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

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Act III Scene I (Phaedra, Oenone)

Sarah Bernhardt: Phedre, by Jean Racine

‘Sarah Bernhardt: Phedre, by Jean Racine’
Billy Rose Theatre Collection, The New York Public Library

Phaedra Oh! If they’d take elsewhere the honours they send me!

Importunate girl, do you want them to see me?

With what do you hope to stir my desolate heart?

Rather you should hide me: I the truth impart. 740

My visible passions dared to appear abroad.

I have said what should never be overheard.

Heavens! How he listened! In how many ways

That unfeeling man evaded what I had to say!

To achieve a swift departure was his only aim! 745

And how his blushes increased my sense of shame!

Why did you seek to thwart my desire for death?

Alas! When that sword of his sought out my breast,

Did he grow pale for me, and snatch it from me?

It was enough for my hand to touch it lightly, 750

To render it distasteful to that inhuman man:

And for that wretched blade to soil his hands.

Oenone So in this affliction, that only breeds anguish,

You nourish a passion that you should extinguish.

Would it not be better, Minos’ worthy daughter, 755

To search for repose amongst the nobler cares,

Rule, in opposition to that ungrateful man

Who resorts to flight: and govern in the land?

Phaedra I rule? I, and bring the state beneath my law,

When my weak mind can rule itself no more! 760

When I’ve abandoned control of my senses so!

When I can scarce breathe beneath a shameful yoke!

When I am dying!

Oenone Take flight.

Phaedra I cannot leave him.

Oenone You dared to banish him: you daren’t avoid him?

Phaedra No longer. He knows my ardent ecstasy. 765

I’ve passed the bounds of cautious modesty.

In my conqueror’s sight I declared my shame,

Yet hope glides to my heart now all the same.

You yourself, defeating my powers’ eclipse,

Recalling my soul, already hovering on my lips, 770

You revived me with your flattering advice.

Made me see, that I might love him, with your eyes.

Oenone Alas! Innocent of your misfortune, or culpable,

To save you still, of what would I not be capable?

But if ever its offence distressed your mind, 775

Can you forget the scornfulness of his pride?

With what cruel glances his harsh severity

Left you well nigh submissive at his feet!

How odious his savage pride has made him!

If Phaedra only had my eyes to see him! 780

Phaedra Oenone, he may quench this pride that wounds you.

Raised in the forests, he has their wildness too.

Hippolytus, hardened by their savage laws,

Hears love’s language he never heard before.

Perhaps his astonishment explains his silence, 785

And our complaints perhaps show too much violence.

Oenone Think: a barbarian formed him in her womb.

Phaedra Scythian, and barbarian, she’s known love too.

Oenone He has a deadly hatred for all our sex.

Phaedra Then I’ll suffer a dearth of rivals, I expect. 790

Your advice, in short, is out of season.

Serve my madness, Oenone, not my reason.

His inaccessible heart is opposed to love:

Let’s find a weaker spot that he might be moved.

The charms of Empire appeared to stir him: 795

He could not conceal it: Athens attracts him:

His ships are already turned that way I find,

Their fluttering sails abandoned to the wind.

Seek out for me this youth and his ambition,

Oenone. Make the crown glitter to his vision. 800

Let him place the sacred diadem on his brow:

The honour of setting it there’s all I wish now.

Let’s cede the power we can’t hold to this man.

He’ll teach my son how to exercise command.

Perhaps he’d truly like to replace his father. 805

I’ll commit to his power both son and mother.

Try every means you can to change his mind:

Your words will find a more ready ear than mine.

Urge him, weep; moan; paint Phaedra as dying,

Don’t be ashamed to adopt a suppliant’s sighing. 810

I’ll approve you in all: I’ve no hope but you.

Go, I’ll await you, then decide what I shall do.

Act III Scene II (Phaedra)

Phaedra O you, who see the shame into which I fall,

Implacable Venus, am I sufficiently in thrall?

You could take your cruelty no further though. 815

Your triumph’s complete: your arrows all strike home.

Yet cruel one, if you still seek fresh glory

Attack some more rebellious enemy.

Hippolytus flees you, who, braving your anger,

Has never bowed his knees before your altar. 820

Your name seems to offend those proud ears of his.

