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A: Jean Racine Pf: 1677, Paris Pb: 1677 Tr: 1756 G: Trag. in 5 acts; French alexandrines S: Theseus' palace in Troezen, in the mythical past C: 3m, 5f, extrasPhaedra is in thrall to Venus, the goddess of love, and is consumed by passion for her stepson Hippolytus. Yet again her adventuring husband Theseus has left her alone in the palace with Hippolytus, and, when news of Theseus' death comes, Phaedra is persuaded by her nurse and confidante to confess her love to Hippolytus. However, Hippolytus, who loves the Athenian princess Aricia, is horrified at his stepmother's declaration and cruelly rejects her. When Theseus unexpectedly returns, Phaedra, fearing that Hippolytus will denounce her, accuses him of having attempted to rape her. Theseus is so furious that he calls on the god Neptune to punish Hippolytus. Phaedra is about to relent and tell the truth, when she learns of Hipploytus' love for Aricia, and her jealousy prevents her from speaking. Neptune sends a huge tidal wave to destroy Hippolytus. Phaedra at last confesses the truth and poisons herself. Theseus is left to grieve over the deaths of his son and wife and to offer protection to Aricia.

A: Jean Racine Pf: 1677, Paris Pb: 1677 Tr: 1756 G: Trag. in 5 acts; French alexandrines S: Theseus' palace in Troezen, in the mythical past C: 3m, 5f, extras

Based on Euripides' Hippolytus and Seneca's Phaedra, Racine's play is the most accomplished of French classical tragedies. In the ancient Greek version Hippolytus' priggish chastity has affronted Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and so must be punished. Here, as in Seneca, he is an innocent victim of Phaedra's passion. In Racine, Hippolytus shows himself not only capable of love for Aricia, but offers her unselfish protection and pursues her claims to the throne of Athens. It is Phaedra, now the title figure, who is in the grip of uncontrolled passion, and, while she blames Venus, her situation derives from her own psychology not from some external divinity. At the start only Phaedra knows of her guilty secret. Imagining herself on the point of death, she tells her nurse, who then, because it seems that Theseus is dead, urges her to reveal her secret to Hippolytus. Twice Phaedra is misled by false evidence to speak. Twice she remains silent when she could have saved Hippolytus by telling the truth. There is no clearly defined divine pattern, as in Euripides: Phaedra's passion gradually seeps out like a stain of blood, bringing about destruction. Racine may be referring to the Jansenist philosophy of predetermination, or simply recording how a single passion can cause such suffering. Perhaps as a result of staring into this abyss of seemingly inescapable pain, Racine wrote nothing more for the stage other than a light musical piece and two biblical tragedies performed over a decade later at a girls' school.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).

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