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Electra | Plot Summary

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Summary

Upon reaching age 20 Orestes arrives in Mycenae to exact revenge on his father's murderers. He is accompanied by his friend Pylades and his friend and former tutor, Paedagogus, who rescued him after the murder of his father, Agamemnon. Orestes has Paedagogus pretend to be a messenger bringing the news that Orestes has died in a chariot accident.

The men leave, and Electra arrives, still mourning her father years after his death. She reviews how he died: her mother and Aegisthus "cleft his head with murderous axe." Then her mother married Aegisthus, who now rules beside her. In a lengthy interaction the chorus urges Electra to restrain her grief and rage, a scene that serves to establish Electra's personality and the contrast that follows between Electra and Chrysothemis.

Electra talks with her younger sister Chrysothemis, who has a more practical approach to the situation; instead of being intent on revenge, she feels it best to keep her head down and make the best of the circumstances. She counsels her sister to stop insisting on mourning their father so that Aegisthus will not imprison Electra. Chrysothemis tells her she is on the way to their father's grave with funeral libations, a liquid poured on graves as an offering to the gods. The libations are from their mother, who has been frightened by a nightmare about Agamemnon. Electra tells Chrysothemis to throw away Clytemnestra's libations and to put libations from them on the grave instead. Chrysothemis goes off to do so.

Electra next talks with Clytemnestra, who defends her actions, saying she was right to kill Agamemnon because he had sacrificed Electra's older sister Iphigenia to the goddess Artemis. Electra argues that he had no choice and points out that Clytemnestra has also committed murder by killing Agamemnon so that she could be with Aegisthus, and therefore she should also die. Electra and her mother continue to argue until Paedagogus arrives disguised as a messenger. He tells them Orestes has been killed in a chariot race and that an urn containing his ashes will be arriving shortly. Clytemnestra's response mingles sadness and relief. She has lived in fear that Orestes, who threatened to avenge his father's death, would return to kill her one day. Electra, however, is inconsolable in response to the news of her brother's death.

Chrysothemis returns from their father's grave with joyous news: Orestes has returned and left offerings on their father's grave. Electra tells her Orestes is dead and that the gifts must have been placed there in his memory. Electra begs Chrysothemis to help her avenge their father, but Chrysothemis continues to counsel caution. She implores Electra to be wise and restrain herself.

Orestes returns in disguise, bringing a funeral urn that supposedly contains his ashes. Electra holds the urn, crying over the loss of her brother and the end of her hopes for her family. Unable to bear her sorrow, Orestes reveals his true identity, showing her their father's signet (a small personal seal used as a formal signature on official documents) to prove it. She rejoices, but he cautions her to hide her joy so as not to give them away. Paedagogus comes out of the palace, tells them to keep quiet, and says they must act immediately because Clytemnestra is alone.

While Electra watches out for Aegisthus's return, Orestes and his friends go inside and kill Clytemnestra, whose frantic cries can be heard. Orestes briefly reappears to report on his success, then goes back into the palace. Aegisthus arrives and wants to see Orestes's body. The doors of the palace open to reveal Orestes and Pylades standing beside a covered corpse. Aegisthus pulls back the covering and is stunned to see Clytemnestra's body. Orestes leads Aegisthus away to his death. The chorus rejoices that the House of Atreus has been freed of its curse.

Electra Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction

Introduction

1 Orestes arrives in Mycenae to avenge Agamemnon.

Rising Action

2 Clytemnestra has a prophetic nightmare about Agamemnon.

3 Clytemnestra defends her murder of Agamemnon to Electra.

4 A messenger announces Orestes is dead.

5 Chrysothemis refuses to help Electra avenge their father.

6 Orestes reveals himself to Electra, who rejoices.

Climax

7 Orestes kills Clytemnestra.

Falling Action

8 Aegisthus discovers his lover is dead and Orestes is alive.

Resolution

9 Orestes kills Aegisthus.

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