Friday, January 24, 2014
The Timing of Orestes' Reveal
When I read Taplin’s chapter on scenic sequence, the scene in Electra in which Orestes finally reveals himself to Electra came to mind. The placement of this scene intrigued me; as to an impatient audience it seems rather overdue. Orestes has been in the picture since the first scene, however he doesn’t return until 900 lines later. He has even heard Electra’s voice from the house and still decided not to check on her. Furthermore when he does approach Electra, he doesn’t reveal his identity until after a good amount of dialogue with her. Personally, this was painful for me to read. Our sympathies are with Electra. The only person who could make her truly happy is standing about a foot away from her talking with her and she doesn’t realize who he is. “Hasn’t this girl been through enough, Orestes?” I thought, irked at the insensitivity of the man. However upon further consideration and an effort to visualize the scene on a stage I realized that Orestes was acting in his own self-preservation. He needed to gage Electra’s true motivations for himself before he revealed his identity. The delayed reveal and stichomythia that led up to it provided an even more dramatic and satisfying reunion. The dramatic reveal within this scene highlights the emotional rollercoaster on which Electra is a permanent passenger: within seconds she goes from grief stricken to elation. Electra’s ability to passionately succumb to her feelings and beliefs is one of her crowning characteristics and this scene is demonstrative of that aspect of her character. Also, the fact that Orestes did not try to contact Electra when he first arrived is indicative of a huge difference between the two characters. Whereas Electra is passionate, Orestes is rational. He values the success of his plan more than the immediate gratification of seeing his sister. Even though I sympathized with Electra and was frustrated by Orestes choice to keep her ignorant, I realize the merit in Sophocles placing the scene where he did. This scene marks a turning point in the play. It marks the end of a set up and the beginning of the action. It marks a power shift from Clytaimestra and Agisthos to Electra and Orestes. And it provides relief for the audience and leaves them bristling with excitement for the gristly events ahead.