Online Texts for Craig White's Literature Courses

  • Not a critical or scholarly text but a reading text for a seminar

  • Gratefully adapted from; trans. Robert Bruce Boswell

  • To simplify reading, changes in the Gutenberg / Boswell edition include modernization and Americanization of spellings and diction (e. g., e’en > even; ere > before) with regrets for resulting metrical flaws. Long speeches are divided. Bracketed [ ] annotations are by the instructor.



Jean Baptiste Racine


Instructor’s note on text: To simplify reading, changes in the Gutenberg / Boswell edition include modernization and Americanization of spellings and diction (e. g., e’en > even; ere > before) with regrets for resulting flaws in metre. Long speeches are divided. Bracketed [ ] annotations are by instructor.

Instructor’s note on French tragedy: As in classical Athens, Elizabethan England, and early 20th-century USA, tragedy emerged with a dynamic imperial state and a sophisticated urban culture. The dominant political figure for seventeenth-century France was Louis XIV (1638-1715), the “Sun King” who modernized France from feudal states to an empire. (“Louisiana” was named for Louis XIV in 1682.)

King Louis XIV’s court provided a stage for “the Great Three” French dramatists:

Corneille (1606-84): Medee or Medea, 1635; Le Cid, 1636; Horace, 1640; Cinna, 1643; Polyeucte 1643;

Racine (1639-99); Andromaque (1667); Britannicus; Berenice; Iphigenie; Phaedre; Esther; Athalie

Moliere (1622-73): The School for Wives 1662; Tartuffe 1664; The Misanthrope 1666; and The Bourgeois Gentleman 1670.


In 17c France as elsewhere, tragedy appears not when a nation is struggling or declining but when it is rising in power and sophistication.

Urban centers of learning, the arts, and power (in this case, the French court) are historically necessary for a nation to produce and support production of tragedy.

Tragedy's popularity does not limit the popularity of comedy.

Shakespeare wrote comedies as well as tragedies.

Moliere in the same period as the tragedians Racine and Corneille became one of the world’s great comic playwrights.

Tartuffe and other plays of his are still revived as standard pieces for repertoire theaters.

JEAN RACINE (1639-99) was the younger contemporary of Corneille (1606-84) and his rival for supremacy in French classical tragedy during the early Enlightenment of the 1600s.

Born in 1639, Racine was educated at Port Royal, a center of French Neo-Classical learning. His first dramatic success was Andromaque (1667). His tragic masterpieces include Britannicus, Berenice, Iphigenie, and Phaedre, all written between 1669 and 1677. After giving up dramatic composition, in 1689 he returned with Esther and Athalie.

Instead of modifying conventions of classical tragedy established in the French theater by Corneille, Racine extended the classical rigor and simplicity of form. Racine differed most from Corneille in treatment of character. Where Corneille’s leading figures subdued their passion by heroic will, Racine’s characters are driven by nearly uncontrollable passion. Racine's creations appeal to the modern reader as more warmly human; their speech, if less exalted, is simpler and more natural; and his portraits of women surpass those of men.

ll these characteristics are exemplified in Phaedra, the tragedy by Racine that appeals to the widest audience. To Euripides’s treatment, Racine added Hippolytus’s love for Aricia, supplying a motive for Phaedra's jealousy, and he made the nurse instead of Phaedra the character who falsely testifies to Theseus that Hippolytus tried to seduce Phaedra.

Character Backgrounds for PHAEDRA

Racine’s characters refer extensively to their family backgrounds.


Phaedra’s father was Minos, son of Zeus and Europa; a legendary king of Crete; after death, Minos became one of the three “Judges of the Dead.” Athens periodically paid Minos a tribute of young people who were sacrificed to the half-bull, half-man Minotaur, who was slain by Theseus.

Phaedra’s mother was Pasiphae, daughter of Helios the sun god and Perse, the eldest of the Oceanides (nymphs). Cursed by Poseidon, Pasiphae developed “taurine lust” or “zoophilia” and had intercourse with a white bull sent by Poseidon. She then gave birth to the half-bull, half-man Minotaur.

Phaedra’s sister Ariadne helped Theseus kill the Minotaur in his labyrinth.

Phaedra’s children (unnamed in the play) were Acamas and Demophon.

HIPPOLYTUS was devoted to chastity and hunting and to the associated goddess Artemis or Diana. Phaedra, wife of his father Theseus, fell in love with him, but he rejected her advances.  Bitter at his scorn, Phaedra hanged herself after writing a letter to Theseus denouncing Hippolytus as her seducer. In some versions of the tale, Artemis persuades Asclepius (god of medicine) to restore Hippolytus to life, and in Roman legend Virgil and other authors relate that Hippolytus, when he fell from his chariot, was conveyed away by Diana to the grove of the nymph Egeria, near Aricia in Latium, where under the name of Virbius he married Aricia.

Hippolytus’s father was Theseus (see below).

Hippolytus’s mother was Hippolyta, a queen of the Amazons (who, according to legend, lived in Scythia in central Asia.) During an expedition led by Hercules, Theseus kidnapped Hippolyta. She gave birth to Hippolytus. She subsequently died (as in Phaedra) or was sent back by Theseus to the land of the Amazons.

Theseus and Hippolyta, preparing for their wedding festivities, are characters in Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1600).

THESEUS was a legendary king of Athens and one of Greek mythology’s most popular heroes, comparable to Hercules in his swashbuckling and sexual adventures. Theseus destroyed many monsters and villains plaguing the Greek highways and countryside. His most famous victory was over the half-bull, half-man Minotaur in the labyrinth of King Minos at Crete.

Theseus’s mother was Aethra, a daughter of King Pittheus of Troezen, thus giving her son a claim to the throne there.

Theseus had two fathers—one mortal, one immortal. The mortal father was Aegeus, a founding king of Athens. The immortal father was the sea-god Poseidon / Neptune. Aethra slept with both Aegeus and Poseidon on the night Theseus was conceived.

ARICIA is a princess of the house of Pallas.

Pallas, Aricia’s father, tried to steal the throne from Theseus, who slew him.

Pallas’s fifty sons, the Pallantides, also sought to overthrow Theseus, who ambushed and slew them.

Theseus took Aricia as a prisoner or slave. Her status as the only survivor of a rebel house explains why Hippolytus feels guilt-stricken for loving and wanting to marry her.

The character Aricia did not appear in Euripides's Hippolytus. Racine created her character and took her name from an alternative legend concerning Hippolytus, that after his death he was resurrected and relocated to Italy, where he married a woman named Aricia.




THESEUS, son of Aegeus and King of Athens.

PHAEDRA, wife of Theseus and Daughter of Minos and Pasiphae.

HIPPOLYTUS, son of Theseus and Antiope, Queen of the Amazons.

ARICIA, Princess of the Blood Royal of Athens.

OENONE, nurse of Phaedra.

THERAMENES, tutor of Hippolytus.

ISMENE, friend of Aricia.

PANOPE, attendant to Phaedra.


The scene is laid at Troezen, a town of the Peloponnesus (see map above)

[Note on setting: Troezen (modern Troizina or Trizina) is a city southwest of Athens, on the Peloponnese—the southernmost part of the Greek mainland. Theseus, normally king of Athens, was exiled to Troezen, where he also reigns as king (though he’s absent and rumored to be dead until later in the play).]

* * * * *




HIPPOLYTUS: My mind is settled, dear Theramenes,

And I can stay no more in lovely Troezen.

In doubt that racks my soul with mortal anguish,

I grow ashamed of such long idleness.

Six months and more my father has been gone,  [my father = Theseus, king of Troezen]

And what may have befallen one so dear

I know not, nor what corner of the earth

Hides him.


THERAMENES: And where, prince, will you look for him?

Already, to content your just alarm,                                                            10

Have I not crossed the seas on either side

Of Corinth, asked if anything were known of Theseus

Where Acheron is lost among the Shades,          [Acheron = river leading to underworld]

Visited Elis, doubled Toenarus,        [Elis = southern town; Toenarus = southern peninsula]

And sailed into the sea that saw the fall

Of Icarus?       [The Icarian Sea, named for Icarus, winged youth who flew too close to the sun]

                 Inspired with what new hope,

Under what favored skies think you to trace

His footsteps? Who knows if the King, your father,

Wishes the secret of his absence known?

Perchance, while we are trembling for his life,                                         20

The hero calmly plots some fresh intrigue,            [The hero = Theseus; intrigue = liaison?]

And only waits till the deluded fair—       [deluded fair = Theseus’s latest sexual conquest]


HIPPOLYTUS: Cease, dear Theramenes, respect the name

Of Theseus. Youthful errors have been left      [youthful errors = Theseus’s womanizing]

Behind, and no unworthy obstacle

Detains him. Phaedra long has fixed a heart

Inconstant once, nor need she fear a rival.             [Phaedra has kept Theseus faithful]

In seeking him I shall but do my duty,

And leave a place I dare no longer see.     


THERAMENES: Indeed! When, prince, did you begin to dread                  30

These peaceful haunts, so dear to happy childhood,

Where I have seen you oft prefer to stay,

Rather than meet the tumult and the pomp

Of Athens and the court? What danger shun you,

Or shall I say what grief?


HIPPOLYTUS: That happy time

Is gone, and all is changed, since to these shores

The gods sent Phaedra.


THERAMENES: I perceive the cause

Of your distress. It is the queen whose sight                                         40

Offends you. With a stepmother’s spite she schemed    [Thereamenes offers common-sense psychology]

Your exile soon as she set eyes on you.

But if her hatred is not wholly vanished,

It has at least taken a milder aspect.

Besides, what danger can a dying woman,

One too who longs for death, bring on your head?

Can Phaedra, sickening of a dire disease

Of which she will not speak, weary of life

And of herself, form any plots against you?                    [Plots! As in Euripides, plots are made by people, not gods or myths]


HIPPOLYTUS: It is not her vain enmity I fear,                                            50

Another foe alarms Hippolytus.

I fly, it must be admitted, from young Aricia,

The sole survivor of an impious race.    [impious race = the Pallantides, rivals to Theseus]


THERAMENES: What! You become her persecutor too!

The gentle sister of the cruel sons   [cruel sons of Pallas = the Pallantides, rivals to Theseus]

Of Pallas shared not in their perfidy;                        [perfidy = treachery]

Why should you hate such charming innocence?


HIPPOLYTUS: I should not need to fly, if it were hatred.


THERAMENES: May I, then, learn the meaning of your flight?

Is this the proud Hippolytus I see,                                                           60

Than whom there breathed no fiercer foe to love

And to that yoke which Theseus has so oft            [yoke = harness, burden]

Endured? And can it be that Venus, scorned   [Venus = Aphrodite = goddess of love]

So long, will justify your sire at last?                 [justify your sire = motivate Theseus's womanizing]

Has she, then, setting you with other mortals,

Forced even Hippolytus to offer incense

Before her? Can you love?


HIPPOLYTUS: Friend, ask me not.

You, who have known my heart from infancy

And all its feelings of disdainful pride,                                                             70

Spare me the shame of disavowing all

That I professed. Born of an Amazon,   [Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, Theseus’s consort]

The wildness that you wonder at I sucked

With mother's milk.

                                 When come to riper age,

Reason approved what Nature had implanted.

Sincerely bound to me by zealous service,

You told me then the story of my sire,                              [my sire = Theseus]

And know how oft, attentive to your voice,

I kindled when I heard his noble acts,           [kindled = glowed w/ passion, excitement]

As you described him bringing consolation                                                    80

To mortals for the absence of Alcides,                              [Alcides = Hercules]

The highways cleared of monsters and of robbers,

Procrustes, Cercyon, Sciro, Sinnis slain,            [various villains dispatched by Theseus]

The Epidaurian giant's bones dispersed,         [Epidaurus = Greek city; giant = ?]

