Monday, December 19, 2016

Electra by Euripides

Electra can’t get over the murder of her father

Electra, daughter of the murdered Agamemnon and the murderous Clytemnestra, has been exiled to the countryside and marriage to a impoverished farmer, the premise being that any child of such an ignoble union could never consider avenging the death of his grandfather. Luckily for Electra her poor farmer is a gentleman and won’t take advantage of Electra, either for sex or for labor. Electra understands that, and appreciates it, but still goes about the village dressed in rags with a shaven head, bemoaning her inability to seek revenge. Meanwhile, her exiled brother Orestes, after consulting with Apollo’s oracle at Delphi, has journeyed to Argos, to exact the family revenge.  He is tasked with killing not only the hated usurper Aegisthus, but someone else: the woman who suckled him, Clytemnestra. Orestes is a little reluctant, but once he eventually makes his presence known to Electra, she devises a scheme for murder.

This Electra is young and sulky- she won’t conform, she won’t give up her hatred of her mother. Clytemnestra and even Aegisthus are presented at least a little bit sympathetically. Clytemnestra is killed when she believes she is going to see her infant grandson. Orestes stabs Aegisthus in the back. Yet what else do they deserve? The murder of the mother is presented very dramatically – Orestes is highly conflicted. Not Electra. Although directly afterwards, the siblings realize that they actually do love their mother, even while hating her and now must live with the fact of her murder. The play ends with two gods flying over the stage on a crane to wrap up the loose ends of the plot.

This play isn’t just stick characters bouncing along on a string, enacting the plot.  The family's actions are motivated and conflicted.  Orestes, especially, understand the unpleasant consequences of doing his duty. Electra is absolved from the duty of revenge, as she is a woman. She won't accept that, however, and is obsessed by thoughts of revenge.

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