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


Scene III



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—


My husband is alive,

That is enough, Œnone. I have own’d

A passion that dishonours him. He lives:

I ask to know no more.




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.




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.


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 Phædra, 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?


As on a monster frightful to mine eyes.


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.


What! Would you have me slander innocence?


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.


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.