Phèdre illustrates the attitude of men toward women in the Age of Reason, in which men represent logic, order, and strength while women represent emotions, weakness, and disorder. Using evidence from the play, discuss how Racine’s Phèdre reinforces the stereotype of women as a destructive force in nature, known as a femme fatale.

Jean Racine’s Phèdre reinforces the stereotype of woman as a destructive force in nature by emphasizing the title character’s strong sexual desire and vindictiveness. The playwright shows that these qualities destroy the woman as well as those around her, as Phèdre ultimately dies by suicide.

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Throughout the play, the title character Phèdre (or Phaedra in English) is ruled by her passions. Playwright Jean Racine shows that unbridled passion is destructive to society overall, as well as to individual characters. By emphasizing the negative consequences of Phèdre’s behavior, the author encourages the reader or audience to have a negative view of strong sexual desire in females. This negativity is exacerbated by the fact that her lust is for her stepson, not her husband. As the situation grows more complex, Phèdre herself becomes another victim of the malevolent forces she set in motion. In the end, she dies by suicide—not only destroying herself but depriving her child of her mother.

Phèdre embodies the woman as a destructive force not only through uncontrollable sexual desire but through her anti-social and unmotherly behavior. Exhibiting sexual passion for her husband might be permissible, but not for her son. Although Hippolyte is not her biological child, she has assumed the role of mother toward him. In addition, she shows that she is unable to control these unacceptable impulses. When she believes that her husband is dead, she confesses her desire to Hippolyte. She compounds the transgression by lying to Theseus (who was not dead after all), placing the blame on his son. Her vindictive nature not only leads to Hippolyte’s death but her own as well.

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