Preface

PHAEDRA,
TRAGEDY. – 1677.

PREFACE BY JEAN RACINE

Here is yet another tragedy, the subject of which is taken from Euripides. Although I have followed a somewhat different route from that of this author in the conduct of the action, I have not stopped enriching my play with all that seemed to me most brilliant in his. When I owed him only the sole idea of ​​Phèdre’s character, I could say that I owe him what I have perhaps put most reasonable on the stage. I am not surprised that this character had such a happy success in Euripides’ time, and that it has still succeeded so well in our century, since it has all the qualities that Aristotle asks for in the hero of tragedy. , and which are calculated to excite compassion and terror. Indeed, Phèdre is neither entirely guilty, nor entirely innocent: she is committed, by her destiny and by the anger of the gods, in an illegitimate passion of which she was the first to abhor: she made all her efforts to overcome it: she preferred to let herself die than to declare it to no one; and when she is forced to discover it, she speaks of it with a confusion which shows clearly that her crime is rather a punishment from the gods than a movement of her will.

I even took care to make her a little less odious than she is in the tragedies of the Ancients, where she resolves of herself to accuse Hippolyte. I believed that there was something too low and too dark in calumny to put it in the mouth of a princess who, moreover, has such noble and virtuous feelings. This baseness seemed to me more suitable for a nurse, who might have more servile inclinations, and who nevertheless only undertakes this false accusation to save the life and honor of her mistress. Phèdre only gives her hands to it because she is in an agitation of the mind which puts her beside herself; and it comes a moment later for the purpose of justifying innocence, and declaring the truth.

Hippolyte is accused, in Euripides and in Seneca, of having indeed raped his stepmother: vim corpus tulit [1] . But here he is only accused of having had the design. I wanted to spare Theseus a confusion which could have made him less pleasant to the spectators.

As for the character of Hippolytus, I had noticed in the Ancients that Euripides was reproached for having represented him as a philosopher free from all imperfection: which meant that the death of this young prince caused much more damage. indignation that pity. I thought it my duty to give him some weakness which would make him a little guilty towards his father, without however depriving him of that greatness of soul with which he spares the honor of Phèdre, and allows himself to be oppressed without accusing him. I call weakness the passion he feels in spite of himself for Aricie, who is the daughter and sister of his father’s mortal enemies.

This Aricia is not a character of my invention. Virgil says that Hippolytus married him, and had a son, after Aesculapius had raised him [2] . And I read again in a few authors that Hippolytus had married and brought to Italy a young Athenian of great birth, who was called Aricia, and who had given her name to a small town in Italy.

I report these authorities, because I have very scrupulously attached myself to following the fable. I even followed the story of Theseus, as it is in Plutarch.

It was in this historian that I found that what had given occasion to believe that Theseus had descended into hell to abduct Proserpina, was a trip that this prince had made in Epirus to the source of Acheron, to a king whose wife Pirithoüs wanted to kidnap, and who arrested Theseus prisoner, after having killed Pirithoüs. Thus I have tried to preserve the verisimilitude of the story, without losing any of the ornaments of the fable, which furnishes poetry extremely; and the rumor of Theseus’ death, based on this fabulous journey, gives rise to Phèdre to make a declaration of love which becomes one of the main causes of her misfortune, and which she would never have dared to do as long as she would have thought her husband was alive.

Besides, I still dare not assure that this play is indeed the best of my tragedies. I leave it to the readers and to the time to decide on its true price. What I can assure is that I have not done any where virtue is more brought to light than in this one; the slightest faults are severely punished there: the mere thought of crime is regarded with as much horror as the crime itself; the weaknesses of love pass there for real weaknesses: the passions are only presented to the eyes to show all the disorder to which they are the cause; and vice is painted there everywhere with colors which make its deformity known and hated. This is properly the goal that every man who works for the public must propose to himself; and that’s what thefirst tragic poets had everything in view. Their theater was a school where virtue was no less well taught than in the schools of the philosophers. Also Aristotle was kind enough to give rules of the dramatic poem; and Socrates, the wisest of philosophers, did not disdain to put his hand in the tragedies of Euripides. It would be hoped that our works were as solid and as full of useful instructions as those of these poets. This would perhaps be a way of reconciling the tragedy with many people famous for their piety and for their doctrine, who have condemned it in recent times and who would doubtless judge it more favorably, if the authors thought so much of instructing their spectators than to entertain them, and whether they followed in this the true intention of the tragedy.

 

  1.  Act. III, sc ii .
  2. ↑ Æneid . lib VII.

“Phèdre (Racine), Didot, 1854.” Wikisource. 14 Oct 2017, 22:30 UTC. Oct. 14, 2017, <// fr.wikisource.org/w/index.php?title=Ph%C3%A8dre_(Racine), _ Didot, _1854 & oldid = 6983741> . The English version was transferred to Pressbooks by Ryerson Library. The texts in Wikisource are available under the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharing license under the same conditions.

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Phaedra: A Tragedy by "Phèdre (Racine), Didot, 1854." Wikisource. 14 Oct 2017, 22:30 UTC. Oct. 14, 2017. The English version was transferred to Pressbooks by Ryerson Library. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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