Racine

Phaedra

Act IV

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

This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.


Contents


Act IV Scene I (Theseus, Oenone)

Theseus Ah! What do I hear? A reckless traitor,

Planned this outrage to his father’s honour?

Destiny, how relentlessly you pursue me!

I know not where I am, or where I journey.

O tenderness! O kindness so ill repaid! 1005

A detestable design! A plot so boldly made!

To achieve the object of his dark course,

His insolence employed the use of force.

I recognise this blade, tool of his madness,

I armed him with it for a nobler purpose. 1010

Did our blood ties not provide enough restraint!

And Phaedra has delayed his punishment!

Phaedra’s silence has spared the guilty one!

Oenone Phaedra has rather spared a father’s pain.

Ashamed of a passionate lover’s designs 1015

The criminal desire reflected in his eyes,

Phaedra was dying. My Lord, a deadly sight,

Her hand quenching her eyes’ innocent light.

I saw her lift her arm: I ran to save her.

I alone, for your love, have preserved her: 1020

And pitying both her distress and your fears,

Despite myself, I’ve served to explain her tears.

Theseus The traitor couldn’t prevent himself turning pale!

I saw him shudder with fear, finding me again.

I was astonished by such lack of joyousness, 1025

His cold embrace has chilled my tenderness.

But had he already declared this guilty love

In Athens, this passion by which he’s devoured?

Oenone My lord, remember the Queen’s complaints.

His guilty passion the cause of all her hate. 1030

Theseus And his passion then began again in Troezen?

Oenone I’ve explained, my Lord, all that happened then.

The Queen has been left too long in mortal pain:

Allow me to leave you, and go to her again.


Act IV Scene II (Theseus, Hippolyte)

Theseus Ah! He is there. High gods! Tell me whose seeing 1035

Wouldn’t be misled, like mine, by noble bearing?

How can the brow of this profane adulterer

Shine out with virtue’s sacred character?

And shouldn’t we be able to recognise

The heart of a treacherous mortal by sure signs? 1040

Hippolytus May I ask you, my Lord, what gloomy cloud,

Allows itself to trouble your noble brow?

Will you dare to confide this secret to me?

Theseus Traitor, do you dare to show yourself before me?

Monster, whom the thunderbolt too long has spared, 1045

Foul leavings of those thieves I swept from the earth!

After the transports of horror-filled passion led

Your madness as far as your father’s bed,

You dare to present your hostile face to me

You approach this place full of your infamy, 1050

Rather than finding, under some unknown sky,

A country where my name never met the eye.

Traitor, flee. Don’t come here to brave my pain,

Tempting the anger I can barely contain.

Enough eternal disgrace has been heaped on me 1055

In having brought to light a son so guilty,

Without his death, a shameful future memory,

Arriving to stain my noble labours’ glory:

Flee, if you don’t wish my swift punishment

To add to the rascals who’ve known chastisement, 1060

Take care that the star that lights us never

Sees you setting a reckless foot here, ever.

Flee, I say, and set out without returning,

Rid all my lands of your dreadful being.

And you, Neptune, you, if my courage ever 1065

Cleansed your shore of those infamous murderers,

Remember that as a prize for all my labour,

You promised to fulfil my future prayer.

During the long rigours of a cruel prison,

I never called on your immortal person. 1070

Eager for the help I expect from your care,

For this greater need I retained my prayer.

Today I beg you, avenge an unhappy father.

I now abandon a traitor to your anger.

Drown his outrageous desires in his own blood. 1075

Theseus by your fury measures his own good.

Hippolyte Phaedra accuse Hippolytus of a guilty passion!

Such excess of horror renders my spirit numb:

So many unforeseen blows together rain on me

They stifle my words, and rob me of my speech. 1080

Theseus Traitor, you imagined that in cowardly silence

Phaedra would bury all your brutish insolence.

You should never have dropped your sword as you fled

Which, left in her hands, condemns you instead:

Or rather in order to complete your treachery, 1085

You should have robbed her of life and speech.

Hippolyte Rightly indignant at such a dark deceit,

My Lord, I should allow the truth to speak.

But I’ll suppress a secret that touches you.

Respect closes my lips: which you should approve. 1090

And without wishing you to increase your pain

Reflect on my life, and think who I am, again.

Crime of sorts ever precedes some greater crime.

Whoever crosses lawful boundaries, in time

Violates the most sacred rights with impunity: 1095

As well as virtue, crime too has its degrees,

And no one has ever seen shy innocence

Suddenly transform itself to extreme licence.

A single day can’t make a man who’s virtuous

A treacherous assassin: cowardly, incestuous. 1100

Nurtured in the womb of a chaste heroine,

I’ve never betrayed my blood, and my origin.

Pittheus, accounted wise amongst all men,

Deigned to instruct me when I left her hands.

I do not seek to present myself to advantage: 1105

But if any virtue fell to my share by parentage,

My Lord, I’ve shown hatred above all I believe

For the errors that men dared to impute to me.

Throughout Greece they know this of Hippolytus,

That I’ve carried virtue to the point of rudeness. 1110

They know the inflexible rigour of my sadness.

