HUMN Phedre essay

HUMN Phedre essay - Posthumous Purpose: The Underlying...

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Posthumous Purpose: The Underlying Reason for the Death of Hippolytus The title character of Jean Racine’s play Phedre indeed plays a pivotal role, yet in many ways she is the least important. In fact, the most dramatic transformation seen in the play is that of Theseus. He is at first a womanizing, heroic victor of a king, but at the end we see him as a sensitive, compassionate and wounded soul. This change is not due to the suicide of his wife Phaedra, which hardly affected him at all, but rather the violent and untimely death of his only son, Hippolytus. Racine’s play then becomes a story not of intrigue or incest but of the one and only thing that could change a brutish father’s ways; the loss of the only person he ever loved. Racine introduces Theseus through Hippolytus and his mentor, Theremenes. Theseus does not appear in the flesh until halfway through the play, yet by the time he enters the action we are well aware of his reputation. Among the first pieces of information we learn about Theseus is his extensive list of accomplishments. After telling Theremenes of Theseus’ victories over the Pirates, Cercyon, Scirron, the Minotaur and so forth, Hippolytus says “my weakness is the more contemptible that no long list of honours and renown excuses me as it did Theseus (33).” This statement illuminates Hippolytus’ insecurities as the son of such a great figure. From his comparison of himself to his father we see that Hippolytus is well aware that he will forever be in Theseus’ shadow. Because he is a good son with endless respect for his father, Hippolytus continues to try and impress Theseus by trying to deny his own love for Aricia. He believes that because he is not as valiant and prized as Theseus, he does not have the right to fall in love with whomever he pleases. He even goes so far as to say that his decision to marry Aricia despite his
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father’s disapproval would be “insane (33).” Clearly, his thirst to fill his father’s very
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HUMN Phedre essay - Posthumous Purpose: The Underlying...

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