Within a Budding Grove: Seascape, With Frieze of Girls

Marcel Proust

Dinners at Rivebelle — Enter Albertine.

That day, as for some days past, Saint-Loup had been obliged to go to Doncières, where, until his leave finally expired, he would be on duty now until late every afternoon. I was sorry that he was not at Balbec. I had seen alight from carriages and pass, some into the ball-room of the Casino, others into the ice-cream shop, young women who at a distance had seemed to me lovely. I was passing through one of those periods of our youth, unprovided with any one definite love, vacant, in which at all times and in all places — as a lover the woman by whose charms he is smitten — we desire, we seek, we see Beauty. Let but a single real feature — the little that one distinguishes of a woman seen from afar or from behind — enable us to project the form of beauty before our eyes, we imagine that we have seen her before, our heart beats, we hasten in pursuit, and will always remain half-persuaded that it was she, provided that the woman has vanished: it is only if we manage to overtake her that we realise our mistake.

Besides, as I grew more and more delicate, I was inclined to overrate the simplest pleasures because of the difficulties that sprang up in the way of my attaining them. Charming women I seemed to see all round me, because I was too tired, if it was on the beach, too shy if it was in the Casino or at a pastry-cook’s, to go anywhere near them. And yet if I was soon to die I should have liked first to know the appearance at close quarters, in reality of the prettiest girls that life had to offer, even although it should be another than myself or no one at all who was to take advantage of the offer. (I did not, in fact, appreciate the desire for possession that underlay my curiosity.) I should have had the courage to enter the ballroom if Saint-Loup had been with me. Left by myself, I was simply hanging about in front of the Grand Hotel until it was time for me to join my grandmother, when, still almost at the far end of the paved ‘front’ along which they projected in a discordant spot of colour, I saw coming towards me five or six young girls, as different in appearance and manner from all the people whom one was accustomed to see at Balbec as could have been, landed there none knew whence, a flight of gulls which performed with measured steps upon the sands — the dawdlers using their wings to overtake the rest — a movement the purpose of which seems as obscure to the human bathers, whom they do not appear to see, as it is clearly determined in their own birdish minds. Continue reading

Within a Budding Grove: Place-Names: The Place

Marcel Proust

My first visit to Balbec — First impressions of M. de Charlus and of Robert de Saint-Loup — Dinner with Bloch and his family.

I had arrived at a state almost of complete indifference to Gilberte when, two years later, I went with my grandmother to Balbec. When I succumbed to the attraction of a strange face, when it was with the help of some other girl that I hoped to discover gothic cathedrals, the palaces and gardens of Italy, I said to myself sadly that this love of ours, in so far as it is love for one particular creature, is not perhaps a very real thing, since if the association of pleasant or unpleasant trains of thought can attach it for a time to a woman so as to make us believe that it has been inspired by her, in a necessary sequence of effect to cause, yet when we detach ourselves, deliberately or unconsciously, from those associations, this love, as though it were indeed a spontaneous thing and sprang from ourselves alone, will revive in order to bestow itself on another woman. At the time, however, of my departure for Balbec, and during the earlier part of my stay there, my indifference was still only intermittent. Often, our life being so careless of chronology, interpolating so many anachronisms in the sequence of our days, I lived still among those — far older days than yesterday or last week — in which I loved Gilberte. And at once not seeing her became as exquisite a torture to me as it had been then. The self that had loved her, which another self had already almost entirely supplanted, rose again in me, stimulated far more often by a trivial than by an important event. For instance, if I may anticipate for a moment my arrival in Normandy, I heard some one who passed me on the sea-front at Balbec refer to the ‘Secretary to the Ministry of Posts and his family.’ Now, seeing that as yet I knew nothing of the influence which that family was to exercise over my life, this remark ought to have passed unheeded; instead, it gave me at once an acute twinge, which a self that had for the most part long since been outgrown in me felt at being parted from Gilberte. Because I had never given another thought to a conversation which Gilberte had had with her father in my hearing, in which allusion was made to the Secretary to the Ministry of Posts and to his family. Now our love memories present no exception to the general rules of memory, which in turn are governed by the still more general rules of Habit. And as Habit weakens every impression, what a person recalls to us most vividly is precisely what we had forgotten, because it was of no importance, and had therefore left in full possession of its strength. That is why the better part of our memory exists outside ourselves, in a blatter of rain, in the smell of an unaired room or of the first crackling brushwood fire in a cold grate: wherever, in short, we happen upon what our mind, having no use for it, had rejected, the last treasure that the past has in store, the richest, that which when all our flow of tears seems to have dried at the source can make us weep again. Outside ourselves, did I say; rather within ourselves, but hidden from our eyes in an oblivion more or less prolonged. It is thanks to this oblivion alone that we can from time to time recover the creature that we were, range ourselves face to face with past events as that creature had to face them, suffer afresh because we are no longer ourselves but he, and because he loved what leaves us now indifferent. In the broad daylight of our ordinary memory the images of the past turn gradually pale and fade out of sight, nothing remains of them, we shall never find them again. Or rather we should never find them again had not a few words (such as this ‘Secretary to the Ministry of Posts’) been carefully locked away in oblivion, just as an author deposits in the National Library a copy of a book which might otherwise become unobtainable. Continue reading

Within a Budding Grove: Madame Swann at Home

Marcel Proust

A break in the narrative: old friends in new aspects — The Marquis de Norpois — Bergotte — How I cease for the time being to see Gilberte: a general outline of the sorrow caused by a parting and of the irregular process of oblivion.

