Last Updated on August 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 656
Phaedra is the name of a play by Jean Baptiste Racine.
The main characters of the tragedy are Phaedra and Hippolytus.
Phaedra is the second wife of Theseus, the king of Athens. King Theseus' first wife was Antiope, the queen of the Amazons. Antiope and Theseus had a son together, called Hippolytus. The play centers on Phaedra's obsessive love for Hippolytus, her step-son.
The play begins with Hippolytus speaking to Theramenes, his tutor. Apparently, Theseus is missing, and Hippolytus wants to look for the king. Meanwhile, Theramenes tries to dissuade Hippolytus from doing so; he thinks that Hippolytus is merely trying to avoid Phaedra, his step-mother, and that his reason for doing so is political in nature.
However, Hippolytus reveals that he loves the gentle Aricia, who is the sister of the wicked sons of Pallas. The Pallas men were Theseus' sworn enemies. Hippolytus wants to leave the royal courts of Troezen, because he is pining away for Aricia, whom he can't have.
After Hippolytus leaves, Phaedra confides in her nurse, Oenone. She tells Oenone the reason for her recent state of decline: she is pining away for Hippolytus, and the guilt of her obsession sickens her. In the midst of this discussion, Panope (one of Phaedra's servants) brings news about Theseus' apparent death. Panope warns that there will soon be a power struggle for the throne of Athens. She names Hippolytus and Aricia as possible claimants for the throne.
Meanwhile, Aricia and her friend, Ismene, discuss Theseus' death. Aricia voices her fears that Hippolytus will see her as a threat to his ascension. However, Ismene contends that, far from being hated by Hippolytus, Aricia is actually loved by the prince.
Ismene's words are proven true when Hippolytus shows up to offer Aricia the throne. Hippolytus also reveals his love for her, which stuns Aricia even more.
Later, Phaedra summons Hippolytus. Now that Theseus is dead, Phaedra feels emboldened to reveal her true feelings to Hippolytus. For his part, Hippolytus is appalled by Phaedra's revelations. He leaves her presence in disgust, but Theramenes later warns him that Phaedra's son is now king.
Things do not proceed as planned for Phaedra, however. Oenone brings her news that Theseus is actually alive. This compounds Phaedra's grief; she doesn't think she can face Theseus in light of her incestuous and adulterous love for Hippolytus. For her part, Oenone suggests deflecting her guilt by accusing Hippolytus of making sexual advances towards her. Phaedra is uneasy with Oenone's scheme but agrees to it.
Meanwhile, Hippolytus greets the returned Theseus with the news that he is leaving Troezen. For his part, Theseus feels blindsided and confused by Hippolytus' sudden decision. The two part, and Oenone goes to Theseus with the lie about Hippolytus' assault on Phaedra. Theseus is furious after he hears what Oenone has to say. He confronts Hippolytus, who indignantly denies everything Oenone has said. In fact, Hippolytus reveals that it is Aricia he actually loves.
As for Phaedra, her conscience is pricked when she realizes that Theseus means to punish Hippolytus. Worse is yet to come, however: Theseus confides in Phaedra, telling her that Hippolytus has confessed to loving Aricia. Upon hearing this, Phaedra is inconsolable. Angered by the bad advice Oenone has given her, Phaedra banishes her servant from her presence.
Meanwhile, Hippolytus and Aricia are betrothed in secret. The play ends with the deaths of Oenone, Phaedra, and Hippolytus. After Phaedra banishes her from her presence, Oenone casts herself into the ocean and dies. As for Hippolytus, he dies a savage death. Theramenes tells Theseus that a savage monster emerged from the sea and frightened Hippolytus' horses so badly that the animals crashed the prince's chariot against the rocks. Meanwhile, the horses dragged...
(The entire section contains 1375 words.)
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