Jadwiga Jankowska-Cieślak as Electra in Warsaw, 1973
Written byJean Giraudoux
ChorusThe Eumenides
CharactersAgamemnon, Iphigenia, Clytemnestra, Aegisthus, Orestes, Electra
Date premiered13 May 1937
Place premieredThéâtre de l'Athénée in Paris
Original languageFrench
SubjectElectra and her brother Orestes plot revenge against their mother Clytemnestra and stepfather Aegisthus for the murder of their father, Agamemnon
SettingMythological ancient Greece

Electra (French title: Électre) is a two-act play written in 1937 by French dramatist Jean Giraudoux. It was the first Giraudoux play to employ the staging of Louis Jouvet. Based on the classic myth of antiquity, Electra has a surprisingly tragic force, without losing the spirit and sparkling humor that made Jean Giraudoux one of the most important playwrights of the mid twentieth century.

Original productions

Électre was translated into English as Electra in 1955 by Winifred Smith,[1] and again in 1964 by Phyllis La Farge and Peter H. Judd.[2][3]

Électre was first performed on 13 May 1937[4] in Paris at the Théâtre de l'Athénée in a production by Louis Jouvet.[5]

Plot summary

Agamemnon, The King of Argos, had sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia to the gods. In revenge, his wife, Clytemnestra, assisted by her lover, Aegisthus, killed him on his return from the Trojan War. Orestes, the son was banished, but the second daughter Electra was allowed to remain: "She does nothing, says nothing. But she is there". As the play opens, Aegisthus wants to marry her to the palace gardener in order to deflect towards "the house of Théocathoclès anything that might cast an unfortunate light on the house of Atreus."

Electra, with the assistance of her easily dominated brother Orestes, who has returned from banishment, relentlessly seeks the murderer of her father, while feeling an implacable hatred for her mother. Eventually Electra and Orestes themselves are destroyed by the curse that follows the house of Atreus.

Giraudoux's play is a rewriting of the myth, taken from an epic passage in Homer's Odyssey. It had previously been rendered in tragedies by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides in the 5th century BC.

With many anachronistic changes, including the role of the bourgeois couple as a burlesque reflection of the tragic couple, Elektra is another example of the timelessness of the tragedy. Written in 1937, it would in effect be a "bourgeois tragedy", according to Jean Giraudoux himself.

The quest for the truth

This is the main theme of the play. Electra comes from the Greek Elektra which means "light". Electra is there to shed light on the events, to illuminate the truth. Thanks to her presence, many characters will reveal "their" truth, such as Agathe in Act II, 6. In addition, Electra and Aegisthus declare themselves throughout the play.

The character of the beggar (at once god, beggar and director) helps restore the truth. It is he who explains how the story unfolds, who recounts the murder of Agamemnon, and also that of Aegisthus and Clytemnestra.

The last scene shows Electra, in restoring the truth, cursed and dispossessed, decimating the city. The splendor of this truth was too violent. The last line, "It has a beautiful name, Narses, it is called the dawn" ends the play on a delicious note of ambiguity.



Other characters



  1. ^ Bentley, Eric, The Modern Theatre, Volume 1, 5 Plays, edited by Eric Bentley, Anchor, January, 1955, ASIN B00150AB5S
  2. ^ Giraudoux, Jean (1964), Three Plays, vol 2, Translated by Phyllis La Farge and Peter H. Judd, Hill and Wang, New York
  3. ^ Cohen, Robert (1968), Jean Giraudoux; Three Faces of Destiny, p. 157, University of Chicago Press, Chicago. ISBN 0-226-11248-9
  4. ^ Grossvogel, David I. (1958), 20th Century French Drama, p. 341, Columbia University Press, New York.
  5. ^ Inskip, Donald, (1958), Jean Giraudoux, The Making of a Dramatist, p. 182, Oxford University Press, New York.