Crete reeking with the blood of Minotaur.   [Minotaur = bull-man whom Theseus slew on island of Crete]


But when you told me of less glorious deeds,

Troth plighted here and there and everywhere,        [Troth = marriages or other unions]

Young Helen stolen from her home at Sparta,              [pre-Trojan War Helen of Troy]

And Periboea's tears in Salamis,   [Periboea, later the mother of Ajax; Salamis = Gk island]

With many another trusting heart deceived                                                90

Whose very names have escaped his memory,

Forsaken Ariadne to the rocks     [Theseus, whom Ariadne helped kill the Minotaur, abandoned her on island of Naxos]

Complaining, last this Phaedra, bound to him

By better ties,—

                          you know with what regret

I heard and urged you to cut short the tale,

Happy had I been able to erase

From my remembrance that unworthy part

Of such a splendid record.  [In sum, Hippolytus is proud of his father's heroism but shamed by his philandering]

                                             I, in turn,

Am I too made the slave of love, and brought

To stoop so low? The more contemptible                                          100

That no renown is mine such as exalts

The name of Theseus, that no monsters quelled

Have given me a right to share his weakness.

And if my pride of heart must needs be humbled,

Aricia should have been the last to tame it.


Was I beside myself to have forgotten

Eternal barriers of separation

Between us? By my father's stern command  [barriers . . . between us = b/w Hippolytus & Aricia]

Her brethren's blood must never be reinforced          [Her brethren's blood . . . reinforced: the blood-line of the Pallantides (Theseus's rivals) extended]

By sons of hers; he dreads a single shoot           [shoot = offspring]             110

From stock so guilty, and would fain with her            [fain = prefer; stock = the Pallantides, Aricia's family]

Bury their name, that, even to the tomb

Content to be his ward, for her no torch

Of Hymen may be lit. Shall I espouse              [torch of Hymen = marital love, union]

Her rights against my sire, rashly provoke

His wrath, and launch upon a mad career?              [career = course or progress through life]


THERAMENES: The gods, dear prince, if once your hour is come,

Care little for the reasons that should guide us.

Wishing to shut your eyes, Theseus unseals them;

His hatred, stirring a rebellious flame                                                           120

Within you, lends his enemy new charms.          [his enemy = Aricia; Theramenes implies that Theseus's love springs from mixed feelings toward father Theseus; Oedipal motivation?]

And, after all, why should a guiltless passion

Alarm you? Dare you not essay its sweetness,           [essay = try]

But follow rather a fastidious scruple?                         [fastidious scruple = finicky misgiving]

Fear you to stray where Hercules has wandered?   [Hercules was notorious for sexual exploits]

What heart so stout that Venus has not vanquish'd?       [Venus = Aphrodite, goddess of love]


Where would you be yourself, so long her foe,               [her = Venus’s, Aphrodite’s]

Had your own mother, constant in her scorn

Of love, ne'er glowed with tenderness for Theseus?

What boots it to affect a pride you feel not?                                                  130


Confess it, all is changed; for some time past

You have been seldom seen with wild delight

Urging the rapid car along the strand,                            [car = chariot; strand = beach]

Or, skilful in the art that Neptune taught,

Making the unbroken steed obey the bit;                       [bit = mouthpiece of horse's bridle]

Less often have the woods returned our shouts;

A secret burden on your spirits cast

Has dimmed your eye. How can I doubt you love?

Vainly would you conceal the fatal wound.

Has not the fair Aricia touched your heart?                                                     140


HIPPOLYTUS: Theramenes, I go to find my father.


THERAMENES: Will you not see the queen before you start,

My prince?


HIPPOLYTUS: That is my purpose: you can tell her.

Yes, I will see her; duty bids me do it.

But what new ill vexes her dear Oenone?                            [Oenone = Phaedra's nurse; Hippolytus's dialogue implies the stage direction of Oenone's entrance]




[enter Oenone, Phaedra's nurse]

OENONE: Alas, my lord, what grief was ever like mine?

The queen has almost touched the gates of death.            [the queen = Phaedra]

Vainly I keep close watch by day and night,

Even in my arms a secret malady                                                               150

Slays her, and all her senses are disordered.

Weary yet restless from her couch she rises,

Pants for the outer air, but bids me see

That no one on her misery intrudes.

She comes.                                                                    [She = Phaedra]


HIPPOLYTUS: Enough. She shall not be disturbed,

Nor be confronted with a face she hates.   [Hippolytus exits]




[Phaedra enters]

PHAEDRA: We have gone far enough. Stay, dear Oenone;

Strength fails me, and I need to rest awhile.

My eyes are dazzled with this glaring light                                                  160

So long unseen, my trembling knees refuse

Support. Ah me!


OENONE: Would Heaven that our tears

Might bring relief!


PHAEDRA: Ah, how these cumbrous gauds,       [cumbrous gauds = burdensome ornaments]

These veils oppress me! What officious hand                        [officious = intrusive]

Has tied these knots, and gathered over my brow

These clustering coils? How all conspires to add              [coils = curls, extensions]

To my distress!

[Phaedra struggles against her clothing, hair ornaments as against a trap or net]


OENONE: What is one moment wished,                                                      170

The next, is irksome. Did you not just now,

Sick of inaction, bid us deck you out,

And, with your former energy restored,

Desire to go abroad, and see the light

Of day once more? You see it, and would fain

Be hidden from the sunshine that you sought.


PHAEDRA: Thou glorious author of a hapless race,   [glorious author = the sun, Phaedra’s ancestor; hapless race = Phaedra's family, the house of Minos]

Whose daughter 'twas my mother's boast to be,

Who well may blush to see me in such plight,

For the last time I come to look on thee,                                                      180

O Sun!


OENONE: What! Still are you in love with death?

Shall I never see you, reconciled to life,

Forego these cruel accents of despair?


PHAEDRA: Would I were seated in the forest's shade!

When may I follow with delighted eye,

Through glorious dust flying in full career,

A chariot—                        [Phaedra's daydream reveals obsession with Hippolytus, envisioned driving his chariot]


OENONE: Madam?


PHAEDRA: Have I lost my senses?                                                            190

What said I? and where am I? Whither stray

Vain wishes? Ah! The gods have made me mad.

I blush, Oenone, and confusion covers

My face, for I have let you see too clearly

The shame of grief that, in my own despite,        [in my own despite = against my inclinations]

Overflows these eyes of mine.


OENONE: If you must blush,

Blush at a silence that inflames your woes.

Resisting all my care, deaf to my voice,

Will you have no compassion on yourself,         200  [like Nurse in Euripides's Hippolytos, Oenone advises looking out for #1]

But let your life be ended in mid-course?

What evil spell has drained its fountain dry?


Thrice have the shades of night obscured the heavens

Since sleep has entered through your eyes, and thrice

The dawn has chased the darkness thence, since food

Passed your wan lips, and you are faint and languid.


To what dread purpose is your heart inclined?

How dare you make attempts upon your life,

And so offend the gods who gave it you,

Prove false to Theseus and your marriage vows,                               210

Ay, and betray your most unhappy children,

Bending their necks yourself beneath the yoke?             [yoke = harness, burden]


That day, be sure, which robs them of their mother,

Will give high hopes back to the stranger's son,      

To that proud enemy of you and yours,

To whom an Amazon gave birth, I mean   [Amazon: Hippolytus's mother, Amazon queen Hippolyta]



PHAEDRA: Ye gods!


OENONE: Ah, this reproach

Moves you!                                                                                                     220


PHAEDRA: Unhappy woman, to what name

Gave your mouth utterance?


OENONE: Your wrath is just.

It’s well that that ill-omened name can rouse

Such rage. Then live. Let love and duty urge  

Their claims. Live, suffer not this son of Scythia,  [son of Scythia=Hippolytus; Scythia=interior Asia, Hippolyta’s birthplace?]

Crushing your children beneath his odious sway,

To rule the noble offspring of the gods,        [offspring of gods = Phaedra's family, descended from Zeus]

The purest blood of Greece. Make no delay;     [implication: Phaedra's & Theseus's offspring should rule, not Theseus's & Hippolyta's offspring (Hippolytus)]

Each moment threatens death; quickly restore                                        230

Your shattered strength, while yet the torch of life

Holds out, and can be fanned into a flame.


PHAEDRA: Too long have I endured its guilt and shame!            [its = life's]


OENONE: Why? What remorse gnaws at your heart? What crime

Can have disturbed you thus? Your hands are not

Polluted with the blood of innocence?


PHAEDRA: Thanks be to Heaven, my hands are free from stain.

Would that my soul were innocent as they!


OENONE: What awful project have you then conceived,

Whereat your conscience should be still alarmed?                                   240


PHAEDRA: Have I not said enough? Spare me the rest.

I die to save myself a full confession.


OENONE: Die then, and keep a silence so inhuman;

But seek some other hand to close your eyes.

Though but a spark of life remains within you,

My soul shall go before you to the Shades.

A thousand roads are always open thither;

Pained at your want of confidence, I'll choose

The shortest. Cruel one, when has my faith

Deceived you! Think how in my arms you lay                                          250

Newborn. For you, my country and my children

I have forsaken. Do you thus repay

My faithful service?


PHAEDRA: What do you expect

From words so bitter? Were I to break silence

Horror would freeze your blood.


OENONE: What can you say

To horrify me more than to behold

You die before my eyes?


PHAEDRA: When you shall know                                                          260

My crime, my death will follow none the less,

But with the added stain of guilt.


OENONE: Dear Madam,

By all the tears that I have shed for you,

By these weak knees I clasp, relieve my mind

From torturing doubt.


PHAEDRA: It is your wish. Then rise.


OENONE: I hear you. Speak.


PHAEDRA: Heavens! How shall I begin?


OENONE: Dismiss vain fears, you wound me with distrust.                 270


PHAEDRA: O fatal animosity of Venus!                                  [goddess of love]

Into what wild distractions did she cast

My mother!         [Phaedra’s mother was also mother to the Minotaur following sex with a bull]


OENONE: Be they blotted from remembrance,

And for all time to come buried in silence.


PHAEDRA: My sister Ariadne, by what love   

Were you betrayed to death, on lonely shores 


[*Ariadne helped Theseus defeat  the Minotaur, after which Theseus abandoned Ariadne on island of Naxos.]

OENONE: Madam, what deep-seated pain

Prompts these reproaches against all your kin?                                       280


PHAEDRA: It is the will of Venus, and I perish,    [Venus, goddess of love; cf. Greek Aphrodite]

Last, most unhappy of a family

Where all were wretched.


OENONE: Do you love?



All its mad fever.


OENONE: Ah! For whom?


PHAEDRA: Hear now

The crowning horror. Yes, I love—my lips

Tremble to say his name.                                                                           290




PHAEDRA: Know you him,

Son of the Amazon, whom I've oppressed

So long?


OENONE: Hippolytus? Great gods!


PHAEDRA: It’s you

Who have named him.


OENONE: All my blood within my veins

Seems frozen. O despair! O cursed race!

Ill-omened journey! Land of misery!                                                       300

Why did we ever reach thy dangerous shores?


PHAEDRA: My wound is not so recent. Scarcely had I

Been bound to Theseus by the marriage yoke,              [yoke = harness, burden]

And happiness and peace seemed well secured,

When Athens showed me my proud enemy.

