Electra by Sophocles

Electra by Sophocles Summary

Paedagogus, Orestes’ old tutor, has returned to the royal palace in Mycenae. Before the play began Clytemnestra murdered Orestes’ father, Agamemnon, and now Orestes has returned to avenge his death. Orestes tells Paedagogus that the Delphic oracle has told him how he should be revenged on those who murdered his father. Orestes tells Paedagogus to falsely report Orestes’ death. In the meantime, Orestes and Pylades will visit Agamemnon’s grave, and, when they return to the palace with an urn (which they will say contains Orestes’ remains), no one will be expecting them to strike against Clytemnestra and Aegisthus.

A cry is heard from inside the house, and Orestes and Paedagogus exit. Electra enters, making a long prayer to “Holy Light”. She is in constant mourning for her father’s death, hardly sleeps, dresses in unsightly and poor clothes, and refuses to stop calling on the gods to bring vengeance. The Chorus argue that she should mourn within normal limits, and no more, and Electra rejects their argument. She longs for Orestes to return to avenge her father’s death. It is impossible for her to behave moderately, she says, when she is surrounded by evil.

Chrysothemis, Electra’s sister, enters with burial offerings. She asks Electra why she is still shouting publicly about her father and her longing for vengeance. Then, Chrysothemis continues, she herself would be openly angry if she had strength. She, however, chooses to be deliberately silent – a decision which Electra then scorns. Chrysothemis argues that Electra’s fury will be the undoing of her, only for Electra to reply that she would welcome death.

Chrysothemis is taking burial offerings from her mother to Agamemnon’s grave. Clytemnestra has sent the offerings after being frightened by a dream in which she saw Agamemnon revived. Electra persuades Chrysothemis not to take Clytemnestra’s offerings to the grave.

The Chorus predict Justice coming and “foreshadowing a just victory”. Clytemnestra enters, surprised to see Electra walking outside, and an argument ensures between mother and daughter. Clytemnestra says that she was just to murder her husband, as he sacrificed her daughter Iphigenia. Electra then launches into a long speech, which tells another version of Iphigenia’s sacrifice, and interrogates the “eye for an eye” logic that Clytemnestra puts forward. This rant becomes increasingly more personal, with Electra even eventually telling Clytemnestra that she would have Orestes kill her if she could. Clytemnestra, left alone, makes a prayer to the gods, hoping that all will be well for her.

Paedagogus, disguised as a messenger, comes in and tells a long story about Orestes’ supposed death. Electra is devastated, and Clytemnestra torn between being delighted and mournful. Clytemnestra goes into the house with Paedagogus. Electra resolves to bring about her own death: without Orestes, she has nothing to live for. The Chorus try to comfort her. Chrysothemis enters, having found Orestes’ hair on Agamemnon’s grave, to tell Electra that Orestes has come to the palace. Electra tries and fails to persuade Chrysothemis to help her murder Aegisthus. Electra resolves to do the deed alone.

Orestes enter disguised, and reveals himself to Electra, proving with Agamemnon’s signet ring that he is indeed Orestes. He then goes inside to murder Clytemnestra, and Electra goes inside the house. The Chorus begin an ode, which is interrupted by Electra running back outside. Clytemnestra is heard screaming from inside the palace, and Electra shouts encouragement to Orestes from outside.

Orestes enters from the palace, and Electra asks him if all is well. Orestes replies that all is well, if Apollo prophesied well. At that, Aegisthus approaches, Orestes goes inside, and Electra greets Aegisthus. Bringing on a covered body (Orestes in disguise again), they tell Aegisthus it is the dead Orestes, though when it is uncovered, it is in fact the murdered Clytemnestra. Aegisthus is taken inside the palace to be murdered by Orestes, and – before we see or hear the deed – the Chorus end the play.