What is the major theme in Jean Racine's Phaedra?

I am looking for themes and critical analysis about Jean Racine's Phaedra.

Asked by
Last updated by Aslan
Answers 1
Add Yours

Conflict and Theme: Phaedra’s Struggle With a Forbidden Passion

.......Phaedra burns with a forbidden passion—her love for her stepson, Hippolytus. Although she has struggled mightily to subdue this passion and even arranged the banishment of Hippolytus, her desire for him remains strong. Even when he is absent, he is with her, occupying her every thought. Phaedra blames Venus for her predicament, maintaining that the goddess has infected her with unrelenting passion.

Venus I felt in all my fever'd frame,

Whose fury had so many of my race

Pursued. With fervent vows I sought to shun

Her torments, built and deck'd for her a shrine,

And there, 'mid countless victims did I seek

The reason I had lost; but all for naught,

No remedy could cure the wounds of love!

.......Blaming Venus, or fate, is a way for Phaedra to call herself a child of misfortune who, through no fault of her own, has been cursed with tormenting passion. However, Phaedra blames herself for yielding to this passion—in thought if not in deed. She tells Oenone, “When you shall know / My crime, my death will follow none the less, / But with the added stain of guilt.” Thus, Phaedra is in conflict with herself as well as forces outside of herself.

.......Could it be, though, that Phaedra is psychologically unbalanced or genetically predisposed toward inordinate desires? In our own day, newspapers regularly report stories about female teachers “in love” with students, stepparents “in love” with a stepson or stepdaughter, and child molesters who “can’t help” themselves and repeat their offenses even after doing time in prisons. One thing is certain: Phaedra herself consciously and willfully seals her doom when she goes along with Oenone’s scheme to accuse Hippolytus of accosting her. Her tragedy becomes everyone’s tragedy. Hippolytus dies. Oenone dies. And, of course, Phaedra dies. Theseus is left without a wife or a son. Aricia’s future with Hippolytus is destroyed.