Nearly every critic to have written on Galdós's theatre as a whole has recognized the enormous advance that it represents in the history of contemporary Spanish drama64. Yet nothing better than the playwright's own words demonstrates how keenly he was aware of the causes of the late nineteenth-century theatre's decadence and of the steps that should be taken in order to revitalize its former prestige. Two remarkable passages illustrate these points. In the first, Galdós manifests his disgust with contemporary theatre:
|(Nuestro teatro 154-55)|
In the second, he takes aim at a single culprit:
|(Nuestro teatro 141-42)|
With characteristic perspicacity and foresight, Galdós perfectly captures in these passages the dilemma of contemporary theatre -artistic stagnation and bourgeois ideology- some twenty years before a famous letter of protest against Echegaray was signed by a star-studded array of Hispanic writers and intellectuals65.
One of the elements that Galdós probably objected to most in Echegaray's theatre was the subjection of human passion to what Ruiz Ramón calls «un sistemático proceso de falseamiento, de medular vaciamiento de su verdad humana» (459). The character, Tarsis, of El caballero encantado (1909) might well be speaking for Galdós when he states that «Toda nuestra literatura dramática es esencialmente latosa, toda convencional, —106→ encogida, sin médula pasional, cuando no es grosera y desquiciada» (232). Written in 1885, the second passage cited above may be read as a plea to Echegaray to free desire from the conventional constraints that deform it and drain its dramatic force. When, by the end of the century, this plea had not been answered, Galdós decided to take matters into his own hands. Using his novelistic fame as capital, he started writing for the stage in the 1890s and achieved moderate success throughout the decade66. Encouraged by these events, he began preparing a work that was destined to scandalize the country but that, despite its title, has never been noted for its ingenious adaptation of myth and bold reinscription of desire.
Much of what has been written about Electra (1901) is devoted to the extraordinary contemporary circumstances that accompanied its performance, an event that E. Inman Fox calls «one of the most important happenings in the intellectual history of Spain at the turn of the century» (131). The attention paid to this aspect of the play is certainly understandable, for the staging of Electra was believed to have contributed to the fall of the Conservative government in power at the time, as well as to the verdict handed down in a contemporary lawsuit. In addition, the début caused riots in the streets of Madrid and prompted several provincial churches to declare attendance at its performance a mortal sin67. Unfortunately, the sensational nature of these events has tended to distract attention from the content of the play, and most of the critics who bother to engage the piece as dramatic literature find it mediocre at best, flawed, they feel, by inexplicable and superfluous elements and by Galdós's supposed inability to distinguish the narrative from the theatrical genre. Nevertheless, many of the elements that critics have read as forced or contrived make perfect sense when read in the context of the myth of Electra68.
The classical model suggests itself at once in the title of the play. Even so, most readers who discuss the title either express mystification or categorically deny that Galdós's Electra has anything to do with the ancient plays69. Some of these explain the title as a pun on «electricidad» which at the time symbollized progress and the triumph of science over stagnation and superstition. Others more willing to concede a classical precedent do so only briefly or in the vaguest of terms70. Despite this critical reticence, it is possible from today's vantage point to find in 1901 a Galdós who was already beginning to manifest in his theatre a love and knowledge of Greek myth and literature that would culminate in the composition of Alceste (1914), a skilful and undeniable adaptation of Euripides's play of the same title71.
Galdós specifies that the action of Electra is set in contemporary Madrid, and the only explicit reference to the classical Electra within the play occurs in the following exchange between Urbano and the Marqués de Ronda:
|(850; Act 1, Scene 2)72|
The marqués's explanation, which denies the «grande novedad» of Electra's name has seemed to satisfy most readers of the play. By locating the origin of the name in a nickname of Eleuteria -a nickname, furthermore, itself apparently related to Electra's grandfather- Galdós plays with his readers, as he does so often in his narrative works, feeding them information that serves to placate their curiosity and distract them from crucial interpretative clues73. The fact is that Electra's relationship to her mother and father in the play duplicates rather closely the basic structure of the myth.
