Character Analysis Hippolytus


Dramatic necessity dictates that in spite of the extraordinary intensity of her emotions, Phaedra does not dominate the stage entirely. If Hippolytus were only a shadowy figure, Phaedra's love would be incomprehensible, and the tragic dimensions of a great passion would be reduced to mere wantonness. Hence Racine made of Hippolytus a distinctive and memorable character. He is not the elemental creature that his origins would suggest. As Phaedra specifically indicates, he compares favorably with his father. To Theseus' physical qualities, he adds a nobility of spirit made up of magnanimity, tenderness, and compassion, His refusal to defend himself endows him with the aura of martyrdom. As he says of himself (Act IV, Scene 2), "The day is not purer than the depths of my heart."

Hippolytus also belies his origins in a peculiarly Racinian way. He is not the legendary worshiper of Diana, whose dislike of women drew Venus' wrath. He falls in love, chastely no doubt, but passionately. We remember him as the doomed hero of a romantic idyll.