Act V

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

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Act V Scene I (Hippolytus, Aricia)

Aricia What! You can be silent in this great danger?

You would leave a loving father a prey to error? 1330

Cruel one, if you scorn the power of my tears,

And consent without pain to leave me forever,

Go then, distance yourself from poor Aricia.

But at least defend your life by leaving her.

Protect your honour from shameful reproach, 1335

And ensure your father’s vow is revoked.

There’s still time. Why, from what whim of yours,

Do you leave the field open to your accusers?

Enlighten Theseus.

Hippolyte Ah! What have I not said?

Should I shed light on the dishonour to his bed? 1340

Should I in making a statement all too sincere,

Cover with shameful blushes the brow of a father?

You alone have pierced this odious mystery.

Only to you and the gods can my heart speak.

All that I’d hide, and judge now if I love you, 1345

From my own self, I could never hide from you.

But think of the seal under which I’ve spoken.

My lady, and forget that speech if you can.

And never allow those lips, in their purity,

To open and then relate so vile a story. 1350

Let us dare to trust in the gods’ justice:

Vindicating me’s in their best interest:

And Phaedra will be punished: the guilty

Will not escape, someday, true infamy.

I will ask of you this one unique service, 1355

I leave all the rest to my liberated wrath.

Flee that to which you’re reduced, this slavery,

Dare to follow my flight. Accompany me.

Tear yourself from what’s fatal and profane here

Where virtue breathes a poisoned atmosphere: 1360

And in order to hide your prompt escape,

Profit from the confusion my disgrace creates.

I can provide you with the means for flight:

The only guards surrounding you are mine.

Powerful defenders will support our cause: 1365

Argos extends her arms to us: Sparta calls.

We’ll carry our pleas to our mutual friends:

Let Phaedra not gather what we leave behind

Nor chase us both from an inherited crown,

Nor promise our spoils to a son of her own. 1370

The time is ripe now: we must seize the moment.

What fear restrains you? You seem uncertain?

Your rights alone inspire this boldness in me.

When I am on fire, why do you look so coldly?

Are you afraid to march to an exile’s step? 1375

Aricia Alas! How dear to me, Sire, such banishment!

Joined to your fate, and in what ecstasy

I’d live forgotten by all of humanity!

But not being joined by marriage’s sweet tie,

Could I with honour leave here at your side? 1380

I know I could free myself from your father,

Without harming even the strictest honour:

I would not be escaping from a parent,

Flight is allowed to those who flee a tyrant.

But you love me, my Lord: and my honour: gone... 1385

Hippolyte No, no, I’ve too much care for your reputation.

A nobler plan brought me here before you:

Flee your enemies: follow your husband too.

Free in our sorrows, since the heavens so will,

The pledge of our faith depends on no one else. 1390

Marriage is not always lit by nuptial flames.

At the gates of Troezen, among these graves,

The ancient tombs of the princes of my race,

Is a sacred temple where perjury has no place.

There no mortal man dares to swear in vain: 1395

Against false oaths, his punishment is certain:

And fearing to meet there with inexorable death,

Nothing more surely constrains deceitful breath.

There, if your trust in me, we will approve

The solemn contract of out eternal love. 1400

We’ll have as witness the god worshipped there:

We will pray that he acts towards us as a father.

I’ll call on the names of the most holy gods.

And chaste Diana, and Juno, the august,

All the gods, in short, witnessing my tenderness, 1405

Will guarantee the faith of my sacred promise.

Aricia The King approaches. Leave, Prince. Go, this instant.

To mask my departure I’ll stay here a moment.

Go, now, leave me a faithful servant, though,

Who can direct my timid steps towards you. 1410

Act V Scene II (Theseus, Aricia, Ismene)

Theseus You gods, lighten my trouble, and deign to show

To my eyes, the truth I’m seeking here below.

Aricia Think of everything, Ismene, prepare our flight.

Act V Scene III (Theseus, Aricia)

Theseus You seem troubled, Lady, and your face is white.

Why was Hippolytus here with you as well? 1415

Aricia My Lord, he was speaking an eternal farewell.

Theseus Your eyes have tamed that rebellious heart:

His first sighs resulted from your happy art.

Aricia My lord, I cannot deny the truth to you:

He did not inherit your unjust hatred too. 1420

He never treated me like a criminal.

Theseus I understand, he swore a love, eternal.

Don’t rely though on a heart that’s so unsure:

He’s sworn as much to other girls before.

Aricia He, my Lord?

Theseus You should have made him less fickle though: 1425

How is it you could endure to share him so?

Aricia And how could you endure that terrible lies

Should darken the course of so fine a life?

Have you so little knowledge of his heart’s reality?

Do you understand crime and innocence so poorly? 1430

Is it only your eyes an odious cloud covers,

Hiding his virtue that shines out to others?

Ah! To leave him to malicious tongues now.

Stop. And repent of your murderous vow:

Be fearful, my Lord, fearful lest heaven’s rigour 1435

Hates you enough to execute your desire.

Often in anger it accepts our sacrifice:

Its gifts are often the punishment for our crimes.

Theseus No, you’ll conceal his offence in vain.

