Compare the portrayal of Clytaemnestra in both Aeschylus' Agamemnon and Euripides' Electra. Which portrayal do you think is more effective and why?
The character of Clytaemnestra is portrayed very differently in both Aeschylus' Agamemnon and Euripides' Electra. In Agamemnon, we see a very strong female ruler, who is completely absorbed by her passion for vengeance, whereas the figure in Electra is far more maternal, and shows a concern for her family and reputation, which was not apparent in Aeschylus' play. This subdued version of Clytaemnestra shows a stark contrast to the fierce and dominant character in Agamemnon, however both characters remain fascinating for different reasons.
The Clytaemnestra of Agamemnon seems to be fearless of retribution, with an infallible belief in her own righteousness; 'I have no fear that his avenger's tread shall shake this house'. In Electra, however, we see a very different character, humbled over the years, and afraid of Orestes, 'I'm terrified...they say he is full of anger for his father's death'. These different reactions to the same topic emphasise how greatly the character of Clytaemnestra differs in each play, from the meek and subdued housewife of Electra, to the self-assured and confident murderess of Agamemnon.
One explanation for the changes in character of Clytaemnestra in these plays is the timescale in which they are set. The events in Electra happen several years after those in Agamemnon, and the more mature and calmer Clytaemnestra we see portrayed in Euripides' play could be due to the effect of time on her, and the fact that she has had several years in which to reflect upon her actions and realise the full extent of the crimes that she committed against her husband. In Electra, Clytaemnestra states 'how bitterly I regret it now' with regards to the murder she has committed, showing that she has indeed been thinking about the events of the past and repents her actions. This Clytaemnestra is very subdued in comparison to the character portrayed by Aeschylus, and although we can see some evidence of the passion and raw energy that made the character so fascinating in Agamemnon, for instance when she attempts to justify her murder of Agamemnon to her daughter; 'why should he not die?' it is clear in Electra that Clytaemnestra is to take second stage to her daughter in regards to unhindered fury and a lust for vengeance. This older, wiser Clytaemnestra still remains crucial to the plot, but not as a central character, and is merely a shadow of her former self, the confident, powerful creature who dictated the action of Aeschylus' play.