In the first place, Eleuteria's name, as Sobejano has recognized («Echegaray» 115), denotes freedom in Greek («eleutheria»). Sobejano interprets the name as symbolic of Electra's quest for freedom, but it is also indicative of the promiscuity or sexual freedom of Eleuteria, whose escapades scandalized Madrid from 1880 to 1885, according to Urbano (850; 1.2). Finkenthal is the only critic to have pointed out the evident connection between these events and those of Clytemnestra: «el escandaloso comportamiento de [Eleuteria] durante cinco años recuerda el comportamiento adúltero de la Clitemnestra griega durante la ausencia de su esposo» (137). By giving a sexually promiscuous character a name with potentially positive connotations such as «freedom», Galdós rejects the bourgeois values of the contemporary theatre and overturns the double standard that glorified male sexual exploits while condemning those of women74. In this way he emphasizes the «praiseworthy» qualities of Clytemnestra: her strong-willed, feminine independence and insistence on defending the rights of the dead, characteristics that bring her close to Electra herself75.
Eleuteria is not a one-dimensional character, however, and her independence is not an exclusively positive characteristic. Although she does not murder Electra's father (at least, so far as the readers are told) as Clytemnestra does in the different versions of the myth, her promiscuity and her use of men for her own pleasure do end up producing what amounts to a similar result from Electra's perspective: the absence of a father. Into this void enters a gallery of male figures who will compete for paternity rights, so to speak, to Electra: Urbano García Yuste, Leonardo Cuesta, Salvador Pantoja, and finally, Máximo Yuste. Through their characters more clues turn up that reveal the classical outlines of the play.
Urbano is the husband of Evarista, the first cousin of the deceased Eleuteria. Together they have assumed responsibility for Electra, since they have no children of their own and seem to be constantly in search of new ways to put their considerable wealth, gained through stocks and other investments, to charitable use. Their role as Electra's foster parents comes close to that of the mythical Electra's real parents. It is clear that Evarista is the dominant figure in the marriage and that she is responsible for the decisions regarding Electra. As Urbano tells the marqués later in the play: «Querido marqués, pídame usted que altere, que trastorne todo el sistema planetario, que quite los astros de aquí para ponerlos allá; pero no me pida cosa contraria a los pareceres de mi mujer» (884; 4.4). Urbano's compliance with his wife's every demand recalls the husband-wife relationship of Aeschylus's Agamemnon (an important precursor of the Electra plays), particularly the scene in which the king, on returning home from the war, finds himself unable to refuse his wife's wishes and enters his palace by walking on a purple carpet, an act that seals his doom (lines 914-57)76.—108→
For her part, despite her name («best or noblest one»: perhaps related to her charitable works), Evarista reveals a streak of antimaternalism when she tells Máximo not to bring his children into their house: «No me los traigas, no. Adoro a las criaturas; pero a mi lado no las quiero. Todo me lo revuelven, todo me lo ensucian. El alboroto de sus pataditas, de sus risotadas, de sus berrinches, me enloquece» (861; 2.2). Her ambivalent attitude toward children recalls that of Clytemnestra, who murders her husband to avenge the death of one daughter, Iphigeneia, but treats the other, Electra, with contempt. Sophocles's Clytemnestra describes this ambivalence with characteristic brevity: «Strange ['deinòn': also 'wondrous', 'terrible', 'formidable'] is the force of motherhood ['tíktein']» (Electra 770).
Leonardo Cuesta is an ailing accountant responsible for the financial success of Urbano and Evarista. Early in the play one learns, in addition, that he feels a paternal obligation toward Electra, which, he hints, is a biological one. He reveals that he knew Eleuteria when Electra was still a baby and that when he saw her after her arrival in Madrid he felt «un dulce afecto, el más puro de los afectos, mezclado con alaridos de mi conciencia» (857; 1.9). Confessing a desire to address the consequences of his «errores graves», he explains that he plans to leave Electra a generous inheritance, «lo suficiente para vivir con independencia decorosa» (857; 1.9). When he dies a few days later, Electra loses another father figure.
Salvador Pantoja is the most controversial character of the play. A spiritual advisor of sorts to Evarista, he, like Cuesta, reveals to Electra a dubious past corresponding to the period before she was born: «Cuando yo me envilecí, cuando me encenagué en el pecado, no había usted nacido» (859; 1.11). Also like Cuesta, he tells Electra of an obligation he feels toward her that grows from «mi cariño intensísimo, como la fuerza nace del calor. Y mi protección obra es de mi conciencia» (859; 1.11). Unlike Cuesta, instead of giving her the means with which to become free and independent, he wants to constrict her liberty so that she will not follow in the footsteps of her mother. Scandalized by the young woman's boundless energy and thinly veiled sexuality, he convinces Evarista that the only option is to place Electra somewhere «donde no vea ejemplos de liviandad, ni oiga ninguna palabra con dejos maliciosos [...]. Donde no la trastorne el zumbido de los venenosos pretendientes sin pudor» (868; 2.12). The place he has in mind is the San José de la Penitencia convent, where Eleuteria herself died repenting of the error of her ways.
