Phaedra, ACT IV

by Jean Baptiste Racine

Scene I
THESEUS, OENONE

THESEUS
Ah! What is this I hear? Presumptuous traitor!
And would he have disgraced his father’s honour?
With what relentless footsteps Fate pursues me!
Whither I go I know not, nor where know
I am. O kind affection ill repaid!
Audacious scheme! Abominable thought!
To reach the object of his foul desire
The wretch disdain’d not to use violence.
I know this sword that served him in his fury,
The sword I gave him for a nobler use.
Could not the sacred ties of blood restrain him?
And Phaedra,—was she loath to have him punish’d?
She held her tongue. Was that to spare the culprit?

OENONE
Nay, but to spare a most unhappy father.
O’erwhelm’d with shame that her eyes should have kindled
So infamous a flame and prompted him
To crime so heinous, Phaedra would have died.
I saw her raise her arm, and ran to save her.
To me alone you owe it that she lives;
And, in my pity both for her and you,
Have I against my will interpreted
Her tears.

THESEUS
The traitor! He might well turn pale.
‘Twas fear that made him tremble when he saw me.
I was astonish’d that he show’d no pleasure;
His frigid greeting chill’d my tenderness.
But was this guilty passion that devours him
Declared already ere I banish’d him
From Athens?

OENONE
Sire, remember how the Queen
Urged you. Illicit love caused all her hatred.

THESEUS
And then this fire broke out again at Troezen?

OENONE
Sire, I have told you all. Too long the Queen
Has been allow’d to bear her grief alone
Let me now leave you and attend to her.

Scene II
THESEUS, HIPPOLYTUS

THESEUS
Ah! There he is. Great gods! That noble mien
Might well deceive an eye less fond than mine!
Why should the sacred stamp of virtue gleam
Upon the forehead of an impious wretch?
Ought not the blackness of a traitor’s heart
To show itself by sure and certain signs?

HIPPOLYTUS
My father, may I ask what fatal cloud
Has troubled your majestic countenance?
Dare you not trust this secret to your son?

THESEUS
Traitor, how dare you show yourself before me?
Monster, whom Heaven’s bolts have spared too long!
Survivor of that robber crew whereof
I cleansed the earth. After your brutal lust
Scorn’d even to respect my marriage bed,
You venture—you, my hated foe—to come
Into my presence, here, where all is full
Of your foul infamy, instead of seeking
Some unknown land that never heard my name.
Fly, traitor, fly! Stay not to tempt the wrath
That I can scarce restrain, nor brave my hatred.
Disgrace enough have I incurr’d for ever
In being father of so vile a son,
Without your death staining indelibly
The glorious record of my noble deeds.
Fly, and unless you wish quick punishment
To add you to the criminals cut off
By me, take heed this sun that lights us now
Ne’er sees you more set foot upon this soil.
I tell you once again,—fly, haste, return not,
Rid all my realms of your atrocious presence.
To thee, to thee, great Neptune, I appeal
If erst I clear’d thy shores of foul assassins
Recall thy promise to reward those efforts,
Crown’d with success, by granting my first pray’r.
Confined for long in close captivity,
I have not yet call’d on thy pow’rful aid,
Sparing to use the valued privilege
Till at mine utmost need. The time is come
I ask thee now. Avenge a wretched father!
I leave this traitor to thy wrath; in blood
Quench his outrageous fires, and by thy fury
Theseus will estimate thy favour tow’rds him.

HIPPOLYTUS
Phaedra accuses me of lawless passion!
This crowning horror all my soul confounds;
Such unexpected blows, falling at once,
O’erwhelm me, choke my utterance, strike me dumb.

THESEUS
Traitor, you reckon’d that in timid silence
Phaedra would bury your brutality.
You should not have abandon’d in your flight
The sword that in her hands helps to condemn you;
Or rather, to complete your perfidy,
You should have robb’d her both of speech and life.

HIPPOLYTUS
Justly indignant at a lie so black
I might be pardon’d if I told the truth;
But it concerns your honour to conceal it.
Approve the reverence that shuts my mouth;
And, without wishing to increase your woes,
Examine closely what my life has been.
Great crimes are never single, they are link’d
To former faults. He who has once transgress’d
May violate at last all that men hold
Most sacred; vice, like virtue, has degrees
Of progress; innocence was never seen
To sink at once into the lowest depths
Of guilt. No virtuous man can in a day
Turn traitor, murderer, an incestuous wretch.
The nursling of a chaste, heroic mother,
I have not proved unworthy of my birth.
Pittheus, whose wisdom is by all esteem’d,
Deign’d to instruct me when I left her hands.
It is no wish of mine to vaunt my merits,
But, if I may lay claim to any virtue,
I think beyond all else I have display’d
Abhorrence of those sins with which I’m charged.
For this Hippolytus is known in Greece,
So continent that he is deem’d austere.
All know my abstinence inflexible:
The daylight is not purer than my heart.
How, then, could I, burning with fire profane—

THESEUS
Yes, dastard, ’tis that very pride condemns you.
I see the odious reason of your coldness
Phaedra alone bewitch’d your shameless eyes;
Your soul, to others’ charms indifferent,
Disdain’d the blameless fires of lawful love.

