Racine

Phaedra

Act I

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2003 All Rights Reserved

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Contents


Characters

Theseus son of Aegeus, King of Athens.

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 Athens.

Oenone nurse and confidante to Phaedra.

Theramenes tutor to Hippolytus.

Ismene confidante to Aricia.

Panope lady in waiting to Phaedra.

Guards


Act I Scene I (Hippolytus, Theramenes.)

(The scene is Troezen, a city of the Peloponnese.)

Hippolytus My plans are made, dear Theramenes, I go:

I’ll end my stay in pleasant Troezen so.

Gripped as I am by deadly uncertainty

I’ve grown ashamed of my inactivity.

For more than six months, far from my father, here, 5

I’m unaware now of the fate of one so dear.

I’m unaware, even, in what place he might be.

Theramenes Where would you look for him, my lord? Already

To ease your concerns, which may yet be justified,

I’ve rounded the two seas Corinth’s heights divide: 10

I sought Theseus among those by the roadstead,

Where Acheron’s seen to flow towards the dead:

I visited Elis, and on leaving Taenarus,

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 we’ve trembled for his safety,

The hero, hiding some new love affair, may be 20

Merely waiting till his betrayed lover, as yet....

Hippolyte 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 I’ll go and fulfil my duty,

Leaving these shores I no longer wish to see.

Theramenes My lord, since when did you fear the proximity,

Of peaceful scenes, so dear to you from infancy, 30

Whose haunts I’ve often seen you prefer before

The tumultuous pomp of Athens and her court?

What risk, or rather what sorrow, drives you away?

Hippolyte Glad times are no more. All’s changed since the day

That, to our shores, the gods despatched the daughter, 35

Of Minos King of Crete: Pasiphae her mother.

Theramenes 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?

Hippolyte Her fruitless enmity’s 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.

Theramenes What! Are you persecuting her, my lord, indeed?

Has that sweet sister of the cruel Pallantides

Ever been involved in her brothers’ perfidies?

Can you bring yourself to hate her innocent charms? 55

Hippolyte If I hated her I would not flee her arms.

Theramenes Am I allowed to explain this flight to us?

Can it be you’re 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?

Hippolytus Friend, what is it you dare say? 65

You who’ve 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 father’s 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

Epidaurus, and the giant’s bones flung abroad,

Crete, smoking with the blood of the Minotaur.

But when you told me of less glorious deeds,

His word in a hundred places pledged, received,

Helen in Sparta stolen from her parents, 85

Periboea’s tears witnessed by all Salamis,

So many others whose names he’s 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 I’ve tamed no monsters,

I’ve 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:

He’d 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 affair...

Theramenes 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, that’s so chaste?

If it possesses sweetness, won’t you dare to taste? 120

Will these awkward scruples always hold you back?

Do you fear to lose yourself on Hercules’ 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

Hadn’t 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

We’ve 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, there’s heaviness in your eyes.

There’s 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?

Hippolytus Theramenes, I am leaving, to seek my father.

Theramenes Will you not see Phaedra again, before you go,

My lord?

Hippolytus That’s my intent: you may tell her so. 140

I’ll see her, since my duty demands of it me.

(Oenone enters.)

But what new trouble disturbs dear Oenone?


Act I Scene II (Hippolytus, Oenone, Theramenes)

Oenone Alas! My lord, what misfortune could equal mine?

The Queen is near to the ending of her life.

I’ve kept watch over her, in vain, day and night: 145

She’ll die in my arms of this illness that she hides.

Eternal disorder reigns now in her spirit.

She’s torn from her bed by sorrowful unquiet.

She wishes to see the light: yet with deep sadness

Orders the world outside to be dismissed... 150

She is here.

Hippolyte Enough: I’ll leave this place to her,

And show my odious face to her no longer.


Act I Scene III (Phaedra, Oenone)

Phaedra Let’s go no further. Stay, dear Oenone.

I can’t 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.

Alas!

(She sits down.)

Oenone All-powerful gods! If tears could but appease.

Phaedra 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.

Oeneone 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?

Phaedra 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.

Oeneone What! Will you never forget that cruel desire?

Am I always to see you renouncing life entire,

Making funereal preparations for your death? 175

Phaedra 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?

Oenone What, lady?

Phaedra 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.

