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Last Updated on August 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 656

Phaedra is the name of a play by Jean Baptiste Racine.

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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 Hippolytus for a distance, causing him to sustain fatal injuries. As for Phaedra, she dies after ingesting poison and confessing Hippolytus' innocence to Theseus. The play ends with Theseus adopting Aricia as his daughter.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 719

After the death of his Amazon queen, Thésée marries Phèdre, the young daughter of the king of Crete. Phèdre, seeing in her stepson, Hippolyte, all the bravery and virtue of his heroic father, but in more youthful guise, falls in love with him. In an attempt to conceal her passion for the son of Thésée, slayer of the Minotaur, she treats him in an aloof and spiteful manner until at last Hippolyte decides to leave Troezen and search for his father, who is absent from the kingdom. To his tutor, Théramène, he confides his desire to avoid both his stepmother and Aricie, an Athenian princess who is the daughter of a family that opposes Thésée. Phèdre confesses to Oenone, her nurse, her guilty passion for Hippolyte, saying that she merely pretends unkindness to him to hide her real feelings.

Word comes to Troezen that Thésée is dead. Oenone talks to Phèdre in an attempt to convince the queen that her own son, not Hippolyte, should be chosen as the new king of Athens. Aricie hopes that she will be chosen to rule. Hippolyte, a fair-minded young man, tells Aricie that he will support her for the rule of Athens. He feels that Phèdre’s son should inherit Crete and that he himself should remain master of Troezen. He also admits his love for Aricie, but says that he fears the gods will never allow it to be brought to completion. When he tries to explain his intentions to his stepmother, she in turn drops her pretense of hatred and distrust and ends by betraying her love for Hippolyte. Shocked, he repulses her, and she threatens to take her own life.

The people of Athens, however, choose Phèdre’s son to rule over them, to the disappointment of Aricie. There are also rumors that Thésée still lives. Hippolyte gives orders that a search be made for his father. Phèdre, embarrassed by all she had told Hippolyte, broods over the injury she now feels, and wishes that she had never revealed her love. Phèdre is proud, and now her pride is hurt beyond recovery. Unable to overcome her passion, however, she decides to offer the kingdom to Hippolyte so that she might keep him near her. Then news comes that Thésée is returning to his home. Oenone warns Phèdre that now she must hide her true feeling for Hippolyte. She even suggests to the queen that Thésée be made to believe that Hippolyte had tempted Phèdre to adultery.

When Thésée returns, Phèdre greets him with reluctance, saying that she is no longer fit to be his wife. Hippolyte makes the situation no better by requesting permission to leave Troezen at once. Thésée is greatly chagrined at his homecoming. When scheming Oenone tells the king that Hippolyte had attempted to dishonor his stepmother, Thésée flies into a terrific rage. Hippolyte, knowing nothing of the plot, is at first astonished by his father’s anger and threats. When accused, he denies the charges, but Thésée refuses to listen to him and banishes his son from the kingdom forever. When Hippolyte claims he is really in love with Aricie, Thésée, more incensed than ever, invokes the vengeance of Neptune upon his son.

Aricie tries to convince Hippolyte that he must prove his innocence, but Hippolyte refuses because he knows that the revelation of Phèdre’s passion will be too painful for his father to bear. The two agree to escape together. Before Aricie can leave the palace, however, Thésée questions her. Becoming suspicious, he sends for Oenone to demand the truth. Fearing that her plot has been uncovered, Oenone commits suicide.

Meanwhile, as Hippolyte drives his chariot near the seashore, Neptune sends a horrible monster, part bull and part dragon, which destroys the son of Thésée. When news of his death reaches the palace, Phèdre confesses her guilt and drinks poison. Thésée, glad to see his guilty queen die, wishes that the memory of her life might perish with her. Sorrowfully, he seeks the grief-stricken Aricie to comfort her.

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