Although Pantoja is not a priest, his capacity as spiritual advisor to Evarista, his philanthropy toward the Church and the convents, his frequent use of religious metaphor, his tendency to dress all in black, and, whether or not Galdós intended it, the striking similarity of his influence in Electra's life to that of the real-life Father Cermeño in the notorious Ubao case, all lead one to identify in him the «autoritär-klerikale Prinzip» that Hinterhäuser describes (276), if not a more manifestly jesuitical training77. Even if he is not the biological father of Electra, a possibility that he frequently hints at, but never explicitly claims, his spiritual influence over her converts him into another undeniable father figure that calls attention to the absence of her real father.
Pantoja's principal adversary in the struggle over Electra's will is Máximo Yuste (along with his ally, the Marqués de Ronda), the nephew of Evarista and Urbano, who lives and works in an apartment on their estate. A scientist specializing in electrical conduction, —109→ Máximo is a widower with small children. While the closest in age to eighteen-year-old Electra of all the paternal figures mentioned thus far (Urbano is 55; Cuesta and Pantoja, both 50), at 35 Máximo is still old enough to be her father, and this fact is emphasized in the romantic relationship in which they become involved. In the middle of the play, Electra briefly escapes from the tyranny of Pantoja and Evarista and seeks shelter in Máximo's apartment. When she complains to him of the oppression that she feels in the García Yuste household, he responds: «No temas. Confía en mí. Yo te reclamaré como protector tuyo, como maestro» (877; 3.8). Electra accepts and even encourages this father-daughter hierarchy in their relationship, as her astonishing reply demonstrates: «Pero no tardes. Por la salud de tus hijos, Máximo, no tardes. Oye lo que se me ocurre: ¿por qué no me tomas como a uno de tus niños, y me tienes como ellos y con ellos?» (877; 3.8). Later she addresses him as «maestro» (882; 4.2). In the absence of a real father, she has apparently settled on Máximo as a convenient substitute. The love she invests in this relationship is similar to the feelings of the Greek Electra, as Euripides has Clytemnestra explain: «Child, still thy nature bids thee love thy sire. / 'Tis ever thus: some cleave unto their father, / Some more the mothers than the father love» (Electra, lines 1102-04)78.
At the end of Act 3, Máximo and Electra declare their intentions to get married. Although Urbano and Evarista are quite satisfied with this classic solution to Electra's scandalous behaviour, Pantoja is beside himself, and when he is unsuccessful at convincing Evarista to change her mind, he decides to take matters into his own hands. Two scenes later, he confronts Electra and tells her that he cannot avoid causing her «una penita, un sinsabor» (887; 4.8). The dialogue that ensues is crucial to the outcome of the play:
Pantoja is implying, of course, that Lázaro Yuste, Máximo's father, is also her father, hoping that the horror of incest that results from this suggestion will be sufficient to destroy any hopes she has of marrying Máximo.
This is precisely her reaction. Maddened by the possibility that the man she loves is her half-brother, she breaks off the engagement and secludes herself from the world in San José de la Penitencia, where she repeatedly reports hearing voices, especially that of her mother (5. 6-7). Meanwhile, Máximo and the marqués, with the will of the recently deceased Cuesta to bolster their efforts, have been making plans to rescue her from the convent. Then, in a highly controversial scene, what seems to be the ghost of Electra's mother appears before her and tells her that Máximo is not her brother and that she should follow her heart: «Si el amor conyugal y los goces de la familia solicitan tu alma, déjate llevar de esa dulce atracción, y no pretendas aquí una santidad que no alcanzarías» (897; 5.9). In the last scene, Máximo and the marqués arrive, and Electra makes a —110→ motion to run toward them. When Pantoja asks her if she is fleeing from him, Máximo utters the famous last lines of the play, which evoked deafening applause from the Madrid audiences of 1901: «No huye, no... Resucita».