Oenone Oh! If you must blush, blush for your silence 185

That still embitters your sorrow’s 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 yoke’s 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 race’s doom,

That son an Amazon carried in her womb,

That Hippolytus...

Phaedra Gods!

Oenone You’re moved by my censure? 205

Phaedra Wretched woman, whose name do you dare to mention?

Oenone That’s good! Your anger rises for a reason:

I’m glad to see you shudder at her fatal son.

Live then. As love and duty shall drive you on,

Live, and don’t allow that child of a Scythian, 210

Crushing your children in despised embrace,

To command the gods’ and Greece’s noblest race.

But don’t 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.

Phaedra I’ve already prolonged its guilty thread too far.

Oenone 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

Phaedra Thanks to heaven, my hands are not criminals.

Would the gods my heart were innocent as well!

Oenone And what fearful project have you tried,

That it still leaves your heart so terrified?

Phaedra I’ve talked to you enough. Now, spare me the rest. 225

I die to evade this disastrous urge to confess.

Oenone 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?

Phaedra What benefit do you hope for from this violence?

You’ll shudder with horror if I break my silence.

Oenone Great gods, what could you tell me that wouldn’t yield

To the horror of seeing you die, my eyes unsealed? 240

Phaedra If you knew my crime, my fate that crushes the will,

I would die no less: I would die more guilty still.

Oenone 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

Phaedra You wish it so. Rise.

Oenone Speak: I am listening.

Phaedra Heaven! What shall I tell her? Begin, but where?

Oenone Don’t offend me with these idle hints of terror.

Phaedra O Venus’ hatred! O fatal anger!

To what distraction did love not drive my mother! 250

Oenone Forget those things, and in future, my lady,

Let eternal silence hide their memory.

Phaedra Ariadne, my sister! Wounded by what passion

Did you die on the shore, where you were abandoned?

Oenone Why this, my lady? What mortal misery 255

Excites you today against your family?

Phaedra Because Venus wills that of this dreadful race

I shall perish the last, and the most disgraced.

Oenone Do you love?

Phaedra I feel all the furies of desire.

Oenone For whom?

Phaedra You shall know all my deepest fire. 260

I love....At the deadly name I tremble, shudder.

I love....

Oenone Whom?

Phaedra The son of that Amazon mother:

You must know that prince I myself oppressed so long?

Oenone Hippolyte! You gods!

Phaedra Yes, him, you are not wrong.

Oenone Just heaven! All the blood’s 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?

Phaedra My pain goes further back. I was scarcely tied

To Aegeus’ son, by those laws that make a bride, 270

My false peace and happiness secured to me,

When Athens showed me my glorious enemy.

I saw him, I blushed: I paled at the sight:

Pain swelled in my troubled heart outright:

My eyes saw nothing: I couldn’t 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 altars’ 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 father’s 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 father’s 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 I’d sent away:

My wound, still living, quickly bled again,

It’s no longer an ardour hidden in my veins: 305

It’s 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:

I’ve confessed it all: and I repent of nothing,

Provided you respect my death’s approach,

Without afflicting me with unjust reproach,

And that you cease to recall by your vain aid, 315

This remnant of life I’m ready to breathe away.


Act I Scene IV (Phaedra, Oenone, Panope)

Panope 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

Oenone Panope, what are you saying?

Panope That the Queen betrayed

Would demand Theseus’s return from heaven in vain,

And that Hippolyte his son has learned of this before,

From those vessels that have lately come to shore.

Phaedra You Heavens!

Panope Athens is split over the choice of leader. 325

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.

Oenone Panope, that’s enough. The Queen who’s listening, 335

Will not neglect to heed your vital warning.


Act I Scene V (Phaedra, Oenone)

Oenone My lady, I’d ceased to urge you to live on:

I’d 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 King’s 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: you’ve 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.

Hippolyte’s presence is less fearsome to you now,

And you can see him without guilt on your brow.

Perhaps, convinced of your profound aversion, 355

He’ll make himself the leader of this sedition.

Disabuse him of his error: sway his bravery.

King of this happy land, Troezen’s his destiny:

And he knows that the law will grant to your son

Those proud ramparts of Minerva’s creation. 360

Both of you face the same true enemy:

Combine: oppose Aricia, in harmony.

Phaedra 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 what’s left of my feeble mind.

End of Act I