I looked, alternately turned pale and blushed

To see him, and my soul grew all distraught;

A mist obscured my vision, and my voice

Faltered, my blood ran cold, then burned like fire;

Venus I felt in all my fevered frame,                                                      310

Whose fury had so many of my race


                 With fervent vows I sought to shun

Her torments, built and decked for her a shrine,         [her = Venus’s, love’s]

And there, amid countless victims did I seek

The reason I had lost; but all for naught,                     [reason = self-control]

No remedy could cure the wounds of love!


In vain I offered incense on her altars;               [her = Venus’s, love’s]

When I invoked her name my heart adored

Hippolytus, before me constantly;

And when I made her altars smoke with victims,         [victims = sacrifices]                      320

It was for a god whose name I dared not utter.

I fled his presence everywhere, but found him—

O crowning horror!—in his father's features.      [Oedipal conflict as seen from Mother's perspective?]


Against myself, at last, I raised revolt,

And stirred my courage up to persecute

The enemy I loved. To banish him

I wore a step-dame's harsh and jealous carriage,      ["dame" = stepmother;; "jealous" = suspicious, resentful]

With ceaseless cries I clamored for his exile,

Till I had torn him from his father's arms.      [Pheadra arranged for Hippolytus to be exiled from Athens to Trozen, where Theseus and Phraedra later joined him in exile]


I breathed once more, Oenone; in his absence       [his = Hippolytus's]               330

My days flowed on less troubled than before,

And innocent. Submissive to my husband,

I hid my grief, and of our fatal marriage

Cherished the fruits.          [fruits = Phaedra's children by Theseus]

                                    Vain caution! Cruel Fate!

Brought hither by my spouse himself, I saw

Again the enemy whom I had banished,

And the old wound too quickly bled afresh.


No longer is it love hid in my heart,

But Venus in her might seizing her prey.

I have conceived just terror for my crime;                                               340

I hate my life, and hold my love in horror.                [mixed feelings of love and horror, true to tragedy]

Dying I wished to keep my fame unsullied,

And bury in the grave a guilty passion;

But I have been unable to withstand

Tears and entreaties.

                                    I have told you all;

Content, if only, as my end draws near,

You do not vex me with unjust reproaches,

Nor with vain efforts seek to snatch from death

The last faint lingering sparks of vital breath.





PANOPE: Fain would I hide from you tidings so sad,    [Fain would I = I would prefer to]                      350

But it is my duty, Madam, to reveal them.

The hand of death has seized your peerless husband,                  [Theseus]

And you are last to hear of this disaster.


OENONE: What say you, Panope?


PANOPE: The queen, deceived

By a vain trust in Heaven, begs safe return

For Theseus, while Hippolytus his son

Learns of his death from vessels that are now

In port.


PHAEDRA: Ye gods!                                                                               360


PANOPE: Divided counsels sway               [divided counsels = differing political parties]

The choice of Athens; some would have the prince,     [the choice = who will be King, succeeding Theseus]

Your child, for master; others, disregarding      [Your child = Phaedra's elder son]

The laws, dare to support the stranger's son.   [stranger’s son = Hippolytus]

'Tis even said that a presumptuous faction           [faction = political party or movement]

Would crown Aricia and the house of Pallas.            [Aricia =princess; Pallas = house or family rivaling Theseus's claim to throne]

I deemed it right to warn you of this danger.

Hippolytus already is prepared

To start, and should he show himself at Athens,        [to start: i.e., a voyage to Athens]

It is to be feared the fickle crowd will all                                                  370

Follow his lead.


OENONE: Enough. The queen, who hears you,

By no means will neglect this timely warning.

[Panope exits]





OENONE: Dear lady, I had almost ceased to urge

The wish that you should live, thinking to follow

My mistress to the tomb, from which my voice

Had failed to turn you; but this new misfortune

Alters the aspect of affairs, and prompts

Fresh measures.

                               Madam, Theseus is no more,

You must supply his place. He leaves a son,      [i.e., Theseus's & Phaedra's son, not Hippolytus]  380

A slave, if you should die, but, if you live,

A King. On whom has he to lean but you?      [he = Phaedra's son]

No hand but yours will dry his tears.

                                                            Then live

For him, or else the tears of innocence

Will move the gods, his ancestors, to wrath

Against his mother. Live, your guilt is gone,  [i.e., if Phaedra doesn't live to help her son, she will be punished in afterlife]

No blame attaches to your passion now.

The King's decease has freed you from the bonds        [decease = death]

That made the crime and horror of your love.

Hippolytus no longer need be dreaded,                                                     390

Him you may see henceforth without reproach.     


It may be, that, convinced of your aversion,

He means to head the rebels. Undeceive him,

Soften his callous heart, and bend his pride.

King of this fertile land, in Troezen here      [Phaedra should convince Hippolytus to stay in Troezen and rule there]

His portion lies; but as he knows, the laws       [portion = destiny]

Give to your son the ramparts that Minerva      [ramparts = city walls of Athens; Minerva = Athena, patron goddess of Athens]

Built and protects. A common enemy 

Threatens you both, unite them to oppose

Aricia.                        [dramatic irony; neither character in scene knows of Hip's love for Aricia, but the audience does]        400


PHAEDRA: To your counsel I consent.

Yes, I will live, if life can be restored,

If my affection for a son has power

To rouse my sinking heart at such a dangerous hour.



CHARACTERS: ARICIA [princess of the House of Pallas], ISMENE [Aricia’s friend; not the Ismene who was Oedipus's daughter]


ARICIA: Hippolytus requested to see me here?!

Hippolytus desires to bid farewell?!

Is it true, Ismene? Are you not deceived?


ISMENE: This is the first result of Theseus's death.

Prepare yourself to see from every side.

Hearts turn towards you that were kept away                                       410

By Theseus. Mistress of her lot at last,                                           [lot = destiny]

Aricia soon shall find all Greece fall low

To do her homage.


ARICIA: It is not then, Ismene,

An idle tale? Am I no more a slave?*

Have I no enemies?

[*Theseus had held Aricia captive because she is daughter to a rival family; with Theseus's supposed death, she may be freed]


ISMENE: The gods oppose

Your peace no longer, and the soul of Theseus

Is with your brothers.          [i.e., Theseus is dead like Aricia's brothers, whom Theseus slew]


ARICIA: Does the voice of fame                                                             420

Tell how he died?


ISMENE: Incredible rumors

Are spread. Some say that, seizing a new bride,

The faithless husband by the waves was swallowed.          [faithless husband = Theseus]

Others affirm, and this report prevails,

That with Pirithous to the world below      [Pirithous = king of Lapiths in Thessaly, best friend of Theseus]

He went, and saw the shores of dark Cocytus,  [Cocytus = 1 of 5 rivers to underworld]

Showing himself alive to the pale ghosts;

But that he could not leave those gloomy realms,

Which whoso enters there abides for ever.                                            430


ARICIA: Shall I believe that before his destined hour

A mortal may descend into the gulf

Of Hades? What attraction could overcome

Its terrors?


ISMENE: He is dead, and you alone

Doubt it. The men of Athens mourn his loss.

Troezen already hails Hippolytus

As King. And Phaedra, fearing for her son,

Asks counsel of the friends who share her trouble,

Here in this palace.                                                                                   440


ARICIA: Will Hippolytus,

Think you, prove kinder than his sire, make light

My chains, and pity my misfortunes?


ISMENE: Yes, I think so, Madam.


ARICIA: Ah, you know him not

Or you would never deem so hard a heart

Can pity feel, or me alone except

From the contempt in which he holds our sex.

Has he not long avoided every spot

Where we resort?                                                                                      450


ISMENE: I know what tales are told

Of proud Hippolytus, but I have seen

Him near you, and have watched with curious eye

How one esteemed so cold would bear himself.

Little did his behavior correspond

With what I looked for; in his face confusion

Appeared at your first glance, he could not turn

His languid eyes away, but gazed on you.

Love is a word that may offend his pride,

But what the tongue disowns, looks can betray.                                       460


ARICIA: How eagerly my heart hears what you say,

Though it may be delusion, dear Ismene!

Did it seem possible to you, who know me,

That I, sad sport of a relentless Fate,

Fed upon bitter tears by night and day,

Could ever taste the maddening draught of love?

The last frail offspring of a royal race,       [romantic characterization]

Children of Earth, only I have survived

War's fury.

                  Cut off in the flower of youth,

Mown by the sword, six brothers have I lost,                                              470

The hope of an illustrious house, whose blood

Earth drank with sorrow, near akin to his

Whom she herself produced. Since then, you know

How through all Greece no heart has been allowed

To sigh for me, lest by a sister's flame

The brothers' ashes be perchance rekindled.*      

You know, besides, with what disdain I viewed

My conqueror's suspicions and precautions,

And how, opposed as I have ever been

To love, I often thanked the King's injustice                                                  480

Which happily confirmed my inclination.

[*Having slain the men in the House of Pallas, Theseus wants no further children from the family who might grow up to seek revenge and revolt.]

But then I never had beheld his son.

Not that, attracted merely by the eye, I

love him for his beauty and his grace,

Endowments which he owes to Nature's bounty,

Charms which he seems to know not or to scorn.

I love and prize in him riches more rare,

The virtues of his sire, without his faults.

I love, as I must own, that generous pride

Which never has stooped beneath the amorous yoke.  [amorous yoke = marriage]    490


Phaedra reaps little glory from a lover                 [a lover = Theseus?]

So lavish of his sighs; I am too proud      [so lavish of sighs = so free with love]

To share devotion with a thousand others,

Or enter where the door is always open.


But to make one who never has stooped before

Bend his proud neck, to pierce a heart of stone,

To bind a captive whom his chains astonish,

Who vainly against a pleasing yoke rebels—               [yoke = harness or burden]

That piques my ardor, and I long for that.                                [ardor = attraction]


It was easier to disarm the god of strength                                           500

Than this Hippolytus, for Hercules                             [Hercules renowned for amorous adventures]

Yielded so often to the eyes of beauty,

As to make triumph cheap. But, dear Ismene,

I take too little heed of opposition

Beyond my power to quell, and you may hear me,

Humbled by sore defeat, upbraid the pride

I now admire. What! Can he love? and I

Have had the happiness to bend—


ISMENE: He comes. Yourself shall hear him.      [dialogue includes stage direction for Hippolytus's entrance]




[Hippolytus enters]


HIPPOLYTUS: Lady, before I go                  [Lady = Aricia]                    510

My duty bids me tell you of your change

Of fortune. My worst fears are realized;

My sire is dead. Yes, his protracted absence

Was caused as I foreboded. Death alone,

Ending his toils, could keep him from the world

Concealed so long. The gods at last have doomed

Alcides's friend, companion, and successor.  [Alcides = Hercules, who played hero with Theseus]


I think your hatred, tender to his virtues,

Can hear such terms of praise without resentment,

Knowing them due. One hope have I that soothes                                520 

My sorrow: I can free you from restraint.

Lo, I revoke the laws whose rigor moved

My pity; you are at your own disposal,

Both heart and hand; here, in my heritage,

In Troezen, where my grandfather Pittheus reigned

Of yore and I am now acknowledged King,             [of yore = in the past]

I leave you free, free as myself,—and more.


ARICIA: Your kindness is too great—it’s overwhelming.

Such generosity, that pays disgrace

With honor, lends more force than you can think                             530

To those harsh laws from which you would release me.


HIPPOLYTUS: Athens, uncertain how to fill the throne

Of Theseus, speaks of you*, anon of me,                          [anon = again; and then]

And then of Phaedra 's son.

[*Aricia herself is regarded as a possible successor to rule Athens in succession to the supposedly dead Theseus.]


ARICIA: Of me, my lord?