My mother, when it was a question of our having M. de Norpois to dinner for the first time, having expressed her regret that Professor Cottard was away from home, and that she herself had quite ceased to see anything of Swann, since either of these might have helped to entertain the old Ambassador, my father replied that so eminent a guest, so distinguished a man of science as Cottard could never be out of place at a dinner-table, but that Swann, with his ostentation, his habit of crying aloud from the housetops the name of everyone that he knew, however slightly, was an impossible vulgarian whom the Marquis de Norpois would be sure to dismiss as — to use his own epithet — a ‘pestilent’ fellow. Now, this attitude on my father’s part may be felt to require a few words of explanation, inasmuch as some of us, no doubt, remember a Cottard of distinct mediocrity and a Swann by whom modesty and discretion, in all his social relations, were carried to the utmost refinement of delicacy. But in his case, what had happened was that, to the original ‘young Swann’ and also to the Swann of the Jockey Club, our old friend had added a fresh personality (which was not to be his last), that of Odette’s husband. Adapting to the humble ambitions of that lady the instinct, the desire, the industry which he had always had, he had laboriously constructed for himself, a long way beneath the old, a new position more appropriate to the companion who was to share it with him. In this he shewed himself another man. Since (while he continued to go, by himself, to the houses of his own friends, on whom he did not care to inflict Odette unless they had expressly asked that she should be introduced to them) it was a new life that he had begun to lead, in common with his wife, among a new set of people, it was quite intelligible that, in order to estimate the importance of these new friends and thereby the pleasure, the self-esteem that were to be derived from entertaining them, he should have made use, as a standard of comparison, not of the brilliant society in which he himself had moved before his marriage but of the earlier environment of Odette. And yet, even when one knew that it was with unfashionable officials and their faded wives, the wallflowers of ministerial ball-rooms, that he was now anxious to associate, it was still astonishing to hear him, who in the old days, and even still, would so gracefully refrain from mentioning an invitation to Twickenham or to Marlborough House, proclaim with quite unnecessary emphasis that the wife of some Assistant Under-Secretary for Something had returned Mme. Swann’s call. It will perhaps be objected here that what this really implied was that the simplicity of the fashionable Swann had been nothing more than a supreme refinement of vanity, and that, like certain other Israelites, my parents’ old friend had contrived to illustrate in turn all the stages through which his race had passed, from the crudest and coarsest form of snobbishness up to the highest pitch of good manners. But the chief reason — and one which is applicable to humanity as a whole — was that our virtues themselves are not free and floating qualities over which we retain a permanent control and power of disposal; they come to be so closely linked in our minds with the actions in conjunction with which we make it our duty to practise them, that, if we are suddenly called upon to perform some action of a different order, it takes us by surprise, and without our supposing for a moment that it might involve the bringing of those very same virtues into play. Swann, in his intense consciousness of his new social surroundings, and in the pride with which he referred to them, was like those great artists — modest or generous by nature — who, if at the end of their career they take to cooking or to gardening, display a childlike gratification at the compliments that are paid to their dishes or their borders, and will not listen to any of the criticism which they heard unmoved when it was applied to their real achievements; or who, after giving away a canvas, cannot conceal their annoyance if they lose a couple of francs at dominoes. Continue reading

Phaedra, ACT V

by Jean Baptiste Racine

SCENE I
HIPPOLYTUS, ARICIA

ARICIA
Can you keep silent in this mortal peril?
Your father loves you. Will you leave him thus
Deceived? If in your cruel heart you scorn
My tears, content to see me nevermore,
Go, part from poor Aricia; but at least,
Going, secure the safety of your life.
Defend your honor from a shameful stain,
And force your father to recall his pray’rs.
There yet is time. Why out of mere caprice
Leave the field free to Phaedra’s calumnies?
Let Theseus know the truth.

HIPPOLYTUS
Could I say more,
Without exposing him to dire disgrace?
How should I venture, by revealing all,
To make a father’s brow grow red with shame?
The odious mystery to you alone
Is known. My heart has been outpour’d to none
Save you and Heav’n. I could not hide from you
(Judge if I love you), all I fain would hide
E’en from myself. But think under what seal
I spoke. Forget my words, if that may be;
And never let so pure a mouth disclose
This dreadful secret. Let us trust to Heav’n
My vindication, for the gods are just;
For their own honour will they clear the guiltless;
Sooner or later punish’d for her crime,
Phaedra will not escape the shame she merits.
I ask no other favour than your silence;
In all besides I give my wrath free scope.
Make your escape from this captivity,
Be bold to bear me company in flight;
Linger not here on this accursed soil,
Where virtue breathes a pestilential air.
To cover your departure take advantage
Of this confusion, caused by my disgrace.
The means of flight are ready, be assured;
You have as yet no other guards than mine.
Pow’rful defenders will maintain our quarrel;
Argos spreads open arms, and Sparta calls us.
Let us appeal for justice to our friends,
Nor suffer Phaedra, in a common ruin
Joining us both, to hunt us from the throne,
And aggrandise her son by robbing us.
Embrace this happy opportunity:
What fear restrains? You seem to hesitate.
Your interest alone prompts me to urge
Boldness. When I am all on fire, how comes it
That you are ice? Fear you to follow then
A banish’d man?

