Q Phèdre is a Greek tragedy penned by Racine in 1677 in French. The English version, as translated from the original by Ted Hughes in 1996 for staging at the Alameda Theater in London, has been on my mind lately. It has been playing around here.

The play has a number of interwoven plots. The central one involves the main character Phèdre's lust for her stepson, which she seeks to consummate when she believes that her husband, the young man's father, has been killed. Her husband ultimately returns and finds out about Phèdre's lust when Phèdre's servant rats on her to the husband. Phèdre's ultimate confession to her husband comes too late to save the more or less innocent young man from his father's vengeance.

Following is an excerpt from an excellent review of the text of Hughes' translation by Leslie Seamans in Ralph Magazine (see

... I figured I'd ... be bored silly ...

But ... after the first two or three pages, it's hard to put down. It has that lovely inevitability that we look for in a good piece of writing, an inevitability towards tragedy that we find in Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Camus, and Richard Wright, among others. We know that these characters are doomed --by lust (Phèdre), inability to be a rat (the stepson), pig-headedness (the husband), or simple evil-heartedness (Phèdre's servant). It talks to that part of us that (sigh) gets us involved in so many similar stupid imbroglios.

... Hughes ... does a bang-up good job of getting us into the heads of these characters.

Like much of early drama, we get few stage directions, but the translation is fine: for example, this is Phèdre, confessing her love for the stepson, and, then, immediately after, hearing that the old man is returning from the dead:

I am not one of those women
Who manage their infidelity
With a polished smile and a stone heart.
I have not forgotten my ravings.
Every gasp is still alive in me.
Even these walls remember them,
These ceilings are saturated with them.
Every room and passage in this palace
Is bursting to shout my secret
And accuse me. The air is quivering with it.
The moment he steps through the door
He will hear it.
Let me die.
Q The link to Seaman's review is
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