“Phèdre” is a tragedy by the dramatic Jean Racine. It is based on ancient sources such as Seneca’s Phaedra and Euripides Hippolytus. The famous work is about love with a woman as the main character. Phèdre is divided into 5 acts.
There are a few reasons for Phaedra’s tragic faith. The first one is the lust of an older woman for a younger man that doesn’t feel the same about her and fancies another woman. The mixture of feelings and hope create strong and negative feelings within the main character, which cause her anger, desperation, jealousy, malice, and hatred.
Phaedra is the daughter of Pasiphaë and Minos who represents strong moral principles. Unlike Minos who symbolizes light, Pasiphaë is the synonym for a sinner. It is about the destiny of a woman dissatisfied with her marriage. In the end, she merged with a bull and had Minotaur. Minos wanted to hide his shame so he banished Minotaur to the Labyrinth where he demanded oblation.
Genre: tragedy in 5 acts
Six months had passed since Theseus, the king of Athena, left Troezen and no-one heard about him since. In the conversation led by Theramenes and Hyppolytus we find out that Hippolytus mother treated him like an enemy and as soon as she married Theseus she made sure he was banished from the Troezen.
He admits he wasn’t leaving town because his stepmother Phaedra’s hatred but because he was in love with a girl named Aricia. Unfortunately, his father banned the weeding because Aricia’s ancestors tried to stop Theseus’ illegitimate son to come to the throne of Athena.
As the conversation continues the true reason for Phaedra’s hatred for Hippolytus is revealed. Soon after she married Theseus Phaedra fell in love with her stepson, started acting like she hated him and she went so far that she had his banishment from Troezen arranged.
While Oenone, Phaedra’s confidante, and Phaedra talk the news about Theseus’ alleged drowning comes. Aricia’s confidante Isemene tells Aricia that she noticed Hyppolitus’ feelings for her. He then comes to declare his love for her and explained that despite the fact he was king of Troezen now he had to head for Athena where a dispute about Theseus’ succession is in progress.
Phaedra comes to say goodbye to Hippolytus and asks him to be her infant son’s ally. He tells her he has no bad intentions with her son. Hearing the news about her husband’s death Phaedra finally gathers the courage to admit her feelings for Hippolytus.
He was stunt with her declaration and constantly claimed how his father’s death wasn’t still confirmed. Phaedra takes his sword and begs him to put her out of her misery. Oenone arrives, stops Phaedra from ending her life and takes her away from her stepson. The news about Phaedra and Theseus’ son becoming the king spreads across the land side by side with the news about Theseus not being dead.
Oenone and Phaedra keep on talking and despite Oenone’s attempts to decry Hippolytus and make Phaedra’s feelings fade away, Phaedra reproaches her for stopping her suicide mission. She decides to give the throne that rightfully belonged to her and Theseus’ son to Hippolytus and declare Hyppolytus her son’s guardian just to get on his good side. She even asks goddess Venus to make Hyppolytus fall in love with her.
Oenone brings the news about Theseus being alive. Phaedra is scared that Hippolytus will tell everything to his father and Oenona convinces her to blame it all on him. In the beginning, she refused to do it but in the end, she caved in. Theseus finally arrived and Phaedra told the truth. Theseus was still unable to grasp the concept of what she was saying when Hyppolytus came to ask his father to let him go away for a while. He thought it was the best way to get out of the love triangle and he wasn’t going to tell on his stepmother.
Theseus was disappointed by the way his family welcomed him back and by Hippolytus desire to leave. He started doubting them and Hyppolytus was thinking of ways to make his father happy because he wanted to marry Aricia. Oenona blamed Hyppolytus of attempting to rape his stepmother and Theseus believed her. A big misunderstanding is created between Theseus who thought his son wanted to rape his wife and Hippolytus who talked about his love for a woman, Aricia, without knowing what he had been accused of.
When Hippolytus finally finds out everything he thinks that Phaedra told the lie. He decided to keep quiet and act noble despite the fact that his father wanted to banish him. Hyppolytus admitted his love for Aricia and leaves without betraying his stepmother. Theseus and Phaedra confront each other and he tells her that Hippolytus is actually in love with Aricia. Phaedra, shocked and bitter, goes to Oenone to tell her everything and accuse her of falsely accusing Hippolytus.
Hyppolytus tries to explain his actions to Aricia and asks her to run away with him but she refused because they weren’t married. She promised to wait for him and after that, he tries to clear his name in front of Theseus. Even though he didn’t believe her, he asked Oenone to come so he could find out the truth. She threw herself off a cliff because Phaedre chased her away. The king asked to bring him Hyppolytus but then he finds out the horrible truth about his son passing away. In his death bed, Hyppolytus asked Theseus to take care of Aricia and let her rule. In the meantime, Phaedra blamed herself for anything and after drinking poison she died.
Characters: Phaedra, Theseus, Hippolytus, Oenone, Aricia
Phaedra – in love with her stepson and does everything so no-one notices her feelings. She pushed her feelings away and after some time, she admits them to Oenone. Phaedra does everything to save her marriage and doesn’t reveal her feelings to her stepson until she thinks Theseus is dead. She can’t handle her emotions so she ends up killing herself.
Theseus – king of Troezena and Phaedra’s husband. Even though committed adultery on several occasions, he was unable to cope with the thought of his wife doing the same to him. He was vengeful and shrewd.
Hippolytus – Theseus’ son and Phaedra’s stepson. He has a tragic end without deserving it. He was in love with Aricia.
Oenone – nurse and Phaedra’s confidante. She was the only one who knew Phaedra’s feelings.
Jean Racine Biography
Jean Racine was born on October 22nd,1639 in France. He was a play writer who mostly wrote tragedies and before he died he wrote one comedy. His contemporaries were Moliere and Corneille.
He was born in La Ferté-Milon and two years after he got a sister his both parents died. His grandparents from the father’s side took care of his education and his sister was taken care of by the mother’s parents.
After his grandfather passed away Jean went with his grandmother to Port Royal des Champs where he received the education that allowed him to read Latin and Greek texts.
His first two tragedies, La Thébaïde, and Alexandre le Grand, had classical themes but contained a lot of controversies. He was accused of intoxicating the mind of his audience. He continued with the tragedy Andromaque in which he wrote about Hector’s widow and her faith after the Trojan War.
He made a lot of enemies, including Pierre Corneille and his brother Thomas. The dramatists often competed writing about the same themes: Michel le Clers wrote Iphigénieiste the same year Racine did; Jacques Pradon wrote Phaedra when Racine did. The success of Pradon’s work made Racine quite his playwriting. He wrote Phaedra in 1677.
He is considered to be one of the most famous French play writers in the time of Classicism. He died on April 21st, 1699 in Paris where he was buried.