The late British poet laureate Ted Hughes was much occupied with translation in his last years. He published dynamic versions of Tales from Ovid
(1997), and classic plays also received his attention. This version of one of the glories of French drama was produced, with Diana Rigg as Phedre, shortly before his death. It exchanges Racine's rhymed alexandrine couplets for free verse that races along, as is highly desirable in a play whose most dramatic actions occur offstage. Like another recently well-translated imitation classical tragedy, Kleist's Penthesilea
, Racine's drama is one of passion overpowering reason. Phedre lusts for her stepson Hippolytus, misogynist Hippolytus yearns for the royal captive Aricia, Oenone will do anything to protect her mistress Phedre's reputation, and Theseus will believe Oenone and exile his son Hippolytus rather than question Phedre. These are all errors of judgment that the gods will punish, regardless of the culprits' good intentions or previous good works. Hughes' Phedre
proves as compelling as Richard Wilbur's fine 1987 version in rhymed iambic pentameters. Ray Olson
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
'Ted Hughes's new version grasps the spirit of the original in a taut modern classicism. Everything falls on the eye and ear with splendor and passion."--Alastair Macaulay, Financial Times
"The French alexandrine couplet is notoriously hard to replicate in English cadences...yet, in the...fast-moving free verse he used to translate it, [Hughes] seems utterly at home with the action."--Eavan Boland, The New York Times Book Review
"[Ted Hughes] at his best...It is a strange and wonderful fact that...he should write so brilliantly just before he died."--Brian Cox, The Hudson Review