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Electra | Study Guide


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Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of the Exodos of Sophocles's play Electra.

Electra | Exodos | Summary



Electra comes out of the palace and tells the chorus that Clytemnestra is decorating Orestes's urn for burial. Electra acts as a lookout to watch for Aegisthus's return. Inside, Clytemnestra cries out, begging for mercy. Electra comments that Clytemnestra showed no mercy to the child Orestes or to his father. Clytemnestra cries out again as Orestes kills her. The deed done, Orestes and Pylades return to report on the success of the plan so far. Electra sees Aegisthus coming, and the two men go back inside.

Aegisthus arrives and happily asks where he can find the messengers who have brought Orestes's body. He commands the gates be opened so that supporters of Orestes can see the body and know their cause is lost. The doors of the palace open and reveal Orestes and Pylades standing beside a covered corpse. Aegisthus pulls back the covering and, seeing that the corpse is Clytemnestra, realizes the man beside him is Orestes. Electra tells her brother to kill Aegisthus quickly. Orestes leads Aegisthus into the house to kill him in the same location Aegisthus killed Agamemnon. The chorus sings its congratulations to the House of Atreus.


The exodos comprises the climax and resolution of the play and ends with the chorus's final comments and exit. The climax—the killing of Clytemnestra—takes place in the palace. The characters offer plot-driven reasons why Clytemnestra—and later Aegisthus—must die offstage. But the real reason is that in Greek drama, no violence was permitted onstage. Nonetheless, Clytemnestra's murder is horrifying, even if the murder does not take place before the eyes of the audience. As her mother is murdered, Electra listens eagerly and eggs her brother on to greater violence: "Smite, if thou canst, once more!" Her comments are personal; for example, she calls out to Clytemnestra, who is begging Orestes to have mercy, "Thou hadst none for him, nor for the father that begat him." The chorus, in contrast, offers a more sweeping view of the incident, linking it to the family's long and bloody history: "Ill-fated realm and race, now the fate that hath pursued thee day by day is dying,—is dying!"

The chorus involves itself very directly in events, warning that Aegisthus is coming and urging Orestes to "make with all speed for the vestibule" so that the second murder will be as successful as the first. What follows is another scheme based on disguise and deception, which also has its roots in the lie that Orestes is dead. But this time it is Clytemnestra's body that is disguised, and for the third time since Paedagogus's messenger speech, Orestes reveals himself to be alive and the instrument of revenge and justice.

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