Describe how Racine's Phaedra follows the neo-classical rules regarding decorum and verisimilitude.

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Based on the theories of Aristotle and Horace, the neoclassic rules of decorum required a play only to show what was suitable on stage and to leave scenes that were especially gruesome or violent offstage, to be related later through narration. For example, Horace wrote that:

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on to the stage anything that ought properly to be taking place behinds the scenes, and you will keep out of sight many episodes that are to be described later by the eloquent tongue of a narrator.

As an example, Horace advised strongly that Medea's murder of her children take place off stage.

Neoclassical playwrights were also concerned to follow Aristotle's three unities of time, place, and action. These dictated that the timespan of a drama be no more that 24 hours, that it take place in one location, and that the plot should focus on one principle story line.

it is easy to see that Racine adhered to these neoclassic ideals in Phaedra. For example, the entire action of the play takes place with a single day. It also occurs in a single location, the royal court in Troezen in Greece. Finally, it focuses tightly on one story line, which is Phaedrus's love for Hippolytus, her stepson, a forbidden, incestuous passion.

Decorum is also adhered to in having the dramatic and violent demise of Hippolytus happen off stage. He is killed in his chariot by the death thrashings of the horned sea monster summoned by Neptune at the request of Theseus. The information is reported, following Horace's rules, through narration, in this case by Theramenes, Hippolytus's tutor.

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The most obvious sense in which Racine's Phèdre is a play following neo-classical principles is that it observes the classical unities of time, place, and action. We only have to contrast this with the free-wheeling plays of Shakespeare and other English dramatists of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods to see what gives Racine's plays their own special qualities. But we can, perhaps, come to an even closer understanding of it by comparing Phèdre with its primary source material, the Hippolytus of Euripides.

Racine makes numerous changes in Euripides's plot which subtly express the ideals of the seventeenth century and its differences from the Greek classical stage. He introduces the character of Aricie (Aricia), an Athenian princess who is the actual love interest of Hippolytus but is of a family regarded as enemies by Hippolytus's father, Theseus. In the French classical theater, love is a principal theme, emphasized more fully than in the works of the Greek tragedians. In addition, Phaedra herself becomes a more noble character, and her false charges against Hippolytus are more the result of desperation and unquenched love than the blind spitefulness and vengeance of the original character. Also, in Racine's treatment, Phaedra does not die until the end of the play. She is more central to the drama than in Euripides (and therefore becomes the titular character). All of the personages in Racine's treatment are given a nobility of bearing and language that are in keeping with the ideals of the neo-classical stage and its demand that the spectator identify and sympathize with the action.

It is instructive to make further comparisons with Shakespeare, not, of course, in terms of better or worse, but to understand the central qualities of Racine. Though his language is different from today's French, it is less different from it than Shakespeare's is from our own. Though words are used in ways they are not in modern French—often (as we would expect) in a manner showing a grander, more elevated style—there is also a simplicity and purity throughout, in the lines of all the characters. All of the play is in verse, in rhymed hexameter couplets, without prose interpolations or comic relief such as we see in Shakespeare and his contemporaries. And the conclusion of the play, in spite of the deaths of Hippolytus and Phaedra, shows that something good has emerged from the tragic events, as Theseus declares that in spite of his previous enmity towards Aricia's family, he will now consider her his daughter. The expression of a positive ideal and outcome is in keeping with neo-classical ideals and prefigures the Enlightenment optimism and belief in man's goodness of the following, the eighteenth, century.

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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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