A Rich Reward in Tears: Hippolytus and Phaedra in drama, dance, opera and film

Mckee, Tori Lynn (2017). A Rich Reward in Tears: Hippolytus and Phaedra in drama, dance, opera and film. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000be9c


This thesis is a study of thematic clusters in the performance reception of the Hippolytus and Phaedra tradition – the body of reception material based on Euripides’ Hippolytus, Seneca’s Phaedra, and/or Racine’s Phèdre. This is the first comprehensive study of these three major source texts as a collective whole, challenging not only the idea of a single original ‘source text’, but also the idea of a directly linear reception pattern. I visualise the reception of the Hippolytus and Phaedra tradition as a porous membrane, containing a number of different items, from texts to performances, interacting in a multi-dimensional, fluid way, manifesting itself in different forms depending on the political, social, historical or literary context in which this story has emerged since Racine himself reworked Euripides and Seneca in the late seventeenth century.

Each chapter has a particular thematic focus, within which I provide more detailed case study analyses from particular works across multiple genres. The Introduction provides close readings of the source texts and outlines my cross-genre theoretical framework. The second chapter focusses on the question of consanguinity and the impact of the incest motif on early adaptations. In the third chapter, I explore two 20th-century adaptations, both of which emerged during a decade dominated by Freud’s discoveries. In the fourth chapter, I focus on adaptations that explore and problematise Hippolytus’ sexuality. My fifth chapter focuses exclusively on the operatic and dance traditions, arguing that these genres lead to a prioritisation of the Phaedra character. The thesis concludes with a final chapter which traces the role of the divine within the reception tradition of Hippolytus and Phaedra examining in particular how recent adaptations move away from an earlier focus on psychology and human emotion to a new emphasis on the supernatural forces in the wider world.

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