Phedre - Jean Racine

Content, language, technique etc used by Racine in his play Phedre

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  • Created by: Emily
  • Created on: 13-05-11 17:57

What features of 17th century tragedies are seen i

Aristotle & 17th century conventions of tragedy aim to arouse pity & fear in the audience, which is seen in Phedre.

Moral ambiguity - When a character is neither all good or all bad. This is the character of Phedre, as although she is guilty, we still sympathise with her.

Hamartia -  Character's doing wrong/their errors of judgement. For example, when Phedre wrongly thinks that Thesee is dead.

Unity of time and place - one location, one day. Makes the story more believable. References to other times and locations are made (e.g. when Phedre first met Hippolyte) to add intensity.

Vraisemblance - things which appear real/true. Racine makes him characters sound like people, not poets. 

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What features of modern tragedies are seen in Phed

Transcendence - the divine. Seen when Phedre blames the gods for making her love Hippolyte.

Culpability - guilt in the hero. Hippolyte when he refers to his 'crime', and when he resists telling Thesee about Phedre.

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What features of language are seen in Phedre?

Versification - the form of 17th century tragedies

Alexandrine - 12 syllables, rhyming couplets 

Sound patterns - Terminal rhymes e.g. respectueux & incestueux (contrasting the main themes), and repeated sounds e.g. flamme funeste

Rhythm varied - shows a change in mood, e.g. Phedre in act 4, begins controlled which is shown in contained lines, but becomes out of control when discovers Hippolyte loves Aricie, which is reflected in her dialogue

Imagery - Racine doesn't use as much as others as he wants his characters to seem real. However some metaphors are used. Conventional - e.g. feu for passion, and unconventional - e.g. flamme si noire, representing guilt. 19 references to 'monstre', some mythical, some metaphorical.

The play is based around the verbal exchanges of the characters.

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What visual language does Racine use in Phedre?

Not much - theatre of words rather than action. The focus is on the intense dialogues.


Stage directions - Only one explicit ('Elle s'asseid'), the rest are implicit (typical of 17th century), meaning they are hinted at through speech.

Words suggest the action - e.g. 'mes genoux tremblants'. Racine is keen to involve us emotionally through physical descriptiong, e.g. of Phedre's distress.

Similar point for props -  e.g. 'prete-moi ton épée'. 

Does the play really need to be seen on stage if all the action is written?

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How does the theme of resistance appear in Phedre?

Physical resistance - Hippolyte wants to leave Trezene

Political resistance - Hippolyte resisting his love for Aricie (although later changes his mind on this)

Resistance in vain - Phedre acknowledging she can't stop loving Hippolyte

Lack of resistance - Phedre showing no resistance against the suggestion she accepts her love for Hippolyte/acts upon it. Aricie claiming she would not resist Hippolyte. 

Hatred - Phedre treats Hippolyte badly as a way of resisting against him

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