A tragedy written by Sophocles.
Orestes and friends arrive in Argos, with the intent to take revenge on his mother Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus for the murder of his father Agamemnon. His younger sister Electra meanwhile is busy lamenting Agamemnon's death and cursing her mother and step-father for her wretched existence. The Chorus try to calm her down, but she is completely consumed by her passion. Chrysothemis, her surviving sister, appears on her way to leave grave gifts from Clytemnestra at Agamemnon's tomb, and fails to convince her to act meekly to protect herself. Electra manages to convince Chrysothemis not to leave false gifts at the grave, but otherwise dismisses her completely.
Clytemnestra arrives to mock Electra and together they receive a messenger bearing news of Orestes' death. Orestes being her last hope, Electra is devastated, whereas Clytemnestra is greatly relieved. Chrysothemis returns happily to tell Electra that Orestes must have returned, as she saw a gold lock of hair on Agamemnon's tomb. Electra tells her this is impossible, and tries to persuade her to help kill Aegisthus. Chrysothemis rejects her and leaves Electra to her mourning.
Orestes arrives in disguise to convey his own ashes to his mother but stops to talk to Electra on the way. Eventually seeing how overwrought she is, he reveals his identity and they happily reunite. When the moment finally presents itself, he kills both Clytemnestra and Aegisthus, as Electra revels in her salvation.
Sophocles principally focuses on Electra's destructive passions and bloodlust. Euripides also wrote an Electra based on the same story which is a rather different play. Aeschylus' The Libation Bearers treats the same events as well, as part of Cycle of Revenge Trilogy The Oresteia. Jean Giraudoux's adaptation adds anachronistic elements and additional Greek Chorus characters, as well as exploring the tragically self-defeating nature of focusing on revenge.
This play contains examples of:
- Abusive Parents: Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. They verbally abuse Electra, utterly neglect her, and eventually plan to seal her up in a cave to die. It's no wonder that Electra is a total fuck-up.
- Antagonist in Mourning: After hearing about Orestes' supposed death, Clytemnestra is mainly relieved that someone who was trying to kill her is dead but admits she feels some sadness about losing him.
- Big Brother Worship: Electra worships Orestes, but it is entirely contingent on the fact that she thinks he will kill Clytemnestra one day. If he chose to stay happily in exile for the rest of his life she'd probably disown him, but as her only ally and potential saviour he is the recipient of all her love.
- Big Damn Reunion: Electra and Orestes finally get reunited near the end of the play.
- Black Sheep: Though Electra is treated like this for her obstinate behaviour, it's really Chrysothemis that is the Black Sheep (or possibly White Sheep) of the family. She's meek, feminine, and is the only one in the family who hasn't conspired to murder someone. In reality, Electra very much resembles the mother she loathes.
- In the Giraudoux version, she's a little girl and doesn't appear onstage; Clytemnestra mentions her once. All we know of her is that she loves flowers.
- Broken Bird: Electra, consumed by her hate and pain, has grown bitter to terrible degrees.
- Brother–Sister Team: Electra and Orestes, though not in a "to inspire kids" kind of way.
- Character Title
- Child Supplants Parent: Electra is morbidly attached to her father and wants her mother dead.
- Come to Gawk: Clytemnestra acts like this to Electra, especially with the (supposed) death of Orestes.
- Deceased Parents Are the Best: Agamemnon to Electra.
- Despair Event Horizon: Electra spends the whole play grieving, but truly crosses it when she hears that Orestes is dead, deciding to try to kill her mother and Aegisthus herself because she doesn't care if she dies in the process anymore.
- Determinator: Electra will relentlessly hold onto her hatred at her own expense until her father's murderers are brought to justice.
- Due to the Dead: Frequent throughout the story. Electra refuses to stop mourning her father until he is avenged. After having a foreboding dream, Clytemnestra sends grave offerings with Chrysothemis in hopes of appeasing Agamemnon's spirit. Electra stops her because a false offering would be an even worse slight to her father; Chrysothemis takes locks of their hair instead, only to find Orestes had done the same, despite receiving news of his death. Electra immediately begins ritual mourning once she hears her beloved brother has died in a chariot race.