HIPPOLYTUS
No, father, I have hidden it too long,
This heart has not disdain’d a sacred flame.
Here at your feet I own my real offence:
I love, and love in truth where you forbid me;
Bound to Aricia by my heart’s devotion,
The child of Pallas has subdued your son.
A rebel to your laws, her I adore,
And breathe forth ardent sighs for her alone.

THESEUS
You love her? Heav’ns!
But no, I see the trick.
You feign a crime to justify yourself.

HIPPOLYTUS
Sir, I have shunn’d her for six months, and still
Love her. To you yourself I came to tell it,
Trembling the while. Can nothing clear your mind
Of your mistake? What oath can reassure you?
By heav’n and earth and all the pow’rs of nature—

THESEUS
The wicked never shrink from perjury.
Cease, cease, and spare me irksome protestations,
If your false virtue has no other aid.

HIPPOLYTUS
Tho’ it to you seem false and insincere,
Phaedra has secret cause to know it true.

THESEUS
Ah! how your shamelessness excites my wrath!

HIPPOLYTUS
What is my term and place of banishment?

THESEUS
Were you beyond the Pillars of Alcides,
Your perjured presence were too near me yet.

HIPPOLYTUS
What friends will pity me, when you forsake
And think me guilty of a crime so vile?

THESEUS
Go, look you out for friends who hold in honour
Adultery and clap their hands at incest,
Low, lawless traitors, steep’d in infamy,
The fit protectors of a knave like you.

HIPPOLYTUS
Are incest and adultery the words
You cast at me? I hold my tongue. Yet think
What mother Phaedra had; too well you know
Her blood, not mine, is tainted with those horrors.

THESEUS
What! Does your rage before my eyes lose all
Restraint? For the last time,—out of my sight!
Hence, traitor! Wait not till a father’s wrath
Force thee away ‘mid general execration.

Scene III

THESEUS (alone)
Wretch! Thou must meet inevitable ruin.
Neptune has sworn by Styx—to gods themselves
A dreadful oath,—and he will execute
His promise. Thou canst not escape his vengeance.
I loved thee; and, in spite of thine offence,
My heart is troubled by anticipation
For thee. But thou hast earn’d thy doom too well.
Had father ever greater cause for rage?
Just gods, who see the grief that overwhelms me,
Why was I cursed with such a wicked son?

SCENE IV
PHAEDRA, THESEUS

PHAEDRA
My lord, I come to you, fill’d with just dread.
Your voice raised high in anger reach’d mine ears,
And much I fear that deeds have follow’d threats.
Oh, if there yet is time, spare your own offspring.
Respect your race and blood, I do beseech you.
Let me not hear that blood cry from the ground;
Save me the horror and perpetual pain
Of having caused his father’s hand to shed it.

THESEUS
No, Madam, from that stain my hand is free.
But, for all that, the wretch has not escaped me.
The hand of an Immortal now is charged
With his destruction. ‘Tis a debt that Neptune
Owes me, and you shall be avenged.

PHAEDRA
A debt
Owed you? Pray’rs made in anger—

THESEUS
Never fear
That they will fail. Rather join yours to mine
In all their blackness paint for me his crimes,
And fan my tardy passion to white heat.
But yet you know not all his infamy;
His rage against you overflows in slanders;
Your mouth, he says, is full of all deceit,
He says Aricia has his heart and soul,
That her alone he loves.

PHAEDRA
Aricia?

THESEUS
Aye,
He said it to my face! an idle pretext!
A trick that gulls me not! Let us hope Neptune
Will do him speedy justice. To his altars
I go, to urge performance of his oaths.

SCENE V

PHAEDRA (alone)
Ah, he is gone! What tidings struck mine ears?
What fire, half smother’d, in my heart revives?
What fatal stroke falls like a thunderbolt?
Stung by remorse that would not let me rest,
I tore myself out of Oenone’s arms,
And flew to help Hippolytus with all
My soul and strength. Who knows if that repentance
Might not have moved me to accuse myself?
And, if my voice had not been choked with shame,
Perhaps I had confess’d the frightful truth.
Hippolytus can feel, but not for me!
Aricia has his heart, his plighted troth.
Ye gods, when, deaf to all my sighs and tears,
He arm’d his eye with scorn, his brow with threats,
I deem’d his heart, impregnable to love,
Was fortified ‘gainst all my sex alike.
And yet another has prevail’d to tame
His pride, another has secured his favour.
Perhaps he has a heart easily melted;
I am the only one he cannot bear!
And shall I charge myself with his defence?

SCENE VI
PHAEDRA, OENONE

PHAEDRA
Know you, dear Nurse, what I have learn’d just now?