ARICIA
Ah, dear to me would be
Such exile! With what joy, my fate to yours
United, could I live, by all the world
Forgotten! but not yet has that sweet tie
Bound us together. How then can I steal
Away with you? I know the strictest honour
Forbids me not out of your father’s hands
To free myself; this is no parent’s home,
And flight is lawful when one flies from tyrants.
But you, Sir, love me; and my virtue shrinks—

HIPPOLYTUS
No, no, your reputation is to me
As dear as to yourself. A nobler purpose
Brings me to you. Fly from your foes, and follow
A husband. Heav’n, that sends us these misfortunes,
Sets free from human instruments the pledge
Between us. Torches do not always light
The face of Hymen.
At the gates of Troezen,
‘Mid ancient tombs where princes of my race
Lie buried, stands a temple, ne’er approach’d
By perjurers, where mortals dare not make
False oaths, for instant punishment befalls
The guilty. Falsehood knows no stronger check
Than what is present there—the fear of death
That cannot be avoided. Thither then
We’ll go, if you consent, and swear to love
For ever, take the guardian god to witness
Our solemn vows, and his paternal care
Entreat. I will invoke the name of all
The holiest Pow’rs; chaste Dian, and the Queen
Of Heav’n, yea all the gods who know my heart
Will guarantee my sacred promises.

ARICIA
The King draws near. Depart,—make no delay.
To mask my flight, I linger yet one moment.
Go you; and leave with me some trusty guide,
To lead my timid footsteps to your side.

SCENE II
THESEUS, ARICIA, ISMENE

THESEUS
Ye gods, throw light upon my troubled mind,
Show me the truth which I am seeking here.

ARICIA (aside to ISMENE)
Get ready, dear Ismene, for our flight.

SCENE III
THESEUS, ARICIA

THESEUS
Your colour comes and goes, you seem confused,
Madame! What business had my son with you?

ARICIA
Sire, he was bidding me farewell for ever.

THESEUS
Your eyes, it seems, can tame that stubborn pride;
And the first sighs he breathes are paid to you.

ARICIA
I can’t deny the truth; he has not, Sire,
Inherited your hatred and injustice;
He did not treat me like a criminal.

THESEUS
That is to say, he swore eternal love.
Do not rely on that inconstant heart;
To others has he sworn as much before.

ARICIA
He, Sire?

THESEUS
You ought to check his roving taste.
How could you bear a partnership so vile?

ARICIA
And how can you endure that vilest slanders
Should make a life so pure as black as pitch?
Have you so little knowledge of his heart?
Do you so ill distinguish between guilt
And innocence? What mist before your eyes
Blinds them to virtue so conspicuous?
Ah! ’tis too much to let false tongues defame him.
Repent; call back your murderous wishes, Sire;
Fear, fear lest Heav’n in its severity
Hate you enough to hear and grant your pray’rs.
Oft in their wrath the gods accept our victims,
And oftentimes chastise us with their gifts.

THESEUS
No, vainly would you cover up his guilt.
Your love is blind to his depravity.
But I have witness irreproachable:
Tears have I seen, true tears, that may be trusted.

ARICIA
Take heed, my lord. Your hands invincible
Have rid the world of monsters numberless;
But all are not destroy’d, one you have left
Alive—Your son forbids me to say more.
Knowing with what respect he still regards you,
I should too much distress him if I dared
Complete my sentence. I will imitate
His reverence, and, to keep silence, leave you.

SCENE IV

THESEUS (alone)
What is there in her mind? What meaning lurks
In speech begun but to be broken short?
Would both deceive me with a vain pretence?
Have they conspired to put me to the torture?
And yet, despite my stern severity,
What plaintive voice cries deep within my heart?
A secret pity troubles and alarms me.
Oenone shall be questioned once again,
I must have clearer light upon this crime.
Guards, bid Oenone come, and come alone.

SCENE V
THESEUS, PANOPE

PANOPE
I know not what the Queen intends to do,
But from her agitation dread the worst.
Fatal despair is painted on her features;
Death’s pallor is already in her face.
Oenone, shamed and driven from her sight,
Has cast herself into the ocean depths.
None knows what prompted her to deed so rash;
And now the waves hide her from us for ever.

THESEUS
What say you?

PANOPE
Her sad fate seems to have added
Fresh trouble to the Queen’s tempestuous soul.
Sometimes, to soothe her secret pain, she clasps
Her children close, and bathes them with her tears;
Then suddenly, the mother’s love forgotten,
She thrusts them from her with a look of horror,
She wanders to and fro with doubtful steps;
Her vacant eye no longer knows us. Thrice
She wrote, and thrice did she, changing her mind,
Destroy the letter ere ’twas well begun.
Vouchsafe to see her, Sire: vouchsafe to help her.

THESEUS
Heav’ns! Is Oenone dead, and Phaedra bent
On dying too? Oh, call me back my son!
Let him defend himself, and I am ready
To hear him. Be not hasty to bestow
Thy fatal bounty, Neptune; let my pray’rs
Rather remain ever unheard. Too soon
I lifted cruel hands, believing lips
That may have lied! Ah! What despair may follow!

