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Phèdre: A Play Paperback – February 28, 2000

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (February 28, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374526168
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374526160
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.2 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #99,419 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

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

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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Kirk Falconer on May 22, 2005
Format: Paperback
Racine, and neo-classic French tragedy in general, have a pretty limited following, particularly in translation, and this is an enormous pity. Readers have difficulty accepting the strict forms of the genre and, sadly, miss the exquisite dramatic poetry that, in my judgement, stands at the same level of achievement as the best of the ancients, Shakespeare, and other masters of tragic art. As George Steiner has argued, this becomes recognizable when one accepts Racine's forms on their own terms, since "The the total action of a neo-classic play occurs inside the language".

Hughes' wonderful translation of Phedre does justice to Racine's language, and should go some distance to exposing the glories of this work to new generations of English readers and audiences. The style is spare, urgent, evocative, and also conveys the necessary restraint that was characteristic of Racine, and made his treatment of tragic events all the more powerful. Of course, we no longer have Hughes to do comparable justice to Andromaque, Berenice, Iphigenie and Racine's other masterworks. But other strong English translations are out there. Hopefully, exposure to Hughes' rendering of Phedre, important in itself, will increase readership and performance (and further translations) of the others.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Amaranth on April 25, 2010
Format: Paperback
"Phedre: A Play" is a taut, terrific translation of Jean Racine's neo-classical tragedy based on Euripides' Euripides' Hippolytus (Focus Classical Library) In the Greek original, uptight, prudish Hippolytus' repression is personally punished by Aphrodite herself. Racine, however, changed it with his Christian/Jansenist sensibilities. The main focus is the guilt-ridden Phaedra, who longs for her stepson Hippolytus. Hippolytus, in turn, longs for the captive Aricia, who is forbidden from marrying. It's a complicated love triangle mixed with political intrigue and sexual repression. It's a god-haunted world where Theseus can call on Neptune to destroy his son, and Phaedra feels that she cannot escape her father, Minos, the judge in the underworld.

Poet laureate Ted Hughes, who himself experienced tremendous personal tragedy Sylvia, brings this French tragedy to poetic life. He brings the passion and power to life. It doesn't fit the French original verse-by-verse, but he still does it justice. Despite the formalities and conventions of French neo-classical tragedy, he gives it Greek fire.

"Phedre" is a true classic.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Nick D. on August 17, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The story itself, by Racine, is fabulous. However, very few adaptations in the English language have held a candle to the drama itself. However, Hughes really tapped into the beauty of the original words and provides a unique script that is a beautiful mix of classical and contemporary language that flows in a gorgeous way most playwrights could only dream of tapping into. It's a haunting, incredible play.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Eric K. Gale on January 8, 2005
Format: Paperback
It is not possible to read Ted Hughes' Phedre casually. I am currently rehearsing to perform the play and I find that if I ever try to just read it sitting down, I get cramps in my neck. The play is that intense. Like a flexed muscle, every moment of Phedre is taut with raw power. The play is extremely challenging to perform, but I think that any actor or audience member will find the catharsis enormous. Even those most wary of the "classics" will be sent reeling from Phedre.
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