Translated by A. S. Kline © 2003 All Rights Reserved
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Hippolyte wishes to see me here? And why?
Hippolyte looks for me, wants to say goodbye?
Ismene, is this true? Surely, you’re incorrect?
It’s due to Theseus’s death: the first effect. 370
My lady, be ready on every side to view
Those Theseus rejected, who’ll flock to you.
Aricia’s finally mistress of her fate,
And you’ll soon see all Greece is at your feet.
So it’s not, Ismene, some ill-founded rumour? 375
I have no enemies: I’m a slave no longer?
No, my lady, the gods no longer oppose it,
And Theseus goes to meet your brothers’ spirits.
Do they say what action has ended his days?
Unbelievable tales of his ending circulate 380
They say that the waves have swallowed the faithless:
A husband, yet abductor of some fresh mistress.
They even say, and this rumour’s widely spread,
That, with Pirithous, he went down among the dead,
Saw the Cocytus, and the shores of darkness, 385
Showed himself alive to infernal shades, no less:
But could not escape from that gloomy sojourn,
And re-cross the border we pass without return.
Am I to believe a man, prior to his dying breath,
Could penetrate to the deep house of the dead? 390
What spell drew him to that formidable shore?
You alone doubt, Madame: Theseus is no more:
Athens laments it, Troezen knows of it,
And has recognised Hippolytus already.
Phaedra, in the palace, trembles for her son’s life, 395
From all her anxious friends she demands advice.
And you think Hippolytus, kinder than his father,
Being more humane, will make my chains lighter?
That he’ll pity my troubles?
Madame, I think so.
Is unfeeling Hippolytus known to you though? 400
What shallow hope makes you think he’ll pity me,
And respect a sex he treats disdainfully?
You see he’s evaded us for some time now,
And seeks the places where we never go.
I know all that they say about his coldness: 405
But I’ve seen proud Hippolytus in your presence:
And, even as I watched, the rumours of his pride
Redoubled my curiosity, I find.
His reality didn’t quite match the rumour:
At your first glances I found him someone other. 410
His eyes, that wished in vain to evade you,
Already, filled with yearning, could not leave you.
A lover’s name perhaps would slight his courage:
But he has the eyes of one, if not the language.
Dear Ismene, my heart hears it so eagerly, 415
Your speech that owes so little to reality!
O you who know me does it seem believable
That the sad plaything of a fate so pitiable,
A heart fed always on tears and bitterness,
Could still know love, and its sad foolishness? 420
Born of a king, a noble prince of this world,
I alone escaped the furious wars unfurled.
I lost six brothers in the flower of their youth,
And the hopes of an illustrious house in truth!
The sword took them all: and the clinging mud, 425
Drank with regret Erectheus’ nephews’ blood.
You know, since their death, what law’s severity
Forbade any of those Greeks to sigh for me:
They fear lest the sister’s reckless passions
Will one day re-animate the brothers’ ashes. 430
But you also know with what a scornful air
I regarded the suspicious conqueror’s care.
You know that, ever resistant to all lust,
I often gave thanks to Theseus the unjust,
Whose fine severity supported my contempt. 435
Yet my eyes, my eyes had not seen his son yet.
Not through the eyes alone, shamefully enchanted,
Do I love the beauty of him, his grace so vaunted,
Gifts with which nature wished to honour him,
Which he himself disdains, ignores it seems. 440
I love I find, in him, the noblest riches,
His father’s virtues, and not his weaknesses.
I love, I must confess, that generous pride,
Which has never bent beneath a yoke of sighs.
Phaedra was honoured by Theseus’ breath in vain, 445
For myself, I’m prouder, and flee the glory gained
From homage offered to hundreds, and so easily,
From entering a heart thrown open to so many.
But to make an unyielding courage bend,
To make that unfeeling heart of his feel pain, 450
To fetter a captive astonished by his chains,
Fighting the yoke, that delights him so, in vain:
That’s what I wish, that is what excites me.
