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Phaedra by Jean Racine

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Meghan Berry

on 8 April 2014

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Transcript of Phaedra by Jean Racine

French tragedian playwright
Most notable works include: Andromaque, Amalie, and Phedre
Most of his work is considered neoclassical and greatly influended by his Jansenist religion and all were written in Alexandrine verse
He died on the 21st of April, 1699 from cancer of the liver.
Although he left behind a wife and seven children, as a member of the court, King Louis XIV promised to provide for them.
The Playwright
Racine's Genius
In Phaedra, fate is represented by the uncontrollable frenzy of unrequited love
Love closely resembles a psychological disorder, a fatal illness with alternating moods of calm and crisis and deceptive hopes of recovery or fulfillment with the final remission, culminating in death.
Phaedra is never aware of anything but her suffering and how it can be relieved. Indeed, she tries to relieve it by allowing Hippolytus to be put to death - thus associating him with her own suffering
In contrast to the purity of the love between Hippolytus and Aricia, Phaedra (and her passion) is hidden from the light of day
Thus passion is like it's own living entity, destructive to all in this play
Phaedra's "secret illness"
"How these vain adornments, how these veils, now weigh me down. What busy hand, in tying all these knots, has taken care to gather on my brow this heavy load of hair? Now all afflicts me, hurts me, and conspires to hurt me." (1470, line 170).
The Story (1462-1508)
Hippolytus is struggling with his identity/ Phaedra is struggling with her immoral passion
Phaedra, tells Oenone of her feelings for Hippolytus
Panope brings news of Theseus' death and the divided state
Hippolytus hears the news but is slow to accept it. He tells Aricia of his love for her.
Oenone convinces Phaedra to admit her love to Hippolytus
Hippolytus is appalled and Phaedra tries to kill herself
Theseus returns and Oenone tells him of Hippolytus' impure feelings for Phaedra
Theseus curses Hippolytus
Oenone, shunned by Phaedra commits suicide
Phaedra allows her husband to believe Hippolytus was in the wrong
Hippolytus dies when his horses are scared by a sea monster
Theseus learns the truth and Phaedra kills herself
Theseus accepts Aricia as Hippolytus' betrothed and thus his only living child
by Meghan Berry
PHAEDRA
Two scenes, both displaying the madness surrounding Phaedra's doomed passion:
Phaedra was descended from Helios, the Greek god of the sun.
Her avoidance of it not only symbolizes the indecency of her passion but is also justified in that the sun brings everything "to the light".
Her father was Minos, otherwise known as the king of the underworld. Minos (as we well know from Dante) weighed the souls of the dead to determine their place in Hades.
Her mother Pasiphae, was cursed by Aphrodite to mate and fall in love with a bull, creating the Minotaur.
The man she marries (King Theseus of Athens) kills the Minotaur who is also her half brother.
Knowing all of this, makes it a little easier to understand her now doesn't it?
Phaedra's Ancestry/Curse
Jean Racine was born Jean Baptiste Racine on December 22, 1639 in Le Ferte Milion, a province in northern France.
Orphaned by the age of four, and when his grandfather died, he and his grandmother left to live in Port-Royal.
He received a classical education at the Petites ecoles de Port-Royal where he studied Greek and Roman mythology.
Supposedly, he was expected to study law in Paris, but instead found himself drawn to a more artistic lifestyle.
Although his first play "Amasie" never reached the stage, he was one of the greatest playwrights of 17th century France and possibly the first to live almost entirely on his earnings from his writings.
Death of Hippolytus
(in Greek his name means
"unleasher of horses")
THESEUS, King of Athens
PHAEDRA, His wife (protagonist)
HIPPOLYTUS, son of Theseus and Antiope
ARICIA, Princess of the blood royal of Athens
THERAMENES, tutor to Hippolytus
OENONE, nurse and confidante of Phaedra
ISMENE, confidant of Aricia
PANOPE, woman of Phaedra's suite
GUARDS
SCENE - Troezen
The Characters
"Avenge yourself; punish an odious love...Or if you think your hand with blood too vile would be imbrued, lend me your sword instead. Give it to me." (1484, line 355)
"Does Phaedra charge Hippolytus with love incestuous? Such an excess of horror renders me speechless. So many sudden blows crush me at once, they take away my words and crush my utterance." (1493, line 82).
COOL RANDOM FACTS:
Jean Racine and Moliere (2/3 of the three musketeers of great French literature) were actually best friends until Racine (upon success of his play
Alexandre Le Grande
) hired another troupe of actors besides those offered to him by Moliere, to perform his play and also seduced Moliere's lead actress to work for him instead. (comment sournois!)
Phaedra
or (
Phedre
as it is in French) was Racine's last play. It was originally entitled
Phedre et Hyppolyte
