Electra is the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, and the title character of the play. In Aeschylus' Oresteia Electra sings songs of mourning, prays, and goes meekly inside when it comes to the moment of Orestes' murdering Clytemnestra. Aeschylus' Electra is, in the words of Simon Goldhill, "a good girl".
Sophocles' Electra is quite a different prospect. She is furiously angry and bitter about the way her mother has murdered her father and partnered with Aegisthus. She refuses to cease mourning, and is prone to huge, bellowing cries of grief and rage. She is desperate for her brother Orestes to return. Significantly, she trusts nothing and no one, and believes in deeds rather than words - which is perhaps why her own language is so painfully raw and stripped back.
She is the central character of Sophocles' treatment of this story, though interestingly, not of the story itself. The other characters in the play, alway catalysts of the plot to a greater degree, seem to pale in insignificance when compared with her: for sheer force of will, and force of hatred, she is - in this play, as well as in many other extant tragedies - simply unmatchable.
Agamemnon was the husband of Clytemnestra, and the father of Electra and Orestes. He was murdered by Clytemnestra before the play began, and the play documents Orestes' vengeance on his mother for that act. He does not appear in Sophocles' Electra directly, but is still in many ways a key character.
A pedagogue - a tutor - as suggested by his name, now old, who looked after Orestes when he was younger. He narrates the false story of Orestes' death in a chariot race, and, as he and Orestes plan early in the play, no-one recognises him as he now has grey hair. Paedagogus is not a major character in the play, though he does, at several key moments, try to push the plot out of words and towards action. It seems likely that - as he does not appear later in the play - the actor playing him doubled another role (perhaps Aegisthus).
The son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, and the brother of Electra and Chrysothemis. Orestes, in other retellings of this same story, is undoubtedly the principal character: certainly in Homer, and also in the Oresteia (a trilogy which, notably, bears his name!). Not so in this play. Electra is very much central to Sophocles' conception of this play, though Orestes is still important.
Moreover, Orestes is important largely because he does not seem the hero we might expect from other versions of the same story. This is an Orestes who is more than prepared to use false words, so long as they get the right outcome: the means, in other words, are absolutely justified by the end. David Grene describes him as "cautious and rather colourless".
Orestes returns to the House of Atreus to revenge his father's murder by killing his mother, and, at the end of this play, kills Clytemnestra and is about to kill her lover, Aegisthus.
A group of women of Mycenae, who look onto events, and attempt to advise Electra. The most unusual choral moment in the play comes when Electra interrupts their ode (of only twelve lines) by coming out of the palace, and back onstage to commentate on Orestes' murdering Clytemnestra.
Mother of Orestes, Electra and Chrysothemis. Previously married to Agamemnon (before she murdered him!) and now married to Aegisthus.
Clytemnestra in the Oresteia is quite a terrifying prospect: savage, murderous and totally unashamed of what she has done. Sophocles takes this savage, terrifying woman and, without reducing her fury , gives her a human streak. This Clytemnestra suffers from nightmares and, when she appears and justifies her killing of Agamemnon (by recourse to the Iphigenia story) she seems somewhat more reasonable than Electra!
Clytemnestra has a central argument in the middle of the play with Electra, whose fury knows no bounds towards her, before she is eventually murdered in her palace by Orestes.
Sister of Electra and Orestes, daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. Chrysothemis' role is a similar one to Ismene in Antigone: she advises Electra to be cautious, not to make things worse unnecessarily, and to try and keep her feelings under wraps.
Chrysothemis says at one point in the play that she feels as angry and upset as Electra does - only she doesn't go around making it quite so clear because she wants life to be as bearable as possible. She is, in the apt words of David Grene, 'timid, sensible, and unattractive', and she has disappeared from the play by the time the murder takes place.
Husband of Clytemnestra, and a descendant of the House of Atreus. Aegisthus only makes one appearance in this play, late towards the end, where Sophocles establishes him as a bully and a self-regarding tyrant. He taunts and mocks Orestes even when he is about to die, and before that, spends most of his time handing out brisk orders to anyone who will listen. He is not a major character in the play, but important to anyone looking closely at the circumstances which have created Electra.
Daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, sister to Orestes, Chrysothemis and Electra. Iphigenia was sacrificed by Agamemnon, her father, to appease the wrath of the goddess Artemis - an act which provoked Clytemnestra to kill Agamemnon. She does not appear in Sophocles' Electra, but is nevertheless an important motivating factor for its events.
A friend of Orestes. Stays by his side and assists him with Clytemnestra's killing.
Electra by Sophocles Questions and Answers
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