To disarm Hippolytus counts for more than Hercules:
Often vanquished, and defeated more swiftly, 455
To the eyes that tamed him offering less glory.
But, alas, dear Ismene! How daring I am!
I’ll be blocked indeed by profound resistance.
Perhaps you’ll hear me, humbled then, in pain,
Lamenting that same pride I admire today. 460
Hippolyte might love? By what great happiness
Might I have altered…
You’ll hear him, himself, mistress:
He is coming to you.
Madame, before I leave,
I thought to advise you what your fate shall be.
My father no longer lives. My true prescience 465
Anticipated the cause of his long absence:
Death alone, limiting his brilliant efforts,
Could hide him so long from the universe.
At last the gods delivered the friend, the comrade,
The heir of Hercules to the murderous Fates. 470
I imagine your hatred, denying him his virtue,
Without regret, hears all those names he’s due.
Yet one hope now softens my mortal sadness:
That I might free you from a guardian’s harshness,
I revoke laws whose rigour I deplored: you are 475
Free now to dispose of yourself, and your heart:
And in this Troezen, now my inheritance,
The legacy of my ancestor Pittheus once,
Which has made me king, unhesitatingly,
I set you free as well, freer than I can be. 480
Moderate your kindness whose excess shames me.
By honouring my plight with care, so generously,
It binds me, my lord, more than you might see,
To those austere laws from which you free me.
Speaks of you, names me, and also the Queen’s son.
Of me, my Lord?
I don’t deceive myself: I know
That its proud laws seem to reject me: even so
But if the only competition were my brother, 490
Madame, over him I have essential claims,
That I could salvage from the law’s domains.
A more legitimate curb arrests my boldness:
I cede to you, rather I return a title no less,
A sceptre your ancestors long ago received 495
From that famous mortal whom the earth conceived.
Adoption placed it in Aegeus’ hands, there.
Recognised, joyfully, a king so generous,
And sent your poor brothers to forgetfulness. 500
She’s suffered long enough from those quarrels.
Too long has your blood, swallowed by its furrows,
Made that earth steam from which it first arose.
Troezen obeys me. The countryside
Offers the son of Phaedra a rich retreat.
To unite all our scattered votes for you.
I’m astonished and confused by all I hear,
I fear lest a dream deceives me, yes I fear. 510
Am I awake? Can I believe in such a plan?
What god, my Lord, what god guides your hand?
How deserved your fame: they speak it everywhere!
And how much the truth exceeds what they declare!
You would sacrifice yourself in favour of me! 515
Is it not sufficient that you will not hate me?
And for so long were able to protect your soul
From that enmity…
I hate you, Madame, how so?
Despite those colours in which they paint my pride,
Can they think a monster brought me to the light? 520
What savage manners, what hardened hatred
Would not, on seeing you, be wholly softened?
Could I have resisted the seductive charm…
What? My Lord.
I have let myself run on too far.
I see my reason has given way to violence. 525
Yet since I’ve now begun to break my silence,
Madame, I will continue: I’ll speak again
Of a secret my heart can no longer contain.
A prince to be pitied is before your eyes,
A memorable example ofreckless pride. 530
I who proudly revolted against all passion,
Have long scorned the chains of that lovers’ prison:
As I deplored the shipwrecks of weak men,
Thinking that from the shore I’d always view them:
Now subjugated to the common law, 535
What turmoil bears me to a distant shore?
One moment conquered boldness so imprudent:
My soul, so proud, is finally dependant.
For more than six months, desperate, ashamed,
Bearing throughout the wound with which I’m maimed, 540
I steeled myself towards you, and myself, in vain:
Present, I flee you: absent, I find you again:
Your image follows me in the forest’s night:
The shadows of darkness, and broad daylight,
Both bring to my eyes the charms that I avoid, 545
Both snare the rebel Hippolytus on every side.
This is the reward for my excessive care:
I search for my self: and yet find no one there.
My bow, my spears, my chariot all call me.
I cannot remember now what
My cries alone make the woodlands ring,
And the idle horses all forget my calling.
