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

Act IV

Scene VI



Know you, dear Nurse, what I have learn’d just now?


No; but I come in truth with trembling limbs.

I dreaded with what purpose you went forth,

The fear of fatal madness made me pale.


Who would have thought it, Nurse? I had a rival.


A rival?


Yes, he loves. I cannot doubt it.

This wild untamable Hippolytus,

Who scorn’d to be admired, whom lovers’ sighs

Wearied, this tiger, whom I fear’d to rouse,

Fawns on a hand that has subdued his pride:

Aricia has found entrance to his heart.




Ah! anguish as yet untried!

For what new tortures am I still reserved?

All I have undergone, transports of passion,

Longings and fears, the horrors of remorse,

The shame of being spurn’d with contumely,

Were feeble foretastes of my present torments.

They love each other! By what secret charm

Have they deceived me? Where, and when, and how

Met they? You knew it all. Why was I cozen’d?

You never told me of those stolen hours

Of amorous converse. Have they oft been seen

Talking together? Did they seek the shades

Of thickest woods? Alas! full freedom had they

To see each other. Heav’n approved their sighs;

They loved without the consciousness of guilt;

And every morning’s sun for them shone clear,

While I, an outcast from the face of Nature,

Shunn’d the bright day, and sought to hide myself.

Death was the only god whose aid I dared

To ask: I waited for the grave’s release.

Water’ with tears, nourish’d with gall, my woe

Was all too closely watch’d; I did not dare

To weep without restraint. In mortal dread

Tasting this dangerous solace, I disguised

My terror ’neath a tranquil countenance,

And oft had I to check my tears, and smile.


What fruit will they enjoy of their vain love?

They will not see each other more.


That love

Will last for ever. Even while I speak,

Ah, fatal thought, they laugh to scorn the madness

Of my distracted heart. In spite of exile

That soon must part them, with a thousand oaths

They seal yet closer union. Can I suffer

A happiness, Œnone, which insults me?

I crave your pity. She must be destroy’d.

My husband’s wrath against a hateful stock

Shall be revived, nor must the punishment

Be light: the sister’s guilt passes the brothers’.

I will entreat him in my jealous rage.

What am I saying? Have I lost my senses?

Is Phædra jealous, and will she implore

Theseus for help? My husband lives, and yet

I burn. For whom? Whose heart is this I claim

As mine? At every word I say, my hair

Stands up with horror. Guilt henceforth has pass’d

All bounds. Hypocrisy and incest breathe

At once thro’ all. My murderous hands are ready

To spill the blood of guileless innocence.

Do I yet live, wretch that I am, and dare

To face this holy Sun from whom I spring?

My father’s sire was king of all the gods;

My ancestors fill all the universe.

Where can I hide? In the dark realms of Pluto?

But there my father holds the fatal urn;

His hand awards th’ irrevocable doom:

Minos is judge of all the ghosts in hell.

Ah! how his awful shade will start and shudder

When he shall see his daughter brought before him,

Forced to confess sins of such varied dye,

Crimes it may be unknown to hell itself!

What wilt thou say, my father, at a sight

So dire? I think I see thee drop the urn,

And, seeking some unheard-of punishment,

Thyself become my executioner.

Spare me! A cruel goddess has destroy’d

Thy race; and in my madness recognize

Her wrath. Alas! My aching heart has reap’d

No fruit of pleasure from the frightful crime

The shame of which pursues me to the grave,

And ends in torment life-long misery.


Ah, Madam, pray dismiss a groundless dread:

Look less severely on a venial error.

You love. We cannot conquer destiny.

You were drawn on as by a fatal charm.

Is that a marvel without precedent

Among us? Has love triumph’d over you,

And o’er none else? Weakness is natural

To man. A mortal, to a mortal’s lot

Submit. You chafe against a yoke that others

Have long since borne. The dwellers in Olympus,

The gods themselves, who terrify with threats

The sins of men, have burn’d with lawless fires.


What words are these I hear? What counsel this

You dare to give me? Will you to the end

Pour poison in mine ears? You have destroy’d me.

You brought me back when I should else have quitted

The light of day, made me forget my duty

And see Hippolytus, till then avoided.

What hast thou done? Why did your wicked mouth

With blackest lies slander his blameless life?

Perhaps you’ve slain him, and the impious pray’r

Of an unfeeling father has been answer’d.

No, not another word! Go, hateful monster;

Away, and leave me to my piteous fate.

May Heav’n with justice pay you your deserts!

And may your punishment for ever be

A terror to all those who would, like you,

Nourish with artful wiles the weaknesses

Of princes, push them to the brink of ruin

To which their heart inclines, and smooth the path

Of guilt. Such flatterers doth the wrath of Heav’n

Bestow on kings as its most fatal gift.


O gods! to serve her what have I not done?

This is the due reward that I have won.