The Tension between Past and Present in the Chorus of Electra: Sophocles and Strauss

Master's Thesis


This thesis examines the dismantling of the chorus’ functions in Sophocles’ Electra in Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Richard Strauss’ opera adaptation of the play in order to demonstrate that this action reflects Hofmannsthal’s personal literary crisis, which involved the tension between literary tradition and innovation.

The first chapter explores the classical Greek tragic chorus as a locus of societal and civic tension, and then traces the development of the chorus in the context of opera in order to show that this structural element of the genre is in fact the inheritor of these tensions, which stem from competing interpretations of past and present within the civic and ritualized context of classical Greek tragic performances.

The second chapter then offers a comparative analysis of Sophocles’ play and Hofmannsthal’s libretto, citing Freudian psychoanalysis as a formative context for Hofmannsthal’s innovation and subsequent representation of his own literary crisis.

The final chapter examines the musical formulae of Strauss’ score in order to demonstrate that they highlight the literary innovations that Hofmannsthal has made, focusing on the extreme isolation of the heroine and the competing forces of past and present within the work.


Attribute NameValues
Author Sean M. Kelly
Contributor Christopher Baron, Committee Member
Contributor Pierpaolo Polzonetti, Committee Member
Contributor Isabelle Torrance, Research Director
Degree Level Master's Thesis
Degree Discipline Classics
Degree Name Master of Arts
Submission Date 2016-05-04
  • Greek tragedy

  • Opera

  • Reception

  • German

  • Ancient Greek

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units

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