- Evil Uncle: Aegisthus probably counts, being an evil cousin who is now her step-father.
- Faking the Dead: Orestes fakes his death for quite a long period of time before he returns, with the old slave helping him even inventing an elaborate story about how he died.
- Fatal Flaw: Electra's unrelenting lust for revenge and her obsession with her brother, Orestes, and her father, Agamemnon.
- Get It Over With: Aegisthus asks Orestes why he insists on taking him into the house and then killing him when Orestes can just kill him right there.
- Greek Chorus: Particularly in the Giraudoux version, which adds the Beggar, possibly one of the gods in disguise, and expands the role of the gardener, who gets a monologue at the beginning of the second act to explain to the audience that the play is going to end very tragically, but he's no longer part of it.
- Ignored Epiphany: Subverted in the Giraudoux version as Electra point-blank refuses to let Aegisthus become an upright and wise ruler living Happily Ever After with Clytemnestra.
- Knight Templar: Electra refuses to morally compromise by living peacefully with Clytemnestra and Aegisthus, because that would be excusing them of their murder of Agamemnon and being a coward who dishonors him while living a life of luxury. Her refusal goes to the point of gleefully cheering on their murder.
- Know When to Fold 'Em: Everyone except Orestes tells Electra to do this, especially Chrysothemis after Electra learns of Orestes' death. Instead she determines to kill Aegisthus herself.
- Matricide: Orestes ends up killing his mother, with his sister Electra's help.
- Offing the Offspring: This was in the cards for Electra before Orestes returns to save her.
- Ironic since Clytemnestra justified the murder of Agamemnon as revenge for him sacrificing their daughter Iphigenia so he could go start a war.
- Pay Evil unto Evil: Murdering your mother is admittedly bad, but if the gods are on your side it's acceptable.
- Not only they're on your side, they will fuck your shit up if you don't do it. And you do NOT want to call down the Furies on your head.
- Princess Protagonist: Electra is the daughter of Agamemnon, the king of Argos.
- Promotion to Parent: Electra describes how she took care of Orestes as a young child when their mother didn't, and sent him away to protect him from Clytemnestra and Aegisthus.
- Proper Lady: Chrysothemis, fitting as she is also the White Sheep.
- Royally Screwed Up: Thanks to the curse on the house of Atreus, they all fit in (unless you see Chrysothemis as the Only Sane Man).
- Sealed Room in the Middle of Nowhere: Aegisthus plans to seal Electra up in one.
- Self-Made Orphan: Orestes by the end. Electra likes to see herself as somewhat responsible too.
- Senseless Sacrifice: Chrysothemis refuses to help Electra because she feels that not only will they likely die in the process of trying to avenge their father's death, but their deaths wouldn't accomplish anything.
- Stereotype Flip: Chrysothemis is very clear on the point that Electra is not behaving like a woman should at all.
- Talking Is a Free Action: subverted: Orestes and Electra have quite a long conversation when the latter finds out the former is still alive, but they get interrupted by the old slave calling them out for wasting precious time they need to carry out their planned murders without being caught. Later on, Orestes stops Aegisthus from making any speech before he is killed.
- The Un-Favourite: Electra; even when she loathes her mother and step-father and isn't hesistant about letting it be known, it's not like she deserves to be left to die in a sealed cave either. Orestes is too, but has been in exile since childhood so it's not as obvious.
- Unreliable Narrator: Is Electra truly being mistreated by her mother and Aegisthus? Or is she insane and out of touch with reality? The only evidence we have for Clytemnestra and Aegisthus treating her badly is Electra's word for it. In some translations, she comes off as a border-line psychopathic spoiled brat who only wants revenge for Agamemnon to get back at her mother for being mean to her.
- You Killed My Father: Orestes kills his mother and Aegisthus for it. Electra doesn't kill anyone, but boy would she ever love to.