Goddess, take vengeance! We share the same cause.

If only he loves. But already you return,

Oenone? He detests me: he will not listen.

Act III Scene III (Phaedra, Oenone)

Oenone Extinguish all thought of this vain amour,

Madame. And summon up your former honour. 825

The King, thought dead, will appear before your face:

Theseus is here: Theseus has reached this place.

The crowd go now to see him, in a headlong rush,

I went out, at your command, to find Hippolytus,

When a thousand cries split the heavens... 830

Phaedra My husband is alive, Oenone, that’s sufficient.

I’ve confessed an unworthy love he’ll deplore.

He lives. And I wish to know of nothing more.

Oenone What?

Phaedra I predicted it, but you’d not accept it. 835

Your tears prevailed then over my deep regret.

Dying this morning I would have been wept for:

I followed your counsel: I die without honour.

Oenone You die?

Phaedra Just heavens! This day, what have I done?

My husband will appear: with him is his son. 840

I’ll see the witness to my adulterous amour

Noting the manner in which I greet his father,

My heart full of the sighs he would not embrace,

My eyes wet with the tears scorned by that ingrate.

Do you think that he, conscious of Theseus’ honour, 845

Will conceal what I am burning with, this ardour?

Will he let his king and father be betrayed?

Can he contain the horror he’s displayed?

He’d be silent in vain. I know my transgression,

Oenone, and I’m not one of those bold women 850

Who enjoy their crimes in peace and tranquillity,

And know how to show their faces unblushingly.

I know my madness, and recall it completely.

Already it seems these walls, and these ceilings

Will speak aloud, and are ready to accuse me, 855

Await my husband, to disabuse him of me.

Let me die. From what horrors death sets me free!

Is it such great misfortune to cease to be?

Death, to the wretched, is no cause for terror.

The name I leave behind is all I have to fear. 860

What a fearful inheritance for my poor children!

Let the blood of Jupiter swell their courage then:

Yet despite the true pride pure blood may occasion,

A mother’s guilt is still a heavy burden.

I tremble lest words that speak their truth 865

Some day reproach them for a mother’s guilt.

I tremble lest, oppressed by so odious a weight,

Neither will ever dare to lift their gaze.

Oenone It cannot be doubted: I pity both together:

Nothing was ever more justified than your fear. 870

But why expose them to such confrontation?

Why bear witness against yourself in this fashion?

It’s done: Phaedra, only too guilty, they’ll say,

Fled the fierce gaze of the husband she betrayed.

Hippolytus is happy: by ending your days, 875

You yourself, in dying, endorse what he says.

And how can I respond when you’re accused?

Face to face with him I’d be utterly confused.

I’ll see him rejoice in triumph now, I fear,

Speaking your shame to whoever will give him ear. 880

Ah! Better that flames from heaven should devour me!

But is he still dear to you now, don’t deceive me?

With what gaze then do you view this daring prince?

Phaedra He seems like some terrible monster to my glance.

Oenone Why grant him a complete victory so? 885

You fear him. Be first to accuse him, though,

Of a crime he may accuse you of today.

Who’ll deny you? All’s against him anyway:

His sword that he happily left with you:

Your present sorrow, your past distress, too: 890

His father warned long ago by your complaints:

And his exile you’ve already once obtained.

Phaedra I, to dare to oppress and blacken innocence!

Oenone My zeal only has need of your silence.

I tremble as you do, feel almost your own regret. 895

You’d see me sooner die a thousand deaths.

But since I’ll lose you without this remedy,

Your life’s a prize before which all else must yield.

I’ll speak out. Theseus, angered by my confession,

Will be content to exile his son, in vengeance. 900

A father, in punishing, Madame, is always a father.

A light sentence will suffice to cool his anger.

But even if innocent blood must still be shed,

Your honour, being threatened, demands no less.

The treasure’s too dear to dare to compromise it. 905

Whatever sentence is pronounced, you must submit,

Madame, if embattled honour would be rescued,

You must sacrifice everything, even virtue.

They come: I see Theseus.

Phaedra Hippolytus, I:

I see my ruin written in his bold eye. 910

Do what you will: to you I abandon myself.

