A tragic myth from Ancient Greece, Jean Baptiste Racine’s retelling of Phaedra is renowned for its depth of poetry and complex characterization of the titular tragic figure. Phaedra is the wife of Theseus and stepmother to Hippolytus. After word arrives that Theseus has been killed during his expedition, Phaedra confesses that she is actually in love with her stepson. Her wild and erratic emotional states have been the result of denying her passion for Hippolytus, and she begs him to form an alliance with her--or kill her out of pity. However, the prince is disgusted by Phaedra, and pursues his love for Aricia, a young princess kept as a prisoner. When Theseus, to everyone’s amazement, returns alive and well, he is baffled at the strange behavior of his wife and son. To protect Phaedra’s honor, the nurse Oenone crafts a lie: Hippolytus attempted to rape Phaedra. Father and son confront each other, the deceit falls apart, and in her final moments, Phaedra confesses her sins. A dynamic and moving tragedy, Racine’s Phaedra is a haunting examination of forbidden passion and ultimate deceit.
Phaedra guide sections