Last Updated on June 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 320
Theseus: Theseus is the King of Athens. He loves both his son, Hippolytus, and his wife, Phaedra.
Phaedra: As the title of the play indicates, Phaedra is the play's central character. She is very much in love with her stepson Hippolytus, and she is tortured by this passion. She tries everything to cure herself through various methods, including praying to Venus and treating Hippolytus cruelly, but nothing works. She is about to commit suicide to avoid having to go on with this illicit feeling of love, when she learns that Theseus is dead. She is a study of a fundamentally good woman who is gripped, as she fully understands, by the "madness" of a love she didn't want. As a result, she makes decisions she later deeply regrets.
Hippolytus: Hippolytus is the son of Theseus and Theseus's former wife, Antiope, who was the queen of the Amazons. He is handsome, good-hearted, heroic, and in love with Aricia. He shows great physical strength and courage in his battle with the sea monster that kills him, standing to fight while others flee to the temple. He perishes when a god, moving against him, goads his steeds to run wildly, smashing his chariot to bits and then dragging him until he is so mangled that he dies.
Aricia: She is a lovely princess with whom Hippolytus is in love. He wants to marry her, though he fears his father's disapproval.
Oenone: She is Phaedra's nurse. Though loyal to Phaedra, she is perhaps too loyal, willing to sacrifice Hippolytus to save her mistress from the disgrace of being revealed to have an incestuous passion.
Theramenes: He is Hippolytus's tutor. A wise, loyal, and good man, he witnesses Hippolytus's heroic battle with a sea monster (which leads to Hippolytus's death) and is able to convey what happened eloquently to Theseus.
Ismene: Ismene is a close friend of Aricia.
Panope: Panope is a servant of Phaedra.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 764
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 that he believes Phèdre on slender evidence instead of trusting what he knows to be the character of his son. Thésée, in a fury, prays to Neptune to grant him the death of Hippolyte. Too autocratic to curb himself when rebuked for his cruel and misinformed curse on his son, he nevertheless begins to suspect that Hippolyte has not lied to him. As the evidence against Phèdre begins to accumulate—she is too distraught to prevent it from doing so—Thésée recovers from his jealous rage too late to save the life of his son.
Hippolyte (ee-poh-LEET), a hunter and a woodsman, the son of Thésée and Antiope, the queen of the Amazons. Like everyone about him, Hippolyte goes to extremes. Unpolished, chaste, and pure, he spurns women until he falls in love with Aricie, for whose sake he is willing to turn over Athens, which he is to inherit from his father, to Aricie, his father’s enemy. Because Hippolyte is harsh in his judgment of Phèdre and uncharitable, she reacts violently against the proud boy. Thésée is also harsh in his judgment, no less an extremist than his son. Hippolyte’s sense of honor prevents him from telling his father about Phèdre’s indiscreet confession of her passion for her stepson, and Thésée’s own outraged sense of honor makes him violent in judging Hippolyte.
Aricie (ah-ree-SEE), a princess of an older royal dynasty of Athens, held captive by Thésée. Until Hippolyte confesses his love for her, Aricie is content with her lot. Thésée has forbidden her to marry for fear that she may give birth to sons able to contest Thésée’s right to rule Athens. She graciously accepts sovereignty of Athens, if Hippolyte can obtain it for her, and his offer of marriage.
Oenone (uh-NOHN), Phèdre’s nurse and friend since childhood. Loyal to her mistress and determined that Phèdre shall not die from stifled passion, she is even willing to further Phèdre’s love for Hippolyte. Later, after Hippolyte has spurned Phèdre, Oenone becomes the agent of his destruction.
Théramène (tay-rah-MEHN), the tutor of Hippolyte. Because of his slightly lecherous approach to life and to history, Théramène highlights the purity and aloofness of Hippolyte’s views. Hippolyte, who would like to strike the love element from historical narratives, is ironically unaware that love will be the chief element in his own history.