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

Act IV

Scene II



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?


My father, may I ask what fatal cloud

Has troubled your majestic countenance?

Dare you not trust this secret to your son?


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.


Phædra 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.


Traitor, you reckon’d that in timid silence

Phædra 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.


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—


Yes, dastard, ’tis that very pride condemns you.

I see the odious reason of your coldness

Phædra alone bewitch’d your shameless eyes;

Your soul, to others’ charms indifferent,

Disdain’d the blameless fires of lawful love.


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.


You love her? Heav’ns!

But no, I see the trick.

You feign a crime to justify yourself.


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—


The wicked never shrink from perjury.

Cease, cease, and spare me irksome protestations,

If your false virtue has no other aid.


Tho’ it to you seem false and insincere,

Phædra has secret cause to know it true.


Ah! how your shamelessness excites my wrath!


What is my term and place of banishment?


Were you beyond the Pillars of Alcides,

Your perjured presence were too near me yet.


What friends will pity me, when you forsake

And think me guilty of a crime so vile?


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.


Are incest and adultery the words

You cast at me? I hold my tongue. Yet think

What mother Phædra had; too well you know

Her blood, not mine, is tainted with those horrors.


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.