Phèdre

Definition

Theater

  • A tragedy by Jean Racine, usually acknowledged ashis masterpiece, that was first performed in Paris in 1677. Criticshave praised its lyrical dialogue, subtle psychology, and intricateplot. The title role was first played by Mlle Champmeslé,the leading tragic actress with the Comédie-Française,and Racine's mistress. Glenda Jackson played the role to great acclaimin Philip Prowse's 1984 London production.

    Phèdre has been called "the keystone inFrench tragic drama". Racine is said to have written it to provethat "a good poet could get the greatest crimes excused andeven inspire compassion for the criminals." The plot, basedon the Hippolytus of Euripides, concerns Phèdre'spassion for her stepson, Hippolyte. Hearing that her husband, Thésée,has died in Athens, Phèdre confesses her passion to Hippolyte,who is deeply shocked. When Thésée unexpectedly returns,Phèdre pretends to him that Hippolyte has tried to seduce her.The deceit results in Hippolyte's death and Phèdre's suicide.

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