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Phaedra (1677)

by Jean Racine

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,609247,743 (3.86)19
Phaedra is consumed with passion for Hippolytus, her stepson. Believing her husband dead, she confesses her love to him and is rebuffed. When her husband returns alive, Phaedra convinces him that it was Hippolytus who attempted to seduce her. In his interpretation, Racine replaced the stylized tragedy with human-scale characters and actions. Introduction by Richard Wilbur.… (more)



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English (19)  French (5)  All languages (24)
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
Greek families! Histrionics, rash reaction instead of considered response, inability to control emotion. Tragedy.


See the complete review here:


Bonus GR only bit: So if Goodreads was ever a family, it's now clear that it was one that escaped from a Greek Tragedy. It's fairly obvious that all the things in the first sentence of this review can be applied to the GR family - the only questions now is how many corpses are going to pile up as the Tragedy unfolds and whether we can summon a Diety to resolve the conflict for the future...no sign of Athena yet, more's the pity. ( )
  Arbieroo | Jul 17, 2020 |
What a powerful tragedy about forbidden love! And what a difference reading this Richard Wilbur translation made in my enjoyment (I had read/listened to the public domain translation a few weeks ago).

And Phaedra makes such a contrast to whiny Gwenevere in The Mists of Avalon (which I recently finished); like Gwenevere she knows her love to be impossible but she doesn't blame either the man (Hippolytes) or her husband (Theseus). And even in her jealous rage, she doesn't really blame Aricia either. ( )
  leslie.98 | Dec 20, 2016 |
  kutheatre | Jun 7, 2015 |
It is stated in the introduction to Phèdre that Racine did not intend to challenge any of the conventions to playwriting with this work, but merely write the strongest possible play while adhering to the established structure of five act dramatic tragedies. Because of this, the play Phèdre by Racine and Hippolytus by Euripides are similar, not only in subject matter, but in structure as well, despite being written over 2,000 years apart. Unfortunately for Racine, this allows a direct comparison between the plays, and for me Hippolytus easily comes out on top.

Racine makes Phèdre a longer play, focusing on the passions that are driving the characters, and adds a plotline where Hippolytus and Aricia fall in love and attempt to elope. The longer length means that things that happened in the heat of the moment in Euripides’ play (and made sense in that context) are stretched over a longer span of time (and therefore defy common-sense). Euripides’ Theseus believes the accusations against his son only when he finds a note alleging them clutched in the cold hand of his wife, who has just killed herself. In a rage, and with his wife’s suicide putting her accusations almost beyond reproach, he curses his son and seals his fate. Racine’s Theseus believes accusations brought against his son by his wife’s nurse, and holds onto them stubbornly while one character after another tells him the accusations are false. “Can nothing clear your mind of your mistake?” asks Hippolytus. Obviously not, for the sake of the story, but such a refusal does strain credulity. Racine also has characters take other actions that aren’t very believable, and his commitment to making his characters voice their motivations draws attention to just how unbelievable these actions are. Toward the end of the play Hippolytus states “[l]et us trust to Heav'n my vindication, for the gods are just.” No they aren’t, and Hippolytus should know this based on the earlier parts of the play (and nowhere is Hippolytus previously portrayed as stupid or naïve). Euripides would never have written such a nonsense and cliché line.

The Hippolytus-Aricia subplot must have been added as a crowd-pleaser, because it adds little to the story. There are thousands of plays about forbidden romance, death separating young lovers, and everything else this plotline does, and it distracts from the play’s portrayal of a woman’s love spurned and a father harboring such rage for his son that he calls on the gods to kill him. Alicia’s introduction changes Phaedra’s actions to ones of jealousy just as much as uncontrollable passion, and thus waters down an interesting character. In general Phèdre does a disservice to the character Phaedra, giving many of the key actions to her nurse instead of having Phaedra perform them herself. It is the nurse Oenone who makes the accusations against Hippolytus, which absolves Phaedra of blame in his death but also turns her character into one doomed always to react and never to act of her own volition.

Euripides’ take on this tale is the better one, and is one of his strongest plays. Comparatively, Phèdre is less impressive, and despite Racine’s attempt to imbue the characters with uncontrollable passion, in fact he turns them duller than they had been for the 2,000 years before him. It’s not bad, just not as good as the classic version. ( )
2 vote BayardUS | Dec 10, 2014 |
A Greek tragedy by Racine, a web of interlocking and tragic loves and misunderstandings propels this play from beginning to end. Although I enjoyed Andromache more, this was also a pleasure from beginning to end. And like Andromache, added greater psychological depth and complexity to characters caught in what would otherwise appear to be the inevitably unfolding clockwork gears of their fates. ( )
  nosajeel | Jun 21, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (115 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Racine, JeanAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bakx, HansTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fowlie, WallaceTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Goddard, WesleyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grebanier, Bernard D. N.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hughes, TedTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kinding, ThomasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lloyd, Harold AnthonyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lowell, RobertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pucciani, Oreste F.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rawlings, MargaretTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rose, JulieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Salles, JeanIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schiller, FriedrichTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Steinsieck, Wolf.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ungaretti, GiuseppeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wilbur, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Le dessein en est pris, je pars, cher Théramène,

Et quitte le séjour de l'aimable Trézène.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Phaedra is consumed with passion for Hippolytus, her stepson. Believing her husband dead, she confesses her love to him and is rebuffed. When her husband returns alive, Phaedra convinces him that it was Hippolytus who attempted to seduce her. In his interpretation, Racine replaced the stylized tragedy with human-scale characters and actions. Introduction by Richard Wilbur.

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