SCENE VI
THESEUS, THERAMENES

THESEUS
Theramenes, is’t thou? Where is my son?
I gave him to thy charge from tenderest childhood.
But whence these tears that overflow thine eyes?
How is it with my son?

THERAMENES
Concern too late!
Affection vain! Hippolytus is dead.

THESEUS
Gods!

THERAMENES
I have seen the flow’r of all mankind
Cut off, and I am bold to say that none
Deserved it less.

THESEUS
What! My son dead! When I
Was stretching out my arms to him, has Heav’n
Hasten’d his end? What was this sudden stroke?

THERAMENES
Scarce had we pass’d out of the gates of Troezen,
He silent in his chariot, and his guards
Downcast and silent too, around him ranged;
To the Mycenian road he turn’d his steeds,
Then, lost in thought, allow’d the reins to lie
Loose on their backs. His noble chargers, erst
So full of ardour to obey his voice,
With head depress’d and melancholy eye
Seem’d now to mark his sadness and to share it.
A frightful cry, that issues from the deep,
With sudden discord rends the troubled air;
And from the bosom of the earth a groan
Is heard in answer to that voice of terror.
Our blood is frozen at our very hearts;
With bristling manes the list’ning steeds stand still.
Meanwhile upon the watery plain there rises
A mountain billow with a mighty crest
Of foam, that shoreward rolls, and, as it breaks
Before our eyes vomits a furious monster.
With formidable horns its brow is arm’d,
And all its body clothed with yellow scales,
In front a savage bull, behind a dragon
Turning and twisting in impatient rage.
Its long continued bellowings make the shore
Tremble; the sky seems horror-struck to see it;
The earth with terror quakes; its poisonous breath
Infects the air. The wave that brought it ebbs
In fear. All fly, forgetful of the courage
That cannot aid, and in a neighbouring temple
Take refuge—all save bold Hippolytus.
A hero’s worthy son, he stays his steeds,
Seizes his darts, and, rushing forward, hurls
A missile with sure aim that wounds the monster
Deep in the flank. With rage and pain it springs
E’en to the horses’ feet, and, roaring, falls,
Writhes in the dust, and shows a fiery throat
That covers them with flames, and blood, and smoke.
Fear lends them wings; deaf to his voice for once,
And heedless of the curb, they onward fly.
Their master wastes his strength in efforts vain;
With foam and blood each courser’s bit is red.
Some say a god, amid this wild disorder,
Was seen with goads pricking their dusty flanks.
O’er jagged rocks they rush urged on by terror;
Crash! goes the axle-tree. Th’ intrepid youth
Sees his car broken up, flying to pieces;
He falls himself entangled in the reins.
Pardon my grief. That cruel spectacle
Will be for me a source of endless tears.
I saw thy hapless son, I saw him, Sire,
Drag’d by the horses that his hands had fed,
Pow’rless to check their fierce career, his voice
But adding to their fright, his body soon
One mass of wounds. Our cries of anguish fill
The plain. At last they slacken their swift pace,
Then stop, not far from those old tombs that mark
Where lie the ashes of his royal sires.
Panting I thither run, and after me
His guard, along the track stain’d with fresh blood
That reddens all the rocks; caught in the briers
Locks of his hair hang dripping, gory spoils!
I come, I call him. Stretching forth his hand,
He opens his dying eyes, soon closed again.
“The gods have robb’d me of a guiltless life,”
I hear him say: “Take care of sad Aricia
When I am dead. Dear friend, if e’er my father
Mourn, undeceived, his son’s unhappy fate
Falsely accused; to give my spirit peace,
Tell him to treat his captive tenderly,
And to restore—” With that the hero’s breath
Fails, and a mangled corpse lies in my arms,
A piteous object, trophy of the wrath
Of Heav’n—so changed, his father would not know him.

THESEUS
Alas, my son! Dear hope for ever lost!
The ruthless gods have served me but too well.
For what a life of anguish and remorse
Am I reserved!

THERAMENES
Aricia at that instant,
Flying from you, comes timidly, to take him
For husband, there, in presence of the gods.
Thus drawing nigh, she sees the grass all red
And reeking, sees (sad sight for lover’s eye!)
Hippolytus stretch’d there, pale and disfigured.
But, for a time doubtful of her misfortune,
Unrecognized the hero she adores,
She looks, and asks—”Where is Hippolytus?”
Only too sure at last that he lies there
Before her, with sad eyes that silently
Reproach the gods, she shudders, groans, and falls
Swooning and all but lifeless, at his feet.
Ismene, all in tears, kneels down beside her,
And calls her back to life—life that is naught
But sense of pain. And I, to whom this light
Is darkness now, come to discharge the duty
The hero has imposed on me, to tell thee
His last request—a melancholy task.
But hither comes his mortal enemy.