Many critics, especially the anonymous contemporary reviewers of the piece, interpret the confrontation between the scientist, Máximo, and the zealot, Pantoja, as a symbolic, even allegorical dramatization of the contemporary fight between progressive and conservative forces over the soul of Spain, which they see embodied in the young Electra79. The circumstances of the Ubao case, which was under consideration exactly at the time of the play's début, certainly seemed to invite such a view. «Electra» suddenly became a household word, synonymous with progress and left-wing politics, and a contemporary journal established to promote such views named itself after the enormously successful play80. Perhaps because of such contemporary repercussions, later criticism on Electra has fallen into a rigid set of «a priori» assumptions. Everyone who has discussed the work, for example, takes for granted that Pantoja is categorically lying when he tells Electra that Lázaro Yuste is her father. Yet there is a strong possibility that he may be, willingly or not, speaking the truth, and this possibility is crucial to determining the significance of the play.
There are three major pieces of evidence which seem to support the assumption that Pantoja has fabricated the story about Electra's father. First among them is the possibility that he may himself be the father. In addition to the scene in Act 1 (11) in which he tells Electra of his interest in her, the following passage from a conversation with Evarista is noteworthy: «Amo a Electra con amor tan intenso, que no aciertan a declararlo todas las sutilezas de la palabra humana. Desde que la vieron mis ojos, la voz de la sangre clamó dentro de mí diciéndome que esa criatura me pertenece... Quiero y debo tenerla bajo mi dominio santamente, paternalmente» (885; 4.6). Later in the same conversation, he refers to Electra as «mi hija» (885; 4.6). These statements, combined with his declaration to Máximo that he strives toward his ends «por los caminos posibles» (890; 4.10), may lead one to conclude that his actions are those of an overpossessive father fighting by any means necessary for control of his daughter. This is certainly a possibility, but there is no conclusive proof offered anywhere in the play that Pantoja is Electra's father, nor does it seem that there could be, given Eleuteria's promiscuity. In fact, the figure of Leonardo Cuesta functions largely to question the legitimacy of Pantoja's claim, as Salvador Canals noted long ago (215)81.
The second piece of evidence is presented by the marqués to Evarista:
That the marqués should present these data as proof that Lázaro Yuste could not have fathered Electra, and that he should be believed, not only by Máximo and others in the play, but also by the many critics who accept his testimony as incontrovertible, is astonishing. His «evidence» is entirely irrelevant to the matter at hand. The issue, as —111→ posed by Pantoja, is not the identity of Máximo's mother, but rather that of Electra's father. Even if Josefina Perret is Máximo's mother, if Lázaro Yuste was the «calavera» that Electra mentions, he could still be the father. The marqués again reveals his flawed -deliberately so?, one must inquire- line of reasoning when he asks Máximo: «¿Qué sucederá cuando le digamos a Electra que tú y ella no nacisteis de la misma madre?» (894; 5-5).
The marqués's statement that Lázaro Yuste was absent from Madrid from 1863 to 1866 is equally irrelevant to the question of Electra's paternity. Galdós's specification that the action of his play is «rigurosamente contemporánea» (that is, close to 1901) and that Electra is eighteen years old at the time that it takes place suggests that the protagonist must have been conceived around the year 1882 or 1883 -a date that makes perfect sense, furthermore, since it falls within the «scandalous» period (1880-85) of Eleuteria's life. Lázaro Yuste's absence from Madrid, by contrast, occurs some twenty years -an entire generation- earlier. The marqués's «evidence» is meaningless on both counts82.
What seems to be the most weighty piece of evidence against Pantoja's story is at the same time the most controversial element of the play: the apparition of Eleuteria at the end of Act 5. Critic after critic has expressed puzzlement, dissatisfaction, even anger, over the fact that Galdós would resort to an apparently supernatural resolution to a play that he defines as strictly contemporary83. These reactions all beg the fundamental question of whether the appearance of Eleuteria is a supernatural occurrence. There are, in fact, two equally valid alternative explanations.
