Translated by A. S. Kline © 2003 All Rights Reserved
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Theseus, son of Aegeus, King of
Phaedra, wife of Theseus, daughter of Minos and Pasiphae.
Hippolytus, son of Theseus and of Antiope, Queen of the Amazons.
Aricia, princess of the royal blood of
Oenone, nurse and confidante to Phaedra.
Theramenes, tutor to Hippolytus.
Ismene, confidante to Aricia.
Panope, lady in waiting to Phaedra.
The scene is Troezen, a city of
My plans are made, dear Theramenes, I go:
Iíll end my stay in pleasant Troezen so.
Gripped as I am by deadly uncertainty
Iíve grown ashamed of my inactivity.
For more than six months, far from my father, here,††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††† †5
Iím unaware now of the fate of one so dear.
Iím unaware, even, in what place he might be.
Where would you look for him, my lord? Already
To ease your concerns, which may yet be justified,
Iíve rounded the two seas
I sought Theseus among those by the roadstead,
Where Acheronís seen to flow towards the dead:
Sailed the waves that saw the fall of Icarus.
What gives you fresh hope, in what happy depths†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††† 15
Do you think to discover traces of his steps?
Who even knows if the king your father, would
Wish the mystery of his absence understood?
Or if, though like you weíve trembled for his safety,
The hero, hiding some new love affair, may be†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††† 20
Merely waiting till his betrayed lover, as yetÖ.
Stop, dear Theramenes, show Theseus some respect.
Free of his youthful errors now, returning,
No unworthy obstacle would there delay him:
Ending his fatal inconstancy by her prayers,††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††† 25
Phaedra no longer has any such rival to fear.
Yet, seeking him Iíll go and fulfil my duty,
Leaving these shores I no longer wish to see.
My lord, since when did you fear the proximity,
Of peaceful scenes, so dear to you from infancy,†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††† 30
Whose haunts Iíve often seen you prefer before
The tumultuous pomp of
What risk, or rather what sorrow, drives you away?
Glad times are no more. Allís changed since the day
That, to our shores, the gods despatched the daughter,††††††††††††††† ††††††††† ††††† 35
Of Minos King of
I see. The reason for your pain is known to me.
Phaedra, grieves you, here, offends you deeply.
A dangerous stepmother, who scarcely saw you
Before she signalled her wish to banish you.††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††† †††† †††† ††††††40
But the hatred that she then turned your way
Has either lessened, now, or seeped away.
And what danger can she offer you, besides:
A dying woman: and one who seeks to die?
Phaedra, touched by illness her silence covers,††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††† 45
Tired at last of herself, and the light around her,
What designs could she intend against you?
Her fruitless enmityís not what I have in view.
Hippolyte, in leaving, flees someone other.
I flee, I confess, from young Aricia,††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††† 50
Last of a deadly race that conspires against me.
What! Are you persecuting her, my lord, indeed?
Has that sweet sister of the cruel Pallantides
Ever been involved in her brothersí perfidies?
Can you bring yourself to hate her innocent charms?†††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††† 55
If I hated her I would not flee her arms.
Am I allowed to explain this flight to us?
Can it be youíre no longer proud Hippolytus,
Implacable enemy of the laws of love,
Of that yoke Theseus so often knew above?††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††††††† 60
Could Venus whom your pride so often scorned,
Wish to justify Theseus, after all?
And placing you in the ranks of other mortals,
Force you now to light incense at her altars?
Do you love, my lord?
††††††††††††††††††† †††††† Friend, what is it you dare say?†††††††††††††††††††††††† †† †††††††††††††65
You whoíve known my heart since my first day,
Do you ask me to deny, when it would be shameful,
The feelings of a heart so proud, and so disdainful?
With her milk, an Amazon mother once fed me
On that pride you seem, now, so amazed to see:††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††† 70
Then, when I myself achieved a riper age,
I knew and approved my thoughts at every stage.
Attached to me then, with eager sincerity,
You told me all about my fatherís history.
