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

Act II

Scene V


Phædra (to ŒNONE)

There I see him!

My blood forgets to flow, my tongue to speak

What I am come to say.


Think of your son,

How all his hopes depend on you.


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.


No such base resentment,

Madam, is mine.


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


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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 Phædra 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;

Phædra with you would have explored the maze,

With you emerged in safety, or have perish’d.


Gods! What is this I hear? Have you forgotten

That Theseus is my father and your husband?


Why should you fancy I have lost remembrance

Thereof, and am regardless of mine honour?


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—


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.


What, Madam, will you do?

Just gods! But someone comes. Go, fly from shame,

You cannot ’scape if seen by any thus.