The first was offered some time ago by Mérimée, who notes that «l'auteur s'efforce à rendre le miracle vraisemblable, et mme à le réduire à un phénomène subjectif, extériorisé pour les nécessités de la représentation» (199). More recently, Finkenthal (146) and Sobejano («Echegaray» 114) have repeated the same idea. Finkenthal is particularly provocative with his suggestion that Electra's desire to see her mother, which is manifested throughout the play, stems from «la tensión nerviosa que empieza a sentir cuando Pantoja le insinúa que él puede ser su padre» (146). Yet none of these readers confronts the consequences of their quite valid suggestions: if the ghost is really a manifestation of Electra's unstable mind, how can one possibly impute to the «evidence» that it reveals an unquestionable truth value? It seems more likely, psychologically speaking, that Electra, in the throes of delirium, would displace Pantoja's unsettling disclosure with a more sanguine account of her own, bolstered by the perceived authority of the supernatural. To accept the shade's words as incontrovertible amounts, in this scenario, to a passive complicity with the rhetoric of infantile fantasy.
There is another equally probable scenario which has gone completely unperceived: that the apparition is the result of neither supernatural nor psychological forces but rather of a quite mundane collaboration among Máximo, the marqués, and Sor Dorotea, one of the nuns of the convent. In the first half of Act 5, Máximo and the marqués discuss their options for winning back Electra. When asked by the marqués what he plans to do, Máximo replies: «Llevármela de grado o por fuerza. Si no tengo poder bastante, buscarlo, adquirirlo, comprarlo; traer amigos, cómplices, un escuadrón, un ejército... (Con creciente calor y brío.) Renacen en mí los tiempos románticos y las ferocidades del —112→ feudalismo» (894; 5-5). Máximo's suggestion of buying power and accomplices is not lost on the marqués, who assures him that «Ya tengo las llaves para entrar por la calle Nueva. La Hermana Dorotea nos Pertenece» (894; 5.5).
These comments are extremely significant in interpreting the ending of the play and should be read in conjunction with the following dialogue between Electra and Dorotea, which occurs just before the appearance of the «ghost»:
Immediately after Dorotea leaves the room, the ghost appears.
Dorotea's behavior in this scene is odd, to say the least. Her eagerness to leave the room but to have Electra not move from the spot is suspicious. Her own explanation, that Máximo and the marqués are waiting outside, is unconvincing. Why should she have to «franquearles el paso» for two grown men? Why could not Electra simply leave the room with her and meet them outside? What is to happen at the «hora fijada por el marqués», and why is it a question of minutes, even seconds?
All these problems are easily explained if one imagines a scenario in which the apparition, which materializes «vestida de monja» (896; 5.8) and which only «vagamente se destaca en la oscuridad del fondo» (896; 5-9), is simply Dorotea posing as Eleuteria and reading a speech invented by Máximo and the marqués, who are offstage and anxiously awaiting their «cómplice» in order to pull off the scheme. It certainly would not be difficult to deceive Electra in her crazed state of mind, and the Greek etymology of Dorotea's name («gift of god») subtly implicates the nun in an all-too-human version of a supposed «dea ex machina». Etymologies aside, the episode also has a powerful literary precedent in an author for whom Galdós's admiration is well known: Cervantes. In Chapters 29 and 30 of Part 1 of the Quixote, the character, Dorotea, instructed by the priest and the barber, disguises herself as the fictional princess, Micomicona, in order to lead the deluded knight back home and back to his sanity. This is precisely what Galdós's Dorotea aims at with her promise to «mirar por ti, a devolverte la salud, la vida».
Even if, as a final possibility, the ending of the play is interpreted as a bona fide supernatural occurrence or «dea ex machina» -the «sombra», after all, figures in the cast of characters and was played in the début by a different actress than the one who played Dorotea-, there is no guarantee that the ghost speaks the truth. If Galdós really aimed —113→ to rid the contemporary theatre of conventional ways of thinking, he would have found a compelling method for achieving his goal by dramatizing a deity or similar figure that blatantly and consciously distorted the truth. This technique recalls that of Euripides's Orestes, at the end of which Apollo suddenly appears to announce an impossible and unbelievable resolution to the crisis of the play. William Arrowsmith's suggestive commentary on this play is applicable to the case of Galdós's Electra: «What we have here, I think, is a transparent tour de force, an apparent resolution which in fact resolves nothing, the illusion of a 'deus ex machina' intervening to stop the terrible momentum of the play by means of a solution so inadequate and so unreal by contrast with the created reality of the play that it is doomed into insignificance» (110). If the appearance of the ghost is really a «típico recurso 'euripidiano'», as Finkenthal suggests (146), then it remains possible, despite all the evidence to the contrary presented in the play, that Máximo is Electra's half-brother. Pantoja, willingly or not, may be telling the truth84.
