Theseus is still on a year long exile after having committed some heinous murder. Aphrodite vows revenge for Hippolytus’s lack of courtesy towards her. Aphrodite, the goddess of love, does not condone his action of chastity. She is especially angered when Hippolytus shows his admiration to Artemis, who is the Goddess of chastity/childbirth, as well as animals and hunting. Aphrodite’s plan of vengeance is to have Hippolytus’s stepmother, Phaedra, fall madly in love with him. Not only that, but she foreshadows Phaedra dying as a result of her questionable desire.
Hippolytus appears with companions, laying garlands on an altar devoted to the Goddess Artemis. A servant warns Hippolytus of worshiping one goddess over another. He doesn’t listen and thus, his arrogance to heed this mans warning will undoubtedly cause problems.
The chorus of women enter, describing Phaedra, her sickly condition and how she has refused to eat and sleep for nearly three days. After much resistance, the nurse can pick up clues that will lead her to the reason for Phaedra’s sickness.
The nurse tells her that if she dies, her husband’s bastard son will inherit everything. The mere mention of his name in Phaedra’s presence causing her to moan. Phaedra begs the nurse to stop, but she persists. Phaedra confesses to her lust, and the nurse responds with shock and horror. The nurse attempts to seek solutions to this egregious problem. Eventually, she leaves Phaedra alone, and moments later we see her leaning against the palace doors groaning.
She describes to the chorus that Hippolytus is shouting at another woman. Phaedra comes to the terrible conclusion that he is yelling at the nurse, which means she has told her stepson about her desire for him.
Hippolytus, consumed with rage, goes on to give a huge rant surrounding his hatred towards women. The nurse tries to sway Hippolytus to yield to Phaedra after he makes him swear not to tell anyone. Phaedra, realizing her secret is out and nothing will ever be the same, hangs herself and makes the chorus swear secrecy. Theseus then discovers his wife’s dead body. Distraught by this image he immediately demands to know what happened and discovers a suicide note written by Phaedra. In the letter she says the reason why she killed herself is because Hippolytus tried to rape her (an obvious lie). However, Theseus believes this to be true and confronts his son. Before confronting him, the king curses his son by using with the curse bestowed to him by his father Poseidon.. Theseus demands Poseidon kill him and make him suffer Hippolytus asserts his virginity to try and disprove the accusation. He is unable to persuade his father, and Theseus sentences him to banishment.
A messenger arrives to tell the news of Hippolytus tragic mishap. He isn’t dead yet, but the messenger describes a bull roaring out the sea , frightening the horses, and dashing the chariot across the rocky cliff. Hippolytus was dragged through the rocks, hitting his skull and battering his body. They bring Hippolytus back, and Theseus is glad to see his son suffering until Artemis appears. She yells at Theseus for murdering his son and affirms Hippolytus’s innocence. Phaedra lied, there was no rape, he is innocent. Theseus regrets his actions and begs him for forgiveness. Hippolytus in his last few moments forgives his father and dies. Instead of died forgotten, he is given a great honor from Artemis that his name will not go unmentioned. Unwedded maids will cut their hair in his honor. He will not die in vain. Central theme(s):DESIRE, SEXUALITY, CHASTITYHippolytus has gone to the extremes to exercise his chastity Phaedra has an overwhelming sexual desire for her sonGODS VS FATEHumans cannot overpower the godsDo humans ever have the power to determine their own fate or is it all decided by the gods?
Aphrodite perfectly predicted the outcome of the plot. Who’s to say that any mortals have a say in their own fate when it concerns the gods. They will always have the upper hand in any matter. In this case, Aphrodite believes she holds all the cards, and therefore is the greater of the two. REPUTATIONPhaedra’s actions would bring shame to her, her name, and her familyWould rather die than have her reputation ruined by her infatuation with her sonIn Phaedra’s second to last monologue, she dictates that there is one thing alone that she can pass along to her children, “an uncontaminated name.” Not only that, but the chorus states that “she has chosen good name rather than life”In her attempt to keep her name good, Phaedra smeared Hippolytus to save herself. Acting only for herself and her children, she most likely resents Hippolytus for his actions as well as his place in her family.
The essential rule in a woman’s life is to protect your own image. Mother’s disgrace infects the whole familyShame, concern for her public image/ her good name. Ashamed to say what she feels but too weak to control her emotionsRELATIONSHIPSHusband vs wife – Theseus and Phaedra. Phaedra’s lust is a clear disrespect to her marriage vows aren’t vs child – Theseus and Hippolytus. Phaedra and HippolytusGods vs man – Aphrodite and Hippolytus. Artemis and Hippolytus REVENGEAphrodite seeks revenge on Hippolytus for blatantly disregarding herPhaedra’s seeks revenge on Hippolytus for rejecting her Theseus seeks revenge on Hippolytus for being the cause of his wife’s suicide The revenge circles around at the end when Artemis promises to avenge Hippolytus. Next time Aphrodite falls in love with a mortal, Artemis will hit whoever it is with one of her arrows.
BETRAYALNurse betrays Phaedra by immediately telling Hippolytus of her lust for him Phaedra betrays her husband and children by killing herself.Theseus broke the ultimate rule of nature, murdering a son Phaedra betrays Hippolytus by forging that lie about the rapeSECRECYPhaedra originally keeping it secret from the nurse Hippolytus keeps the secret from TheseusAll the oaths and vows of silence that characters abide by not only prevent the truth from coming out, but cause the death of and destruction of nearly everyone. Hippolytus could have told his father that the reason why Phaedra killed herself isn’t because he tried to rape her, but instead she had an overwhelming desire for her stepson. Whether or not Theseus believed that would determine Hippolytus’s fate. He wouldn’t have been cursed by his father, and most likely wouldn’t have died. Part I most enjoyed: While it is a very grim topic, I most enjoyed the death of Phaedra. Not because she died, but because her death happened in real time as opposed to her dying offstage and then having someone report what they saw. Most often in these drama’s, a character will meet their end offstage away from the audience and characters onstage.
This play is very interesting because not only does a major character die in real time on/offstage, but she dies halfway through the play leaving loose ends to be tied up. The chorus comes out to describe Phaedra’s actions saying “she is tying the twisted noose. And now it is around her fair white neck!” And of course, Theseus arrives back at the exact time that Phaedra has committed suicide. Part I found most challenging: Understanding the reality of the fate of Hippolytus is very challenging. From the beginning we know he’s going to die, however at the end I question whether or not his death was actually warranted. He didn’t murder anyone like his father, but instead pissed off a goddess, and apparently that is a good enough reason for him to die. Even more unfortunate is that he prays to Zeus saying “let me die now, if I have been guilty.” The only thing he can be guilty of is ignoring Aphrodite. A crime which shouldn’t warrant death, but in this case of the greeks, the gods hold all the cards. It’s probably for the best that real life isn’t like that of greek tragedies. In his death, Hippolytus must be very confused. He knows he didn’t rape Phaedra but he still dies anyway.