Analysis: Plot Analysis
Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.
The boys are back in town.
Or rather, one boy in particular – Orestes. As we find out a bit later, Orestes has been promising to return to Mycenae for ages, and it's only now that he's gotten around to it. Scholar Pat Easterling refers to this as "zero hour," and points out that many of Sophocles plays begin this same way.
Electra wants revenge! But she's in danger…
The central conflict is that Clytemnestra and Aegisthus are murderers, and have yet to be punished for their deeds. But Chrysothemis raises the conflict stakes when she reveals to her sister that Aegisthus has plans for her that involve a slow and painful death inside an abandoned cave, presumably where no one can her scream.
Electra thinks her brother is dead, also known as Tremendous Lack of Foresight on Orestes's part; the moral waters are muddied.
We're going to talk about complication on two different levels:
- The Action Complication: Orestes forgets to tell Electra that the story of his death is fake. We worry that Electra will do something rash in her grief.
- The Thematic Complication: Clytemnestra defends herself to Electra. According to the Queen, Agamemnon killed his own daughter, (Iphigenia), so it's OK that Clytemnestra killed him. By this reasoning, Clytemnestra herself deserves to die. Except, also by this reasoning, Electra and Orestes will deserve to die should they carry through their vengeful deed…
This is the moment the play has been building towards – revenge against the woman who murdered her husband. For the main character, Electra, this is an emotional and decisive climax. Electra is fully committed to the action, as we gather from her urging Orestes to strike the Queen a second blow.
That Brief Scene Between Orestes and Aegisthus
This scene is edge-of-your-seat action because we know something that Aegisthus doesn't: Clytemnestra's dead body is under the sheet. We're tingling with anticipation while Orestes slowly reveals his identity.
Orestes ushers Aegisthus inside to murder him off stage.
Certainly not the heart-thumping action of Clytemnestra's death. This death is anti-climactic, a forgone conclusion.
Depends on your translation.
Most translations render the Chorus's final stanza congratulatory, a sort of, "Yes! Electra, you did it!" kind of thing. But David Raeburn (translator of the Penguin Classics edition) nods to the play's moral ambiguity in his translation, suggesting that Electra's feud has come to an end, but so has her moral character. See "What's Up With the Ending?" for more juicy details.