by Jean Baptiste Racine
Ah! Let them take elsewhere the worthless honours
They bring me. Why so urgent I should see them?
What flattering balm can soothe my wounded heart?
Far rather hide me: I have said too much.
My madness has burst forth like streams in flood,
And I have utter’d what should ne’er have reach’d
His ear. Gods! How he heard me! How reluctant
To catch my meaning, dull and cold as marble,
And eager only for a quick retreat!
How oft his blushes made my shame the deeper!
Why did you turn me from the death I sought?
Ah! When his sword was pointed to my bosom,
Did he grow pale, or try to snatch it from me?
That I had touch’d it was enough for him
To render it for ever horrible,
Leaving defilement on the hand that holds it.
Thus brooding on your bitter disappointment,
You only fan a fire that must be stifled.
Would it not be more worthy of the blood
Of Minos to find peace in nobler cares,
And, in defiance of a wretch who flies
From what he hates, reign, mount the proffer’d throne?
I reign! Shall I the rod of empire sway,
When reason reigns no longer o’er myself?
When I have lost control of all my senses?
When ‘neath a shameful yoke I scarce can breathe?
When I am dying?
I cannot leave him.
Dare you not fly from him you dared to banish?
The time for that is past. He knows my frenzy.
I have o’erstepp’d the bounds of modesty,
And blazon’d forth my shame before his eyes.
Hope stole into my heart against my will.
Did you not rally my declining pow’rs?
Was it not you yourself recall’d my soul
When fluttering on my lips, and with your counsel,
Lent me fresh life, and told me I might love him?
Blame me or blame me not for your misfortunes,
Of what was I incapable, to save you?
But if your indignation e’er was roused
By insult, can you pardon his contempt?
How cruelly his eyes, severely fix’d,
Survey’d you almost prostrate at his feet!
How hateful then appear’d his savage pride!
Why did not Phaedra see him then as I
This proud mood that you resent
May yield to time. The rudeness of the forests
Where he was bred, inured to rigorous laws,
Clings to him still; love is a word he ne’er
Had heard before. It may be his surprise
Stunn’d him, and too much vehemence was shown
In all I said.
Remember that his mother
Was a barbarian.
Scythian tho’ she was,
She learned to love.
He has for all the sex
Then in his heart no rival
Shall ever reign. Your counsel comes too late
Oenone, serve my madness, not my reason.
His heart is inaccessible to love.
Let us attack him where he has more feeling.
The charms of sovereignty appear’d to touch him;
He could not hide that he was drawn to Athens;
His vessels’ prows were thither turn’d already,
All sail was set to scud before the breeze.
Go you on my behalf, to his ambition
Appeal, and let the prospect of the crown
Dazzle his eyes. The sacred diadem
Shall deck his brow, no higher honour mine
Than there to bind it. His shall be the pow’r
I cannot keep; and he shall teach my son
How to rule men. It may be he will deign
To be to him a father. Son and mother
He shall control. Try ev’ry means to move him;
Your words will find more favour than can mine.
Urge him with groans and tears; show Phaedra dying.
Nor blush to use the voice of supplication.
In you is my last hope; I’ll sanction all
You say; and on the issue hangs my fate.
Venus implacable, who seest me shamed
And sore confounded, have I not enough
Been humbled? How can cruelty be stretch’d
Farther? Thy shafts have all gone home, and thou
Hast triumph’d. Would’st thou win a new renown?
Attack an enemy more contumacious:
Hippolytus neglects thee, braves thy wrath,
Nor ever at thine altars bow’d the knee.
Thy name offends his proud, disdainful ears.
Our interests are alike: avenge thyself,
Force him to love—
But what is this? Oenone
Return’d already? He detests me then,
And will not hear you.
Madam, you must stifle
A fruitless love. Recall your former virtue:
The king who was thought dead will soon appear
Before your eyes, Theseus has just arrived,
Theseus is here. The people flock to see him
With eager haste. I went by your command
To find the prince, when with a thousand shouts
The air was rent—
My husband is alive,
That is enough, Oenone. I have own’d
A passion that dishonours him. He lives:
I ask to know no more.
I foretold it,
But you refused to hear. Your tears prevail’d
Over my just remorse. Dying this morn,
I had deserved compassion; your advice
I took, and die dishonour’d.
What have I done to-day? My husband comes,
With him his son: and I shall see the witness
Of my adulterous flame watch with what face
I greet his father, while my heart is big
With sighs he scorn’d, and tears that could not move him
Moisten mine eyes. Think you that his respect
For Theseus will induce him to conceal
My madness, nor disgrace his sire and king?
Will he be able to keep back the horror
He has for me? His silence would be vain.
I know my treason, and I lack the boldness
Of those abandon’d women who can taste
Tranquillity in crime, and show a forehead
All unabash’d. I recognize my madness,
Recall it all. These vaulted roofs, methinks,
These walls can speak, and, ready to accuse me,
Wait but my husband’s presence to reveal
My perfidy. Death only can remove
This weight of horror. Is it such misfortune
To cease to live? Death causes no alarm
To misery. I only fear the name
That I shall leave behind me. For my sons
How sad a heritage! The blood of Jove
Might justly swell the pride that boasts descent
From Heav’n, but heavy weighs a mother’s guilt
Upon her offspring. Yes, I dread the scorn
That will be cast on them, with too much truth,
For my disgrace. I tremble when I think
That, crush’d beneath that curse, they’ll never dare
To raise their eyes.