HIPPOLYTUS: I know myself excluded by strict law:

Greece turns to my reproach a foreign mother.                [Hippolyta the Amazon]

But if my brother were my only rival,                       [my brother = Phaedra's son]

My rights prevail over his clearly enough

To make me careless of the law's caprice.      [caprice = arbitrariness]        540


My forwardness is checked by juster claims:

To you I yield my place, or, rather, own

That it is yours by right, and yours the scepter,      [scepter = emblem of royal authority]

As handed down from Earth's great son, Erechtheus.   [Erechtheus = early king of Athens]

Adoption placed it in the hands of Aegeus:             [Aegeus = first king of Athens, father of Theseus]

Athens, by him protected and increased,

Welcomed a king so generous as my sire,                     [my sire = Theseus]

And left your hapless brothers in oblivion. [Pallas, Aricia's father, was an uncle to Theseus who challenged Theseus's claim to the throne of Athens, whom Theseus slew along with his 50 sons; Aricia as a distant cousin to Hippolytus thus has a claim to the thrones of Athens.]


Now she invites you back within her walls;                                [she = Athens]

Protracted strife has cost her groans enough,                                   550

Her fields are glutted with your kinsmen's blood            [kinsmen = Aricia's slain brothers]

Fattening the furrows out of which it sprung

At first. I rule this Troezen; while the son

Of Phaedra has in Crete a rich domain.           [Crete = Greek island home of Phaedra]

Athens is yours. I will do all I can      [Compare Hip's romantic generosity of spirit to that of Theseus in Oedipus at Colonus]

To join for you the votes divided now

Between us.


ARICIA: Stunned at all I hear, my lord,

I fear, I almost fear a dream deceives me.                         [dream = romance?]

Am I indeed awake? Can I believe                                                        560

Such generosity? What god has put it

Into your heart? Well is the fame deserved

That you enjoy! That fame falls short of truth!

Would you for me prove traitor to yourself?

Was it not boon enough never to hate me,                             [boon = gift]

So long to have abstained from harboring

The enmity—


HIPPOLYTUS: To hate you? I, hate you?

However darkly my fierce pride was painted,

Do you suppose a monster gave me birth?                                          570

What savage temper, what envenomed hatred

Would not be mollified at sight of you?

Could I resist the soul-bewitching charm—


ARICIA: Why, what is this, Sir?


HIPPOLYTUS: I have said too much

Not to say more. Prudence in vain resists

The violence of passion. I have broken

Silence at last, and I must tell you now

The secret that my heart can hold no longer.


You see before you an unhappy instance                                         580

Of hasty pride, a prince who claims compassion—

I, who, so long the enemy of Love,

Mocked at his fetters and despised his captives;                 [fetters = chains]

Who, pitying poor mortals that were shipwrecked,

In seeming safety viewed the storms from land,

Now find myself to the same fate exposed,

Tossed to and fro upon a sea of troubles!


My boldness has been vanquished in a moment,

And humbled is the pride wherein I boasted.

For nearly six months past, ashamed, despairing,                          590

Bearing wherever I go the shaft that rends            [shaft, as from an arrow of love; rends = tears]

My heart, I struggle vainly to be free

From you and from myself; I shun you, present;

Absent, I find you near; I see your form

In the dark forest depths; the shades of night

or broad daylight bring back to my view

The charms that I avoid—all things conspire

To make Hippolytus your slave. For fruit

Of all my bootless sighs, I fail to find

My former self. My bow and javelins                                                 600

Please me no more, my chariot is forgotten,

With all the Sea God's lessons; and the woods             [Sea God = Poseidon, Hippolytus's grandfather]

Echo my groans instead of joyous shouts

Urging my fiery steeds.

                                        Hearing this tale

Of passion so uncouth, you blush perchance

At your own handiwork. With what wild words

I offer you my heart, strange captive held

By silken jess! But dearer in your eyes                         [jess = falconer’s strap]

Should be the offering, that this language comes

Strange to my lips; reject not vows expressed                            610

So ill, which but for you had never been formed.





THERAMENES: Prince, the Queen comes. I herald her approach.

'Tis you she seeks.




THERAMENES: What her thought may be

I know not. But I speak on her behalf.

She would converse with you before you go hence.


HIPPOLYTUS: What shall I say to her? Can she expect—


ARICIA: You cannot, noble Prince, refuse to hear her,

However convinced she is your enemy,                                    620

Some shade of pity to her tears is due.


HIPPOLYTUS: Shall we part thus? and will you let me go,

Not knowing if my boldness has offended

The goddess I adore? Whether this heart,

Left in your hands—


ARICIA: Go, Prince, pursue the schemes

Your generous soul dictates, make Athens own

My scepter. All the gifts you offer me

Will I accept, but this high throne of empire

Is not the one most precious in my sight.    [romance transcends even monarchy]   630

[Aricia, Ismene exit]




HIPPOLYTUS: Friend, is all ready?       [Friend = Theramenes; ready > for departure (of Hippolytus's ship to Athens]

But the Queen approaches.

Go, see the vessel is fit and trim to sail.

Haste, bid the crew aboard, and hoist the signal:        [signal = flag]

Then soon return, and so deliver me

From this irksome interview.


[instructor's note: this scene may evoke horror and pity (catharsis) for Phaedra's humiliation; also the contrast between Phaedra's  descent into expression of passion and Hippolytus's coolness may be a meeting of Appoline & Dionysiac]]


[Phaedra, Oenone enter]


PHAEDRA (to Oenone): There I see him!

My blood forgets to flow, my tongue to speak

What I am come to say.


OENONE: Think of your son,                                          640

How all his hopes depend on you.



You leave us, and in haste. I come to add

My tears to your distress, and for a son

Plead my alarm. No more has he a father,

And at no distant day my son must witness

My death. Already do a thousand foes

Threaten his youth. You only can defend him.

But in my secret heart remorse awakes,

And fear lest I have shut your ears against                       650

His cries. I tremble lest your righteous anger

Visit on him before long the hatred earned

By me, his mother.


HIPPOLYTUS: No such base resentment,

Madam, is mine.


PHAEDRA: I could not blame you, Prince,

If you should hate me. I have injured you:

So much you know, but could not read my heart.

To incur your enmity has been mine aim.                               [enmity = hostility]

The self-same borders could not hold us both;                           660

In public and in private I declared

Myself your foe, and found no peace till seas

Parted us from each other. I forbade

Your very name to be pronounced before me.

And yet if punishment should be proportioned

To the offence, if only hatred draws

Your hatred, never woman merited

More pity, less deserved your enmity.


HIPPOLYTUS: A mother jealous of her children's rights

Seldom forgives the offspring of a wife                                     670

Who reigned before her. Harassing suspicions

Are common sequels of a second marriage.

Of me would any other have been jealous

No less than you, perhaps more violent.


PHAEDRA: Ah, Prince, how Heaven has from the general law

Made me exempt, be that same Heaven my witness!

Far different is the trouble that devours me!


HIPPOLYTUS: This is no time for self-reproaches, Madam.

It may be that your husband still beholds

The light, and Heaven may grant him safe return,                   680

In answer to our prayers. His guardian god

Is Neptune, never by him invoked in vain*. [Neptune / Poseidon = Sea God & Theseus’s immortal father]

[*final phrase foreshadows Theseus's curse on Hippolytus.]


PHAEDRA: He who has seen the mansions of the dead

Returns not thence. Since to those gloomy shores

Theseus is gone, it is vain to hope that Heaven

May send him back. Prince, there is no release

From Acheron's greedy maw. And yet, methinks,   [Acheron = river to underworld]

He lives, and breathes in you. I see him still

Before me, and to him I seem to speak;

My heart—                                                                               690

Oh! I am mad; do what I will,

I cannot hide my passion.



The strange effects of love. Theseus, though dead,

Seems present to your eyes, for in your soul

There burns a constant flame.


PHAEDRA: Ah, yes for Theseus

I languish and I long, not as the Shades

Have seen him, of a thousand different forms

The fickle lover, and of Pluto's bride     [Pluto's bride = Persephone*]       700

The would-be ravisher, but faithful, proud

Even to a slight disdain, with youthful charms

Attracting every heart, as gods are painted,

Or like yourself.

                             He had your mien, your eyes,           [mien = bearing, style]

Spoke and could blush like you, when to the isle

Of Crete, my childhood's home, he crossed the waves,

Worthy to win the love of Minos's daughters.                         [i. e., Ariadne, Phaedra]

What were you doing then? Why did he gather

The flower of Greece, and leave Hippolytus?

Oh, why were you too young to have embarked                          710

On board the ship that brought thy sire to Crete?

At your hands would the monster then have perished,   [monster = Minotaur: half-bull, half-man]

Despite the windings of his vast retreat.   [windings, etc. = Minotaur’s labyrinth or maze; see Character Backgrounds above]

[*Pluto's bride = Persephone: Theseus & his buddy Pirithous once tried to abduct Persephone from the underworld]


To guide your doubtful steps within the maze

My sister would have armed you with the clue. [clue = string provided by Ariadnes, Phaedra's sister, by which Theseus found his way out of the labyrinth]

But no, therein would Phaedra have forestalled her,

Love would have first inspired me with the thought;

And I it would have been whose timely aid

Had taught you all the labyrinth's crooked ways.

What anxious care a life so dear had cost me!                          720

No thread had satisfied your lover's fears:

I would myself have wished to lead the way,

And share the peril you were bound to face;

Phaedra with you would have explored the maze,

With you emerged in safety, or have perished.


HIPPOLYTUS: Gods! What is this I hear? Have you forgotten

That Theseus is my father and your husband?


PHAEDRA: Why should you fancy I have lost remembrance

Thereof, and am regardless of mine honor?


HIPPOLYTUS: Forgive me, Madam. With a blush I own               730

That I misconstrued words of innocence.

For very shame I cannot bear your sight

Longer. I go—


PHAEDRA: Ah! cruel Prince, too well

You understood me. I have said enough

To save you from mistake. I love. But think not

That at the moment when I love you most

I do not feel my guilt; no weak compliance

Has fed the poison that infects my brain.

The ill-starred object of celestial vengeance,   [celestial vengeance = the gods’ interference]      740

I am not so detestable to you

As to myself.

                         The gods will bear me witness,

Who have within my veins kindled this fire,

The gods, who take a barbarous delight

In leading a poor mortal's heart astray.

Do you yourself recall to mind the past:

It was not enough for me to fly, I chased you

Out of the country, wishing to appear

Inhuman, odious; to resist you better,

I sought to make you hate me. All in vain!                                                     750

Hating me more I loved you none the less:

New charms were lent to you by your misfortunes.

I have been drowned in tears, and scorched by fire;

Your own eyes might convince you of the truth,

If for one moment you could look at me.


What is it I say? Do you think this vile confession

I have made is what I meant to utter?

Not daring to betray a son for whom

I trembled, to beg you not to hate him

I came. Weak purpose of a heart too full                                                      760

Of love for you to speak of aught besides!

Take your revenge, punish my odious passion;

Prove yourself worthy of your valiant sire,

And rid the world of an offensive monster!      [Theseus famous for slaying monsters]

Does Theseus's widow dare to love his son?

The frightful monster! Let her not escape you!

Here is my heart. This is the place to strike.

Already prompt to expiate its guilt,

I feel it leap impatiently to meet

Your arm. Strike home. Or, if it would disgrace you   [your arm = your sword]      770

To steep your hand in such polluted blood,

If that were punishment too mild to slake

Your hatred, lend me then your sword, if not

Your arm. Quick, give it.                                    [Phaedra takes Hippolytus’s sword]


OENONE: What, Madam, will you do?

Just gods! But someone comes. Go, fly from shame,

You cannot escape if seen by any thus.

[Phaedra & Oenone exit; as Phaedra carries away Hippolytus's sword]





THERAMENES: Is that the form of Phaedra that I see

Hurried away? What mean these signs of sorrow?