Your love blinds you in favour of the man. 1440

But I trust in sure irreproachable witnesses:

I’ve seen, I’ve seen true tears flow to excess.

Aricia Take care, my Lord. Your unconquerable hand

From countless monsters, has freed the land:

But not all are destroyed, and you have spared 1445

One...your son, my Lord, forbids me to declare

What, knowing the respect he’d show to you,

I’d grieve him too much by daring to pursue.

I’ll echo his discretion, and flee your presence,

So that I’m not required to break my silence. 1450

Act V Scene IV (Theseus)

Theseus What is she thinking? And what do these words hide,

Hesitantly begun, and then quickly denied?

Are they trying to blind me with a useless feint?

Are they conspiring to cause me inner pain?

But I myself, despite my firm severity 1455

What plaintive voice calls out within me?

A hidden pity afflicts me, stuns my mind.

Let me question Oenone a second time.

I wish to be clearer about this whole affair.

Guards! Have Oenone alone come to me here. 1460

Act V Scene V (Theseus, Panope)

Panope I’m not aware what purpose the Queen intends,

My Lord. But I fear where these throes may end.

A mortal despair is printed on her face:

The pallor of death already leaves its trace.

Already, driven in shame from her side, 1465

Oenone has drowned herself in the ocean tide.

No one knows what made those wild thoughts arise:

But the waves have snatched her forever from our eyes.

Theseus What is this I hear?

Panope Her death has not calmed the Queen:

The pain in her troubled soul seemed to increase. 1470

From time to time, to soothe her hidden sorrow,

She holds her children, drenched in a tearful flow:

Then suddenly renouncing her maternal love,

Pushes them far away from her in disgust.

She takes irresolute steps, at random: 1475

Her wandering eyes recognising no one.

Three times she began to write, and changed her mind,

Then tore up the letter she’d begun to write, three times.

Deign to see her, my Lord, deign to help her.

Theseus Oenone is dead: and you wish to die, Phaedra? 1480

Call back my son, to defend himself, so he

Might speak to me: I’ll hear him: I am ready.

Don’t precipitate your deadly gifts yet,

Neptune: I’d prefer if nothing were granted.

Perhaps I believed too much in false witnesses: 1485

Raised my cruel hand too soon for you to bless,

Ah! What despair would follow my answered prayer!

Act V Scene VI (Theseus, Theramenes)

Theseus Theramenes, is that you? Is my son not there?

I entrusted him to you at a tender age.

But why the tears I see you shed today? 1490

What of my son?

Theramenes O useless tenderness!

Tardy, and idle care! Hippolytus is dead.

Theseus You gods!

Theramenes I have seen the best of mortals die,

And I dare say as well, my Lord, the least guilty.

Theseus My son no more? What! As I held out my arms 1495

The gods impatiently hastened to do him harm?

What lightning struck? What blow has snatched him?

Theramenes We had barely left the gates of Troezen,

He was in his chariot. His gloomy men

Echoing his silence, ranged around him: 1500

Pensive he took the road to Mycenae:

His hand had let the horses’ reins hang free.

His proud stallions that previously appeared

Nobly obeying his voice, and full of ardour,

With grieving eyes and with lowered brow, 1505

Seemed responsive to his sad thoughts, now.

A fearful cry, risen from the depths of the sea,

Troubled, in an instant, the quiet of the scene:

And from the heart of the earth a strident voice

Replied with groans to that formidable noise. 1510

The blood froze in our hearts profoundest depths

The manes of the startled horses stood erect.

Meanwhile over the surface of the watery plain,

A liquid mountain rose through boiling waves:

Neared us, shattered, and from the foaming breaker 1515

Vomited to our eyes a raging monster.

Its broad brow was horned, armed with menace,

Its whole body scaly, yellow as jaundice,

Untameable bull, or impetuous dragon,

Hindquarters coiling like a tortuous serpent. 1520

Its long-drawn out bellowing shook the shore.

The heavens viewed the savage monster with horror,

The earth quaked, and the air was infected,

The terrified wave that carried it recoiled.

All fled, and not pretending useless bravery, 1525

Each man sought refuge in the neighbouring sanctuary.

Hippolyte alone, worthy to be a hero’s son,

Reined in his horses, seized his javelin,

Drove at the monster, and with a steady hand

Dealt him a gaping spear wound in the flank. 1530

The monster reared upwards in pain and anger,

Fell at the horses’ feet, groaning, rolled over,

And presented its fiery muzzle to them, again,

Covering them with blood, smoke and flame.

Panic took them, and deaf as they were then, 1535

They recognised neither voice nor the rein.

Their master exhausted himself in useless struggle,

While in the blood-wet foam they stained their bridles.

They even say some saw, in this wild confusion,

A god who goaded their dusty flanks: a vision. 1540

Their fear drove them headlong over the rocks,

The axle groaned and shattered, brave Hippolytus

Saw his whole chariot break into fragments.

He himself fell entangled in the harness.

Forgive my sorrow. That cruel sight to see 1545

Will be an eternal source of tears to me.

My Lord, I have seen your unfortunate son

Dragged by the horses nourished by his hand.

