Phaedra Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Is Phaedra a victim or a victimizer?

    A: An essay on this question would examine both sides of the issue. On the one hand, Phaedra knowingly deceives Theseus, thereby bringing about Hippolytus' death. On the other hand, she is stricken by a desire she knows not how to control, receives not an ounce of compassion from her stepson, and acts to protect herself.

  2. 2

    Discuss the use of language in the play.

    A: Seneca was a famed orator, and the play displays impressive examples of rhetoric, as when Hippolytus argues that civilization is corrupting and that mankind is free and innocent only when in the wild.

  3. 3

    Compare Seneca's Phaedra to Euripides' Hippolytus.

    A: The gods play a more direct role in Euripedes' version (which is in fact his second adaptation of the myth, his first having been lost), and Phaedra is arguably depicted in as more modest and empathetic, less sexually charged than in Seneca's play.

  4. 4

    How does Seneca structure his play?

    A: An essay on this topic would focus primarily on the Chorus as a structuring tool, splitting the action into roughly five discrete episodes, akin to the five acts of Renaissance tragedy.

  5. 5

    Discuss the role of the nurse.

    A: Though at first a figure of wisdom, the cool reason to Phaedra's hotheaded passion, the nurse emerges as malicious and cunning, pronouncing her plan to falsely accuse Hippolytus. She remains an enigmatic figure, never named but a crucial player in the drama.

  6. 6

    Pick one speech from the play and explicate it.

    A: Seneca's language is full of flourish, his speeches replete with digressions. An essay on this topic could focus on any one of a number of passages - perhaps Hippolytus' opening monologue, or Theseus' invocation of Neptune to act out his vengeance.

  7. 7

    Compare Phaedra to Medea, another female "villain" of Greek mythology and tragedy.

    A: Medea kills her children, but is often depicted in empathetic terms, abandoned by her cold husband and acting in the only way she knows how. Both women are gripped by fury and passion, and in both cases unchecked emotion leads to catastrophe.

  8. 8

    Discuss the role of the forest in Phaedra.

    A: The forest remains off-stage for the entirety of the play, but it appears and reappears in the characters' dialogue, almost as though it were a character of its own. Hippolytus is drawn to it, flees to it when the going gets tough, and there meets his demise; in her passion for her stepson, Phaedra dons Amazonian garments and prepares to pursue him through the wilderness.

  9. 9

    Analyze the role of the Chorus.

    A: The Chorus comments on the action, as in much Greco-Roman drama, but also argues certain points - perhaps Seneca's own views - and at times even offers a meta-reflection on the function of tragedy, namely to bear witness to the fall of great men and women.

  10. 10

    Why is Diana repeatedly invoked in the play?

    A: Diana is the goddess of the hunt and of chastity, both themes central to the play.