Where is your sword? Why are you pale, confused?                        780


HIPPOLYTUS: Friend, let us fly. I am, indeed, confounded

With horror and astonishment extreme.

Phaedra—but no; gods, let this dreadful secret

Remain forever buried in oblivion.


THERAMENES: The ship is ready if you wish to sail.

But Athens has already given her vote;

Their leaders have consulted all her tribes;

Your brother is elected, Phaedra wins.




THERAMENES: A herald, charged with a commission                    790

From Athens, has arrived to place the reins

Of power in her hands. Her son is King.


HIPPOLYTUS: Ye gods, who know her, do ye thus reward

Her virtue?


THERAMENES: A faint rumor meanwhile whispers

That Theseus is not dead, but in Epirus        [Epirus = region in Northwest Greece]

Has shown himself. But, after all my search,

I know too well—


HIPPOLYTUS: Let nothing be neglected.

This rumor must be traced back to its source.                           800

If it be found unworthy of belief,

Let us set sail, and cost whatever it may,

To hands deserving trust the scepter's sway.  [As a result of Phaedra's confession, Hippolytus regards her as unworthy to rule Athens.]


ACT III, Scene I



PHAEDRA: Ah! Let them take elsewhere the worthless honors

They bring me. Why so urgent I should see them?    [they, them = emissaries from Athens]

What flattering balm can soothe my wounded heart?

Far rather hide me: I have said too much.

My madness has burst forth like streams in flood,

And I have uttered what should never have reached

His ear.

                Gods! How he heard me! How reluctant                     810

To catch my meaning, dull and cold as marble,

And eager only for a quick retreat!

How oft his blushes made my shame the deeper!

Why did you turn me from the death I sought?                       [you = Oenone]

Ah! When his sword was pointed to my bosom,

Did he grow pale, or try to snatch it from me?

That I had touched it was enough for him

To render it forever horrible,

Leaving defilement on the hand that holds it.


OENONE: Thus brooding on your bitter disappointment,              820

You only fan a fire that must be stifled.

Would it not be more worthy of the blood

Of Minos to find peace in nobler cares,                      [Minos = Phaedra’s father]

And, in defiance of a wretch who flies

From what he hates, reign, mount the proffered throne?


PHAEDRA: I reign! Shall I the rod of empire sway,           [I reign! = Who, me?]

When reason reigns no longer over myself?

When I have lost control of all my senses?

When beneath a shameful yoke I scarce can breathe?           [yoke = burden]

When I am dying?                                                                           830


OENONE: Fly.     [i.e., flee]


PHAEDRA: I cannot leave him.                                                [him = Hippolytus]


OENONE: Dare you not fly from him you dared to banish?


PHAEDRA: The time for that is past. He knows my frenzy.

I have overstepped the bounds of modesty,

And blazoned forth my shame before his eyes.    [blazoned = published, made known]

Hope stole into my heart against my will.

Did you not rally my declining powers?

Was it not you yourself recalled my soul

When fluttering on my lips, and with your counsel,                         840

Lent me fresh life, and told me I might love him?


OENONE: Blame me or blame me not for your misfortunes,

Of what was I incapable, to save you?

But if your indignation ever was roused

By insult, can you pardon his contempt?

How cruelly his eyes, severely fixed,

Surveyed you almost prostrate at his feet!

How hateful then appeared his savage pride!

Why did not Phaedra see him then as I

Beheld him?                                                                                850


PHAEDRA: This proud mood that you resent

May yield to time. The rudeness of the forests

Where he was bred, inured to rigorous laws,

Clings to him still; love is a word he never

Had heard before. It may be his surprise        [irony: Phaedra is unaware of previous scene b/w Hip & Aricia]

Stunned him, and too much vehemence was shown

In all I said.


OENONE: Remember that his mother

Was a barbarian.        [Hippolytus’s mother was Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons]


PHAEDRA: Scythian though she was,   [Scythian = from central Asia; barbarian]    860

She learned to love.


OENONE: He has for all the sex

Hatred intense.


PHAEDRA: Then in his heart no rival

Shall ever reign. Your counsel comes too late.        [dramatic irony]

Oenone, serve my madness, not my reason.

His heart is inaccessible to love.

Let us attack him where he has more feeling.

The charms of sovereignty appeared to touch him;

He could not hide that he was drawn to Athens;                                            870

His vessels' prows were thither turned already,

All sail was set to scud before the breeze.      [scud = move or run swiftly, as clouds in a gale]


Go you on my behalf, to his ambition

Appeal, and let the prospect of the crown

Dazzle his eyes. The sacred diadem

Shall deck his brow, no higher honor mine

Than there to bind it. His shall be the power

I cannot keep; and he shall teach my son

How to rule men. It may be he will deign

To be to him a father. Son and mother                                                     880

He shall control. Try every means to move him;

Your words will find more favor than can mine.

Urge him with groans and tears; show Phaedra dying.

Nor blush to use the voice of supplication.

In you is my last hope; I'll sanction all

You say; and on the issue hangs my fate.





PHAEDRA: Venus implacable, who seest me shamed     [Venus/Aphrodite=goddess of love]

And sore confounded, have I not enough

Been humbled? How can cruelty be stretched

Farther? Thy shafts have all gone home, and thou     [shafts = arrows of love]         890

Hast triumphed. Would thou win a new renown?

Attack an enemy more contumacious:           [contumacious = stubbornly disobedient]

Hippolytus neglects thee, braves thy wrath,        [irony: Hippolytus loves Aricia]

Nor ever at thine altars bowed the knee.

Thy name offends his proud, disdainful ears.

Our interests are alike: avenge thyself,

Force him to love—

But what is this? Oenone

Returned already? He detests me then,

And will not hear you.                                                      900





[Enter Oenone]

OENONE: Madam, you must stifle

A fruitless love. Recall your former virtue:

The king who was thought dead will soon appear

Before your eyes, Theseus has just arrived,

Theseus is here. The people flock to see him

With eager haste. I went by your command

To find the prince, when with a thousand shouts

The air was rent—


PHAEDRA: My husband is alive,

That is enough, Oenone. I have owned                                   910

A passion that dishonors him. He lives:

I ask to know no more.




PHAEDRA: I foretold it,

But you refused to hear. Your tears prevailed

Over my just remorse. Dying this morn,

I had deserved compassion; your advice

I took, and die dishonored.




PHAEDRA: Just Heavens!                                                     920

What have I done to-day? My husband comes,

With him his son: and I shall see the witness

Of my adulterous flame watch with what face

I greet his father, while my heart is big

With sighs he scorned, and tears that could not move him

Moisten mine eyes. Think you that his respect

For Theseus will induce him to conceal

My madness, nor disgrace his sire and king?

Will he be able to keep back the horror

He has for me? His silence would be vain.                        930


I know my treason, and I lack the boldness

Of those abandoned women who can taste

Tranquility in crime, and show a forehead      [show a forehead / All unabashed = lie with a straight face]

All unabashed. I recognize my madness,                

Recall it all. These vaulted roofs, methinks,

These walls can speak, and, ready to accuse me,

Wait but my husband's presence to reveal

My perfidy.

                    Death only can remove

This weight of horror. Is it such misfortune

To cease to live? Death causes no alarm                     940

To misery. I only fear the name

That I shall leave behind me. For my sons

How sad a heritage! The blood of Jove              [Jove / Zeus = king of the gods, and source of Phaedra's family line]

Might justly swell the pride that boasts descent

From Heaven, but heavy weighs a mother's guilt

Upon her offspring. Yes, I dread the scorn

That will be cast on them, with too much truth,

For my disgrace. I tremble when I think

That, crushed beneath that curse, they'll never dare

To raise their eyes.                                                              950


OENONE: Doubt not I pity both;

Never was fear more just than yours. Why, then,

Expose them to this ignominy? Why                                    [ignominy = shame]

Will you accuse yourself? You thus destroy

The only hope that's left; it will be said

That Phaedra, conscious of her perfidy,                                 [perfidy = treachery]

Fled from her husband's sight. Hippolytus

Will be rejoiced that, dying, you should lend

His charge support. What can I answer him?

He'll find it easy to confute my tale,                                          960

And I shall hear him with an air of triumph

To every open ear repeat your shame.

Sooner than that, may fire from heaven consume me!

Deceive me not. Say, do you love him still?

How look you now on this contemptuous prince?                   [prince = Hippolytus]


PHAEDRA: As on a monster frightful to mine eyes.


OENONE: Why yield him, then, an easy victory?

You fear him? Venture to accuse him first,

As guilty of the charge which he may bring

This day against you. Who can say 'tis false?                    970

All tells against him: in your hands his sword

Happily left behind, your present trouble,

Your past distress, your warnings to his father,

His exile which your earnest prayers obtained.


PHAEDRA: What! Would you have me slander innocence?


OENONE: My zeal has need of naught from you but silence.

Like you I tremble, and am loath to do it;                               [loath = reluctant]

More willingly I'd face a thousand deaths,

But since without this bitter remedy

I lose you, and to me your life outweighs                                     980

All else, I'll speak.

                               Theseus, however enraged

Will do no worse than banish him again.

A father, when he punishes, remains

A father, and his ire is satisfied                                                  [ire = anger]

With a light sentence. But if guiltless blood

Should flow, is not your honor of more moment?

A treasure far too precious to be risked?

You must submit, whatever it dictates;

For, when our reputation is at stake,

All must be sacrificed, conscience itself.                             990

But someone comes. 'Tis Theseus.


PHAEDRA: And I see

Hippolytus, my ruin plainly written

In his stern eyes. Do what you will; I trust

My fate to you. I cannot help myself.



[Theseus, Theramenes, Hippoytus enter]


THESEUS: Fortune no longer fights against my wishes,

Madam, and to your arms restores—


PHAEDRA: Stay, Theseus!                                      [stay = stop!]

Do not profane endearments that were once

So sweet, but which I am unworthy now                           1000

To taste. You have been wronged. Fortune has proved

Spiteful, nor in your absence spared your wife.

I am unfit to meet your fond caress;

How I may bear my shame is my only care


ACT III, Scene V



THESEUS: Strange welcome for your father, this!

What does it mean, my son?


HIPPOLYTUS: Phaedra alone

Can solve this mystery. But if my wish

Can move you, let me never see her more;                      1010

Suffer Hippolytus to disappear                                               [suffer = permit]

For ever from the home that holds your wife.


THESEUS: You, my son! Leave me?


HIPPOLYTUS: It was not I who sought her:

It was you who led her footsteps to these shores.

At your departure you thought meet, my lord,           [meet = fitting, appropriate]

To trust Aricia and the Queen to this

Troezenian land, and I myself was charged

With their protection. But what cares henceforth

Need keep me here? My youth of idleness                         1020

Has shown its skill enough over paltry foes

That range the woods. May I not quit a life

Of such inglorious ease, and dip my spear

In nobler blood?

                            Before you reached my age

More than one tyrant, more than one monster*

Had felt the weight of your stout arm. Already,

Successful in attacking insolence,

You had removed all dangers that infested

Our coasts to east and west. The traveler feared

Outrage no longer. Hearing of your deeds,     [outrage = attack]       1030

Already Hercules relied on you,

And rested from his toils. While I, unknown

Son of so brave a sire, am far behind

Even my mother's footsteps. Let my courage

Have scope to act, and if some monster* yet

Has escaped you, let me lay the glorious spoils

Down at your feet; or let the memory

Of death faced nobly keep my name alive,

And prove to all the world I was your son.

[*So much "monster" talk relates to Phaedra's description of herself as a monster (ll. 764, 766), to perception of Hippolytus as a monster (966), and to "monster" of conclusion. In line 933 below, Theseus calls Hippolytus a "monster."]


