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Julian Meynell's Books

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Sophocles' Electra

Electra - Sophocles, Anne Carson, Michael Shaw

It is interesting reading Electra where the subject matter was also treated by Aeschylus and Euripides.  I haven't read Euripides treatment, but I think I preferred Aeschylus treatment, because his way of writing is so overwrought and it suits the subject matter better.  None the less Sophocles treatment is good and dramatic.  The end of the play has a good shocking and bloody climax.  The writing itself is memorable.


Having said that, I'm not sure the play is all that sophisticated in its ideas.  There is no real interrogation of the myth.  The modern reader is liable to think that Clytemnestra is not so evil in killing her husband because he killed her daughter, and the distinction made by the Greeks that Agamemnon's  murder is at most unfortunate whereas Clytemnestra's is monstrous is liable to seem hypocritical at best, although for the Greek's both the fact that Artemis demanded Agamemnon sacrifice his daughter, and there patriarchal society make the difference.


The real interest in the play is directly tied to the fact that the Greeks were a patriarchal society.  Electra focuses on the character of Electra who is a strong and fascinating woman driven by a demand for justice, her sister and mother and the chorus are also women, so the play is female dominated.  Electra herself gets far more lines than any of the other characters.  The Greeks were to a surprising degree extremely patriarchal and are on the extreme of there patriarchal tendencies for the ancient Mediterranean world.


Despite this, in Greek theatre we see again and plays with major female characters who are powerful and wilful.  Electra is not the best example of this, but it is a good one and her character is fascinating.  From Greek history, one would think that the Greeks had only one gender, but here in there theatre we see powerful Greek women come to life.

I like Electra but perhaps not as much as I am meant to.  I would say its probably my least favorite play by Sophocles so far, and amongst my least favorite of Greek theatre.