You know how my soul, attentive to your voice,†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††† 75
Was warmed by the noble story of his exploits,
As you revealed that intrepid hero to me,
Consoling us mortals for lost Hercules,
Monsters choked, and robbers punished,
Procustus, Cercyon, Sciron, and Sinis: †††††††† ††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††80
But when you told me of less glorious deeds,
His word in a hundred places pledged, received,
Periboeaís tears witnessed by all
So many others whose names heís forgotten,
Credulous spirits deceived by his passion:
Ariadne telling the rocks of those injustices,
Phaedra won, at last, under better auspices:†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††† 90
You know how, regretfully hearing that discourse,
I often urged you to abridge its course:
Happy if I could erase in memory
The unworthy chapters of so fine a story!
And am I myself entangled in my turn?†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††† 95
Is my humiliation the gods concern?
My cowardly sighs are the more contemptible,
Since glory renders Theseus excusable:
Because as yet myself Iíve tamed no monsters,
Iíve acquired no right to imitate his failures.††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 100
And even if my pride could be sweetened more,
Would I choose Aricia as my conqueror?
Is my mind so lost it no longer remembers
The eternal obstacle that separates us?
My father disapproves: and laws most severe††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 105
Prevent him granting nephews to her brothers:
He fears the offspring born of a guilty strain:
Heíd like to bury their sister and their name,
Submit her to his guardianship till the grave,
Ensure that for her no wedding torches blaze.††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 110
Should I flaunt her rights against an angry father?
Shall I set an example in my rashness, rather?
And let my youth embark on a mad affairÖ
Oh! My lord, once our fate is written there,
Heaven knows not to inquire into our reasons.††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 115
Theseus opened your eyes so he might close them,
Yet his hatred, exciting a rebellious flame,
Lends new grace to his enemy all the same.
Why be frightened of a love, though, thatís so chaste?
If it possesses sweetness, wonít you dare to taste?†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 120
Will these awkward scruples always hold you back?
Do you fear to lose yourself on Herculesí track?
Of what brave men has Venus not been conqueror!
Where would you be, now, you who fight against her,
If Antiope, opposed to her laws forever,††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 125
Hadnít burnt for Theseus with modest ardour?
But what use is it to affect a proud display?
Confess, and all will change: for many a day
Weíve seen you infrequently, unsociable, proud,
Now driving your chariot along the coast road,††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †† 130
Now, skilled in the art Neptune himself made plain,
Breaking an untamed stallion to the rein.
The forests ring out less often to our cries.
Filled with secret fire, thereís heaviness in your eyes.
Thereís no longer any doubt: you love, you burn:†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 135
You are dying of an illness you disguise in turn.
Or has lovely Aricia pleased you, rather?
Theramenes, I am leaving, to seek my father.
Will you not see Phaedra again, before you go,
††††††††† †††† Thatís my intent: you may tell her so.†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 140
Iíll see her, since my duty demands of it me.
But what new trouble disturbs dear Oenone?
Alas! My lord, what misfortune could equal mine?
The Queen is near to the ending of her life.
Iíve kept watch over her, in vain, day and night:†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 145
Sheíll die in my arms of this illness that she hides.
Eternal disorder reigns now in her spirit.
Sheís torn from her bed by sorrowful unquiet.
She wishes to see the light: yet with deep sadness
Orders the world outside to be dismissedÖ†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† ††††† ††††150
She is here.
††††††††† †Enough: Iíll leave this place to her,
And show my odious face to her no longer.
Letís go no further. Stay, dear Oenone.
I canít support myself: my strength has left me.
My eyes are dazzled, on seeing the light of day,†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 155
My knees, trembling beneath me, have given way.
(She sits down.)
All-powerful gods! If tears could but appease.
How these vain ornaments, these veils burden me!
What irksome hand, weaving these knots around,
Has gathered my hair with such care on my brow?††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †† 160
All afflicts, and harms, and conspires to harm me.
Your wishes thwart one another, alternately!
You yourself, condemning your unjust intent,
Urged our hands to prepare you for this instant:
You yourself, recalling your former strength,††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †† 165
Wished to rise again, and see the light at length.
You see it, mistress, and start to hide once more:
Do you hate the daylight you were searching for?
Noble, glittering creator of a sad family,
You, whose daughter my mother dared claim to be,††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †† 170
Who blush perhaps on viewing my troubled mind,
Oh Sun, I come to look on you for one last time.
What! Will you never forget that cruel desire?
Am I always to see you renouncing life entire,
Making funereal preparations for your death?††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 175
Gods! Why am I not sitting in that dark forest?
When shall I follow the chariot with my eyes
Charging nobly on, through the dust that flies?
