Explore the themes of speech and silence in Hippolytus:
Euripides adopts the themes of speech and silence within Hippolytus in order to enable plot progression, to create dramatic effect and to develop his characterisation of key individuals such as Aphrodite, Phaedra, the Nurse, Theseus and Hippolytus himself. Through exploration of the themes in relation to the characters and chronologically it is clear that the sporadic pattern of speech and silence creates suspense and induces a far more intrinsic and natural response among the audience.
Firstly, in the outset of the play, Aphrodite’s speech is necessary for both plot development and characterisation. Her contempt towards Hippolytus and her dark intentions are at first revealed to
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The chorus, who provide a commentary throughout the play, are the first to outline Phaedra’s physical and mental state. They describe the queen as ‘wasting away physically’; ‘κατεζανται δεμας’ (a perfect passive verb, alongside the emphatically placed ‘δεμας’) is a striking phrase and presents a vivid image of her body being physically worn away due to starvation. Within the English section 669-1037 the chorus also explicitly explain how Phaedra’s tale was initially promising when she got married yet she ended up being destroyed by Aphrodite who shattered her heart- a clear depiction of Phaedra as the victim of the goddess which and perhaps offers some insight into her desperate psychological state as we acknowledge that she has not always been in such despair. However, the theme of speech is also effective, in relation to the chorus, as they deliberate questions on behalf of the audience. For example, the chorus question whether Phaedra is starving herself ‘because of delusion or is she trying to die?’ which debates whether the mistress has been consumed by a sense of blindness or irrational folly (ἀτης), caused by divine intervention or whether she is simply attempting to kill herself. The chorus, further rely upon speech to act as an intermediary source between the audience and the characters within the play. For example,