Phaedra Study Guide

Phaedra Study Guide

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Phaedra is a tragedy based on Greek mythology and dedicated to the only topic: the unrequited love. We see it in many forms: tender affection of star-crossed lovers, all-consuming forbidden passion and the calm love of a caring husband, who doesn’t know that he is not welcomed in his home anymore.

The plot is based on the myth about the ancient Greek queen Phaedra, who suddenly and desperately fell in love with her own stepson, Hippolite. Hippolite in his turn is in love with Aricia - the last of the dynasty defeated by his father and kept as an honorary prisoner under the vow of chastity against her will. Both mother and stepson are able to suppress their feelings and pretend to live like nothing happened, but the news about the possible death of Theseus, the husband of Phaedra and the King, who kept Aricia prisoner, turns everything upside down. Now all the three seem to be free to make their own decision: Phaedra has the excuse of wishing the next heir of pure blood of Theseus, Aricia is now a free woman, who can get married and Hippolite is a future King, who can marry whoever he wishes without the permission of his father.

We see that all the characters have the same fatal flaw, but Phaedra is hit hardest of them all. She understands the sheer wrongness of her feelings and tries to commit suicide to put herself out of her misery. But gradually, the jealousy to Aricia and the darkest sides of passion turn her into a horrible scheming person, who doesn’t want to love and be loved but to destroy everything that makes others happy. Until the very end we hope that she will come to her senses before everything is destroyed beyond any reparation, but the Greek mythology rarely grants us happy endings.

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“J'ai tant désiré le jour et voici qu'il me brûle les yeux!” — — — Jean Baptiste Racine, Phaedra

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