Phaedra is both a victim and a victimizer, which adds complexity to her character.
According to the French playwright Jean Racine, Phaedra is driven by fate and the gods' anger into a forbidden love that horrifies her more than anyone else. Her confusion is proof that her crime is a punishment from the gods, not something from her own volition.
How is Phaedra a victimizer? In Seneca's original play, Oenone, Phaedra's nurse, accuses Hippolytus, her stepson, of rape—a plan that Phaedra plays a part in. As a result, he is killed by Poseidon, at Theseus's request.
But most importantly, Phaedra is torn. She admits that she "recognize[s] [her] madness" and that "these walls can speak, and ready to accuse me, wait but my husband's presence to reveal my perfidy."
Phaedra embodies the classical tragic heroine of noble descent. Through her parents, she bears the heritage of the gods themselves. Because of her own mother's forbidden love, Phaedra is cursed from birth.
Phaedra sparks both fear and pity in the spectator's mind. The fear comes from her transgression of morals and the pity from the downfall that follows.
Why does Phaedra confess her love to Hippolytus? After all, had she stayed silent, there would be no tragedy to speak of. This single action is what makes her both guilty and a victim. She chooses to act upon a forbidden love that is triggered by a curse. According to Aristotle, this is the essence of tragedy. This dilemma is what allows for catharsis, or the purification of unholy emotions.