1996-04-10: Phaedre

Phaedre

 (1961)

by Racine (1639-1699), tr Robert Lowell (1917-1977)

This is a verse translation of Racine’s Phedre, itself an adaptation of Euripides’s Hippolytus. The play is occupied primarily with the mental states of Phaedre, who desires and is spurned by her stepson Hippolytus, and arranges his death. Even so, the anguish of her husband Theseus, the surviving victim and instrument of his son’s death is the truest emotion in the work (at least in the translation). Phaedre’s feelings and motives are somehow not as convincing as those of her nurse Oenone. Similarly, the feelings between Hippolytus and Aricia, the hated captive of Theseus, are not well drawn. Theseus’s making Aricia his heir at the end is too pat.

I was led to this work by Rexroth, and it is certainly worth the reading. I wouldn’t put it in the top level of his selections, however. By now, of course, I can’t remember much of the original, so I must go back and refresh my memory, from Euripides and whichever other wrote on the theme.

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