Academic journal article Romance Notes

Myth Making and Un-Making in Euripides's Hippolytus, Racine's Phaedre, and Villaurrutia's la Hiedra

Academic journal article Romance Notes

Myth Making and Un-Making in Euripides's Hippolytus, Racine's Phaedre, and Villaurrutia's la Hiedra

Article excerpt

THE tragic drama of Euripides has been known for many centuries. The story of Hippolytus, the young man whose fate was to die in great pain due to the cruelty of Aphrodite, has attracted uncountable readers and viewers to the play. Similarly, Racine's Phaedre has had great impact on the audience. It was written in strict observance of all rules of composition. Xavier Villaurrutia's La hiedra [The Ivy] (1941) dialogues with Hippolytus and most remarkably with Phaedra. These three plays are metatheatrical in themselves, for the version of Hippolytus as is known now is already a second version of the first story written by Euripides. The myth created by Euripides is remade by Racine and Villaurrutia, authors who added not only details but a whole new dimension to the original story. The three plays deal with the concept of tragedy in different ways. This article discusses three variations of the concept of tragedy in Euripides's Hippolytus, Racine's Phaedre, and Villaurrutia's La hiedra. It also analyzes the role of the house in the three plays and the ways through which it reflects the tragedies in the stories.

Aristotle's concept of tragedy clarifies why all the three plays in question are tragedies, in spite of different outcomes. Aristotle claims, in "Poetics," that for a plot to be considered tragic it must include: a) a mimesis not of people but of their actions and life; b) action; c) an ordered series of particular actions; d) a recognition scene and e) perfection in verbal expression (59). All these elements are found in the three plays; death is not a necessary action, so the fact that neither Hipolito nor Teresa die in La hiedra is not an obstacle for the play to be read as a tragedy. The concept of modern tragedy conveys any literary work that moves from a happy situation to an unhappy one, in the process expanding into a rueful commentary upon human life (Kennedy 143).

La hiedra is about the love between Teresa (the ivy) and Hipolito. Teresa is Hipolito's stepmother, a widow who has not seen Hipolito for many years, since his father asked him to leave the house (possibly foreseeing the tragic and semi-incestuous love between his son and his wife). (1) Neither Teresa nor Hipolito die at the end of La hiedra, and it has been said that there is a certain impossibility of tragedy in the modern world. However, there still is tragedy in the concept that the past haunts the present. Teresa has trouble in accepting her love for Hipolito and leaving the house that had been his father's; it is as if she were forever attached to it. Also, there is Alicia, a young woman who loves Hipolito and is pregnant with his child, a child whom she had planned with the help of her mother, Julia, a vicious woman. The unborn child was considered only Alicia's, for Hipolito, who leaves Alicia pregnant, denied her. It is important to notice also that the relationship between Hipolito and Alicia is in itself incestuous, for they are cousins.

Teresa is described as follows:

Teresa tiene unos treinta y cinco anos. Es alta y fuerte. Se diria que bajo su piel de un color vegetal circula savia en vez de sangre. El aire y la luz la turban y la hacen sentir mas profundamente. Se diria tambien que de todos los objetos que toca, que de todos los seres que abraza, extrae, insensiblemente, algo que la enriquece. Y se adivina que la oscuridad y la soledad completas, la empobrecerian definitivamente. (18-19)

Teresa is a strong woman who is trapped in the darkness of her husband's house. She cannot get rid of the house and leave it, and this ruins her. Her love for Hipolito is in the end transformed into coldness. (2)

Octavio Paz refers to La hiedra in Xavier Villaurrutia en persona:

(Fedra) esta mejor construida y tiene algunos dialogos lucidos, impecables. El caracter mas vivo es el de Ernesto, cunado de Teresa (la Hiedra) y tio de Hipolito: apasionado, esceptico, amargo, generoso. [? …

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