In a Greek myth, King Agamemnon kills his first daughter before he goes to the Trojan War. This act is meant to appease the gods. However, when he comes back from the war, his wife, Clytemnestra, and her new husband, Aegisthus, kill him in revenge for her daughter’s death. Agamemnon’s death and the marriage between Clytemnestra and Aegisthus lead to the separation of Agamemnon’s two children, Orestes and Electra (Bloom 22). They grow up in two different places. They only meet later in life when they are both grown-ups (Easterling 24). Orestes tells his sister about his intention to kill his mother as a way avenging their father’s murder. However, different playwrights have presented this myth differently. Notably, they portray the main characters in the myth differently depending on the element they intent on emphasising (Mueller 25). This paper discusses the way Aeschylus in his play Oresteia Libation Bearers, Euripides’ in Medea and other plays and Sophocles’ in Antigone, Oedipus the King and Electra present Electra.
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Aeschylus presents Electra as a foil for her mother, Clytemnestra (Aeschylus., and Lattimore 18). She is very loving and caring, especially to her brother, Orestes, something her mother cannot do. The chorus is very instrumental in depicting her character. She comes out as a person that knows her position as a woman in society: she knows that a woman should offer support to men and not antagonise them. This portrayal makes her a perfect foil for her mother, who does not have an element of love or care in her. She shows less concern for Orestes. Worse still, she killed her husband, Agamemnon.
However, Aeschylus also portrays her as a weak and cowardly individual (Aeschylus and Collard 23). She talks more than she acts. For example, she lets Orestes down by not actively taking part in the murder of their father’s murderers (Aeschylus and Arnott 14). She prays with him at their father’s tomb asking God to help them avenge his death, but keeps quiet and does nothing to carry out the revenge (Aeschylus and Collard 29). She also leaves Orestes to kill their father’s murderers alone. Her weakness is also evident in her passionate hatred for her mother (Aeschylus and Collard 47). As opposed to her brother, who wants to kill their mother to avenge their father’s death, she only has so much hatred for her (Aeschylus and Paley 34). At some point, she loses control of her emotions and shouts “Crush their skull! Kill! Kill!” (Aeschylus and Collard 49). Her weak character portrays her as one not fit enough to be given the responsibility to determine other people’s fate.
On the other hand, Euripides portrays Electra as a lethal woman (Euripides and Morwood 34). She is ready to kill in revenge for her father’s death. When Orestes tells her about her father’s death, she swears to help him take revenge against his killers. She is so committed to the revenge that when Orestes is almost falling to their mother’s pleas, she reminds him of his duty to Apollo (Euripides and Morwood 38). This changes his mind, and he goes on with his original plan to kill her. Her commitment is also evident in her participation in the murder of Clytemnestra (Euripides and Murray 45). They drive a sword through her throat together. Before her murder, they had hatched a plan to kill Aegisthus.
In Sophocles’ play, Electra is presented as a controversial and naïve character. She does not know what she stands for (Sophocles and Jebb 44). For example, she argues that Clytemnestra’s excuse that she killed Agamemnon as revenge for her daughter’s death is not good enough (Sophocles, Kitto, and Hall 36). This argument makes her appear as if she does not believe in revenge. On the contrary, she intends to kill her mother for killing Agamemnon, her father. Her naivety is evident when she allows herself to suffer in the name of honour (Sophocles, Kitto, and Hall 36). Clytemnestra and Aegisthus mistreat her, but she does not complain because she considers complaining as dishonour (Sophocles, Kitto, and Hall 36). She only sees the need to take revenge later, especially after Orestes tells her about their father’s murder.
As the plot advances, she grows more violent and irrational. She changes from being an individual that loves justice and honour to one that advocates violence and revenge. For example, she just listens as Orestes beats up their mother to death. She further shows her cruelty by feigning humility to trap Aegisthus. She manages to capture him and denies him the right to speak.
The three plays portray Electra differently. For example, Aeschylus portrays her as her mother’s foil. Her mother is not caring and does not show love for her children, but her daughter, Electra, is very loving. He also presents her as cowardly since she talks too much but does not take actions. On the other hand, Euripides portrays her as lethal. She participates in the murder of her mother. Sophocles, on his part, presents her as an individual that does not have a firm stand on issues. She easily changes her position about revenge and honour when she agrees to take revenge against her mother.
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Aeschylus., and Richmond Lattimore. Oresteia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953. Print.
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Bloom, Harold. Greek Drama. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2004. Print.
Easterling, Patricia. The Cambridge Companion to Greek Tragedy. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Print.
Euripides, and James Morwood. Medea and Other Plays. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. Print.
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Euripides., and Gilbert Murray. Gilbert Murray’s Euripides. Exeter, Devon [England]: Bristol Phoenix Press, 2005. Print.
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