, and after writing it he devoted himself to his religion and his King, until 1689 when he was commisioned by Louis XIV's second wife to write
Esther
.
Voltaire referred to Phaedra as "the masterpiece of the human mind."
Ted Hughes (poet and husband of Sylvia Plath) produced a highly renowned free verse version of the play.
***AKA GO READ THIS PLAY***
BIBLIOGRAPHY
http://www.theatrehistory.com/ancient/bates020.html "Hippolytus." Hippolytus. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Apr. 2014.
http://www.bookrags.com/biography/jean-baptiste-racine/ "Jean Baptiste Racine Biography." BookRags. BookRags, n.d. Web. 07 Apr. 2014.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hippolytus_(mythology) "Hippolytus (mythology)." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 14 Jan. 2014. Web. 07 Apr. 2014.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phaedra_(mythology) "Phaedra (mythology)." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 04 May 2014. Web. 07 Apr. 2014.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theseus "Theseus." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 04 May 2014. Web. 07 Apr. 2014.
The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M.H. Abrams and Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2000. 1531-1532. Print.
http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=jean+racine&FORM=HDRSC2#view=detail&id=59455A1CF13F1D2DDF21C8972BE1653B98444CF7&selectedIndex=7
http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=phaedra+jean+racine&go=&qs=n&form=QBIR&pq=phaedra+jean+racine&sc=4-15&sp=-1&sk=#view=detail&id=16F6C0D0918CB1F760EC48CCE27F51BA6CF0CB6E&selectedIndex=0
http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=phaedra+jean+racine&go=&qs=n&form=QBIR&pq=phaedra+jean+racine&sc=4-15&sp=-1&sk=#view=detail&id=FF3111BEE69DAA369B8BE87FB6F23854B1445652&selectedIndex=46
http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=phaedra+jean+racine&go=&qs=n&form=QBIR&pq=phaedra+jean+racine&sc=2-19&sp=-1&sk=#view=detail&id=AC948871E5A401C6950A1A300763F4431600E26C&selectedIndex=30
http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=death+of+hippolytus&go=&qs=n&form=QBIR&pq=death+of+hippolytus&sc=2-19&sp=-1&sk=#view=detail&id=D09581FC34BC8D8DDCC35D080630BB4F0972D1C9&selectedIndex=1
http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=helios+god+of+the+sun&go=&qs=n&form=QBIR&pq=helios+god+of+the+sun&sc=8-21&sp=-1&sk=#view=detail&id=9457C4A3B62DB8F4F69ED19F6F91B155DE90ED99&selectedIndex=17
SOURCE OF ALL THE TROUBLE: Hippolytus was a frequent worshiper of Artemis (left) and rejected all women, especially the goddess of love, Aphrodite (right). This enraged her (the greek gods could be quite jealous as we know) and she took revenge by causing Phaedra to fall in love with him.
REMIND YOU OF ANYONE ELSES EXTRAVAGANTLY DOOMED FATE ? (OEDIPUS!!!)
Another Look at the Characters as They Relate to the Theme of the Play
Theseus:
(blind rage) sentences his son to certain death before discovering the validity of the rumor he has heard; because of this he is, in the end, deprived of the two people he loved the most.
Oenone:
(fierce maternal protection) in an effort to protect Phaedra she tells Theseus that Hippolytus has feelings for her, which sends everything to ruins, resulting in the death of Hippolytus, her own death, and the death of Phaedra.
Phaedra:
(lustful passion) Honestly it's really not her fault. Aphrodite cursed her to get revenge on H ok?
Racine's Genius Part II
The long declamatory speeches and stylized changes in compressed half lines, along with the artificiality of conveying such complicated relationships and histories in a single day intensify the anguish of the central characters and their attempts to deal with fate.
In this way the reader can actually feel the self destruction of the human psyche as well as the heroism of the doomed effort to try and transcend given limits. (trust me, reading this is incredibly distressing)
Example: Page 1472 (lines 295-345) Phaedra's first soliloquy
Phaedra makes numerous sacrifices which can be noted in the above passage, to the goddess of love (Venus/Aphrodite) in hopes of saving herself from fate (ironically however, this is the very goddess who sealed her fate). She doesn't make excuses for her actions or her feelings, nor does she belief she is right to love the son of the man who kidnapped her into marriage. Nevertheless, though she is aware of her flawed morality she can do nothing to correct or stop it from ensuing. Thus the purpose of this play is to exploit the feeling of helplessness against tormenting fate.
In the very end, Phaedra dies by drinking the same poison created by Medea. Why? Please refer to the very bottom of page 1472
"O righteous heaven!"
There! Do you see it?
"Disastrous voyage! O unlucky coast! Why did we travel to your perilous shores?"
Phaedra like Medea left her hometown when she was married and was thrust into a completely different and torturous life. Thus it is only right that she dies in the same manner.
Image Sources:
Phaedra by Alexandre Cabanel (1880)
Full transcript