Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Phèdre (FEE-druh), the second wife of Thésée (Theseus) and daughter of Minos and Pasiphae, the king and queen of Crete. Phèdre is descended from a line of women of unnatural passions. When she realizes that she has fallen in love with her stepson Hippolyte, she fights the double contagion of heredity and passion with courage and in silence until, unable to resist her love, she arranges to have Hippolyte banished from Athens. She bears Thésée’s children, sets up a temple to Venus, and makes sacrifices to appease the wrath of the goddess. When Thésée leaves her in Troezon with Hippolyte, Phèdre’s passion feeds on her until, willing to die, she becomes exhausted and ill from her battle to suppress her illicit love. Word is brought of Thésée’s death shortly after her nurse, Oenone, has forced Phèdre to confess her love aloud for the first time. In an unguarded moment, while asking Hippolyte to keep her own son safe now that Hippolyte may be heir to the Athenian throne, Phèdre rather hopefully reveals her passion to him and witnesses his contempt for her. Angry and ashamed, when Phèdre hears to her joy and to her dismay that Thésée has returned alive from his travels, she allows her nurse to accuse Hippolyte of attempted rape, mainly, Phèdre believes, to keep the stigma of her family history and its unnatural passions from falling even more heavily on her own children. Distraught because of her guilt, her love, her fear, and her fury, she confesses to Thésée that she has lied to him when it is too late to save Hippolyte and after she herself has taken poison.


Thésée (tay-ZAY), the son of Aegeus, king of Athens, traditionally faithless to women but faithful to his wives. Thésée so loves his young wife and his own honor...

(The entire section is 764 words.)