The myth of Phaedra, or Phèdre, is one of the most powerful in all of classical mythology. As interpreted by the French playwright Racine, the dying queen's obsessive love for her stepson, Hippolytus, has come to be known as one of the great dramas of tragic infatuation, a tale of love strong enough to bring down a kingdom.
For this "tough, unrhyming avalanche of translation" (Paul Taylor, The Independent), Hughes replaced Racine's alexandrines with a lean, high-tension English verse that serves eloquently to convey the passions of his protagonists. This translation has won acclaim in a stage version with Diana Rigg as Phèdre.
"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 (London)
"Hughes's new version is a translation in the truest sense: it moves this tremendous text into the vital context of a different culture. The writing is hard, often quite brutal—but there is an undercurrent of unmistakable brutality in much of Racine. Where he is lyrically elusive, Hughes is physical. Where he is elemental, Hughes is precise and craggy. [Hughes's Phèdre is] agony made visible."—John Peter, The Sunday Times (London)
"From the opening scene, the play, newly translated from French alexandrines into vivid, muscular free verse . . . continually explodes with emotion. There is no sense of artful restraint here. The drama is presented as a maelstrom of desire and guilt which only subsides in the last act when all passion—and most of the characters' lives—have been spent."—Charles Spencer, The Telegraph (London)
"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
"[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