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First, Phaedra is based on a classical story, originating in Greek mythology but retold by Seneca, who was idolized by the neo-classicists. It also touched on themes like free will and the relationship between passion and reason that fascinated the Greeks and Romans, as well as Racine's seventeenth century audiences. Racine, a Jansenist, held views on predestination that clashed with the Catholic Church, and Phaedra may have been a secular forum in which to air these views. In keeping with the neo-classical convention of verisimilitude, Racine expunged references to the supernatural in the story, with the notable exception of the sea monster. In addition, Racine avoided the use of the chorus, as his audiences found them unconvincing and distracting. Violence, which plays a pivotal role in Phaedra, occurs offstage in deference to seventeenth-century mores.
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