Translation: E.F. Watling, 1966
Edition: Penguin, 1966
Review number: 285
Seneca's Phaedra is interesting to read soon after Racine's treatment of the same story (both, of course, looking back to Euripides' Hippolytus). Racine's play is immensely superior, with its concentration on Phaedra's psychology. Seneca's version misses out on this interest, which can be so immensely telling in the performance of a play. His reliance on description of melodramatic action is one of his most serious weaknesses as a playwright, and it lends considerable support to the idea that Seneca intended his plays to be read rather than acted.
In contrast to Racine's version, for instance, the final denouement (when Phaedra, rejected by her stepson, accuses him to his father Theseus of rape) is weak: Hippolytus is not present, and he and Theseus do not confront each other. All we have is a messenger coming in to inform Theseus that his son has been killed in an accident, prompting Phaedra to confess the truth and Theseus to forgive him posthumously.