels she is sinking into chaos, enduring a kind of living death. At night, before she goes to sleep, a dreadful feeling creeps over her. She does not know what it is, ‘‘and yet / it is so terrible that my soul / wishes it were hanged and every limb of mine longs for death.’’ Then when she sleeps, she has terrible nightmares, and she wonders why the gods are inflicting such torments upon her. During the day, she can hardly keep her eyes open, sometimes she feels giddy and she leans on her confidante for support. Her attendants give her contradictory diagnoses about what ails her. Some believe she has a diseased liver; others say that demons are sucking her blood.
Clytemnestra is determined to put an end to her nightmares, and adorns herself with jewels and charms to ward off the evil influences. She also believes that if she performs the correct ritual sacri- fice, the gods will release her from her pain. All in all, Clytemnestra is a fearsome figure, and her servants, as well as Chrysothemis, are afraid of her. She ill-treats Electra, subjecting her to whippings and humiliations. But Electra seems to be the only one who is not intimidated by her.
The Confidante Clytemnestra’s attendant, the confidante, dresses in dark violet and carries an ivory staff adorned with jewels. Clytemnestra supports herself on the confi- dante’s arm and takes advice from her constantly. When Electra appears to be speaking reasonably to Clytemnestra, her confidante warns her that Electra does not mean what she says. But this time, Clytemnestra rejects the confidante’s words.
The Cook The cook makes only one brief appearance. He talks with the young manservant and also warns Electra and Chrysothemis that Orestes is dead and they must be careful or they will be next.
Electra Electra is the daughter of Clytemnestra, the sister of Chrysothemis and Orestes. She is completely obsessed with avenging the death of her father, Agamemnon. Every day at sunset, she mourns him. The memory of the murder and her desire for revenge obliterates everything else in her mind and heart. Electra used to be beautiful, quiet and gracious, but the torments of grief, her lust for vengeance, and the ill-treatment she has suffered has affected her appearance. Her eyes look frightful because of her lack of sleep and her stare is ferocious. She is dressed in rags with bare arms and legs. Because of Clytemnestra’s enmity, Electra has been fed with scraps, whipped, and threatened with imprisonment and chains. But none of this deflects her from her purpose, and she longs for the time when she can kill her mother and Aegisthus. She then plans to perform a victory dance around her father’s grave. After she hears the false report of Orestes’ death, Electra tries to persuade her sister Chrysothemis to assist in the murder, but Chrysothemis refuses. Ironically, at the climax of the play, it is not Electra but Orestes who does the killing. Electra seems to be full of words but incapable of deeds. Her mental torment has resulted in a serious warping of her personality, in which passion and hysteria convince her that the fulfillment of her entire being rests solely on the performance of one bloody act of vengeance.
Matron The matron supervises the servants as they draw water from the well. She is as hostile to Electra as well as most of the servants and reminds them that Electra spat at them and said their children were cursed simply because they had been born in the same house where the murder took place.
Orestes Orestes is the son of Clytemnestra and the brother of Electra and Chrysothemis. After the murder of Agamemnon, when he was still a boy, he was sent away from the palace. Clytemnestra believes that he is feeble-witted and will not return, although she trembles when his name is mentioned. Electra believes that Clytemnestra paid in gold to have Orestes murdered, but she does not believe he is dead, even when his death is reported by the messengers. When Orestes does return to the palace with his tutor, he does not disclose his identity. He meets Electra, but he has been gone so long the two do not recognize each other. Orestes pretends that he is visiting to confirm the death of Orestes, but when he is recognized by a servant, the truth comes out. After this, Orestes does not hesitate to carry out the vengeance that he believes is his duty, killing Clytemnestra and then Aegisthus.
The Trainbearer Clytemnestra’s trainbearer is a yellow figure with black hair. She resembles an Egyptian woman and also is like an upright snake. She speaks only briefly but hisses when she does.
Tutor Orestes’ tutor, a vigorous old man with flashing eyes, accompanies Orestes when he returns to the royal palace. When Electra recognizes him, she realizes that the man with him must indeed be Orestes. It is the tutor who tells Orestes that Aegisthus is not at home and it is time to strike Clytemnestra.
Women Servants The women servants appear at the beginning of the play, when they draw water from a well. They all describe how unpleasant Electra has become. But one very young servant defends Electra, and says that the others are not worthy of breathing the same air as the princess.
A Young Servant A young manservant rides out to inform Aegisthus that Orestes is dead, and also to escort him home. He is coarse and impatient and insults the other servants.