Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 592
I hate my life, and hold my love in horror.
Dying I wish'd to keep my fame unsullied,
And bury in the grave a guilty passion;
But I have been unable to withstand
Tears and entreaties, I have told you all;
Content, if only, as my end draws near,
You do not vex me with unjust reproaches,
Nor with vain efforts seek to snatch from death
The last faint lingering sparks of vital breath.
Early in the play, Phaedra is about to commit suicide because of her shame and anguish over loving her stepson. She confesses to Oenone, only to be stopped by the false news that Theseus is dead. Her speech reveals love's torments and her attempts to cure herself of her passion. She shows herself to be a woman of conscience, who would rather die than be in love with her stepson.
Meanwhile upon the watery plain there rises
A mountain billow with a mighty crest
Of foam, that shoreward rolls, and, as it breaks
Before our eyes vomits a furious monster.
With formidable horns its brow is arm'd,
And all its body clothed with yellow scales,
In front a savage bull, behind a dragon
Turning and twisting in impatient rage.
Its long continued bellowings make the shore
Tremble; the sky seems horror-struck to see it;
The earth with terror quakes; its poisonous breath
Infects the air.
In one of the most beautiful speeches in all of Racine, Theramenes details how courageously Hippolytus faces the sea monster while everyone else runs and takes refuge in a nearby temple. Because it would be nearly impossible to stage such a battle, Racine opts to use vivid imagery to describe the frightful monster. Later in the passage, Theramenes will describe how the monster, wounded by Hippolytus, "shows a fiery throat / That covers them [the horses drawing his chariot] with flames, and blood, and smoke" and—showing the gods' unfair complicity—reports a god "pricking" their flanks to make them run wildly, crashing the chariot to pieces and dragging Hippolytus to his death.
I come, I call him. Stretching forth his hand,
He opens his dying eyes, soon closed again. "The gods have robb'd me of a guiltless life,"
I hear him say: "Take care of sad Aricia When I am dead.
Dear friend, if e'er my father Mourn, undeceived, his son's unhappy fate
Falsely accused; to give my spirit peace,
Tell him to treat his captive tenderly, And to restore—" With that the hero's breath
Fails, and a mangled corpse lies in my arms,
A piteous object, trophy of the wrath
Of Heav'n—so changed, his father would not know him.
Theramenes, finishing his speech, describes for Theseus the death of Hippolytus and repeats his dying avowals of innocence.
Twas I who cast an eye of lawless passion
On chaste and dutiful Hippolytus.
Heav'n in my bosom kindled baleful fire,
And vile Oenone's cunning did the rest.
She fear'd Hippolytus, knowing my madness
Would make that passion known which he regarded
With horror; so advantage of my weakness
She took, and hasten'd to accuse him first.
For that she has been punish'd, tho' too mildly;
Seeking to shun my wrath she cast herself
Beneath the waves.
Phaedra, who has taken the slow poison that now is striking her heart with a "fatal chill," confesses her crime of incestuous passion for Hippolytus to Theseus in a passionate speech. She blames the accusation that Hippolytus attacked her on Oenone, but she also takes responsibility for acts that have lead to Hippolytus's death. She attributes Oenone's suicide by drowning to fear of her own anger.