A lean, high-tension version of a classic tragedy.
The myth of Phaedra is one of the most powerful in all of classical mythology. As dramatized by the French playwright Jean Racine (1639-99), the dying Queen's obsessive love for her stepson, Hippolytus, and the scrupulously upright Hippolytus' love for the forbidden beauty Aricia has come to be known as one of the great stories of tragic infatuation, a tale of love strong enough to bring down a kingdom.
In this "tough, unrhyming avalanche of a translation" (Paul Taylor, The Independent), Hughes replaces Racine's alexandrines with an English verse that serves eloquently to convey the passions of his protagonists. The translation was performed to acclaim in London in 1998, and the London production, starring Diana Rigg, was staged in 1999 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
"We are still catching up with Ted Hughes's gift for narrative verse after his Tales from Ovid," one English critic observed after the London premiere. "Little needs to happen on stage when there's a swirling action-packed disaster movie-riddled with sex and violence-in Hughes's free verse."
“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