Hippolytus (428 BCE)

Well I think it’s about time I revisited the theatre genre. I mean, sure I did something of an essay looking at its origins but I haven’t actually reviewed any specific plays. There are so many different options. I could do Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, J B Priestly; there are so many and I’ve decided to linger on them for a while, moving away from film, if only temporarily, to look at books and theatre, something that I have shamefully, if unintentionally, neglected. Where better to start than we an old, old master. Euripides, way back in ancient Greece (YAY!!) with a play widely regarded as one of his best works. This is Hippolytus.

The play focuses on the Goddess Aphrodite’s plot to crush the mortal Hippolytus for blatantly rejecting her and showing his love and worship on Artemis, Goddess of virginity, nature and hunting. The Goddess inflicts Queen Phaedra of Trozen, Hippolytus’s Step-Mother, with a terrible love for him. This screws things up because Phaedra is already married to Theseus (the killer of the Minotaur), king of Trozen and father of Hippolytus. Aphrodite knows that Phaedra will kill herself, a secondary consideration, and her love for Hippolytus will come out and Theseus will call upon one of his prayers from his Father Poseidon to kill the boy. Aphrodite’s revenge will be complete.

This is a play with a great premise. One vengeful bitch trying to kill a guy because he worships another woman more than him. Aphrodite reminds me of those girls you get in college movies, you know the one. The blond, bitchy queen bee. That’s what I imagine Aphrodite to be like, a bit of a bimbo but totally manipulative and utterly ruthless. In its modern day context it sounds fantastic for its face value. If, however, we look at it in the way the Ancient Greek audiences would have then it becomes more complex and I like that. The Gods are not characters per-say. They are more representations of various things. Aphrodite represents passion, sex, love and marriage while Artemis represents chastity and virginity. The play is no longer a fantasy story but a journey into the subconscious of Phaedra. This brings me onto the characters of the play. Theseus is pretty good, he has decent lines and plays a large part in the play. Indeed this could be argued to be his tragedy rather than Phaedra’s or Hippolytus’s. He looses a wife and a son, they only lose their lives. Hippolytus is the worlds biggest douchebag. He is an arrogant misogynist who blatantly rejects one God in favour of another, therefore flouting the Ancient ideals of moderation and Hubris (everybody has their place and if you try to change the social order of things then you’re royally fuc%ed). This is made worse when you realise that when performed Hippolytus would t=be flanked on stage by a statue of Aphrodite and a statue of Artemis, he is bitching about a Goddess, at one point effectively calling her a whore, when she is RIGHT THERE.. Hippolytus at one point says that things would be better if women did not exist and mankind purchased their children, in short he’s a very unlikable character. Artemis is also quite annoying but she brings up the idea of fate. She claims Hippolytus is her favourite (they go flower picking all the time) and yet she never tries to stop Aphrodite from harming him. Instead she says that she cannot interfere with another God’s actions and that this was predestined to happen. She does, however, pledge to destroy Aphrodite’s favourite which kinda suggests a cycle of vengeance (think Kill Bill but instead of Katanas we have grade A manipulation). This said she does act as a nice contrast with Aphrodite and a good book end, which I do like. Now we come to Phaedra. I really don’t like this character. She’s forced to fall love with Hippolytus and says she’s a noble woman who hates adulterers (there’s a big ass speech about it) and yet her first plan for dealing with her feelings is to try to repress them, swiftly followed by keeping them but hiding them. Surely if she was such an honourable Ancient Greek she would’ve jumped straight to her third option of suicide rather than even contemplate the other two. Then she tells her ‘loyal’ nurse who encourages her to act upon her feelings and promises her a drug to do so. Phaedra freaking accepts. Real noble bitch. Then the Nurse tells Hippolytus who swears himself to secrecy but Phaedra kills herself anyway because of shame. She want s to go down as honourable as possible though and so she leaves a suicide note saying Hippolytus forced himself upon her. This gives her an excuse for suicide and means that she retains her honour. Sh moans and bitches about her problem and desperately tries to cling on to some form of her honour, despite the fact that had she just shut up about it everything could’ve been…well not dandy per-say but not two deaths and a grieving king incapable of ruling. Phaedra is a tool and a character for whom I reserve no sympathy.

An alright play, but Phaedra pisses me off and this really damages the play



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