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Jean Racine (1639–1699). Phædra.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Act II

Scene II



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 Trœzen, where my grandshire Pittheus reign’d

Of yore and I am now acknowledged King,

I leave you free, free as myself,—and more.


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.


Athens, uncertain how to fill the throne

Of Theseus, speaks of you, anon of me,

And then of Phædra’s son.


Of me, my lord?


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 Ægeus:

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 Trœzen; while the son

Of Phædra 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.


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—


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—


Why, what is this, Sir?


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