Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 177

Phaedra has various themes, many of which are common in other tragedies. One of the most prominent themes is desire. Phaedra lusts after Hippolytus, her stepson. Her loneliness—due to her husband's long absence—creates the opportunity for to fall in love with her husband's son.

On the other hand, Hippolytus is...

(The entire section contains 342 words.)

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Phaedra has various themes, many of which are common in other tragedies. One of the most prominent themes is desire. Phaedra lusts after Hippolytus, her stepson. Her loneliness—due to her husband's long absence—creates the opportunity for to fall in love with her husband's son.

On the other hand, Hippolytus is in love with Aricia, a princess from Athens. When Phaedra finds out Hippolytus does not love her but instead wants to marry Aricia, she tells Hippolytus's father (who has come back) that Hippolytus tried to rape her. This leads to another theme in the story: the viciousness and dangers of vengeance.

Since Phaedra can't have Hippolytus's love, she decides to punish him through lies. When Hippolytus is killed by a sea monster—after his hypocritical and gullible father asks the gods to kill Hippolytus—the audience begins to understand another overarching theme of the play: injustice. Hippolytus, an innocent young man, dies because he did not fulfill the desires of those around him, and yet his own love and desire for Aricia is cut short.

Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 165

One of the themes of the play is the perennial conflict between nature and civilization. Hippolytus is someone who prefers the wild woods to the civilized urban setting of Athens. Phaedra, lusting after her stepson, wishes to join him in this sylvan paradise, where, free from society's restrictions and far away from prying eyes, she hopes to pursue an illicit sexual relationship.

Ironically, Hippolytus—despite his preference for the wilderness—is less wild and more rational than his lust-crazed stepmother. Seneca's message appears to be that civilization corrupts. Phaedra's unbridled lusts, though wild, are a product of civilization, of the restricted life she's forced to lead as a woman in Athenian society. As a man, Hippolytus isn't subject to such restrictions; he's free to head off into the woods and get closer to the wilderness. In doing so, he's able to get in touch with his true nature as a human being: a pristine, rational nature uncontaminated by the artificial values of so-called civilized society.

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