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' , HIPPOLYTE, PHEDRE, AND THE "RECIT DE THERAMENE'' joHN C. LAPP T RADITIONAL objections to ilie "Recit de Theramene"-the peroration on Hippolyte's death in the final act of Phedre-tend to g11oup ~themselves under three main headings: its dramatic superfluity , its ornateness, and its extreme length. Perhaps the best-known statement of these objections is Fenelon's: ''Theramene ought to say only these few words, and even then he should lack the strength to pronounce them distinctly: 'Hippolyte is dead. A monster sent from the depths of the sea by the wrath of the gods caused his death. I saw it.' Gan such a man, stricken, bewildered, out of breath, amuse himself by making the most pompous and flowery description of the dragon's appearance?''1 The basic idea here, that persons under great stress would be incapable of making eloquent declarations, and that it is artificial for a dr9-ma-tist to make them do so, is a result of Fenelon's rationalistic desire for realism at the expense of other poetic considerations , and c-ould of course be applied to such passages of dramatic narra:tion as Oreste's description of Pyrrhus' murder, or monologues like Phedre's address to the sun; its modern culmination is perhaps J.-]. Bernard's "Theatre of Silence:~ The modern critic will find this approach irrelevant, preferring 'to consider both recit and monologue as dramatic conventions within the cultural and aesthetic framework of French classic tragedy. But granting that the recit in general may be an acceptable device, and leaving aside the question of vraisemblance~ the first objection to the speech of Theramene (and the one on which the others hinge) may still be voiced: is this particular recit superfluous ? Wc may go on to ask, should not the play have ended with ACt IV? Does the dramatic interest flag after the announcement of Hippolyte's death? As far as the actual decision to retain .the recit is concerned, remembering Raccine's insistence on following the "fable," we must recognize that ·tradition plays an impo11tant role. All earlier versions, Greek, Roman, and French, included it, in even lengthier form than Racine's. But the maJthematical precision of the play itself (the announcement of Thesee's return occurs at almost the exact middle; Act I = Act II, and Act IV == Act V) suggests that Racine may also have been -influenced by the plain necessity of avoiding too short a :tFenelon, "Lettre a Mme Dacier sur les occupations de l'Academie~" CEuvres (Versailles, 1820-30), XXI, 214, 215. 158 THE "RECIT DE THERAMENE" 159 final aot. Once he had decided for various reasons to use the recit, it r.emained for him •tO fit it to the rest of .the play, to make it a part of the dramattic whole. To det~ermine whether he succeeded, and how, is to deal with ·the first objection meiiJticned above. It has recently been suggested that Racine intended .the recit~ by the impaot of its beauty and harmony, to prevent rthe audience from oondemning Phedre for causing the death of a blameless youth. By this view, the passage becomes a dramatic expedient designed to check trans£erence of pity fr{)m •the central figure to !the victim of her passion.2 Another study finds the recit "a reduction in nuce of the general aestheti~s of Racine," which brings home the collapse of the world order to one ·character, Thesee. This interpretation would subordinate the effect of the passage on •the audience to its effeot on the king: "It is Thesee's reaction that is all-important here-and the public watches thisf>'3 The spectator would thus first realize the final bewilderment and despair of the king, thereby becoming gradually aware of the tragic fate of _mankind. These interpretations, however, ignore what I believe are essential points in any "defence" or judgment of ·the recit) Racine's special preoccupation with 'the character of Hippolyte and what seems dearly to have been his attempt to make the passage develop logically from the foregoing aotion through irts appeal to the audience's memory of the "fils de l'Amazone.'' For Hippolyte :is •the subject of Theramene's account...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 158-164
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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