THESEUS: Why, what is this? What terror has possessed    1040

My family to make them fly before me?

If I return to find myself so feared,

So little welcome, why did Heaven release me

From prison? My sole friend, misled by passion,                    [friend = Pirithous?]

Was bent on robbing of his wife the tyrant

Who ruled Epirus. With regret I lent                 [Epirus = region in Northwest Greece]

The lover aid, but Fate had made us blind,

Myself as well as him.

                                    The tyrant seized me

Defenseless and unarmed. Pirithous

I saw with tears cast forth to be devoured                       1050

By savage beasts that lapped the blood of men.

Myself in gloomy caverns he enclosed,

Deep in the bowels of the earth, and nigh

To Pluto's realms. Six months I lay before Heaven          [Pluto = god of underworld]

Had pity, and I escaped the watchful eyes

That guarded me. Then did I purge the world

Of a foul foe, and he himself has fed                               [foe = the tyrant of Epirus]

His monsters.

[Lines 1048-58 constitute a mini-romance narrative of capture and escape.]

                         But when with expectant joy

To all that is most precious I draw near

Of what the gods have left me, when my soul                          1060

Looks for full satisfaction in a sight

So dear, my only welcome is a shudder,

Embrace rejected, and a hasty flight.

Inspiring, as I clearly do, such terror,

Would I were still a prisoner in Epirus!


Phaedra complains that I have suffered outrage.      [outrage = indignity, offense, affront]

Who has betrayed me? Speak. Why was I not

Avenged? Has Greece, to whom mine arm so oft

Brought useful aid, sheltered the criminal?

You make no answer. Is my son, mine own    [you = Theramenes]              1070

Dear son, confederate with mine enemies?    [confederate with = conspiring with]

I'll enter. This suspense is overwhelming.

I'll learn at once the culprit and the crime,

And Phaedra must explain her troubled state.

[Theseus exits]




HIPPOLYTUS: What do these words portend, which seemed to freeze

My very blood? Will Phaedra, in her frenzy

Accuse herself, and seal her own destruction?

What will the King say? Gods! What fatal poison [poison metaphor, requiring purgation or catharsis]

Has love spread over all his house! Myself,    [his = Theseus's]

Full of a fire his hatred disapproves,                                            1080

How changed he finds me from the son he knew!

With dark forebodings is my mind alarmed,

But innocence surely has nothing to fear.

Come, let us go, and in some other place

Consider how I best may move my sire

To tenderness, and tell him of a flame

Vexed but not vanquished by a father's blame.


ACT IV, Scene I


[The scene opens after Oenone, speaking to Theseus, has falsely accused Hippolytus of making sexual advances on Phaedra.]

[Instructor's note / question: The scene referred to above hardly sounds like spectacle, so why is it repressed?]


THESEUS: Ah! What is this I hear? Presumptuous traitor!    [traitor = Hippolytus]

And would he have disgraced his father's honor?

With what relentless footsteps Fate pursues me!                  1090

Whither I go I know not, nor know where

I am. O kind affection ill repaid!

Audacious scheme! Abominable thought!

To reach the object of his foul desire

The wretch did not disdain to use violence.

I know this sword* that served him in his fury—

This sword I gave him for nobler use.

Could not the sacred ties of blood restrain him?

And Phaedra—was she loath to have him punished?           [loath = reluctant]

She held her tongue. Was that to spare the culprit?                 1100

[*sword: In Act 2, sc. 5, l. 774 Phaedra took Hippolytus's sword from him; in Act 2, sc. 6, l. 780 Theramenes asked Hippolytus what he was doing without his sword; in Act 3, sc. 3, l. 971 Oenone noted Phaedra's possession of Hippolytus's sword and suggested using it as evidence in falsely accusing Hippolytus. Can "sword" here have sexual symbolism?]


OENONE: Nay, but to spare a most unhappy father.

Overwhelmed with shame that her eyes should have kindled

So infamous a flame and prompted him

To crime so heinous, Phaedra would have died.           [heinous = outrageous]

I saw her raise her arm, and ran to save her.

To me alone you owe it that she lives;

And, in my pity both for her and you,

Have I against my will interpreted

Her tears.


THESEUS: The traitor! He might well turn pale.                      1110

Fear made him tremble when he saw me.

I was astonished he showed no pleasure;

His frigid greeting chilled my tenderness.

But was this guilty passion that devours him

Declared already before I banished him

From Athens?


OENONE: Sire, remember how the Queen

Urged you. Illicit love caused all her hatred.          [Urged you: i.e., to banish Hippolytus; "Illicit love caused . . . " = irony]


THESEUS: And then this fire broke out again at Troezen? ["again": Acc. to Oenone, Hippolytus approached Phaedra on an earlier occasion, which led Phaedra to urge Theseus to banish Hippolytus on that earlier occasion.]


OENONE: Sire, I have told you all. Too long the Queen                    1120

Has been allowed to bear her grief alone

Let me now leave you and attend to her.


ACT IV, Scene II



THESEUS: Ah! There he is. Great gods! That noble mien        [mien = manner, bearing, profile]

Might well deceive an eye less fond than mine!

Why should the sacred stamp of virtue gleam

Upon the forehead of an impious wretch?

Ought not the blackness of a traitor's heart

To show itself by sure and certain signs?  [Theseus shows tragic flaw: preconceived attitude hardens and prevents him from interpreting information and learning or adapting correctly]


HIPPOLYTUS: My father, may I ask what fatal cloud

Has troubled your majestic countenance?            [countenance = face]         1130

Can you not trust this secret to your son?


THESEUS: Traitor, how dare you show yourself before me?

Monster, whom Heaven's bolts have spared too long!                 [bolts = lightning]

Survivor of that robber crew whereof

I cleansed the earth. After your brutal lust

Scorned even to respect my marriage bed,

You venture—you, my hated foe—to come

Into my presence, here, where all is full

Of your foul infamy, instead of seeking

Some unknown land that never heard my name.                           1140

Fly, traitor, fly! Stay not to tempt the wrath

That I can scarce restrain, nor brave my hatred.


Disgrace enough have I incurred for ever

In being father of so vile a son,

Without your death staining indelibly

The glorious record of my noble deeds.

Fly, and unless you wish quick punishment

To add you to the criminals cut off

By me, take heed this sun that lights us now

Never sees you more set foot upon this soil.                                1150

I tell you once again—fly, haste, return not,

Rid all my realms of your atrocious presence.


To thee, to thee, great Neptune, I appeal

If first I cleared thy shores of foul assassins.

Recall thy promise to reward those efforts,       [thy = Neptune's / Poseidon's]

Crowned with success, by granting my first prayer.

Confined for long in close captivity,

I have not yet called on thy powerful aid,

Sparing to use the valued privilege

Till at mine utmost need. The time is come                          1160

I ask thee now. Avenge a wretched father!

I leave this traitor to thy wrath; in blood

Quench his outrageous fires, and by thy fury

Theseus will estimate thy favor towards him.


HIPPOLYTUS: Phaedra accuses me of lawless passion!

This crowning horror all my soul confounds;

Such unexpected blows, falling at once,

Overwhelm me, choke my utterance, strike me dumb.


THESEUS: Traitor, you reckoned that in timid silence

Phaedra would bury your brutality.                                         1170

You should not have abandoned in your flight

The sword that in her hands helps to condemn you;

Or rather, to complete your perfidy,                                           [perfidy = treachery]

You should have robbed her both of speech and life.


HIPPOLYTUS: Justly indignant at a lie so black

I might be pardoned if I told the truth;

But it concerns your honor to conceal it.


Approve the reverence that shuts my mouth;         [reverence: i.e., towards his father]

And, without wishing to increase your woes,

Examine closely what my life has been.                            1180

Great crimes are never single, they are linked

To former faults. He who has once transgressed

May violate at last all that men hold

Most sacred; vice, like virtue, has degrees

Of progress; innocence was never seen

To sink at once into the lowest depths

Of guilt. No virtuous man can in a day

Turn traitor, murderer, an incestuous wretch.


The nursling of a chaste, heroic mother,                                 [nursling = child, offspring]

I have not proved unworthy of my birth.                                      1190

Pittheus, whose wisdom is by all esteemed,     [Pittheus = King of Troezen before Theseus]

Deigned to instruct me when I left her hands.


It is no wish of mine to vaunt my merits,

But, if I may lay claim to any virtue,

I think beyond all else I have displayed

Abhorrence of those sins with which I'm charged.

For this Hippolytus is known in Greece,

So continent that he is deemed austere.  [continent = self-restrained; opposite of indulgent]

All know my abstinence inflexible:   [abstinence = self-control]

The daylight is not purer than my heart.                                      1200

How, then, could I, burning with fire profane—

[irony: Hippolytus makes these claims for his aversion to love on the same day he has declared his love for Aricia.]


THESEUS: Yes, dastard, 'tis that very pride condemns you.   [dastard = coward, sneak]

I see the odious reason of your coldness

Phaedra alone bewitched your shameless eyes;

Your soul, indifferent to others' charms,

Disdained the blameless fires of lawful love.


HIPPOLYTUS: No, father, I have hidden it too long,

This heart has not disdained a sacred flame.

Here at your feet I own my real offence:

I love, and love in truth where you forbid me;                           1210

Bound to Aricia by my heart's devotion,

The child of Pallas has subdued your son.

A rebel to your laws, her I adore,

And breathe forth ardent sighs for her alone.


THESEUS: You love her? Heavens!

But no, I see the trick.

You feign a crime to justify yourself.


HIPPOLYTUS: Sir, I have shunned her for six months, and still

Love her. To you yourself I came to tell it,

Trembling the while. Can nothing clear your mind                  1220

Of your mistake? What oath can reassure you?

By heaven and earth and all the powers of nature—


THESEUS: The wicked never shrink from perjury.

Cease, cease, and spare me irksome protestations,

If your false virtue has no other aid.


HIPPOLYTUS: Though it to you seem false and insincere,       [it = Hippolytus's virtue]

Phaedra has secret cause to know it true.


THESEUS: Ah! how your shamelessness excites my wrath!


HIPPOLYTUS: What is my term and place of banishment?


THESEUS: Were you beyond the Pillars of Alcides,  [Pillars of Hercules, boundary of Mediterranean Sea]  1230

Your perjured presence were too near me yet.                [perjured = lying under oath]


HIPPOLYTUS: What friends will pity me, when you forsake

And think me guilty of a crime so vile?


THESEUS: Go, look you out for friends who hold in honor

Adultery and clap their hands at incest,

Low, lawless traitors, steeped in infamy,

The fit protectors of a knave like you.


HIPPOLYTUS: Are incest and adultery the words

You cast at me? I hold my tongue. Yet think

What mother Phaedra had; too well you know    [see note above re Minotaur]     1240

Her blood, not mine, is tainted with those horrors.


THESEUS: What! Does your rage before my eyes lose all

Restraint? For the last time—out of my sight!

Hence, traitor! Wait not till a father's wrath

Force thee away amid general execration.                             [execration = curse]

[Hippolytus exits]




THESEUS: Wretch! Thou must meet inevitable ruin.

Neptune has sworn by Styx—to gods themselves                    [Styx = river of death]

A dreadful oath—and he will execute

His promise. Thou canst not escape his vengeance.


I loved thee; and, in spite of thine offence,                                        1250

My heart is troubled by anticipation

For thee. But thou hast earned thy doom too well.

Had father ever greater cause for rage?

Just gods, who see the grief that overwhelms me,

Why was I cursed with such a wicked son?




[Phaedra enters]

PHAEDRA: My lord, I come to you, filled with just dread.