††††† Maddened, where am I! What did I say?
Where have I let my will and spirit go play?††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †††††† †††††††180
I have lost them: the gods deny me their use.
Oenone, blushes cover my face, its truth:
I have let you see my sad shame too clearly,
And my eyes, despite myself, weep tearfully.
Oh! If you must blush, blush for your silence††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 185
That still embitters your sorrowís violence.
Rebelling against our care, deaf to our discourse,
Will you let your last days take this pitiless course?
What madness limits them in the midst of their force?
What spell, what poison has dried up their source?† ††††††††††††††††††† †† †††††† ††††190
Three times the shadows have obscured the sky,
Since sleep has entered in your saddened eye:
Three times has day driven night from the firmament,
While your body languished without nourishment.
By what fearful design are you being tempted?††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††††††††††† ††† 195
By what right do you dare to let your life be ended?
You offend the gods, creators of your reality:
You betray the man to whom you pledged all loyalty:
You betray your children, those unfortunates,
Whom you drive beneath the yokeís harsh weight.†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††200
Think how that day will snatch away their mother,
And give hope to the son of that alien other,
To that proud enemy of yours, your raceís doom,
That son an Amazon carried in her womb,
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††† Youíre moved by my censure?††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 205
Wretched woman, whose name do you dare to mention?
Thatís good! Your anger rises for a reason:
Iím glad to see you shudder at her fatal son.
Live then. As love and duty shall drive you on,
Live, and donít allow that child of a Scythian,†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 210
Crushing your children in despised embrace,
To command the godsí and
But donít delay: each moment now is killing you.
Quickly then, your waning strength needs rescue,
While the flame of your life, almost dwindled,††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 215
Still endures, and can even yet be rekindled.
Iíve already prolonged its guilty thread too far.
How! By what remorse are you being torn apart?
What crime could have brought about such fierce pain?
Your hands have no innocent blood on them, no stain?†††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 220
Thanks to heaven, my hands are not criminals.
Would the gods my heart were innocent as well!
And what fearful project have you tried,
That it still leaves your heart so terrified?
Iíve talked to you enough. Now, spare me the rest.††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 225
I die to evade this disastrous urge to confess.
Well die: and so protect that inhuman silence:
But seek another hand to close your eyes, and
Though scarcely a feeble ray of light is left you,
My spirit will descend to the dead before you.†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 230
A thousand roads ever open lead us on,
And my true grief will choose the shortest one.
Cruel one, when has my faith ever betrayed you?
Think: when you were born my arms received you.
For you, I left everything, my land: my children.†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 235
Is this the reward that loyalty shall be given?
What benefit do you hope for from this violence?
Youíll shudder with horror if I break my silence.
Great gods, what could you tell me that wouldnít yield
To the horror of seeing you die, my eyes unsealed?†††††††††††††††††††† †† †††††† ††††240
If you knew my crime, my fate that crushes the will,
I would die no less: I would die more guilty still.
Madame, by the tears for you that wet my face,
By your faltering knees that I here embrace,
Free my spirit from dreadful questioning.††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 245
You wish it so. Rise.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †Speak: I am listening.
Heaven! What shall I tell her? Begin, but where?
Donít offend me with these idle hints of terror.
O Venusí hatred! O fatal anger!
To what distraction did love not drive my mother!††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 250
Forget those things, and in future, my lady,
Let eternal silence hide their memory.
Ariadne, my sister! Wounded by what passion
Did you die on the shore, where you were abandoned?
Why this, my lady? What mortal misery†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 255
Excites you today against your family?
Because Venus wills that of this dreadful race
I shall perish the last, and the most disgraced.
Do you love?
††††††††††††††††††† I feel all the furies of desire.
††††††††††††††††††† You shall know all my deepest fire.†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 260
I loveÖ.At the deadly name I tremble, shudder.
††††††††††††††††††† †††††††††††††††† The son of that Amazon mother:
You must know that prince I myself oppressed so long?
Hippolyte! You gods!
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †† Yes, him, you are not wrong.
Just heaven! All the bloodís frozen in my veins.††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 265
O despair! O crime! O you race without shame!
Unfortunate voyage! O, miserable shore!
Why did you come then to this place of danger?
