An investigation into how 'moral obligation' and its associated values are represented and translated in Sophocles' and Euripides' Electra.
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An investigation into how 'moral obligation' and its associated values are represented and translated in Sophocles' and Euripides' Electra. Moral obligation is, according to Collins English Dictionary, 'Arising from conscience or the sense of right and wrong'. This conundrum is one that affects the keys protagonists of the tragic story of the line of Pelops has been told many times and forms the basis of many Greek plays. The plays of Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides also deal with the aftermath of the final murder, that of Clytaemnestra and her lover. It is within this background that I would like to study the idea of moral obligation and how it effects and motivates the characters involved. Clytaemnestra states (Sophocles, Translator Watling, E.F., 'Electra and other plays', 1953, lines 524-526, Penguin Books) that Electra should have obeyed her duty whilst Electra holds her duty to watch she feels is a higher order. Many of the Greek plays share the concept of a duty to many things including their husbands (Alcestis), ancestors (Orestia), the Gods and to principles. I would like to understand the conflicting views of obligation through just one short story, the revenge of Electra and Orestes. The idea of duty, revenge, obligation justice and honour are all areas that the Greek theatre makes use of and I feel that gaining a better understanding of these, especially that of obligation will greatly help in my understanding of the attitudes of both the playwright, and that of characters in the plays.
Sophocles' and Euripdies' Electra and Aescylus' Orestia are the main plays of interest with the Orestia offering a unique perspective as it encompasses the entire tragic story in a trilogy. Sophocles' Electra has an advantage as I have just studied the play in a similar direction towards the meaning of justice that is directly relevant to this study. The Orestia may be too much to work with only 3,000 words available for the final essay though it would be useful for a more thorough analysis at a later date. A contrasting pair of tragic and melodrama from Sophocles and Euripides will be my preferred choice for now. The translations by Watling (Sophocles, Translator Watling, E.F., 'Electra and other plays', 1953, Penguin Books) and Davie (Euripides, Translator Davie, J., 'Electra and other plays', 1998, Penguin Books) The two plays will need to be split into several key themes that can then be compared to each other rather than as one play versus another. These themes can comprise of such events as Clytaemnestra player, her argument(s) with Electra, the scene of the final murders and the motivations and character of Orestes. I would like to choose no more that 4 key themes from the plays given me a total of 8 extracts to compare and analyse. Euripides' version of Electra differs in that it acts as a kind of parody of Aeschylus' version of events, especially in that Electra and Orestes commit suicide.
Even with the study of the actually plays the material is covered by three of the most famous playwrights, Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. The in-depth study of the story of Electra and Orestes is out of the question for a work this small and by selecting one or two plays I will be hampering a full understanding of the topic of duty. This is a necessity given the space available and I must be very careful not to over extend and make it clear where further work could and should be carried out. The second problem is that of studying the plays in translation. This creates many difficulties, especially when comparing different plays by different playwrights and translators. Much of the original meaning can be lost and it is up to me to use varied translations and rely upon other more recent literature and analysis to bridge any gaps. The greatest problem of all however is space. This topic could easily form the part of a major dissertation on the idea of moral obligation in the plays of a particular playwright or across a genre. I must not try to produce a mini dissertation but a concise answer to my question. Bibliography Collins English Dictionary, Millennium Edition, 2000, pg 1010, Harper Collins Sophocles, Translator Watling, E.F., 'Electra and other plays', 1953, Penguin Books Euripides, Translator Davie, J.
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