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Phaedra


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AT: Hippolytus A: Lucius Annaeus Seneca W: ad 25–65 Tr: 1566 G: Latin trag. in 5 acts; verse S: The palace of Theseus in Athens, in the mythical past C: 3m, 2f, chorus (m), extrasWhile Theseus, King of Athens, is away on an adventure, his wife confesses to her Nurse that she lusts after her stepson, the chaste hunter Hippolytus. Despite the warnings of the Nurse, Phaedra seeks to end her life if she cannot have Hippolytus. He firmly repels the advances of Phaedra, declaring that he hates all women. He is on the point of killing Phaedra with his sword, when he relents, deciding she will suffer more if she lives on. The Nurse plots revenge, and, when Theseus returns, the Nurse and Phaedra accuse Hippolytus of raping Phaedra at sword-point, producing Hippolytus' sword as evidence. In a fit of rage Theseus calls on the God of the Sea to destroy his son, and a messenger comes to describe Hippolytus' violent end. Phaedra is distraught at Hippolytus' death and, having confessed to lying about the rape, commits suicide to join her stepson in Hades. Theseus is left alone to piece together the mangled remnants of his son's corpse.

AT: Hippolytus A: Lucius Annaeus Seneca W: ad 25–65 Tr: 1566 G: Latin trag. in 5 acts; verse S: The palace of Theseus in Athens, in the mythical past C: 3m, 2f, chorus (m), extras

Based closely on Euripides' Hippolytus, Seneca's version distinguishes itself in several respects. The tragic events are unleashed not by a jealous goddess but by blind passion (‘We know no love that is not bound to sin’). Phaedra (who has now assumed the title role) herself declares her passion to Hippolytus, and the Nurse, no longer well meaning, becomes the engineer of the disaster. The final scene, in which Theseus tries to piece together the macabre jigsaw of his son's body, adumbrates the excesses of some Jacobean tragedy and borders on the grotesquely comic. Seneca's play is nevertheless a powerfully poetic exploration of passionate love.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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