OENONE
No; but I come in truth with trembling limbs.
I dreaded with what purpose you went forth,
The fear of fatal madness made me pale.

PHAEDRA
Who would have thought it, Nurse? I had a rival.

OENONE
A rival?

PHAEDRA
Yes, he loves. I cannot doubt it.
This wild untamable Hippolytus,
Who scorn’d to be admired, whom lovers’ sighs
Wearied, this tiger, whom I fear’d to rouse,
Fawns on a hand that has subdued his pride:
Aricia has found entrance to his heart.

OENONE
Aricia?

PHAEDRA
Ah! anguish as yet untried!
For what new tortures am I still reserved?
All I have undergone, transports of passion,
Longings and fears, the horrors of remorse,
The shame of being spurn’d with contumely,
Were feeble foretastes of my present torments.
They love each other! By what secret charm
Have they deceived me? Where, and when, and how
Met they? You knew it all. Why was I cozen’d?
You never told me of those stolen hours
Of amorous converse. Have they oft been seen
Talking together? Did they seek the shades
Of thickest woods? Alas! full freedom had they
To see each other. Heav’n approved their sighs;
They loved without the consciousness of guilt;
And every morning’s sun for them shone clear,
While I, an outcast from the face of Nature,
Shunn’d the bright day, and sought to hide myself.
Death was the only god whose aid I dared
To ask: I waited for the grave’s release.
Water’d with tears, nourish’d with gall, my woe
Was all too closely watch’d; I did not dare
To weep without restraint. In mortal dread
Tasting this dangerous solace, I disguised
My terror ‘neath a tranquil countenance,
And oft had I to check my tears, and smile.

OENONE
What fruit will they enjoy of their vain love?
They will not see each other more.

PHAEDRA
That love
Will last for ever. Even while I speak,
Ah, fatal thought, they laugh to scorn the madness
Of my distracted heart. In spite of exile
That soon must part them, with a thousand oaths
They seal yet closer union. Can I suffer
A happiness, Oenone, which insults me?
I crave your pity. She must be destroy’d.
My husband’s wrath against a hateful stock
Shall be revived, nor must the punishment
Be light: the sister’s guilt passes the brothers’.
I will entreat him in my jealous rage.
What am I saying? Have I lost my senses?
Is Phaedra jealous, and will she implore
Theseus for help? My husband lives, and yet
I burn. For whom? Whose heart is this I claim
As mine? At every word I say, my hair
Stands up with horror. Guilt henceforth has pass’d
All bounds. Hypocrisy and incest breathe
At once thro’ all. My murderous hands are ready
To spill the blood of guileless innocence.
Do I yet live, wretch that I am, and dare
To face this holy Sun from whom I spring?
My father’s sire was king of all the gods;
My ancestors fill all the universe.
Where can I hide? In the dark realms of Pluto?
But there my father holds the fatal urn;
His hand awards th’ irrevocable doom:
Minos is judge of all the ghosts in hell.
Ah! how his awful shade will start and shudder
When he shall see his daughter brought before him,
Forced to confess sins of such varied dye,
Crimes it may be unknown to hell itself!
What wilt thou say, my father, at a sight
So dire? I think I see thee drop the urn,
And, seeking some unheard-of punishment,
Thyself become my executioner.
Spare me! A cruel goddess has destroy’d
Thy race; and in my madness recognize
Her wrath. Alas! My aching heart has reap’d
No fruit of pleasure from the frightful crime
The shame of which pursues me to the grave,
And ends in torment life-long misery.

OENONE
Ah, Madam, pray dismiss a groundless dread:
Look less severely on a venial error.
You love. We cannot conquer destiny.
You were drawn on as by a fatal charm.
Is that a marvel without precedent
Among us? Has love triumph’d over you,
And o’er none else? Weakness is natural
To man. A mortal, to a mortal’s lot
Submit. You chafe against a yoke that others
Have long since borne. The dwellers in Olympus,
The gods themselves, who terrify with threats
The sins of men, have burn’d with lawless fires.

PHAEDRA
What words are these I hear? What counsel this
You dare to give me? Will you to the end
Pour poison in mine ears? You have destroy’d me.
You brought me back when I should else have quitted
The light of day, made me forget my duty
And see Hippolytus, till then avoided.
What hast thou done? Why did your wicked mouth
With blackest lies slander his blameless life?
Perhaps you’ve slain him, and the impious pray’r
Of an unfeeling father has been answer’d.
No, not another word! Go, hateful monster;
Away, and leave me to my piteous fate.
May Heav’n with justice pay you your deserts!
And may your punishment for ever be
A terror to all those who would, like you,
Nourish with artful wiles the weaknesses
Of princes, push them to the brink of ruin
To which their heart inclines, and smooth the path
Of guilt. Such flatterers doth the wrath of Heav’n
Bestow on kings as its most fatal gift.

OENONE (alone)
O gods! to serve her what have I not done?
This is the due reward that I have won.

 


Phaedra by Jean Baptiste Racine

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