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MonkeyNotes-Electra by Euripides
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The play begins outside the house of the peasant to whom Electra is married. We are soon informed about the cruelty and injustice which Electra and her brother has suffered for no fault of theirs. We are further informed that Agamemnon has sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia. After that he has been away to the battle of Troy for ten long years. He returns victorious. But the war has been a loss for so many people. Many women have lost their husbands. Mothers have lost their sons. His own children have been deprived of the love and care of their father. Meanwhile Clymenestra has been living in adultery with Aegisthus.

When Agamemnon returns from the Trojan war, he brings Cassandra, the daughter of the King of Troy as his concubine. Clymenestra, who is already embittered against her husband for killing Iphigenia, is further angered. She and her lover, Aegisthus kill Agamemnon. Then an honest and sincere servant takes Orestes from the palace and leaves him at Phocis to be looked after. This shows his kindness and concern for his masterís son. Meanwhile Aegisthus is afraid that Orestes may return as a grown up man and take revenge from him. When Electra reaches marriageable age, she receives many proposals, but she is given in marriage to a poor peasant, as Aegisthus is afraid that if she is married to a nobleman, she may bear brave sons who may avenge their grandfatherís murder when they grow up.


In Euripidesí Electra, the portrayal of character is unusually penetrating. Soon after the play begins, there is a touch of sham in Electraís talk. She tells the audience that she is fetching water from a nearby stream to show her condition. Though she is a princess, she has no choice, but to do manual labor. She however, tells her husband that she is doing so because of her gratitude for his magnanimity. This gratitude is true.

Electra refuses the invitation of the chorus to the festival of Hera as she does not have proper clothes to wear. This is one of her principle grievances. She complains about this to Orestes too. Her rags symbolize her own shattered condition. Her drawing and fetching water to her hut are gestures to invoke the gods to witness her condition, which is no better than that of a slave girl.

In ancient Greek drama, the chorus were a group of people who wore masks and played the role of commentators. They commented on characters and events. The chorus expressed moral, religious and social attitudes of the times. They did not directly participate in the action of the play. They customarily appeared with garlands. In the plays of Euripides, the chorus served a lyrical function. This tradition was followed by some later writers. The chorus also sang and danced at religious festivals. Roman playwrights like Seneca adopted the chorus from the Greeks. It was also used by some English writers like Milton, Shakespeare, Shelley, Hardy and T.S. Eliot. In the Elizabethan times, the chorus was a single person who commented during the prologue and the epilogue. In Euripidesí Electra, the most important portion is the portion sung by Electra at the end of the prologue followed by its merger with the chorus. After this, the chorus does nothing of much consequence till Clymenestra is murdered.

There is a reference to the sacrifice made at Agamemnonís grave. A lock of hair is found which the servant presumes to be Orestesí. Offering a lock of hair was a customary part of the sacrifice for the dead by the Greeks. Importance is also given to libation. It was believed by the Greeks that libation can "open parched lips" of the dead. This idea is analogous to the satisfaction, which an infant feels when it is fed milk from the mother.

Flowers are brought by the old servant of Agamemnon. In the time of Euripides, garlands were worn during mealtimes. So the flowers are to be used as garlands in the play.

Phylades, the friend of Orestes is also the son of King Strophius in whose home Orestes has grown. Thus Phylades is the Prince of Phocis.

In case of Agamemnon, as well as Orestes, both being weak preferred to commit sin under the order of authority rather than disobey it and stick to what they thought is right. Disobeying the oracle would be synonymous to disobeying an authorities parent.

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