Perhaps the tale of so wild a love will make you
Blush, hearing me, at all your charms could do.
What shy entreaty for a heart in your hands! 555
What a strange prisoner for such lovely bonds!
But the offering should be dearer to your eyes.
I speak to you in a foreign tongue, ah, realise:
Do not reject these vows, so poorly expressed,
That but for you Hippolytus had not confessed. 560
The Queen is here my lord: I’ve arrived before her.
She’s seeking you.
Of her intent I’m unaware,
But her messenger came to speak on her behalf.
Phaedra wishes to see you before you depart.
Phaedra? What might she wish? What will I tell her… 565
You cannot refuse, my Lord, to listen to her.
Though only too convinced of her enmity,
You owe her tears some semblance of pity.
Meanwhile you leave. And I go not knowing
Whether I’ve offended charms worth adoring. 570
Not knowing if the heart I leave in your hands…
Go, Prince, and pursue your generous plans.
I accept all those gifts you make my dower.
But that Empire, so grand, so glorious a prize, 575
Is not the dearest gift of all, to my eyes.
Is all ready, my friend? But, here is the Queen.
Go, so all is prepared now for us to leave.
Give the signals, course, orders: then, returning,
Free me swiftly from this unfortunate meeting. 580
Phaedra (To Oenone.)
He is there. All my blood rises towards my heart.
Seeing him, I forget what I came to impart.
Remember your son, whose only hope you are.
I hear that a swift departure takes you far
From us, my Lord. I come to join my tears to yours. 585
I come, on my son’s behalf, to explain my fears.
My son is fatherless: the day’s not long distant
That will make him a witness of my final moments.
Already thousands attack his vulnerability:
You alone can protect him from his enemies. 590
But now a secret regret agitates my mind.
I fear I have closed your ears to all his cries.
I tremble lest your just anger follow after,
Swiftly pursuing in him his hated mother.
Madame, my feelings are not as base as that. 595
If you hated me, I would not complain of it,
My Lord. You thought me intent on doing harm:
But you could not read the depths of my heart.
I took care to expose myself to your hostility:
Could not endure your presence in my country. 600
I spoke against you in public, and privately,
I wished to be parted from you by the sea:
I even declared a law that forbade, expressly,
Any man to dare to speak your name to me.
Yet if one measures the offence by its pain, 605
If hatred alone inspires hatred again,
No woman was ever worthier of pity,
And less deserving, my Lord, of your enmity.
A mother jealous of the rights of her children,
Seldom tolerates the son of another husband. 610
I know that, Madame. Constant suspicion
Is the most common fruit of a second union.
Every other would have taken like offence,
And I’d have suffered insults the more intense.
Oh! My Lord, I dare to say here that heaven, 615
In this case, wished to make me an exception!
A different matter troubles and consumes me!
Madame, then you are troubled prematurely.
Perhaps your husband still sees the light of day:
With his return, heaven might those tears repay. 620
Called in vain to his guardian god in prayer.
We cannot view the shores of the dead twice, my Lord.
Since Theseus has already seen those sombre shores,
The hope some god may send him back to you is vain, 625
And greedy Acheron never lets loose its prey.
What do I say? He’s not dead: in you he breathes.
I always believe I see my husband before me.
I see, I speak to him, and my heart…forgive me,
My Lord, my fond passion speaks, in spite of me. 630
I see the profound effect of your fondness.
Dead though he may be, you still see Theseus:
Your soul is forever inflamed with love of him.
Yes, Prince, I languish, and I burn for him.
I love him, not one whom hell has seen descend, 635
Fickle worshipper of a thousand diverse ends,
Who’d dishonour the bed of the god of the dead:
But the loyal, proud, even shy man, instead,
Charming, young: drawing after him all hearts.
Such as one depicts the gods: or as you are. 640
He shares your bearing, your eyes, your speech,
That noble modesty that stains his cheeks,
As when he sailed across our Cretan waters
Worthy to be desired by Minos’ daughters.
