Phaedra a tragedy of passion

Seneca’s Phaedra a tragedy of passion.

Discuss Seneca’s Phaedra is full of moral discourse.
Seneca’s Phaedra a tragedy of passion.

Phaedra a tragedy of passionAnswer:  Phaedra is one of the remarkable tragedies of Seneca, an eminent writer of the Roman tragedies. It is very often called a tragedy of passions. Theseus; the king, leaves for the underworld to help his friend and lives there for four years without sending any message to the queen, Phaedra who feels sad and morose for her husband’s long absence. She has been suffering from a feeling of desolation. Her attention is diverted to the beautiful face of her stepson, Hippolytus. It is a story of the queen’s excessive passion. It is the incestuous passion of a young woman which brings about the calamity for both of them. The play is full of moral discourse which is an important feature of the drama. The Nurse is a close associate of Phaedra who initiates the moral discourses.

Phaedra speaks of her predicament that she has been undergoing a strange passion for fields and woods. She cannot forget her mother’s passion for a lecherous bull. Her sexual relationship withthe bull leads to the birth of Minotaur, a half- human half-bull beast. The source of her mother’s unnatural passion is Venus, a goddess who was humiliated at the hands of the Sun, father of her mother. She openly confesses that the daughters of Minos are inclined to sinful love. At this point the Nurse intervenes and starts her moral discourse to take Phaedra back to the path of honest love. The Nurse tells her to cleanse her pure heart of such vile thoughts. She advises her to stop such illicit love for her stepson. Such unnatural love should be routed at the first assault. If it is allowed to grow it will pave the path of her destruction.


The Nurse is beside Phaedra to guide her properly and give her good advice to follow. She shows her the honest path to tread upon and keep away from evil thoughts. The Nurse makes her aware of two basic moral principles of life to Phaedra.

“To choose the good is the first rule of life.
And not to falter on the way; next best
Is to have shame and know where sin must stop”.

She also points out how wilful sin is worse than illicit passion. The Nurse gives her views from the moral standpoint. She suggests the consequences of such a sin. It is a sin and it must be avoided at any cost. It is immoral to commit such a sin and the queen will have to face the consequences. Whether her husband is present or absent a sin is always a sin and it must be averted by any means. It will bear not a good fruit. She emphasizes that sin always keeps the conscience very much perturbed. Phaedra admits that it is unreason that drives her into evil. She also says that Cupid, god of love, rules earth and heaven and commands her heart. In a tone of rebuke the Nurse reminds her that her unrestrained lust has taken hold of her heart. It is the vain fancy of her crazy mind. Lust results from craving for new desires. They spring from discontentment and self-indulgence and sickness of heart. She also tells Phaedra to wait till Theseus returns. The moral standpoint of the Nurse cannot move her mind. Phaedra reacts that she will commit suicide for her transgression. Phaedra’s mind becomes heavy with immoderate love. The Nurse finds no way out and decides to assist her in the queen’s pursuit of incestuous love.

All the efforts of the Nurse to prevent the queen from getting involved in an impious love with her stepson go in vain. Words of wisdom and moral principles cannot change the mind of Phaedra. She i takes revenge on him by devising a plan which takes life of innocent Hippolytus. She also commits suicide. All the moral discourses go in vain and illicit passion becomes the cause of death of Phaedra and her stepson. This excessive passion is the root of all evils.