This possibility casts Máximo in the role of Orestes, brother of the mythical Electra, an association supported by several other elements of the play. First, Máximo's name, which might seem to confirm the nobility and lofty goals of one dedicated to the pursuit of science and truth, also suggests the high altitude at which a mountaineer (the meaning of Orestes's name in Greek) would typically be found. Second, Máximo's intentions are not always so pure as one would expect, as becomes abundantly clear in the last act of the play: «¡A la violencia!», he gleefully chants to the marqués (894; 5.5). According to Finkenthal, Máximo is Galdós's «primer protagonista con un temperamento científico contrarrestado por el deseo de actuar de forma violenta si es necesario» (148).
This puzzling component of Máximo's character has a striking precedent in the Greek Orestes, especially as portrayed in the play that bears his name. Euripides goes to great lengths to demythify the hero, vindicated in Aeschylus and Sophocles, by presenting a completely unsympathetic figure: deranged, bloodthirsty, unable to comprehend the gravity of his crimes and willing to add to them the murder of Helen and Hermione. «To Helen's death: the watchword ['súmbolon'] know I well ['mantháno']» (line 1130), he declares cheerfully and, in a frenzied act of gratuitous destruction, sets fire to the house of Menelaus. Suddenly, Máximo's alarming cries of «hay que matarlo [a Pantoja]» and «[hay que] pegar fuego a esta casa» (894; 5.5) take on a new dimension.
The Orestian ambivalence (hero/villain) of Máximo finds perfect expression, furthermore, in the epithet that is constantly applied to him: «el mágico prodigioso». This description refers, in part, to the curious way in which science was always confused with magic in Spain, a tradition that Cervantes ridicules mercilessly in La cueva de Salamanca. Yet it also recalls Calderón's El mágico prodigioso, a play whose ambiguous title applies equally well to the hero, Cipriano, and to the villain, the devil himself.
If Lázaro Yuste is taken to be the father of Electra, the context of the myth helps to clarify Pantoja's role in the play as well. Pantoja tells Máximo that «tu padre, Lázaro Yuste, y yo, ¡ay dolor!, tuvimos desavenencias profundas, de las que más vale no hablar ahora» (880; 3.10). Later Electra reminds Pantoja how he and Lázaro were «terribles enemigos». It seems probable, as Canals suggests, that «la pecadora [Eleuteria] fue la causa de estos [choques]» (215): in other words, that Pantoja and Lázaro were antagonistic rivals over Electra's mother. If Lázaro was the actual father, corresponding to the Agamemnon —114→ of mythology, Pantoja's actions as guilty lover of Eleuteria and vicious enemy of the father of her child place him squarely in the role of Aegisthus, Clytemnestra's lover and accomplice to murder. Galdós never reveals how Máximo's father died, but if one supposes that he was roughly the same age as Pantoja when they were rivals for Eleuteria, then he must have died an early death, since Pantoja is fifty when the play takes place. Pantoja refers constantly to the sins of his past. Could one of them have been foul play involving the death of Lázaro? The possibility is never confirmed, but it is never refuted either.
It is important to note, nonetheless, that Pantoja is not fundamentally evil, and several critics have even credited him with a certain sincerity and humanity85. This circumstance, too, has a possible precedent in the myth. Even though Aegisthus received little sympathetic treatment in ancient literature, it is worth noting that his treacherous behaviour toward Agamemnon is not gratuitous but rather seeks to redress a long history of family violence86. Similarly, Pantoja believes his actions toward Electra are ultimately justified by his noble ends. The following statement of his, made to Máximo, has all the ring of Greek tragedy: «el monstruo no soy yo. Es un monstruo terrible, que se alimenta de los hechos humanos. Se llama la Historia» (889; 4. 10).
