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Saturday, February 12, 2011

ambiguity & irony in Sophocles' Electra — part 2

Once again we see Electra using vague language which will be [mis]understood by Aegisthus who in his six line speech commands silence and to have the gates thrown open so that the public can see the dead body of Orestes and put away vain hope of being delivered by Orestes from tyranny of Clytaemnestra and her consort Aegisthus. Electra's response sounds uncharacteristically docile. Aegisthus reads her remarks as a capitulation to his demands. But the audience knows better. Electra has done her part, deceiving Aegisthus. She is now turning over the lead to those who have the upper hand, Orestes and Pylades. This double sense of Electra's lines illustrates how scenarios function to constrain the interpretation of an utterance. Up to this point Electra has helped reinforce Aegisthus' misunderstanding of the scenario by saying things that could be construed to support Aegisthus' view of the situation. At the same time her language also fits the true scenario understood by the audience and other dramatic participants.   

Sophocles Electra  1456-1465
You've given me reason to rejoice, not typical of you.
What ever turns you on.
Shut up bitch and open the gates
so every Myckenaian and Argive will see
and not entertain vain hopes of deliverance
from this man [Orestes], seeing his body
they will take the bit and finding good sense
I will not need to use force against them.
My part in this is complete [opens the gates]
for in time I have learned the good sense
to cooperate with those who have the upper hand.


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