Sophocles’ Electra differs from Aeschylus’ and Euripides’ treatment in that Sophocles “minimizes Apollo’s role,” that “Everyone acts as a foil of Electra,” that she “makes no soliloquies to reveal herself,” and that Paedagogus provides a dramatic account of a chariot race that never happened (Grene 123). Electra here “moves in an atmosphere of hate and hysteria provoked by facts and lies indiscriminately” (Grene 124).
The play begins with Orestes telling Paedagogus that he should report him dead. Electra has been waiting for him for years and bemoans her lot: having to live with the murderers (Clytemnestra and Aegisthus) of her father Agamemnon. Orestes’ “eternal going-to-do-something / destroys my hopes” (137). Electra’s sister Chrysothemis clucks about Electra’s being so inflexible and not yielding to authority (141). Clytemnestra makes her defense but Electra despises her.
Paedagogus reports Orestes’ death in a tragic chariot accident, but Chrysothemis brings news of evidence from daddy’s grave that Orestes had been there. A disguised Orestes and Electra have an interchange and, with the obligatory locks of hair and rings as evidence, their identities are revealed to one another. Orestes says, “Spare me all superfluity of speech…. Words about this / will shorten time and opportunity. / But tell me what we need for the present moment” (177). Paedogogus was the one man who remained loyal when Agamemnon was murdered, so Electra praises him. Orestes enters the house and we hear Clytemnestra crying out as she is killed. When Orestes emerges, Electra asks, “Is the wretch dead?” (183). Aegisthus enters and Orestes is revealed to him. The play ends with Aegisthus being led off to his death and Orestes saying, “I must take care that death / is bitter for you. Justice shall be taken / directly on all who act above the law — / justice by killing. So we would have less villains” (187).
Powell, Barry. Classical Myth. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 2001.
Sophocles. Electra. Trans. David Grene. Sophocles II. Ed. David Grene and Richmond Lattimore. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957. 121-187.