SCENE VII
THESEUS, PHAEDRA, THERAMENES, PANOPE, GUARDS

THESEUS
Madame, you’ve triumph’d, and my son is kill’d!
Ah, but what room have I for fear! How justly
Suspicion racks me that in blaming him
I err’d! But he is dead; accept your victim;
Rightly or wrongly slain, let your heart leap
For joy. My eyes shall be for ever blind:
Since you accuse him, I’ll believe him guilty.
His death affords me cause enough for tears,
Without a foolish search for further light
Which, pow’rless to restore him to my grief,
Might only serve to make me more unhappy,
Far from this shore and far from you I’ll fly,
For here the image of my mangled son
Would haunt my memory and drive me mad.
From the whole world I fain would banish me,
For all the world seems to rise up in judgment
Against me; and my very glory weights
My punishment; for, were my name less known
‘Twere easier to hide me. All the favours
The gods have granted me I mourn and hate,
Nor will I importune them with vain pray’rs
Henceforth for ever. Give me what they may,
What they have taken will all else outweigh.

PHAEDRA
Theseus, I cannot hear you and keep silence:
I must repair the wrong that he has suffer’d—
Your son was innocent.

THESEUS
Unhappy father!
And it was on your word that I condemn’d him!
Think you such cruelty can be excused—

PHAEDRA
Moments to me are precious; hear me, Theseus.
‘Twas I who cast an eye of lawless passion
On chaste and dutiful Hippolytus.
Heav’n in my bosom kindled baleful fire,
And vile Oenone’s cunning did the rest.
She fear’d Hippolytus, knowing my madness,
Would make that passion known which he regarded
With horror; so advantage of my weakness
She took, and hasten’d to accuse him first.
For that she has been punish’d, tho’ too mildly;
Seeking to shun my wrath she cast herself
Beneath the waves. The sword ere now had cut
My thread of life, but slander’d innocence
Made its cry heard, and I resolved to die
In a more lingering way, confessing first
My penitence to you. A poison, brought
To Athens by Medea, runs thro’ my veins.
Already in my heart the venom works,
Infusing there a strange and fatal chill;
Already as thro’ thickening mists I see
The spouse to whom my presence is an outrage;
Death, from mine eyes veiling the light of heav’n,
Restores its purity that they defiled.

PANOPE
She dies my lord!

THESEUS
Would that the memory
Of her disgraceful deed could perish with her!
Ah, disabused too late! Come, let us go,
And with the blood of mine unhappy son
Mingle our tears, clasping his dear remains,
In deep repentance for a pray’r detested.
Let him be honour’d as he well deserves;
And, to appease his sore offended ghost,
Be her near kinsmen’s guilt whate’er it may,
Aricia shall be held my daughter from to-day.


Phaedra by Jean Baptiste Racine

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

Phaedra, ACT III

by Jean Baptiste Racine

Scene I
PHAEDRA, OENONE

PHAEDRA
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.

OENONE
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?

PHAEDRA
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?

OENONE
Fly.

PHAEDRA
I cannot leave him.

OENONE
Dare you not fly from him you dared to banish?

PHAEDRA
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?

OENONE
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
Beheld him?

PHAEDRA
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.

OENONE
Remember that his mother
Was a barbarian.

PHAEDRA
Scythian tho’ she was,
She learned to love.

OENONE
He has for all the sex
Hatred intense.

PHAEDRA
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.

Scene II

PHAEDRA (alone)
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.

SCENE III
PHAEDRA, OENONE

OENONE
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—

PHAEDRA
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.

OENONE
What?

PHAEDRA
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.

OENONE
Die?

PHAEDRA
Just Heav’ns!
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.

OENONE
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?

PHAEDRA
As on a monster frightful to mine eyes.

OENONE
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.

PHAEDRA
What! Would you have me slander innocence?

OENONE
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.

PHAEDRA
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.

SCENE IV
THESEUS, HIPPOLYTUS, PHAEDRA, OENONE, THERAMENES

THESEUS
Fortune no longer fights against my wishes,
Madam, and to your arms restores—

PHAEDRA
Stay, Theseus!
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
Henceforth.

Scene V
THESEUS, HIPPOLYTUS, THERAMENES

THESEUS
Strange welcome for your father, this!
What does it mean, my son?

HIPPOLYTUS
Phaedra alone
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.

THESEUS
You, my son! Leave me?

HIPPOLYTUS
‘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.

THESEUS
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.

Scene VI
HIPPOLYTUS, THERAMENES

HIPPOLYTUS
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.


Phaedra by Jean Baptiste Racine

Phaedra, ACT II

by Jean Baptiste Racine

SCENE I
ARICIA, ISMENE

ARICIA
Hippolytus request to see me here!
Hippolytus desire to bid farewell!
Is’t true, Ismene? Are you not deceived?

ISMENE
This is the first result of Theseus’ death.
Prepare yourself to see from every side.
Hearts turn towards you that were kept away
By Theseus. Mistress of her lot at last,
Aricia soon shall find all Greece fall low,
To do her homage.

ARICIA
‘Tis not then, Ismene,
An idle tale? Am I no more a slave?
Have I no enemies?

ISMENE
The gods oppose
Your peace no longer, and the soul of Theseus
Is with your brothers.

ARICIA
Does the voice of fame
Tell how he died?

ISMENE
Rumours incredible
Are spread. Some say that, seizing a new bride,
The faithless husband by the waves was swallow’d.
Others affirm, and this report prevails,
That with Pirithous to the world below
He went, and saw the shores of dark Cocytus,
Showing himself alive to the pale ghosts;
But that he could not leave those gloomy realms,
Which whoso enters there abides for ever.

