Welcome back to Theatre Thursdays! This post has nothing whatsoever to do with the New Year! (You have been warned.)
In what may have been the laziest essay of my college career, I compared the attitudes toward women in Euripides' Hippolytus and Racine's Phèdre, which tell the same story from slightly different points of view. Phaedra/Phèdre brings about family tragedy when she falls in love with Hippolytus/Hippolyte, her step-son by Theseus/Thésée, king of Athens. I don't remember much of the essay, but I do remember that my conclusion was that Racine didn't seem to like women as much as Euripides. (I do remember that I got an A, which says nothing about whether my argument was "correct," but may say something about my suspicions that the professor was a huge pothead.)
That being said, I adore - nay, worship - Jean Racine's Phèdre. It is just. so. beautiful. I've seen two productions in Paris, one modeled on Kabuki and one traditionally performed and starring the French equivalent of Phylicia Rashad. The former was positively transcendental. The latter was just horrendous, but boy, did the text still shine through the ham-handed mess that was the staging and "acting." Sadly, I know you may not speak French, so I have to give you a translation. Translations make me a sad panda. "Poetry is what gets lost in translation," said Robert Frost, and he was spot-on.
Oh well. We'll have at it anyway, with the monologue in which Phèdre confesses her illicit love to Hippolyte while the palace erroneously believes Thésée to have drowned on his way home. This is Margaret Rawlings' translation, which I don't love, but it's what I have on hand. Racine's original follows, in case you speak French and want to wallow in beauty with me. Really, when I read the French original out loud, I feel like a pig in shit. (Isn't that sentence fabulous in its relevance?)
Ah, cruel one! Too well, too well
You understand me. I have said enough
To save you from mistake. Well, look at me!
Know me, then - Phaedra - in my madness, know
I am in love. But do not dare to think
That I - in love with you - believe that I
Am innocent, or of myself approve.
Nor that the mad love now deranging me
Like poison in the blood, is fed at all
By cowardly connivance of my will.
Unlucky object of the spite of Gods,
I am not so detestable to you
As to myself. The Gods will bear me witness,
The same Gods who in my veins have poured
This burning fire, a doom to all my race;
The Gods who take a barbarous delight
In leading a poor mortal's heart astray!
Do you, yourself, recall to mind the past!
I did not only fly, I hounded you;
I wanted you to think me odious,
I sought to appear inhuman in your eyes.
The better to resist your charm I sought
To make you hate me. Oh, what useless care!
You hated more. I loved you none the less.
Misfortunes only lent you added charm.
I have been drowned in tears, and scorched with fire.
Your own eyes might convince you of the truth,
If for one moment you could look at me.
What have I said? Can you believe that this
Confesion I have just made to you - this
So shameful declaration I have made
Is voluntary? Can you think so? Ah!
Trembling in fear for safety of a son
Whom I dare not betray, I came to beg
You not to hate him. What a feeble plan
For any heart so full of what it loves.
I could speak to you only of yourself!
Oh take your vengeance, do, and punish me
For such a hideous and illicit love!
Your father was a hero, be like him,
And rid the world of one more monster now.
Does Theseus' widow dare to love his son?
Believe me you should not let her escape.
Here is my heart. Here, where your hand should strike,
It waits impatient to expiate
Its guilt. It leaps to meet your arm. oh strike!
Or if your hatred envy me a blow
Of such sweet torture, or if blood too vile
You think would therefore drench your hand, then give,
Give me, if not your arm, at least your sword!
And here's the original. Even if you don't speak French, I swear to Blog, you can probably pick out the difference in cadence and poetry.
Ah ! cruel, tu m'as trop entendue.
Je t'en ai dit assez pour te tirer d'erreur.
Hé bien ! connais donc Phèdre et toute sa fureur.
J'aime. Ne pense pas qu'au moment que je t'aime,
Innocente à mes yeux je m'approuve moi-même,
Ni que du fol amour qui trouble ma raison
Ma lâche complaisance ait nourri le poison.
Objet infortuné des vengeances célestes,
Je m'abhorre encor plus que tu ne me détestes.
Les Dieux m'en sont témoins, ces Dieux qui dans mon flanc
Ont allumé le feu fatal à tout mon sang,
Ces Dieux qui se sont fait une gloire; cruelle
De séduire le coeur d'une faible mortelle.
Toi-même en ton esprit rappelle le passé.
C'est peu de t'avoir fui, cruel, je t'ai chassé.
J'ai voulu te paraître odieuse, inhumaine.
Pour mieux te résister, j'ai recherché ta haine.
De quoi m'ont profité mes inutiles soins ?
Tu me haïssais plus, je ne t'aimais pas moins.
Tes malheurs te prêtaient encor de nouveaux charmes.
J'ai langui, j'ai séché, dans les feux, dans les larmes.
Il suffit de tes yeux pour t'en persuader,
Si tes yeux un moment pouvaient me regarder.
Que dis-je ? Cet aveu que je viens de te faire,
Cet aveu si honteux, le crois-tu volontaire ?
Tremblante pour un fils que je n'osais trahir,
Je te venais prier de ne le point haïr.
Faibles projets d'un coeur trop plein de ce qu'il aime !
Hélas ! je ne t'ai pu parler que de toi-même.
Venge-toi, punis-moi d'un odieux amour.
Digne fils du héros qui t'a donné le jour,
Délivre l'univers d'un monstre qui t'irrite.
La veuve de Thésée ose aimer Hippolyte !
Crois-moi, ce monstre affreux ne doit point t'échapper.
Voilà mon coeur. C'est là que ta main doit frapper.
Impatient déjà d'expier son offense,
Au-devant de ton bras je le sens qui s'avance.
Frappe. Ou si tu le crois indigne de tes coups,
Si ta haine m'envie un supplice si doux,
Ou si d'un sang trop vil ta main serait trempée,
Au défaut de ton bras prête-moi ton épée.