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Phèdre is a dramatic tragedy that tells the story of Phèdre, a supposed ‘widower’, who has become smitten with her stepson, Hippolyte, after the prolonged absence of her husband, Thésée, the king of Athens whom is thought to be dead. The excerpt from the play to be analysed, a dialogue between Phèdre and Oenone, presents the issues of Phèdre’s forbidden love as well as the jurisdiction of Trézène. Preceding this discourse, Hippolyte rejected Phèdre’s confession of love with much shame and revulsion. It is Phèdre’s recount and response to this rejection that holds focus as the scene begins. Subsequently Oenone shifts attention to the possibility of Phèdre filling the, now, empty throne of Trézène, eliciting a doubtful response. The excerpt culminates in a quick exchange of words between the two. Through the analysis of literary techniques, rhetoric devices and grammar, as they occur in the text, we hope to attain a better understanding of the ideas conveyed within this passage of Racine’s Phèdre.
The scene opens on a harsh note; an irate Phèdre questions her servant: ‘ Importune, peux-tu souhaiter qu’on me voie? De quoi viens-tu flatter mon esprit désolé ?‘ The manner in which these questions are asked not only set the hasty, angered tone of the speech but also enlightens the audience about the inner-workings of Phèdre’s mind and her relationship with Oenone. The frustrated nature of the text is emphasised through Racine’s usage of periphrasis: in dubbing Oenone “importune” he highlights the annoyance and blame Phèdre feels towards her. This is further stressed through the use of the comma, which distorts the regularity of the rhythm, following ‘importune’. Racine employs the technique of periphrasis to avoid directly naming Hippolyte; throughout the excerpt he is only ever designated as “ingrat”, “l’insensible” or a nondescript personal pronoun. This practice is seen throughout the play and is a