ARICIA
Shall I believe that ere his destined hour
A mortal may descend into the gulf
Of Hades? What attraction could o’ercome
Its terrors?

ISMENE
He is dead, and you alone
Doubt it. The men of Athens mourn his loss.
Troezen already hails Hippolytus
As King. And Phaedra, fearing for her son,
Asks counsel of the friends who share her trouble,
Here in this palace.

ARICIA
Will Hippolytus,
Think you, prove kinder than his sire, make light
My chains, and pity my misfortunes?

ISMENE
Yes,
I think so, Madam.

ARICIA
Ah, you know him not
Or you would never deem so hard a heart
Can pity feel, or me alone except
From the contempt in which he holds our sex.
Has he not long avoided every spot
Where we resort?

ISMENE
I know what tales are told
Of proud Hippolytus, but I have seen
Him near you, and have watch’d with curious eye
How one esteem’d so cold would bear himself.
Little did his behavior correspond
With what I look’d for; in his face confusion
Appear’d at your first glance, he could not turn
His languid eyes away, but gazed on you.
Love is a word that may offend his pride,
But what the tongue disowns, looks can betray.

ARICIA
How eagerly my heart hears what you say,
Tho’ it may be delusion, dear Ismene!
Did it seem possible to you, who know me,
That I, sad sport of a relentless Fate,
Fed upon bitter tears by night and day,
Could ever taste the maddening draught of love?
The last frail offspring of a royal race,
Children of Earth, I only have survived
War’s fury. Cut off in the flow’r of youth,
Mown by the sword, six brothers have I lost,
The hope of an illustrious house, whose blood
Earth drank with sorrow, near akin to his
Whom she herself produced. Since then, you know
How thro’ all Greece no heart has been allow’d
To sigh for me, lest by a sister’s flame
The brothers’ ashes be perchance rekindled.
You know, besides, with what disdain I view’d
My conqueror’s suspicions and precautions,
And how, oppos’d as I have ever been
To love, I often thank’d the King’s injustice
Which happily confirm’d my inclination.
But then I never had beheld his son.
Not that, attracted merely by the eye, I
love him for his beauty and his grace,
Endowments which he owes to Nature’s bounty,
Charms which he seems to know not or to scorn.
I love and prize in him riches more rare,
The virtues of his sire, without his faults.
I love, as I must own, that generous pride
Which ne’er has stoop’d beneath the amorous yoke.
Phaedra reaps little glory from a lover
So lavish of his sighs; I am too proud
To share devotion with a thousand others,
Or enter where the door is always open.
But to make one who ne’er has stoop’d before
Bend his proud neck, to pierce a heart of stone,
To bind a captive whom his chains astonish,
Who vainly ‘gainst a pleasing yoke rebels,—
That piques my ardour, and I long for that.
‘Twas easier to disarm the god of strength
Than this Hippolytus, for Hercules
Yielded so often to the eyes of beauty,
As to make triumph cheap. But, dear Ismene,
I take too little heed of opposition
Beyond my pow’r to quell, and you may hear me,
Humbled by sore defeat, upbraid the pride
I now admire. What! Can he love? and I
Have had the happiness to bend—

ISMENE
He comes
Yourself shall hear him.

SCENE II
HIPPOLYTUS, ARICIA, ISMENE

HIPPOLYTUS
Lady, ere I go
My duty bids me tell you of your change
Of fortune. My worst fears are realized;
My sire is dead. Yes, his protracted absence
Was caused as I foreboded. Death alone,
Ending his toils, could keep him from the world
Conceal’d so long. The gods at last have doom’d
Alcides’ friend, companion, and successor.
I think your hatred, tender to his virtues,
Can hear such terms of praise without resentment,
Knowing them due. One hope have I that soothes
My sorrow: I can free you from restraint.
Lo, I revoke the laws whose rigour moved
My pity; you are at your own disposal,
Both heart and hand; here, in my heritage,
In Troezen, where my grandsire Pittheus reign’d
Of yore and I am now acknowledged King,
I leave you free, free as myself,—and more.

ARICIA
Your kindness is too great, ’tis overwhelming.
Such generosity, that pays disgrace
With honour, lends more force than you can think
To those harsh laws from which you would release me.

HIPPOLYTUS
Athens, uncertain how to fill the throne
Of Theseus, speaks of you, anon of me,
And then of Phaedra’s son.

ARICIA
Of me, my lord?

HIPPOLYTUS
I know myself excluded by strict law:
Greece turns to my reproach a foreign mother.
But if my brother were my only rival,
My rights prevail o’er his clearly enough
To make me careless of the law’s caprice.
My forwardness is check’d by juster claims:
To you I yield my place, or, rather, own
That it is yours by right, and yours the sceptre,
As handed down from Earth’s great son, Erechtheus.
Adoption placed it in the hands of Aegeus:
Athens, by him protected and increased,
Welcomed a king so generous as my sire,
And left your hapless brothers in oblivion.
Now she invites you back within her walls;
Protracted strife has cost her groans enough,
Her fields are glutted with your kinsmen’s blood
Fatt’ning the furrows out of which it sprung
At first. I rule this Troezen; while the son
Of Phaedra has in Crete a rich domain.
Athens is yours. I will do all I can
To join for you the votes divided now
Between us.

