As the reddish glow of the setting sun floods the inner courtyard of the palace, five women servants come to fill their pitchers at the well. While they are speaking, Electra, Agamemnon’s eldest daughter, appears, dressed in ragged clothing. Startled by their presence, she quickly disappears like a frightened animal. Four of the women exchange contemptuous observations about the mourning rites that Electra practices each evening for her father, and they ridicule both her and the wretched conditions of life that her mother and Aegisthus impose upon her. Disdainfully, they mention that she prefers eating on the ground with the dogs to sharing the servants’ table, and that she insults all the servants of the house and stares at them fiercely like a wild cat. When the young fifth servant expresses her admiration for the abused princess, she is ordered inside, where she is promptly beaten for her insolence. Their pitchers filled, the servant women reenter the palace.
Electra returns and, speaking alone, reveals her secret thoughts and feelings. She recalls in vivid detail the murder of her father who, upon his return from the Trojan War, was at this very twilight hour slaughtered in his bath with an ax by his wife and her lover. She prays for her father’s spirit to appear to her again, promising that his blood will one day be avenged. She vows to sacrifice at his grave when that day comes and swears that she, along with her sister Chrysothemis and her brother Orestes, will dance around his tomb in royal pageantry to commemorate his greatness.
Chrysothemis appears in the doorway, interrupting Electra’s fantasy, to alert her that she overheard Clytemnestra and Aegisthus plotting to imprison her in a dungeon. Electra replies contemptuously, which leads Chrysothemis to plead with her to understand her personal unhappiness. She explains that if they are to relinquish the hope of Orestes’ return and his subsequent revenge, they will both be able to lead relatively normal lives, to love and marry, to bear children, and to experience the joys of family life. She will quite willingly tolerate the injustice of...
(The entire section is 872 words.)