He tried to call to them, and they feared the sound:

They ran. His whole body was one vast wound. 1550

And the plain echoed to our sorrowful cries.

At last they slowed their impetuous flight.

They stopped not far from the ancient sepulchres,

Where lie the cold relics of our ancestral rulers.

Sighing I ran to him, and his guards followed. 1555

The track of his noble blood ran on ahead.

The rocks were stained with it: the cruel brambles

Were strewn with his hair, in blood-wet tangles.

I reached him, called: stretching out his hand to me

He opened his dying eyes: and closed them suddenly. 1560

Saying: ‘From me, Heaven claims an innocent life.

Take care of my dear Aricia, after I die.

Dear Friend, if my father’s eyes are ever opened,

And he pities the fate of a falsely maligned son,

And wants to appease my blood, my shade so restless, 1565

Tell him to treat his captive with tenderness,

And give back to her...’ The hero was no more,

Leaving in my arms only his disfigured corpse,

Sad object of the god’s triumphant anger,

Unrecognisable, even to his own father. 1570

Theseus O my son! Dear hope now snatched from me!

Inexorable gods, who served me all too surely!

To what mortal regret my life will now be given!

Theramenes Then Aricia, frightened, arrived on the scene.

She came, my Lord, fleeing from your anger, 1575

In the gods’ sight having taken him to husband.

She came, and saw the grasses’ red steam rise.

She saw (what a vision for a lover’s eyes!)

Hippolyte, lying there, robbed of colour and form.

For some time she doubted her own misfortune, 1580

And no longer recognising the hero she adored,

She asked for Hippolytus, whom indeed she saw.

But, realising he was before her eyes, at last,

She accused the heavens with one sad glance,

And cold, grieving, almost inanimate, 1585

Fell, at her lover’s feet there, in a faint.

Ismene, bathed in tears, Ismene, by her,

Recalled her to life, or rather to sorrow.

And I, hating the light, I have come, my Lord,

To relate to you the hero’s final word, 1590

And acquit myself of the painful duty,

That his dying breath committed to me.

But I see that his mortal enemy comes.

Act V Scene VII (Theseus, Phaedra, Theramenes, Panope, Guards)

Theseus So! My son is lifeless, and you triumph.

Ah! How right I was to fear, with what true reason, 1595

Forgiving him in my heart, came cruel suspicion!

But, Madame, he is dead, possess your victim:

Justly or unjustly, rejoice in his ruin.

I’ll allow my eyes to be deceived forever.

I’ll believe him guilty since you’re his accuser. 1600

His death gives me reason enough for tears,

Without my searching into other matters:

It won’t restore him to me, in my grief, again:

Perhaps it would only serve to increase my pain.

Let me, far from these shores, from everyone, 1605

Flee the bloodstained vision of my ruined son.

Dazed, obsessed by a deadly memory,

I’d banish myself from this world completely.

Everything seems to rise against my ill ruling.

The splendour of my name adds to my suffering. 1610

Less known to men, I could hide more easily.

I even hate the kindness the gods have shown me:

And now I must weep at their murderous favours,

Wearying them no longer with useless prayers.

Whatever they did for me, their fatal love 1615

Cannot restore what they have robbed me of.

Phaedra No, Theseus, I must break my unjust silence:

And to your son I must restore his innocence.

He was in no way guilty.

Theseus Ah! Wretched father!

I condemned him because you were his accuser. 1620

Cruel one, do you think to be forgiven....

Phaedra Each moment’s precious to me, Theseus, listen.

It was I who cast my eyes, profane, incestuous

On that son of yours, so chaste and virtuous.

Heaven lit the fatal flame within my breast: 1625

That detestable Oenone managed all the rest.

She feared lest Hippolytus, learning of my ardour,

Might reveal a passion that filled him with horror.

The traitress, profiting from my profound weakness,

Hurried to you to denounce him to your face. 1630

She has punished herself, and escaped my anger,

By seeking in the waves a far gentler torture.

A blade would have already ended my fate too:

But I wished to let virtue, suspected, cry to you.

I wished, in exposing my remorse to you, 1635

To go down to the dead by a slower route.

I have taken...I have spread through my burning veins,

A poison that Medea brought to Athens.

Already the venom flows towards my heart,

An unaccustomed chill pierces my dying heart: 1640

Already I see as if through a clouded sky,

Heaven, and a husband my presence horrifies.

And Death, from my eyes, stealing the clarity,

Gives back to the day, defiled, all his purity.

Panope She dies, my Lord.

Theseus If only the memory 1645

Of so black a crime could die with her entirely!

Let me, now that my error is all too clear,

Mingle my wretched son’s blood with my tears.

Let me clasp my dear boy, embracing what is left,

To expiate the madness of a prayer I now detest. 1650

As he deserved, so let me render him honour:

And, the better to appease his spirit’s anger,

Despite the plotting of her guilty brothers,

Treat his loved one, from today, as my daughter.

Sarah Bernhardt in the role of Racine's Phèdre

‘Sarah Bernhardt in the role of Racine's Phèdre
W. & D. Downey (British, active 1860 - 1920s)
Getty Open Content Program

End of Act V