ARICIA
Stunn’d at all I hear, my lord,
I fear, I almost fear a dream deceives me.
Am I indeed awake? Can I believe
Such generosity? What god has put it
Into your heart? Well is the fame deserved
That you enjoy! That fame falls short of truth!
Would you for me prove traitor to yourself?
Was it not boon enough never to hate me,
So long to have abstain’d from harbouring
The enmity—

HIPPOLYTUS
To hate you? I, to hate you?
However darkly my fierce pride was painted,
Do you suppose a monster gave me birth?
What savage temper, what envenom’d hatred
Would not be mollified at sight of you?
Could I resist the soul-bewitching charm—

ARICIA
Why, what is this, Sir?

HIPPOLYTUS
I have said too much
Not to say more. Prudence in vain resists
The violence of passion. I have broken
Silence at last, and I must tell you now
The secret that my heart can hold no longer.
You see before you an unhappy instance
Of hasty pride, a prince who claims compassion
I, who, so long the enemy of Love,
Mock’d at his fetters and despised his captives,
Who, pitying poor mortals that were shipwreck’d,
In seeming safety view’d the storms from land,
Now find myself to the same fate exposed,
Toss’d to and fro upon a sea of troubles!
My boldness has been vanquish’d in a moment,
And humbled is the pride wherein I boasted.
For nearly six months past, ashamed, despairing,
Bearing where’er I go the shaft that rends
My heart, I struggle vainly to be free
From you and from myself; I shun you, present;
Absent, I find you near; I see your form
In the dark forest depths; the shades of night,
Nor less broad daylight, bring back to my view
The charms that I avoid; all things conspire
To make Hippolytus your slave. For fruit
Of all my bootless sighs, I fail to find
My former self. My bow and javelins
Please me no more, my chariot is forgotten,
With all the Sea God’s lessons; and the woods
Echo my groans instead of joyous shouts
Urging my fiery steeds.

Hearing this tale
Of passion so uncouth, you blush perchance
At your own handiwork. With what wild words
I offer you my heart, strange captive held
By silken jess! But dearer in your eyes
Should be the offering, that this language comes
Strange to my lips; reject not vows express’d
So ill, which but for you had ne’er been form’d.

SCENE III
HIPPOLYTUS, ARICIA, THERAMENES, ISMENE

THERAMENES
Prince, the Queen comes. I herald her approach.
‘Tis you she seeks.

HIPPOLYTUS
Me?

THERAMENES
What her thought may be
I know not. But I speak on her behalf.
She would converse with you ere you go hence.

HIPPOLYTUS
What shall I say to her? Can she expect—

ARICIA
You cannot, noble Prince, refuse to hear her,
Howe’er convinced she is your enemy,
Some shade of pity to her tears is due.

HIPPOLYTUS
Shall we part thus? and will you let me go,
Not knowing if my boldness has offended
The goddess I adore? Whether this heart,
Left in your hands—

ARICIA
Go, Prince, pursue the schemes
Your generous soul dictates, make Athens own
My sceptre. All the gifts you offer me
Will I accept, but this high throne of empire
Is not the one most precious in my sight.

SCENE IV
HIPPOLYTUS, THERAMENES

HIPPOLYTUS
Friend, is all ready?
But the Queen approaches.
Go, see the vessel in fit trim to sail.
Haste, bid the crew aboard, and hoist the signal:
Then soon return, and so deliver me
From interview most irksome.

SCENE V
PHAEDRA, HIPPOLYTUS, OENONE

PHAEDRA (to OENONE)
There I see him!
My blood forgets to flow, my tongue to speak
What I am come to say.

OENONE
Think of your son,
How all his hopes depend on you.

PHAEDRA
I hear
You leave us, and in haste. I come to add
My tears to your distress, and for a son
Plead my alarm. No more has he a father,
And at no distant day my son must witness
My death. Already do a thousand foes
Threaten his youth. You only can defend him
But in my secret heart remorse awakes,
And fear lest I have shut your ears against
His cries. I tremble lest your righteous anger
Visit on him ere long the hatred earn’d
By me, his mother.

HIPPOLYTUS
No such base resentment,
Madam, is mine.

PHAEDRA
I could not blame you, Prince,
If you should hate me. I have injured you:
So much you know, but could not read my heart.
T’ incur your enmity has been mine aim.
The self-same borders could not hold us both;
In public and in private I declared
Myself your foe, and found no peace till seas
Parted us from each other. I forbade
Your very name to be pronounced before me.
And yet if punishment should be proportion’d
To the offence, if only hatred draws
Your hatred, never woman merited
More pity, less deserved your enmity.

HIPPOLYTUS
A mother jealous of her children’s rights
Seldom forgives the offspring of a wife
Who reign’d before her. Harassing suspicions
Are common sequels of a second marriage.
Of me would any other have been jealous
No less than you, perhaps more violent.

PHAEDRA
Ah, Prince, how Heav’n has from the general law
Made me exempt, be that same Heav’n my witness!
Far different is the trouble that devours me!

HIPPOLYTUS
This is no time for self-reproaches, Madam.
It may be that your husband still beholds
The light, and Heav’n may grant him safe return,
In answer to our prayers. His guardian god
Is Neptune, ne’er by him invoked in vain.