In this distress, I can do nothing for myself.

Act III Scene IV (Theseus, Hippolytus, Phaedra, Oenone, Theramenes)

Theseus Fortune has ceased to oppose my wishes,

Madame, and brings to your arms...

Phaedra Stop, Theseus,

And don’t profane your feelings of joyfulness. 915

I no longer deserve this gracious tenderness.

You have been wronged. Fortune in her jealousy

Has not spared your wife, in your absence from me.

Unworthy of pleasing you, or approaching you,

I must only think now of hiding from you. 920

Act III Scene V (Theseus, Hippolytus, Theramenes)

Theseus My son, what is this strange welcome for your father?

Hippolyte The mystery can only be explained by Phaedra.

But if my ardent prayers can move you at all,

Permit me, my Lord, never to see her more.

Allow your trembling Hippolyte to vanish 925

Forever from the place your wife inhabits.

Theseus You are leaving me, my son?

Hippolytus I did not seek her.

It was you who led her footsteps to this shore.

You, my Lord, deigned to entrust in parting,

To Troezen’s coast, Aricia and your Queen: 930

I was even charged with the duty of protection.

But what duty holds me from this moment on?

My idle youth has plied its skills long enough

Against the insignificant prey of the woods.

Should I not, fleeing idleness that’s worthless, 935

Dip my javelins in blood more meritorious?

You had not yet achieved my tender age,

When many a tyrant, and many a savage

Monster had felt the full force of your strength:

Already, the triumphant scourge of insolence, 940

You’d secured the shores of the two seas:

Fearing no violence the traveller felt free.

Hercules, hanging on rumours of those labours,

Was already resting from his, in favouring yours.

And I, the unknown son of a famous father, 945

Lag far behind even the footsteps of my mother.

Let my courage, in short, dare to be occupied.

Let me, if some monster has escaped your eye,

Set at your feet the honoured spoils I’ll bring:

Or let the memory of a glorious ending, 950

Immortalise my days, a death so nobly won,

And prove to the whole world I was your son.

Theseus What is this? What horror spreading through this place

Makes my distraught family flee my face?

If there’s so much fear so little joy at my return 955

O heaven, why did you release me from my prison?

I had but the one friend. His insolent passion

Sought to abduct the wife of Epirus’ tyrant:

Reluctantly I served his amorous intent:

But we were both blinded by an angry fate. 960

The tyrant surprised me unarmed, defenceless.

I saw the sad object of my tears, Pirithous,

Thrown to cruel monsters by that barbarian,

Those he fed on the blood of wretched men.

For myself, he shut me in a gloomy cavern, 965

A deep place, near to the realm of shadows.

The gods relented, when six months had passed,

I tricked the eyes of those who guarded me, at last.

I freed Nature from a treacherous opponent:

He served as food for that monstrous regiment. 970

And now when I think to approach so joyfully

All that the gods have made most dear to me:

What do I find? When my soul, my own again,

Wants to drink its fill of so dear a vision,

There’s only fear and trembling to welcome me: 975

They all refuse my embraces, and they flee.

And myself knowing the terror I produce,

Would prefer to be in that prison in Epirus.

Speak. Phaedra complains I’ve been offended.

Who has betrayed me? Why am I not avenged? 980

Has Greece, to whom my arm has been so useful,

Given a sanctuary to this criminal?

You do not reply? My son? Is my own son

In complicity with my enemies then?

Enter. Too close a secret overwhelms me. 985

Let us swiftly know the guilt, and the guilty.

Let Phaedra explain the trouble I find her in.

Act III Scene VI (Hippolytus, Theramenes)

Hippolytus What’s the meaning of these words that chill me with fear?

Will Phaedra, always a prey to her deep emotion,

Destroy herself, by framing her own self-accusation. 990

You gods! What will the King say? What deadly poison

Has spread through his whole house with this passion!

For myself, filled with love his hatred must disdain,

How he once saw me then, how he finds me again!

Dark presentiments rise to terrify me here. 995

But innocence has nothing, in the end, to fear.

Come: let me seek elsewhere some means of address,

By which I might move my father’s tenderness,

And speak to him of a love he may oppose,

But which all his power knows no way to depose. 1000

End of Act III