The daylight is not so pure as my heart’s depths.

Yet they say Hippolytus, drunk with base desire...

Theseus Yes, you’re condemned for that same cowardly pride.

I can see the shameful reason for your coldness. 1115

Phaedra alone bewitched your lustful senses.

And for every other object your soul, indifferent,

Disdained to burn with any flame so innocent.

Hippolytus No, father, this heart – a truth too great to hide –

Has never disdained to burn with chaste desire. 1120

At your feet I’ll confess my true offence:

I love, I love it’s true, in your defiance.

Aricia holds my wishes slaves to her law: your

Son has indeed been conquered by Pallas’ daughter.

I adore her, and my soul, rebelling at your order, 1125

Can only breathe, and be inspired by her.

Theseus You love her? No, this is a crude deception.

You pretend to this crime as a justification.

Hippolytus My Lord, for six months I’ve shunned and loved her.

Trembling to speak to you myself I came here. 1130

What! Can nothing disabuse you of your error?

What fearful vow, in reassurance, must I swear.

By heaven, and earth, and all that Nature sees...

Theseus Rogues always have recourse to perjuries.

Cease, cease, and spare me idle discourse, 1135

If your false virtue has no better recourse.

Hippolytus It seems false to you and full of artifice.

Phaedra, in her heart’s depths, grants me more justice.

Theseus Ah! How your impudence excites my passion!

Hippolytus What place is set for my exile, what duration? 1140

Theseus If you were beyond the pillars of Hercules,

I’d still think one traitor far too near to me.

Hippolytus Charged with the dreadful crime you suspect,

What friend will pity one whom you reject?

Theseus Go and seek out those friends whose fatal respect 1145

Honours adultery, and praises incest:

Traitors, without law, honour, gratitude,

Worthy to shelter criminals like you.

Hippolytus You always speak of incest and adultery!

I’ll be silent. But Phaedra’s of a dynasty, 1150

Phaedra has a mother, my Lord: you know her line

Is more replete with these horrors than is mine.

Theseus What! Your madness with me loses all sense?

For the last time, take yourself from my presence.

Leave, traitor. Don’t wait till a father’s anger 1155

Sees you taken, in disgrace, from these shores.


Act IV Scene III (Theseus)

Theseus Wretch, you are rushing now to certain death.

Neptune has sworn to me, by Stygian depths

Dreadful even to the gods, and will not fail.

An avenging god pursues you: you’ll not escape. 1160

I have loved you: and despite your offence,

My heart is troubled for you in advance.

But you have forced me to condemn you.

Was ever a father so outraged, it’s true?

Just gods, who see the grief that overwhelms me, 1165

How could I ever engender a child so guilty?


Act IV Scene IV (Phaedra, Theseus)

Phaedra My Lord, I come to you, filled with righteous fear.

Your formidable voice echoed in my ear.

I fear lest hasty action followed your threat.

Spare your son, if sufficient time is left, 1170

Respect your ancestry: I dare to beg you.

Save me the pain of hearing him cry to you:

Don’t prepare the eternal sadness for me

Of blood being shed by a father’s enmity.

Theseus No, Madame, my hand’s not stained with blood: 1175

But the wretch has not escaped me for good.

An immortal hand is charged with his end.

Neptune owes it to me: you’ll be avenged.

Phaedra Neptune owes it you! How? Your angry prayers...

Theseus What! That they’ll not be heard, is that your fear? 1180

Rather join your lawful prayers to mine.

In all its darkness, recount to me his crime:

Stir my anger, restrained as it is, too slow.

All of his crimes are not yet known to you:

His madness adds to his insults against you yet: 1185

He said that your mouth is full of wickedness:

He maintains that Aricia has his heart, in faith,

That he loves.

Phaedra How! My Lord!

Theseus He said it to my face.

But I’m wise enough to reject an idle trick.

Let’s put our hope in Neptune’s ready justice. 1190

I’ll even go to the foot of the altar myself,

To urge that his divine promise be fulfilled.


Act IV Scene V (Phaedra)

Phaedra (Alone.)

He’s gone. What words are these in my ears?

What evil flame stifled in my heart appears?

What lightning bolt, you heavens! What fatal news! 1195

I flew here only in hope his son might be rescued:

And tore myself from Oenone’s trembling arms,

Yielding to that remorse that does me harm.

Who knows where repentance might have led?

Perhaps I’d have tried to accuse myself, instead: 1200

Perhaps, if my voice had not been stilled within,

The dire truth would have escaped me even then.

Hippolytus feels, and feels nothing for me!

Aricia has his heart! Aricia has his loyalty.

You gods! When that wretch armed himself against me 1205

His proud glance, and his stern brow, set against my plea,

I thought that his heart always closed to passion

Was equally hostile to every woman.

But meanwhile another has taken my place:

Before his cruel eyes another has found grace. 1210

Perhaps he has a heart that is easy to alter.

And I am the only thing he could not endure:

And is it him I should undertake to defend?


Act IV Scene VI (Phaedra, Oenone)

Phaedra Dear Oenone, do you know what I have learned?