Your voice raised high in anger reached mine ears,

And much I fear that deeds have followed threats.


Oh, if there yet is time, spare your own offspring.

Respect your race and blood, I do beseech you.                           1260

Let me not hear that blood cry from the ground;

Save me the horror and perpetual pain

Of having caused his father's hand to shed it.


THESEUS: No, Madam, from that stain my hand is free.

But, for all that, the wretch has not escaped me.

The hand of an Immortal now is charged                [an Immortal = Neptune / Poseidon]

With his destruction. 'Tis a debt that Neptune

Owes me, and you shall be avenged.



Owed you? Prayers made in anger—                                            1270


THESEUS: Never fear

That they will fail. Rather join yours to mine

Paint for me his crimes in all their blackness,

And fan my tardy passion to white heat.

But yet you know not all his infamy;

His rage against you overflows in slanders;

Your mouth, he says, is full of all deceit,

He says Aricia has his heart and soul,

That her alone he loves.


PHAEDRA: Aricia?*         [*recognition scene?]                           1280



He said it to my face! an idle pretext!

A trick that gulls me not! Let us hope Neptune                            [gulls = deceives]

Will do him speedy justice. To his altars

I go, to urge performance of his oaths.

[Theseus exits]





PHAEDRA: Ah, he is gone! What tidings struck mine ears?

What fire, half smothered, in my heart revives?

What fatal stroke falls like a thunderbolt?

Stung by remorse that would not let me rest,

I tore myself out of Oenone's arms,                                1290

And flew to help Hippolytus with all

My soul and strength. Who knows if that repentance

Might not have moved me to accuse myself?

And, if my voice had not been choked with shame,

Perhaps I had confessed the frightful truth.


Hippolytus can feel, but not for me!

Aricia has his heart, his plighted troth.                        [plighted troth = pledge of love]

Ye gods, when, deaf to all my sighs and tears,

He armed his eye with scorn, his brow with threats,

I deemed his heart, impregnable to love,                       1300

Was fortified against all my sex alike.

And yet another has prevailed to tame

His pride, another has secured his favor.

Perhaps he has a heart easily melted;

I am the only one he cannot bear!

Then shall I charge myself with his defense?




[Oenone enters]


PHAEDRA: Know you, dear Nurse, what I have learned just now?


OENONE: No; but I come in truth with trembling limbs.

I dreaded with what purpose you went forth,

The fear of fatal madness made me pale.                                1310


PHAEDRA: Who would have thought it, Nurse? I had a rival.


OENONE: A rival?


PHAEDRA: Yes, he loves. I cannot doubt it.                         [he = Hippolytus]

This wild untamable Hippolytus,

Who scorned to be admired, whom lovers' sighs

Wearied, this tiger, whom I feared to rouse,

Fawns on a hand that has subdued his pride:

Aricia has found entrance to his heart.


OENONE: Aricia?


PHAEDRA: Ah! anguish as yet untried!     [anguish as yet untried = fresh torment]     1320

For what new tortures am I still reserved?

All I have undergone, transports of passion,

Longings and fears, the horrors of remorse,

The shame of being spurned with contumely,              [contumely = scorn]

Were feeble foretastes of my present torments.

They love each other!

                                        By what secret charm

Have they deceived me? Where, and when, and how

Met they? You knew it all. Why was I cozened?     [cozened = cheated]

You never told me of those stolen hours

Of amorous converse. Have they oft been seen   [amorous converse = love-talk]  1330

Talking together? Did they seek the shades

Of thickest woods?

                                 Alas! full freedom had they

To see each other. Heaven approved their sighs;

They loved without the consciousness of guilt;

And every morning's sun for them shone clear,

While I, an outcast from the face of Nature,

Shunned the bright day, and sought to hide myself.

Death was the only god whose aid I dared

To ask: I waited for the grave's release.

Watered with tears, nourished with gall, my woe   [gall = bitterness]         1340

Was all too closely watched; I did not dare

To weep without restraint. In mortal dread

Tasting this dangerous solace, I disguised

My terror beneath a tranquil countenance,

And oft had I to check my tears, and smile.


OENONE: What fruit will they enjoy of their vain love?

They will not see each other more.


PHAEDRA: That love

Will last for ever. Even while I speak,    [transcendence of romance]

(Ah, fatal thought!), they laugh to scorn the madness                         1350

Of my distracted heart. In spite of exile

That soon must part them, with a thousand oaths

They seal yet closer union.

                                                 Can I suffer

A happiness, Oenone, which insults me?

I crave your pity. She must be destroyed.

My husband's wrath against a hateful stock        [stock = family line]

Shall be revived, nor must the punishment

Be light: the sister's guilt passes the brothers'.   [sister = Aricia; brothers = Pallantides]

I will entreat him in my jealous rage.


What am I saying? Have I lost my senses?                                      1360

Is Phaedra jealous, and will she implore

Theseus for help? My husband lives, and yet

I burn. For whom? Whose heart is this I claim

As mine? At every word I say, my hair

Stands up with horror. Guilt henceforth has passed

All bounds. Hypocrisy and incest breathe

At once through all. My murderous hands are ready

To spill the blood of guileless innocence.

Do I yet live, wretch that I am, and dare

To face this holy Sun from whom I spring? [Phaedra’s mother = daughter of Helios, sun god]  1370

My father's sire was king of all the gods;

My ancestors fill all the universe.

Where can I hide? In the dark realms of Pluto?


But there my father holds the fatal urn;     [Minos as judge of dead often depicted with urn to hold ballots determining soul's fate]

His hand awards the irrevocable doom:

Minos is judge of all the ghosts in hell.

Ah! how his awful shade will start and shudder

When he shall see his daughter brought before him,

Forced to confess sins of such varied dye,                                          [dye = stain]

Crimes it may be unknown to hell itself!                                                    1380

What wilt thou say, my father, at a sight

So dire? I think I see thee drop the urn,    [thee = Minos, Phaedra's father, judge of the dead]

And, seeking some unheard-of punishment,

Thyself become my executioner.

Spare me! A cruel goddess has destroyed               [cruel goddess = Venus / Aphrodite]

Thy race; and in my madness recognize

Her wrath. Alas! My aching heart has reaped

No fruit of pleasure from the frightful crime

The shame of which pursues me to the grave,

And ends in torment life-long misery.                                                    1390


OENONE: Ah, Madam, pray dismiss a groundless dread:

Look less severely on a venial error.                     [venial = pardonable]

You love. We cannot conquer destiny.

You were drawn on as by a fatal charm.

Is that a marvel without precedent

Among us? Has love triumphed over you,

And o'er none else? Weakness is natural

To man. A mortal, to a mortal's lot

Submit. You chafe against a yoke that others

Have long since borne. The dwellers in Olympus,                            1400

The gods themselves, who terrify with threats

The sins of men, have burned with lawless fires.


PHAEDRA: What words are these I hear? What counsel this

You dare to give me? Will you to the end

Pour poison in mine ears? You have destroyed me.

You brought me back when I should else have quitted

The light of day, made me forget my duty

And see Hippolytus, till then avoided.


What hast thou done? Why did your wicked mouth

With blackest lies slander his blameless life?                                   1410

Perhaps you've slain him, and the impious prayer

Of an unfeeling father has been answered.

No, not another word! Go, hateful monster;

Away, and leave me to my piteous fate.

May Heav'n with justice pay you your deserts!

And may your punishment for ever be

A terror to all those who would, like you,

Nourish with artful wiles the weaknesses

Of princes, push them to the brink of ruin

To which their heart inclines, and smooth the path                          1420

Of guilt. Such flatterers doth the wrath of Heav'n

Bestow on kings as its most fatal gift.

[Phaedra exits]


OENONE (alone)

O gods! to serve her what have I not done?

This is the due reward that I have won.





ARICIA: Can you keep silent in this mortal peril?                        [you = Hippolytus]

Your father loves you. Will you leave him thus

Deceived? If in your cruel heart you scorn

My tears, content to see me nevermore,

Go, part from poor Aricia; but at least,

Going, secure the safety of your life.                                                  1430

Defend your honor from a shameful stain,

And force your father to recall his prayers.

There yet is time. Why out of mere caprice

Leave the field free to Phaedra 's calumnies?                          [calumnies = slanders]

Let Theseus know the truth.


HIPPOLYTUS: Could I say more,

Without exposing him to dire disgrace?

How should I venture, by revealing all,

To make a father's face grow red with shame?

The odious mystery to you alone                                                             1440

Is known. My heart has been outpoured to none

Save you and Heaven. I could not hide from you

(Judge if I love you), all I fain would hide

Even from myself.

                               But think under what seal                           [seal = confidentiality]

I spoke. Forget my words, if that may be;

And never let so pure a mouth disclose

This dreadful secret. Let us trust Heaven

To vindicate me, for the gods are just;

For their own honor will they clear the guiltless;

Sooner or later punished for her crime,                                             1450

Phaedra will not escape the shame she merits.


I ask no other favor than your silence;

In all besides I give my wrath free scope.

Make your escape from this captivity,

Be bold to bear me company in flight;                    [escape, flight > romance narrative]

Linger not here on this accursed soil,

Where virtue breathes a pestilential air.                            [pestilential = unhealthy]


To cover your departure take advantage

Of this confusion, caused by my disgrace.

The means of flight are ready, be assured;                                         1460

You have as yet no other guards than mine.

Powerful defenders will maintain our quarrel;

Argos spreads open arms, and Sparta calls us.            [Argos, Sparta = Greek cities]

Let us appeal for justice to our friends,

Nor suffer Phaedra, in a common ruin

Joining us both, to hunt us from the throne,

And aggrandize her son by robbing us.


Embrace this happy opportunity:

What fear restrains? You seem to hesitate.

Your interest alone prompts me to urge                                        1470

Boldness. When I am all on fire, how comes it

That you are ice? Fear you to follow then

A banished man?


ARICIA: Ah, dear to me would be

Such exile! With what joy, my fate to yours

United, could I live, by all the world

Forgotten! but not yet has that sweet tie                      [that sweet tie = holy matrimony]

Bound us together. How then can I steal

Away with you? I know the strictest honor

Forbids me not out of your father's hands                                     1480

To free myself; this is no parent's home,

And flight is lawful when one flies from tyrants.

But you, Sir, love me; and my virtue shrinks—


HIPPOLYTUS: No, no, your reputation is to me

As dear as to yourself. A nobler purpose

Brings me to you. Fly from your foes, and follow

A husband. Heaven, that sends us these misfortunes,

Sets free from human instruments the pledge

Between us. Torches do not always light

The face of Hymen.                            [Hymen = Greek god of marriage ceremonies]    

                                  At the gates of Troezen,                              1490

'Mid ancient tombs where princes of my race                 [see also line 1658]

Lie buried, stands a temple, never approached

By perjurers, where mortals dare not make

False oaths, for instant punishment befalls

The guilty. Falsehood knows no stronger check

Than what is present there—the fear of death

That cannot be avoided. Thither then

We'll go, if you consent, and swear to love

Forever, take the guardian god to witness

Our solemn vows, and his paternal care                                     1500

Entreat. I will invoke the name of all

The holiest Powers; chaste Diana, and the Queen   [Diana/Artemis=goddess of the hunt & virginity]

Of Heaven, yea all the gods who know my heart

Will guarantee my sacred promises.


ARICIA: The King draws near. Depart,—make no delay.

To mask my flight, I linger yet one moment.

Go you; and leave with me some trusty guide,

To lead my timid footsteps to your side.

