In this drama, Phedra, the young wife of the legendary Athenian king Theseus, struggles valiantly, albeit unsuccessfully, to control an illicit passion for her stepson, Hippolytus, and his unresponsiveness leads to the tragic death of both principals.
As the play opens, Theseus has been absent from his domain for more than six months. During this period, Hippolytus, who enjoys a reputation for being indifferent to women, discovers that he is in love. The object of his affection is Aricia, the sole surviving child of Theseus’ archrival for the kingship of Athens. He dares not make a proposal of marriage, since Theseus has decreed that she must remain unwed to safeguard the dynastic rights of his own children by Phedra. At the same time, Phedra herself is struggling to repress her own romantic obsession with Hippolytus.
The situation changes abruptly when news of Theseus’ purported death arrives. Hippolytus declares his love for Aricia, and Phedra, at the prompting of her maid, confesses her own love to Hippolytus. While Aricia is receptive, Hippolytus reacts with indignation. To everyone’s surprise, Theseus now appears, and Phedra’s maid feels obliged to protect her mistress’s honor by informing him that Hippolytus had attempted to seduce the queen. In defending himself, Hippolytus chooses not to betray Phedra’s confidence, but informs his father that he is really in love with Aricia. Refusing to accept his son’s innocence, Theseus banishes Hippolytus and calls upon Neptune to annihilate him.
Phedra herself is now on the point of admitting the truth to Theseus. When her husband informs her of Hippolytus’ claim to be in love with Aricia, however, she remains...
(The entire section is 698 words.)