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Importance Of The Tutor In Electra

1629 words - 7 pages

Importance of the Tutor in Electra

When delving into a novel, drama or other character-based text, analysts often focus their search around the supposed "major characters" who seem to most directly affect the work. In considering Electra, however, just as valuable as Orestes, Clytemnestra or Electra herself is a somewhat minor character, the Tutor. This attendant of Orestes emerges only three times and is on stage for less than twenty percent of the spoken lines, yet his role in driving the plot is as great as any. If Aristotle, one of the true masters of ancient thought, is correct in saying "The Plot, then, is the first principle, and, as it were, the soul of a tragedy," then the Tutor can truly be considered one of the most significant characters in the entire drama.

    The relationship between the Tutor and Aristotle's conception of tragedy can be carried further, for in his Poetics Aristotle claims, "Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is complete and whole...A whole that has a beginning, a middle, and an end." If this is believed, the Tutor's appearances become an even better match for the tragic form. His three presentations on stage are quite auspicious numerically, and geometrically they form a nearly perfect spread from beginning to middle to end. With each of these appearances the Tutor sets in motion some critical aspect of the plot, thus making himself an agent of another of Aristotle's notions: "But most important of all is the structure of the incidents. For Tragedy is an imitation, not of men, but of an action and of life, and life consists in action." The Tutor truly drives the action of this play, functioning as a glue to hold the plot together and as a catalyst to keep it moving forward.

    The Tutor's first appearance comes with the very opening of the drama where he engages Orestes in conversation. This should immediately suggest his vital position, for as Theodorus in Aristotle's Politics suggests, "an audience always takes kindly to the first voice that meets their ears." In his description of Mycenae the Tutor lays out the setting for the piece along with crucial background details, revealing the facts of Agamemnon's death, Orestes' exile and the mission of vengeance within the first twenty lines. By allowing this seemingly minor character to establish the tone of the play Sophocles could be offering hints to his importance, and possibly even more so with the subjectivity that is allowed to enter his speech. The Tutor does not simply recount neutral details but exalts Agamemnon as having "led the Greeks / To Troy"(2-3), thus setting a precedent to later lead the audience to side with Orestes' need for revenge rather than Clytemnestra's claim to a justified killing. Early evidence of the Tutor's catalytic role also appears in this opening speech where he urges Orestes, "I / Took you to safety, I have brought you up / To manhood. Now you must avenge your father"(12-14). This inspiration quickly acquires...

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