Fiction > Harvard Classics > Jean Racine > Phædra
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Jean Racine (1639–1699).  Phædra.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Act II
 
Scene I
 
 
ARICIA,  ISMENE

Aricia

Hippolytus request to see me here!
Hippolytus desire to bid farewell!
Is’t true, Ismene? Are you not deceived?
 
Ismene

This is the first result of Theseus’ death.
Prepare yourself to see from every side.        5
Hearts turn towards you that were kept away
By Theseus. Mistress of her lot at last,
Aricia soon shall find all Greece fall low,
To do her homage.
 
Aricia

        ’Tis not then, Ismene,
        10
An idle tale? Am I no more a slave?
Have I no enemies?
 
Ismene

        The gods oppose
Your peace no longer, and the soul of Theseus
Is with your brothers.        15
 
Aricia

        Does the voice of fame
Tell how he died?
 
Ismene

Rumours incredible
Are spread. Some say that, seizing a new bride,
The faithless husband by the waves was swallow’d.        20
Others affirm, and this report prevails,
That with Pirithoüs to the world below
He went, and saw the shores of dark Cocytus,
Showing himself alive to the pale ghosts;
But that he could not leave those gloomy realms,        25
Which whoso enters there abides for ever.
 
Aricia

Shall I believe that ere his destined hour
A mortal may descend into the gulf
Of Hades? What attraction could o’ercome
Its terrors?        30
 
Ismene

        He is dead, and you alone
Doubt it. The men of Athens mourn his loss.
Trœzen already hails Hippolytus
As King. And Phædra, fearing for her son,
Asks counsel of the friends who share her trouble,        35
Here in this palace.
 
Aricia

        Will Hippolytus,
Think you, prove kinder than his sire, make light
My chains, and pity my misfortunes?
 
Ismene

        Yes,
        40
I think so, Madam.
 
Aricia

        Ah, you know him not
Or you would never deem so hard a heart
Can pity feel, or me alone except
From the contempt in which he holds our sex.        45
Has he not long avoided every spot
Where we resort?
 
Ismene

        I know what tales are told
Of proud Hippolytus, but I have seen
Him near you, and have watch’d with curious eye        50
How one esteem’d so cold would bear himself.
Little did his behavior correspond
With what I look’d for; in his face confusion
Appear’d at your first glance, he could not turn
His languid eyes away, but gazed on you.        55
Love is a word that may offend his pride,
But what the tongue disowns, looks can betray.
 
Aricia

How eagerly my heart hears what you say,
Tho’ it may be delusion, dear Ismene!
Did it seem possible to you, who know me,        60
That I, sad sport of a relentless Fate,
Fed upon bitter tears by night and day,
Could ever taste the maddening draught of love?
The last frail offspring of a royal race,
Children of Earth, I only have survived        65
War’s fury. Cut off in the flow’r of youth,
Mown by the sword, six brothers have I lost,
The hope of an illustrious house, whose blood
Earth drank with sorrow, near akin to his
Whom she herself produced. Since then, you know        70
How thro’ all Greece no heart has been allow’d
To sigh for me, lest by a sister’s flame
The brothers’ ashes be perchance rekindled.
You know, besides, with what disdain I view’d
My conqueror’s suspicions and precautions,        75
And how, oppos’d as I have ever been
To love, I often thank’d the King’s injustice
Which happily confirm’d my inclination.
But then I never had beheld his son.
Not that, attracted merely by the eye,        80
I love him for his beauty and his grace,
Endowments which he owes to Nature’s bounty,
Charms which he seems to know not or to scorn.
I love and prize in him riches more rare,
The virtues of his sire, without his faults.        85
I love, as I must own, that generous pride
Which ne’er has stoop’d beneath the amorous yoke.
Phædra reaps little glory from a lover
So lavish of his sighs; I am too proud
To share devotion with a thousand others,        90
Or enter where the door is always open.
But to make one who ne’er has stoop’d before
Bend his proud neck, to pierce a heart of stone,
To bind a captive whom his chains astonish,
Who vainly ’gainst a pleasing yoke rebels,—        95
That piques my ardour, and I long for that.
’Twas easier to disarm the god of strength
Than this Hippolytus, for Hercules
Yielded so often to the eyes of beauty,
As to make triumph cheap. But, dear Ismene,        100
I take too little heed of opposition
Beyond my pow’r to quell, and you may hear me,
Humbled by sore defeat, upbraid the pride
I now admire. What! Can he love? and I
Have had the happiness to bend—        105
 
Ismene

        He comes
Yourself shall hear him.
 

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