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MonkeyNotes-Electra by Euripides
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Notes

Apollo’s hatred for women is seen in his command to kill his mother. In Orestes too, an inverted Oedipus complex is seen to the extent that he is willing to obey the oracle without reasoning or analyzing how evil the order is. The inverted Oedipus complex is increased due to the absence of his father or by his neglecting him. In case of Orestes, the internalization of his father is based on love and admiration for him. This proves to be of great significance for his future actions. The dead father is a very important part of his "super ego."

After the murders, Orestes is attacked by the furies. The furies are seen by Electra and Orestes alone. They are the internal parts of Electra and Orestes and they persecute them. They are their "super ego." Apollo’s command too is an echo of Orestes’ own internal voice. It represents his own cruelty and destructive urges.

Orestes’ admiration for his elder sister indicates a positive attitude towards his mother, as the elder sister is a mother figure. Thus we can infer that the Oedipus complex is not completely missing. The Oedipus situation can be turned towards another person too. In this case it is turned towards Aegisthus. In case of Hamlet, the hatred was directed towards his uncle. In admiring Agamemnon, Orestes identifies himself with his idealized father. His guilt and suffering which follow the murder of Clymenestra represent "persecutory anxiety." Intense persecution is represented by the furies.


When Apollo gave his command he represented Orestes’ own cruel self. The furies are not willing to pardon him though the murder was ordered by Apollo. The furies represent that aspect of the "super ego" which never forgives destructiveness. The "super ego" is what a layman would refer to as conscience. It would not have been practical to end the play with Clymenestra’s murder, as it is psychologically impossible for a person who has committed the crime of matricide to live happily ever after. Under any circumstances matricide is an unforgivable crime. Apollo’s oracle is therefore unjustifiable. Orestes’ obedience to it is a horrible crime. Electra’s crime is even greater because she participates in, and instigates the murder without any divine command.

Electra inherits the idea of revenge from her mother. Clymenestra has been revengeful. She avenges the injustice done to her by her husband by killing him. And having done so, it seems that she is not persecuted by her super ego. We also come to know, as the play progresses, that Clymenestra did not protect her children. She did not make any effort to prevent Orestes from being sent away, as she saw him as an avenger of his father who would some day punish Aegisthus. Similarly she does not do anything to prevent the marriage of Electra with the poor peasant. After the marriage she does not provide her even with the basic comfort. Thus Electra has to adjust to her new lifestyle of utter poverty. This is very difficult for her. However apart from the above-mentioned aspects of Clymenestra’s personality, there are some indications to show that there was some goodness in her. She was not always a bad mother. She fed her son and daughter when they were infants.

Her love and mourning for Iphigenia must have been sincere. Her later circumstances might have made her unusually cruel. Such changed circumstances reawaken destructive impulses, which thereby predominate loving impulses.

The rest of the play does not require much comment. The details of the killing of Aegisthus show that Orestes’ exploit is unheroic and sinful. The sordid fact does not deserve Electra’s exalted praises. After the messenger’s description of the hospitality of Aegisthus, we are introduced to the quiet and conciliatory Clymenestra. Electra taunts her. She is not moved by her conciliatory gestures. She forces her brother to kill their defenseless mother. Then at the crucial moment the sword falls from her hand. Thus the actual killing is done by Orestes. After the deed is done, they are left alone in a persecutory world. They are condemned by the furies and are compelled to part at a time when only they could have consoled each other.

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