Oenone No: but, not to deceive you, I’m trembling here. 1215

I grew pale at the cause that made you appear:

I fear a passion in you that might prove fatal.

Phaedra Oenone, who would believe it? I have a rival.

Oenone What!

Phaedra Hippolyte loves, I cannot doubt, it’s true.

That shy untameable enemy, one who 1220

Seemed offended by respect, annoyed by tears,

That tiger I could not approach without fear,

Submissive, docile, knows a conqueror’s art:

Aricia has found the pathway to his heart.

Oenone Aricia?

Phaedra Oh! A pain as yet that I had not felt! 1225

For what new torment have I reserved myself?

All I have suffered, my fears, my ecstasies,

Horror of remorse, the madness before my eyes,

And the unbearable hurt of cruel rejection,

Was only a feeble shadow of this moment. 1230

They are in love! What magic misled my eyes?

Where did they meet? Since when? How did it arise?

You knew. Why did you let me be deceived?

Could you not teach their furtive passion to me?

Have they been seen speaking together, searching? 1235

Did they seek the forest’s depths: were they hiding?

Alas! They had full licence of each other’s eyes.

Heaven approved the innocence of their sighs:

They followed their loving thoughts without remorse:

Each day rose clear, serene to light their course. 1240

And I, sad, rejected by Nature outright,

I hid from the day: I fled from the light.

Death was the only god I dared call on.

I waited for the moment of extinction,

Feeding myself on venom, quenched with tears, 1245

Too closely watched in my suffering to dare

To allow myself to drown with weeping:

Tasting that deadly pleasure, with trembling,

And disguising my pain behind a calm brow,

Often my own tears I refused to allow. 1250

Oenone But what will the fruit be of their hopeless love?

They will never meet again.

Phaedra They will always love.

Ah, deadly thought, as I speak, at this moment, here,

They brave the fury of a maddened lover!

Despite the same exile that will separate them, 1255

They swear a thousand times nothing will part them.

No, I cannot endure a happiness that galls me,

Oenone. In this jealous rage, take pity on me.

Aricia must perish. We must rouse the enmity

Of my husband against that odious dynasty. 1260

No light punishment should be the sister’s:

Her crime exceeds that of all her brothers.

I’ll implore him now in my jealous rage.

What am I doing? How has my reason strayed?

I, jealous! And Theseus is to be implored! 1265

My husband lives, and yet I burn the more!

For whom? Whose is the heart that claims my prayers?

Every word lifts the horrid tresses of my hair.

Now my crimes have overflowed the measure.

I breathe incest and deceit, twins together. 1270

My murderous hands, eager for vengeance,

Burn to plunge in the blood of innocence.

Unhappy! And I live? And endure the sight

Of that sacred Sun from whom I take my life?

I have, for ancestor, the gods’ king and father: 1275

The sky, the universe is filled with my ancestors.

Where can I hide myself? Flee to infernal night.

What am I saying? My father, there, holds tight

To the fatal urn: Destiny placed it in his hands:

Minos, in Hell, judges the ghosts of these humans. 1280

Ah! How his shade will tremble, horrified

When he sees his daughter present before his eyes,

Forced to confess to so many diverse sins,

Crimes perhaps unknown even in those realms!

What will you say, father, to that terrible sight? 1285

I see the dread urn drop from your hands outright,

I see you searching for some new punishment,

Doomed yourself to be your own child’s torment.

Forgive me. A cruel god destroys your race.

See his vengeance in your daughter’s face. 1290

Alas! My sad heart failed to gather the fruit

Of my dreadful crime, and shame is in pursuit.

Hounded by misery till my final breath,

I lay down a painful life in tormented death.

Oenone Oh! Madame, reject this ill-founded terror. 1295

View it with another eye as pardonable error.

You love. We cannot overcome destiny.

You were led on by some deadly sorcery.

Is that a happening unknown among us?

Is it only over you that love has triumphed? 1300

Weakness among us is only too natural.

Mortal, submit to the fate of all things mortal.

You complain of a yoke imposed long ago:

Even the gods of Olympus, those gods, we know,

Who frighten criminals with thunderous action, 1305

Have sometimes burned with an illicit passion.

Phaedra What do I hear? What advice do you dare to give?

Do you wish to poison me while I still live.

Wretched girl! This is how you destroy me.

You turn me back to the light from which I flee. 1310

Your entreaties made me forget my duty.

I avoided Hippolytus: him you made me see.

What did you seek to do? Why did your impious lips

Dare to blacken his life by accusing him?

Perhaps he will die, and the sacrilegious vow 1315

Of a maddened father may yet be carried out.

I’ll listen to you no more. Go, loathsome monster,

Go: leave me to brood on my pitiful future.

May a just heaven reward you, as you deserve:

And may your punishment forever serve 1320

To terrify those whose like cowardly address,

Nourishes wretched princes in their weakness,

Urges the inclination of their hearts, and then

Dares to smooth the path of crime for them:

Detestable flatterers, the most deadly gift 1325

That celestial anger offers royalty!

Oenone (Alone.)

You, gods! To serve her I’ve done all, given all:

And I receive this for it? I’ve earned this reward.

End of Act IV