PHAEDRA
He who has seen the mansions of the dead
Returns not thence. Since to those gloomy shores
Theseus is gone, ’tis vain to hope that Heav’n
May send him back. Prince, there is no release
From Acheron’s greedy maw. And yet, methinks,
He lives, and breathes in you. I see him still
Before me, and to him I seem to speak;
My heart—
Oh! I am mad; do what I will,
I cannot hide my passion.

HIPPOLYTUS
Yes, I see
The strange effects of love. Theseus, tho’ dead,
Seems present to your eyes, for in your soul
There burns a constant flame.

PHAEDRA
Ah, yes for Theseus
I languish and I long, not as the Shades
Have seen him, of a thousand different forms
The fickle lover, and of Pluto’s bride
The would-be ravisher, but faithful, proud
E’en to a slight disdain, with youthful charms
Attracting every heart, as gods are painted,
Or like yourself. He had your mien, your eyes,
Spoke and could blush like you, when to the isle
Of Crete, my childhood’s home, he cross’d the waves,
Worthy to win the love of Minos’ daughters.
What were you doing then? Why did he gather
The flow’r of Greece, and leave Hippolytus?
Oh, why were you too young to have embark’d
On board the ship that brought thy sire to Crete?
At your hands would the monster then have perish’d,
Despite the windings of his vast retreat.
To guide your doubtful steps within the maze
My sister would have arm’d you with the clue.
But no, therein would Phaedra have forestall’d her,
Love would have first inspired me with the thought;
And I it would have been whose timely aid
Had taught you all the labyrinth’s crooked ways.
What anxious care a life so dear had cost me!
No thread had satisfied your lover’s fears:
I would myself have wish’d to lead the way,
And share the peril you were bound to face;
Phaedra with you would have explored the maze,
With you emerged in safety, or have perish’d.

HIPPOLYTUS
Gods! What is this I hear? Have you forgotten
That Theseus is my father and your husband?

PHAEDRA
Why should you fancy I have lost remembrance
Thereof, and am regardless of mine honour?

HIPPOLYTUS
Forgive me, Madam. With a blush I own
That I misconstrued words of innocence.
For very shame I cannot bear your sight
Longer. I go—

PHAEDRA
Ah! cruel Prince, too well
You understood me. I have said enough
To save you from mistake. I love. But think not
That at the moment when I love you most
I do not feel my guilt; no weak compliance
Has fed the poison that infects my brain.
The ill-starr’d object of celestial vengeance,
I am not so detestable to you
As to myself. The gods will bear me witness,
Who have within my veins kindled this fire,
The gods, who take a barbarous delight
In leading a poor mortal’s heart astray.
Do you yourself recall to mind the past:
‘Twas not enough for me to fly, I chased you
Out of the country, wishing to appear
Inhuman, odious; to resist you better,
I sought to make you hate me. All in vain!
Hating me more I loved you none the less:
New charms were lent to you by your misfortunes.
I have been drown’d in tears, and scorch’d by fire;
Your own eyes might convince you of the truth,
If for one moment you could look at me.
What is’t I say? Think you this vile confession
That I have made is what I meant to utter?
Not daring to betray a son for whom
I trembled, ’twas to beg you not to hate him
I came. Weak purpose of a heart too full
Of love for you to speak of aught besides!
Take your revenge, punish my odious passion;
Prove yourself worthy of your valiant sire,
And rid the world of an offensive monster!
Does Theseus’ widow dare to love his son?
The frightful monster! Let her not escape you!
Here is my heart. This is the place to strike.
Already prompt to expiate its guilt,
I feel it leap impatiently to meet
Your arm. Strike home. Or, if it would disgrace you
To steep your hand in such polluted blood,
If that were punishment too mild to slake
Your hatred, lend me then your sword, if not
Your arm. Quick, give’t.

OENONE
What, Madam, will you do?
Just gods! But someone comes. Go, fly from shame,
You cannot ‘scape if seen by any thus.

SCENE VI
HIPPOLYTUS, THERAMENES

THERAMENES
Is that the form of Phaedra that I see
Hurried away? What mean these signs of sorrow?
Where is your sword? Why are you pale, confused?

HIPPOLYTUS
Friend, let us fly. I am, indeed, confounded
With horror and astonishment extreme.
Phaedra—but no; gods, let this dreadful secret
Remain for ever buried in oblivion.

THERAMENES
The ship is ready if you wish to sail.
But Athens has already giv’n her vote;
Their leaders have consulted all her tribes;
Your brother is elected, Phaedra wins.

HIPPOLYTUS
Phaedra?

THERAMENES
A herald, charged with a commission
From Athens, has arrived to place the reins
Of power in her hands. Her son is King.

HIPPOLYTUS
Ye gods, who know her, do ye thus reward
Her virtue?

THERAMENES
A faint rumour meanwhile whispers
That Theseus is not dead, but in Epirus
Has shown himself. But, after all my search,
I know too well—

HIPPOLYTUS
Let nothing be neglected.
This rumour must be traced back to its source.
If it be found unworthy of belief,
Let us set sail, and cost whate’er it may,
To hands deserving trust the sceptre’s sway.


Phaedra by Jean Baptiste Racine