[Hippolytus exits]





THESEUS: Ye gods, throw light upon my troubled mind,

Show me the truth which I am seeking here.                            1510


ARICIA (aside to Ismene): Get ready, dear Ismene, for our flight.  [flight = escape]

[Ismene exits]




THESEUS: Your color comes and goes, you seem confused,

Madame! What business had my son with you?


ARICIA: Sire, he was bidding me farewell forever.


THESEUS: Your eyes, it seems, can tame that stubborn pride;

And the first sighs he breathes are paid to you.


ARICIA: I can't deny the truth; he has not, Sire,

Inherited your hatred and injustice;

He did not treat me like a criminal.                                     1520


THESEUS: That is to say, he swore eternal love.

Do not rely on that inconstant heart;

To others has he sworn as much before.


ARICIA: He, Sire?


THESEUS: You ought to check his roving taste.

How could you bear a partnership so vile?


ARICIA: And how can you endure that vilest slanders

Should make a life so pure as black as pitch?

Have you so little knowledge of his heart?

Do you so ill distinguish between guilt                                        1530

And innocence? What mist before your eyes

Blinds them to virtue so conspicuous?

Ah! It is too much to let false tongues defame him.                [defame = insult]

Repent; call back your murderous wishes, Sire;

Fear, fear lest Heaven in its severity

Hate you enough to hear and grant your prayers.

Oft in their wrath the gods accept our victims,

And oftentimes chastise us with their gifts.                            [chastise = punish]


THESEUS: No, vainly would you cover up his guilt.

Your love is blind to his depravity.                                                 1540

But I have witness irreproachable:

Tears have I seen, true tears, that may be trusted.


ARICIA: Take heed, my lord. Your hands invincible

Have rid the world of monsters numberless;

But all are not destroyed, one you have left              [one = Phaedra]

Alive—Your son forbids me to say more.

Knowing with what respect he still regards you,

I should too much distress him if I dared

Complete my sentence. I will imitate

His reverence, and, to keep silence, leave you.                        1550

[Aricia exits]





THESEUS: What is there in her mind? What meaning lurks

In speech begun but to be broken short?

Would both deceive me with a vain pretence?

Have they conspired to put me to the torture?

And yet, despite my stern severity,

What plaintive voice cries deep within my heart?               [plaintive = sorrowful]

A secret pity troubles and alarms me.

Oenone shall be questioned once again,

I must have clearer light upon this crime.

Guards, bid Oenone come, and come alone.                  1560




CHARACTERS: THESEUS, PANOPE [Phaedra’s attendant]


PANOPE: I know not what the Queen intends to do,

But from her agitation dread the worst.

Fatal despair is painted on her features;

Death's pallor is already in her face.

Oenone, shamed and driven from her sight,

Has cast herself into the ocean depths.

None knows what prompted her to a deed so rash;

And now the waves hide her from us for ever.


THESEUS: What say you?


PANOPE: Her sad fate seems to have added                       1570

Fresh trouble to the Queen's tempestuous soul.

Sometimes, to soothe her secret pain, she clasps

Her children close, and bathes them with her tears;

Then suddenly, the mother's love forgotten,

She thrusts them from her with a look of horror,

She wanders to and fro with doubtful steps;

Her vacant eye no longer knows us. Thrice

She wrote, and thrice did she, changing her mind,

Destroy the letter before it was well begun.

Vouchsafe to see her, Sire: vouchsafe to help her.    [vouchsafe = command]    1580


THESEUS: Heavens! Is Oenone dead, and Phaedra bent

On dying too? Oh, call me back my son!

Let him defend himself, and I am ready

To hear him. Be not hasty to bestow

Thy fatal bounty, Neptune; let my prayers

Rather remain ever unheard. Too soon

I lifted cruel hands, believing lips

That may have lied! Ah! What despair may follow!




[Theramenes enters]


THESEUS: Theramenes, is it thou? Where is my son?

I gave him to thy charge from tenderest childhood.                             1590

But whence these tears that overflow thine eyes?

How is it with my son?


THERAMENES: Concern too late!

Affection vain! Hippolytus is dead.




THERAMENES: I have seen the flower of all mankind

Cut off, and I am bold to say that none

Deserved it less.


THESEUS: What! My son dead! When I

Was stretching out my arms to him, has Heaven                            1600

Hastened his end? What was this sudden stroke?


THERAMENES: Scarce had we passed out of the gates of Troezen,

He silent in his chariot, and his guards

Downcast and silent too, around him ranged;

To the Mycenian road he turned his steeds,      [Mycenae = ancient city in southern Greece]

Then, lost in thought, allowed the reins to lie

Loose on their backs. His noble chargers, at first

So full of ardor to obey his voice,

With head depressed and melancholy eye

Seemed now to mark his sadness and to share it.                              1610


A frightful cry, that issues from the deep,

With sudden discord rends the troubled air;

And from the bosom of the earth a groan

Is heard in answer to that voice of terror.


Our blood is frozen at our very hearts;

With bristling manes the listening steeds stand still.

Meanwhile upon the watery plain there rises

A mountain billow with a mighty crest

Of foam, that shoreward rolls, and, as it breaks

Before our eyes vomits a furious monster.                                       1620

With formidable horns its brow is armed,

And all its body clothed with yellow scales,

In front a savage bull, behind a dragon

Turning and twisting in impatient rage.

Its long continued bellowings make the shore

Tremble; the sky seems horror-struck to see it;

The earth with terror quakes; its poisonous breath

Infects the air. The wave that brought it ebbs

In fear.

              All fly, forgetful of the courage                                            [fly = flee]

That cannot aid, and in a neighboring temple                                    1630

Take refuge—all save bold Hippolytus.

A hero's worthy son, he stays his steeds,                  [stays = controls; steeds = horses]

Seizes his darts, and, rushing forward, hurls                  [darts = arrows, spears]

A missile with sure aim that wounds the monster            [missile = spear, arrow]

Deep in the flank. With rage and pain it springs

Even to the horses' feet, and, roaring, falls,

Writhes in the dust, and shows a fiery throat

That covers them with flames, and blood, and smoke.

Fear lends them wings; deaf to his voice for once,

And heedless of the curb, they onward fly.   [they = horses; fly = race]              1640

Their master wastes his strength in efforts vain;

With foam and blood each courser's bit is red.     [courser = horse; bit = mouth harness]

Some say a god, amid this wild disorder,

Was seen with goads pricking their dusty flanks.                [goad = pointed rod or spur]

Over jagged rocks they rush urged on by terror;                              [they = horses]

Crash! goes the axle-tree. The intrepid youth                   [axle-tree = chariot’s chassis]

Sees his car broken up, flying to pieces;                                            [car = chariot]

He falls himself, entangled in the reins.


Pardon my grief. That cruel spectacle                                               [SPECTACLEbut offstage]

Will be for me a source of endless tears.                                          1650

I saw thy hapless son, I saw him, Sire,

Dragged by the horses that his hands had fed,

Powerless to check their fierce career, his voice                                [career = path]

But adding to their fright, his body soon

One mass of wounds. Our cries of anguish fill

The plain. At last they slacken their swift pace,

Then stop, not far from those old tombs that mark             [see also line 1491]

Where lie the ashes of his royal sires.


Panting I thither run, and after me

His guard, along the track stained with fresh blood  [his guard = Hippolytus’s soldiers]       1660

That reddens all the rocks; caught in the briars

Locks of his hair hang dripping, gory spoils!

I come, I call him. Stretching forth his hand,

He opens his dying eyes, soon closed again.

"The gods have robbed me of a guiltless life,"

I hear him say: "Take care of sad Aricia

When I am dead. Dear friend, if ever my father

Mourn, undeceived, his son's unhappy fate

Falsely accused; to give my spirit peace,

Tell him to treat his captive tenderly,                                                       1670

And to restore—" With that the hero's breath

Fails, and a mangled corpse lies in my arms,

A piteous object, trophy of the wrath

Of Heaven—so changed, his father would not know him.


THESEUS: Alas, my son! Dear hope for ever lost!

The ruthless gods have served me but too well.

For what a life of anguish and remorse

Am I reserved!


THERAMENES: Aricia at that instant,

Flying from you, comes timidly, to take him                                        1680

For husband, there, in presence of the gods.

Thus drawing nigh, she sees the grass all red

And reeking, sees (sad sight for lover's eye!)

Hippolytus stretched there, pale and disfigured.

But, for a time doubtful of her misfortune,

Unrecognized the hero she adores,

She looks, and asks—"Where is Hippolytus?"

Only too sure at last that he lies there

Before her, with sad eyes that silently

Reproach the gods, she shudders, groans, and falls                         1690

Swooning and all but lifeless, at his feet.

Ismene, all in tears, kneels down beside her,

And calls her back to life—life that is naught

But sense of pain. And I, to whom this light

Is darkness now, come to discharge the duty

The hero has imposed on me, to tell thee

His last request—a melancholy task.

But hither comes his mortal enemy.





THESEUS: Madame, you've triumphed, and my son is killed!

Ah, but what room have I for fear! How justly                               1700

Suspicion racks me that in blaming him

I erred! But he is dead; accept your victim;

Rightly or wrongly slain, let your heart leap

For joy. My eyes shall be forever blind:

Since you accuse him, I'll believe him guilty.

His death affords me cause enough for tears,

Without a foolish search for further light

Which, powerless to restore him to my grief,

Might only serve to make me more unhappy.


Far from this shore and far from you I'll fly,                                  1710

For here the image of my mangled son

Would haunt my memory and drive me mad.

I would banish myself from the whole world,

For all the world seems to rise up in judgment

Against me; and my very glory weights

My punishment; for, were my name less known

It would be easier to hide me. All the favors

The gods have granted me I mourn and hate,

Nor will I importune them with vain prayers

Henceforth forever. Give me what they may,                             1720

What they have taken will all else outweigh.


PHAEDRA: Theseus, I cannot hear you and keep silence:

I must repair the wrong that he has suffered—

Your son was innocent.


THESEUS: Unhappy father!

And it was on your word that I condemned him!

Think you such cruelty can be excused—


PHAEDRA: Moments to me are precious; hear me, Theseus.

It was I who cast an eye of lawless passion

On chaste and dutiful Hippolytus.                                            1730

Heaven in my bosom kindled baleful fire,                           [baleful = sinister]

And vile Oenone's cunning did the rest.

She feared Hippolytus, knowing my madness,

Would make that passion known which he regarded

With horror; so advantage of my weakness

She took, and hastened to accuse him first.

For that she has been punished, though too mildly;

Seeking to shun my wrath she cast herself

Beneath the waves.

                                  The sword ere now had cut

My thread of life, but slandered innocence                        1740

Made its cry heard, and I resolved to die

In a more lingering way, confessing first

My penitence to you. A poison, brought                [penitence = repentance, apology]

To Athens by Medea, runs through my veins.       [Medea = enchantress, niece of Circe]

Already in my heart the venom works,

Infusing there a strange and fatal chill;

Already as through thickening mists I see

The spouse to whom my presence is an outrage;         [the spouse = Hippolyta?]

Death, from mine eyes veiling the light of heaven,

Restores its purity that they defiled.                                  1750


PANOPE: She dies, my lord!


THESEUS: Would that the memory

Of her disgraceful deed could perish with her!

Ah, disabused too late! Come, let us go,

And with the blood of mine unhappy son

Mingle our tears, clasping his dear remains,

In deep repentance for a prayer detested.

Let him be honored as he well deserves;

And, to appease his sore offended ghost,

Be her near kinsmen's guilt whatever it may,                          1760

Aricia shall be held my daughter from today.                 



Below: front of Roman sarcophagus depicting Phaedra & Hippolytus
app. 290 AD; discovered 1853 on river bank in Tuscany, Italy 

1962 film from Hippolytus / Phaedra story