The Intriguing Characters in the Greek Play, Phaedra by Jean Racine

Categories: Phedre

Greek mythology is a world with many wonders and interesting characters. The play Phaedra by Jean Racine is no exception. It tells the story of a woman who crosses the line of motherly love and womanly love. There are a handful of characters who this play revolves around. Phaedra, of course is the center of attention, she is the wife of Theseus and stepmother of Hippolytus; her nurse and confidante is Enone.

Theseus is the King of Athens and father of Hippolytus and Phaedra children.

Hippolytus is the son of Theseus and the Queen of Amazons; he is the love interest of both Phaedra and Arcia. Theramenes is the tutor of Hippolytus. Arcia is the Princess of the blood royal of Athens, her confidante is Ismene. Other characters include Panope, a woman who is Phaedra's lady-in-waiting, and the guards.

Act one begins with Hippolytus and Theramenes discussing the disappearance of the King of Athens. From there the discussion shifts to Phaedra's apparent dislike of Hippolytus.

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When Theramenes comments about Hippolytus's lack of love interest Hippolytus then reveals that he has actually fallen victim to love. He admits he is in love with Arcia but acknowledges his father's disapproval of her. Hippolytus is then convinced to see Phaedra before he leaves Athens to search for his father. Enone then enters telling the two how Phaedra is in bad shape, Hippolytus and Theramenes leave the scene and Phaedra enters. Phaedra is in tears and wishes to end her life.

Enone begs to hear the reason that Phaedra eventually tells.

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She reveals that she is in love with Hippolytus and knows it is wrong. Panope enters and leaves only to deliver the news that Theseus is dead and Athens is being divided upon who should rule next. Upon hearing this news Enone encourages Phaedra to act upon her feelings since the King is dead there is no longer a formal family bond between the two. Phaedra reluctantly agrees and says she will pursue life and perhaps give in to her feelings.

The beginning of act two has Aricia and Ismene discussing the death of Theseus and the wishes of Athens. Here the readers and the audience learn that Aricia also harbors feelings for Hippolytus, but she believes that he despises her in the same way his father did. She is quite depressed about her unrequited love when Hippolytus enters the scene.

He surprises Aricia by confessing his love for her, despite her initial disbelief she happily accepts his feelings. Aricia and Ismene exit as Phaedra and Enone enter. It is here that Phaedra confesses her incesous feelings and is quickly rejected by a disgusted Hippolytus. When his stepmother and Enone leave, Theramenes enters and Hippolytus proposes that they leave Athens. Theramenes informs Hippolytus that there is a rumor that Theseus is alive and this motivates Hippolytus to go searching for his father.

Act three starts with Phaedra and Enone, Phaedra is regretting having confessed to her stepson. Enone tries to console her, telling her that Hippolytus's rejection was simply due to shock and that she should not give up. Enone leaves only to quickly return with news that Theseus might be alive. Phaedra is frightened and worried about what will happen to her. Enone reassures her, telling her to keep quiet and she will ensure that Theseus will not find about her incesous confession. After much persuasion Phaedra gives in and tells Enone to do what she must.

Theseus enters with Hippolytus and the tutor and they exchange brief words with Phaedra before she flees with Enone. Theseus is confused and wonders why his wife is acting the way she is. Hippolytus then attempts to convince his father to allow him to leave Athens and voyage the world. Theseus is insulted and declares he will find out why rather than rejoice at his return, every one is leaving his sight.

Theseus and Enone open up act four with Enone telling the king that it was Hippolytus who made advances onto Phaedra. Theseus is outraged as none leaves while Hippolytus enters. Theseus confronts his son about his actions, Hippolytus is confused but is quick to defend himself. He confesses that he does love, but it is not Phaedra as the King thinks. He tells his father that he has fallen in love with Aricia, this confession is also met with negativity from Theseus.

Hippolytus leaves, his attempts to convince his father failed to work and Phaedra enters. She learns what none has told the king and is horror struck when Theseus tells her he that Hippolytus loves Aricia and he will pray to Neptune to murder his son. The scene changes to Phaedra unhappily telling Enone what she just discovered. Enone tries to advise Phaedra some more, but the woman refuses to listen to her, blaming her for all the troubles that have arisen.

The two lovers, Hippolytus and Aricia open up act five by making plans to leave the city and begin their life together. The two part to prepare for their journey when Theseus finds Aricia. The two discuss Hippolytus and Aricia firmly states that Hippolytus is innocent and this causes Theseus to think that perhaps none should be questioned. Unfortunately Enone has killed herself and questioning her is no longer possible.

Just when Theseus is beginning to consider listening to Hippolytus once more he is given the news that Neptune has done his work and Hippolytus is no longer alive. Heartbroken he gives this news to Phaedra expecting her to be happy. Instead she cries out, confessing that she was the one with incesous feelings, accepting her punishment she dies of a poison she had consumed earlier. Having had his loved ones perish, Theseus declares that he will accept Aricia as his own child.

Many characters in this play give into their basic human drives. Phaedra acknowledges her feelings of love but hides them until encouraged to act. Enone in her own way advises Phaedra out of love and wanting to see her be happy with the man she loves. Hippolytus is driven by his honor and morality, he does not wish to cause trouble for his stepmother and would rather leave the city. At the same time he is driven by love to defy his father and pursue his feelings towards Aricia. Theseus is driven by revenge to protect the honor of his wife. The major driving point in this play is love. It shows that love is not always a good thing and can be a manipulative force into doing something one would not normally do.

Updated: Apr 09, 2023
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The Intriguing Characters in the Greek Play, Phaedra by Jean Racine. (2023, Apr 09). Retrieved from

The Intriguing Characters in the Greek Play, Phaedra by Jean Racine essay
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