The present reading of Electra shows how Galdós superimposes the plot of his play upon the basic structure of the myth of Electra -the underlying family relations, alliances, and antagonisms- but develops the fraternal bond that united Electra and Orestes into desires of an entirely different nature. His rewriting of the tale in this way is not entirely unprecedented; a Freudian perspective suggests that he simply substitutes the brother for the father as the object of Electra's incestuous longing87. Máximo, in fact, plays both father and brother to Electra: father in the psychological hierarchy of their courtship noted earlier, and brother in the strict biological sense. Thus the «modelo argumental [of Electra] no está muy lejos del mito», as Rubio notes. Given this context, however, it is inconceivable that the play should be taken as «una apología de la familia burguesa, en la que el marido y la mujer tienen ya reservadas sus funciones respectivas», as Rubio goes on to suggest (63).
Electra is a far more radical project than Rubio allows himself to admit. Although the piece may possess some of the ingredients traditionally associated with melodrama, Sobejano is correct in noting that «el uso que hace Galdós de estos ingredientes todos, atenúa considerablemente o llega a anular su condición melodramática» («Echegaray» 113). This statement is a key to interpreting Galdós's use of myth in Electra within the context of his agenda for renovating contemporary theatre.
Throughout the play, false clues appear which function as bait for those readers or spectators willing to accept facile solutions to the problems raised in the work. The composite picture suggested by these clues indeed carries melodramatic tones: a clear-cut division between science and liberalism, on the one hand (Máximo), and superstition and reaction, on the other (Pantoja). In particular, the issue of truth posed so often in the play seems to signal Máximo as its prime flag-waver. The young scientist declares himself repeatedly a seeker and defender of truth and righteousness, as at the end of Act 4: «Devolvedme a la verdad, devolvedme a la ciencia. Este mundo incierto, mentiroso, no es para mí» (891; 4.12). Pantoja, by contrast, when one fails to question his supposed —115→ manipulation of evidence, is forced into a metaphysical space opposite that of Máximo.
The subtle outlines of the myth of Electra radically disrupt all these assumptions. Máximo's tendency toward the violence and extortion of Orestes shows that he holds no monopoly on truth or justice, a fact that Pantoja, by the way, recognizes early in the play: «no me fío de la expresión de tus ojos. Penetro en el doble fondo de tu mente: allí veo lo que piensas... No te interrogué por saber tu intención, que ya sabía, sino por oírte las bonitas promesas con que la encubres... En ti no mora la verdad; en ti no mora el bien, no, no... no»... (880; 3.10). For his part, although he may strike some as an unsympathetic character, Pantoja believes that his actions are justified, as could be argued for his mythical counterpart, Aegisthus. Throughout the play he speaks with conviction and sincerity, and carries himself with reserved dignity. The other characters, too, as the analysis has sought to show, are more complex than they might first appear and cannot be readily pigeonholed.
What, then, does Galdós's play demonstrate in dramatizing Pantoja's clash with Máximo over Electra, if not a titanic battle of opposites? Among other things, it shows that truth is not a metaphysical quantity that can be «fought for», as Máximo believes (893; 5.3). It suggests, instead, a pervasive relativism of human action and cognition: «Los extremos se tocan» (894; 5.5), as Máximo himself is forced to admit to the marqués, when questioned about his alarming trend toward violence. Finally, it points to the disconcerting fact that truth does not always form an alliance with science, liberalism, justice, or even the supernatural, but rather may adhere to the most unpalatable of scenarios. In dramatizing these ideas, Galdós uses all the elements of melodrama to deconstruct (although he obviously could not have chosen this word to describe his project) the fundamental philosophical assumptions of melodrama, handing his audience a feast à la Echegaray, while all the time poisoning the ingredients of the feast and forcing his unsuspecting readers or spectators into complicity with the fictional characters that wander before them on the page or stage. In this way he follows the bold Euripidean tradition of baiting audiences with conventional assumptions about myth while debunking those assumptions under their noses88. If, as he may have mused wryly to himself, he could not force a change in the bourgeois tastes that he believed were destroying the contemporary theatre, at least he could have a good laugh at those who greeted with wild enthusiasm a play that, on one level at least, stages the triumph of incestuous desire.
This is not to deny that, politically speaking, Galdós's play represents a progressive vision of the future. Yet the ideological implications of Electra represent only one side of the author's response to the two-horned problem of late nineteenth-century theatre. To emphasize them to the point of obscuring the outlines of the myth of Electra is to disregard the serious artistic renovation implied in the play's dramatization of conflicting truths and uncomfortable desires89.
University of New Mexico—116→ —117→ —118→
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