Hippolytus Summary and Analysis of Scene IV


Theseus enters and demands to know what has happened. He has returned from Delphi, where he received promises of good fortune, but upon his arrival he heard wailing, which he assumes is the mourning cry of the servants.

He is particularly concerned when he sees that the house has prepared no welcome for him and that the doors of the house are closed. He guesses that Pittheus, who is old, has died.

The chorus leader indicates that the person who has died is young and that the death will deeply sadden him. Theseus then asks if one of his children has died. The chorus leader replies that the children are fine but that their mother is dead.

Theseus asks how this can be possible, and the chorus leader informs him that Phaedra committed suicide by hanging herself. He asks if grief and loneliness drove her to this end, or if there was some other cause. Bound by her oath of silence, the chorus leader cannot explain the truth to Theseus and instead says that she has come to mourn for his loss.

Theseus berates himself for celebrating his success at Delphi. Unaware of the tragedy that awaited him in Troezen, Theseus had woven for himself a crown of leaves as a bringer of good news.

Full of remorse for his happiness at Delphi, Theseus orders the servants to open the doors of the palace so that he may see his wife.

The chorus divides into two groups and speaks in an apostrophe to the deceased Phaedra. They observe that Phaedra’s suffering and death have inexorably altered the family forever.


The fourth scene is very short and functions as a bridge between the two major parts of the play: Phaedra’s desire and death, followed by Hippolytus’ trial and death. The great irony of this scene is that Theseus has just returned home from the Oracle at Delphi, a seer of Apollo who had promised him good fortune. Instead, he returns home to find that his beloved wife has committed suicide.

The other significant feature of this scene is that the chorus leader refuses to break her oath of silence and so cannot explain the truth to Theseus. In a sense, the chorus leader helps to doom Hippolytus, who likewise refuses to break his oath.