What were you doing then? Why gather the heroes, 645
All the flower of
Why could you, still so young, not be aboard
The ships that brought him once to our shores?
The Cretan monster would have perished there,
At your hand, despite the toils of his vast lair. 650
To disentangle that confusing problem, too
My sister would have handed you the fatal clew.
No! I’d have been before her with that course,
Love would have swiftly inspired the thought.
I it is, Prince, I whose expert assistance 655
Would have taught you the windings of the Labyrinth.
With what care I would have cherished your dear head!
Your lover would not have been content with a thread.
A companion in the danger you had to go through,
I myself would have wished to walk ahead of you: 660
And Phaedra, plunging with you into the Labyrinth,
Would have returned with you, or herself have perished.
You gods! What do I hear? Madame, do you forget
That Theseus is my father, your husband yet?
And what makes you think I forget his memory 665
Prince? Have I lost all care for my own glory?
Madame, forgive me. I blush at my confession
I’ve wrongly judged an innocent expression.
My shame can no longer endure your vision:
And I go…
Ah! You’ve listened too long, cruel one. 670
I’ve told you enough for you to be undeceived.
Well! Contemplate Phaedra then in all her fury.
I love. But don’t think at the moment of loving you
I find myself innocent in my own eyes, or approve,
Or that slack complacency has fed the poison, 675
Of this wild passion that troubles all my reason.
I, the wretched object of divine vengeance,
Loathe myself much more than you ever can.
The gods are my witnesses, those gods who placed
The fire in my breast, so fatal to all my race, 680
Those gods whose glory it is, always cruel,
To seduce the heart of a weak mortal.
You yourself can bring the past the mind, too,
It was not enough to avoid you: I exiled you.
I wished to seem odious, inhuman to you. 685
I sought your hate, the better to resist you.
How have those useless efforts brought success?
You hated me more: I did not love you less.
Your misfortune even lent you fresh dimension.
I languished, withered, in tears, and in passion. 690
You only needed eyes to be persuaded,
If your eyes had looked at me, not been dissuaded.
What? This confession that I so shamefully,
Make to you, do you think it voluntary?
Trembling for a son I did not dare betray, 695
To beg you not to hate him I come today.
Weak project of a heart too full of what it loves!
Alas! It is only yourself I have spoken of.
Take vengeance: punish me for loathed delight.
Worthy son of a hero who granted you light. 700
Deliver the world from a monster so odious.
Theseus’ widow dares to love Hippolytus!
This dreadful monster won’t escape: believe me.
Here’s my heart. Here’s where your hand should strike me.
Impatient already to expiate its offence, 705
To meet your arm I can feel it now advance.
Strike. Or if you think it not worthy of your blow,
If your hate refuses me such sweet torment, so,
Or if your hand by my vile blood would be stained,
Instead of your arm lend me then your blade. 710
Madame, what would you do? Gods above!
Someone’s here. Avoid hateful witnesses: remove:
Come, return home: flee now from certain shame.
Is that Phaedra fleeing, or rather being led away?
Why, my Lord, why then all these signs of grief? 715
I see you without your sword, stunned, pale beyond belief.
Theramenes, my astonishment’s complete.
I can’t view myself without horror. Let us leave.
Phaedra…No! You gods! In what deep oblivion
Must this appalling secret be entombed! 720
If you’re ready to depart, the sails are rigged.
Her leaders have taken soundings of every man.
Your brother carried the day: Phaedra has won.
A herald charged with Athen’s demands 725
Comes now, to place control of the state in her hands.
Her son is king, my Lord.
You gods, who know her,
Is it for her virtues you now reward her?
Meanwhile vague rumours say the king still lives.
They claim that Theseus appeared
But I who looked for him, my Lord, well knowing…
No matter: listen to all, and neglect nothing
Let’s look into this rumour, trace its source.
If it doesn’t merit any change of course,
We’ll leave: and whatever the cost to us may be, 735
We’ll yet place the sceptre in hands more worthy.
End of Act II
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