Discuss the structural function and the dramatic role of the Gods in Phèdre.
In this essay I will analyse the role of Gods in Racine’s Phèdre, both in structural and dramatic senses.First I will present the different Gods that are in the play, who they are and the relationship between them.Then I will analyse a few quotations from the text where thecharacters invoke gods, say why do they do that and what does it mean for the plot.
The dramatic role of Gods in Racine’s tragedy Phèdre must not be underrated.It may be that at the first read one could think that the action is completely human and that gods participate only to be uselessly invoked by the different characters, however this is definitely not true. Analysing the story we can find outhow the Gods’ world, emotions and fightings are totally reflected on earth and on human lives and how almost nothing through the plot is due to spontaneous will of humans even if they often believe or hope that. The notion of predestination can be felt through the whole tragedy and through this, Racine expresses the jansenist theory thinking that redemption can be only given by God and humanscan’t do anything for it.
Through the whole play, the Gods are defined sometimes generally, as a whole entity, and often personally: let’s take a look at which are they and to what’s their role through the Olympus mountain. The first and most important for the action of the tragedy is Venus: she is the goddess of beauty but above all of passion and seduction, which she uses to take revenge on all thewomen who dare to fall in love with her many lovers. She is the most powerful of the gods because only Minerve, Diane and Vesta’s hearts – because of their purity - are not at her feet.Venus is absolutely cruel and has never mercy for anyone of her victims – and in this case with Phèdre neither. The other active god through the play is Neptune, easily irritable god of the sea, probably descendantof monsters, god of earthquakes and all kind of cataclysms periodically affecting the world too. These two strong and cruel gods form an alliance to take revenge against their eternal ennemies through the mortals that they protect. The other two gods named in the tragedy are the Sun and Diane, inactive or apparently impotent protectors respectly of Phèdre, as the Sun is her grandfather – but we’llexplain that later, and of Hippolyte who preferred Diane to Venus. She is sister of the Sun and the goddess of light, and a pure and innocent virgin who has never known anything like passion and seduction. These two gods are often invoked by the mortals they protect in the play but seem to watch impotent to their distruction by Venus and Neptune.Thanks to this analysis we can easily note thatRacine creates a kind of dualism between the two couples of gods involved in the drama: the gods of darkness against the gods of light, Good against Evil, in a definitely unbalanced battle: in fact Venus and Poseidon are the strong gods and the ones to whom the whole action and human reactions are due; nor the Sun neither Diane never actually do anything to protect Phèdre or Hippolyte from theirdestiny.
Let’s now analyse all the influences of the different gods through the different acts of the play, trying to figure out which role do they play each time.
Already from the first scene, in which Hippolyte lets his loyal Théramene understand his love to Aricie, we can indirectly perceive the power of Venus: in facts she decided Hippolyte to fall in love with Aricie, a young princess who is thelone surviving enemy of Thésee, who Hippolyte is supposed to hate. Moreover, until the moment we saw in the first scene, he is supposed to be innocently and completely stranger to love and passion, but now “Quels courages Vénus n’a-t-elle pas domptés?” (line 123), as Thèramene rightly intends, his fierce reputation of stranger to love has fallen by Venus revengeous hand. Already from the...