Doubt not I pity both;
Never was fear more just than yours. Why, then,
Expose them to this ignominy? Why
Will you accuse yourself? You thus destroy
The only hope that’s left; it will be said
That Phaedra, conscious of her perfidy,
Fled from her husband’s sight. Hippolytus
Will be rejoiced that, dying, you should lend
His charge support. What can I answer him?
He’ll find it easy to confute my tale,
And I shall hear him with an air of triumph
To every open ear repeat your shame.
Sooner than that may fire from heav’n consume me!
Deceive me not. Say, do you love him still?
How look you now on this contemptuous prince?
As on a monster frightful to mine eyes.
Why yield him, then, an easy victory?
You fear him? Venture to accuse him first,
As guilty of the charge which he may bring
This day against you. Who can say ’tis false?
All tells against him: in your hands his sword
Happily left behind, your present trouble,
Your past distress, your warnings to his father,
His exile which your earnest pray’rs obtain’d.
What! Would you have me slander innocence?
My zeal has need of naught from you but silence.
Like you I tremble, and am loath to do it;
More willingly I’d face a thousand deaths,
But since without this bitter remedy
I lose you, and to me your life outweighs
All else, I’ll speak. Theseus, howe’er enraged
Will do no worse than banish him again.
A father, when he punishes, remains
A father, and his ire is satisfied
With a light sentence. But if guiltless blood
Should flow, is not your honour of more moment?
A treasure far too precious to be risk’d?
You must submit, whatever it dictates;
For, when our reputation is at stake,
All must be sacrificed, conscience itself.
But someone comes. ‘Tis Theseus.
And I see
Hippolytus, my ruin plainly written
In his stern eyes. Do what you will; I trust
My fate to you. I cannot help myself.
THESEUS, HIPPOLYTUS, PHAEDRA, OENONE, THERAMENES
Fortune no longer fights against my wishes,
Madam, and to your arms restores—
Do not profane endearments that were once
So sweet, but which I am unworthy now
To taste. You have been wrong’d. Fortune has proved
Spiteful, nor in your absence spared your wife.
I am unfit to meet your fond caress,
How I may bear my shame my only care
THESEUS, HIPPOLYTUS, THERAMENES
Strange welcome for your father, this!
What does it mean, my son?
Can solve this mystery. But if my wish
Can move you, let me never see her more;
Suffer Hippolytus to disappear
For ever from the home that holds your wife.
You, my son! Leave me?
‘Twas not I who sought her:
‘Twas you who led her footsteps to these shores.
At your departure you thought meet, my lord,
To trust Aricia and the Queen to this
Troezenian land, and I myself was charged
With their protection. But what cares henceforth
Need keep me here? My youth of idleness
Has shown its skill enough o’er paltry foes
That range the woods. May I not quit a life
Of such inglorious ease, and dip my spear
In nobler blood? Ere you had reach’d my age
More than one tyrant, monster more than one
Had felt the weight of your stout arm. Already,
Successful in attacking insolence,
You had removed all dangers that infested
Our coasts to east and west. The traveller fear’d
Outrage no longer. Hearing of your deeds,
Already Hercules relied on you,
And rested from his toils. While I, unknown
Son of so brave a sire, am far behind
Even my mother’s footsteps. Let my courage
Have scope to act, and if some monster yet
Has ‘scaped you, let me lay the glorious spoils
Down at your feet; or let the memory
Of death faced nobly keep my name alive,
And prove to all the world I was your son.
Why, what is this? What terror has possess’d
My family to make them fly before me?
If I return to find myself so fear’d,
So little welcome, why did Heav’n release me
From prison? My sole friend, misled by passion,
Was bent on robbing of his wife the tyrant
Who ruled Epirus. With regret I lent
The lover aid, but Fate had made us blind,
Myself as well as him. The tyrant seized me
Defenceless and unarm’d. Pirithous
I saw with tears cast forth to be devour’d
By savage beasts that lapp’d the blood of men.
Myself in gloomy caverns he inclosed,
Deep in the bowels of the earth, and nigh
To Pluto’s realms. Six months I lay ere Heav’n
Had pity, and I ‘scaped the watchful eyes
That guarded me. Then did I purge the world
Of a foul foe, and he himself has fed
His monsters. But when with expectant joy
To all that is most precious I draw near
Of what the gods have left me, when my soul
Looks for full satisfaction in a sight
So dear, my only welcome is a shudder,
Embrace rejected, and a hasty flight.
Inspiring, as I clearly do, such terror,
Would I were still a prisoner in Epirus!
Phaedra complains that I have suffer’d outrage.
Who has betray’d me? Speak. Why was I not
Avenged? Has Greece, to whom mine arm so oft
Brought useful aid, shelter’d the criminal?
You make no answer. Is my son, mine own
Dear son, confederate with mine enemies?
I’ll enter. This suspense is overwhelming.
I’ll learn at once the culprit and the crime,
And Phaedra must explain her troubled state.
What do these words portend, which seem’d to freeze
My very blood? Will Phaedra, in her frenzy
Accuse herself, and seal her own destruction?
What will the King say? Gods! What fatal poison
Has love spread over all his house! Myself,
Full of a fire his hatred disapproves,
How changed he finds me from the son he knew!
With dark forebodings in my mind alarm’d,
But innocence has surely naught to fear.
Come, let us go, and in some other place
Consider how I best may move my sire
To tenderness, and tell him of a flame
Vex’d but not vanquish’d by a father’s blame.