My pain goes further back. I was scarcely tied
To Aegeusí son, by those laws that make a bride,††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† ††††† ††††270
My false peace and happiness secured to me,
I saw him, I blushed: I paled at the sight:
Pain swelled in my troubled heart outright:
My eyes saw nothing: I couldnít speak for pain:††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 275
I felt my whole body frozen, and in flame.
I recognised Venus and her fearsome fires.
Of a race whose remorseless torments she desires.
I thought I could prevent grief by ceaseless prayer:
I built her a temple, adorned it with all care:††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† ††††† ††††280
Surrounding myself with victims at all hours,
I sought my lost reason in those bloody dowers,
The powerless remedy for a love without a cure!
In vain I burnt incense at her altars, impure:
When my mouth called on the name of the goddess,††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 285
I adored Hippolytus: my vision of him endless,
Even at the altarsí foot where I lit the flame,
I offered all to that god I dared not name.
I avoided him everywhere. O height of misery!
My eyes sought him in his fatherís reality.†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† ††††† ††††290
At last I dared to rise against my own being:
I roused my courage to persecute, with feeling.
To banish the enemy who made me an idolater,
I feigned my grievance, an unjust stepmother:
I urged his exile, and my eternal cries,†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 295
Made him unwelcome to his fatherís eyes.
I breathed Oenone, then, and given his absence
My days, less troubled, were spent in innocence.
Submitting to my husband, hiding pain instead,
Caring for the fruits of our fatal marriage bed.†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 300
Useless precaution! Cruel destiny!
Brought by my husband to Troezen, only to see,
Once more, the enemy that Iíd sent away:
My wound, still living, quickly bled again,
Itís no longer an ardour hidden in my veins:††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 305
Itís Venus fastening wholly on her prey.
For my crime I now conceive a perfect terror:
I view my life with hatred, my love with horror.
Dying, I wish to protect my name by that act:
And conceal from the light a flame so black.†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 310
I could not endure your tears: your questioning:
Iíve confessed it all: and I repent of nothing,
Provided you respect my deathís approach,
Without afflicting me with unjust reproach,
And that you cease to recall by your vain aid,††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 315
This remnant of life Iím ready to breathe away.
I wished to hide the sorrowful news from you,
My lady: but now I must reveal it to you.
Death has taken your invincible husband,
You only were unaware that it has happened.††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 320
Panope, what are you saying?
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †††† That the Queen betrayed
Would demand Theseusís return from heaven in vain,
And that Hippolyte his son has learned of this before,
From those vessels that have lately come to shore.
One gives his vote to your son the Prince: another,
Madame, forgetting the laws of his country,
Dares grant support to the son of your enemy.
They even say that an insolent intrigue
Would crown Aricia and the Pallantides.†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 330
I thought this peril might be turned from you.
Even now Hippolyte prepares to leave us too:
And I fear that if he appears, in that storm,
The fickle crowd will follow him in swarms.
Panope, thatís enough. The Queen whoís listening,†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 335
Will not neglect to heed your vital warning.
My lady, Iíd ceased to urge you to live on:
Iíd already decided to follow you to the tomb:
I had thought to seek to deter you no longer:
But this new trouble forces new duties on you.††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 340
Your fate has altered, and shows another face:
The Kingís no more. Madame must take his place.
You belong to your son, left to you by that death,
A slave if you die, a king while you have breath.
On whom, in this trouble, would you have him depend?†††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 345
His tears will find no hand to dry them, no friend:
His innocent cries, heard by the gods above us,
Will harm his mother, and anger his ancestors.
Live: youíve nothing to condemn yourself for there:
Your passion becomes a commonplace affair.†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 350
Theseus, in dying, destroyed those complications,
That formed the crime, the horror of your passion.
Hippolyteís presence is less fearsome to you now,
And you can see him without guilt on your brow.
Perhaps, convinced of your profound aversion,††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 355
Heíll make himself the leader of this sedition.
Disabuse him of his error: sway his bravery.
King of this happy land, Troezenís his destiny:
And he knows that the law will grant to your son
Those proud ramparts of Minervaís creation.††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††360
Both of you face the same true enemy:
Combine: oppose Aricia, in harmony.
Well! I will let myself be led by your advice.
Let us live, if they can bring me back to life,
And if love of a son, at this gloomy time,††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† ††† 365
Can re-animate whatís left of my feeble mind.
††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† End of Act I