Hippolytus' Tragic Awakening
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Euripides' Hippolytus is at once one of the playwrights most famous, most complicated, and most controversial plays, from the standpoint of both an ancient and modern audience. Of the three plays written in antiquity on the legend of Hippolytus, two by Euripides and one by Sophocles, all three kept the basic mythological framework intact, familiarizing the audience with the setting. The complications of interpretation of the play arise where Euripides does not layout his intentions clearly in black and white. The roles of Aphrodite and Demeter are confusing and contradictory. The two goddesses serve religious as well as psychological purposes, and Euripides leaves it to the reader to determine how these characters influence the drama. At the same time, the other characters in the play have roles that are not easily identified. Each of the characters, the goddesses included, must be viewed both in a traditional mythological light as well as in the setting of a human psychologically motivated drama. In this way Euripides' play operates on multiple levels, generating confusion and allowing for multiple viewpoints. It is only through close analysis that the true nature of the characters can be revealed. This specifically involves identifying the character that Euripides intended his audience to identify with. Each of the characters must be analyzed thoroughly on each of Euripides levels, weighing the sympathetic characteristics and tragic personality against character flaws and traits that are intended to separate the character from the audience. Most scholars find that they either find sympathy for Hippolytus or Phaedra. As two characters that are closely related and deeply involved in the tragedy most of the scrutiny falls on them. Taking into consideration the roles of these two characters, the effect they generated outside of the tragedy, the focus of the audience, and the ways the characters develop throughout the tragedy, it becomes clear that Hippolytus is the central figure. There are many objections to this position, however. For the reason it is equally important to analyze the flaws of this character as it is to see his positive characteristics in comparison with the other characters. This close analysis of the drama reveals Euripides' implicit meanings, and in so doing, reveals the intended interpretation of the play. Even this is difficult due to the difference in the modern and ancient cultures. It is important to discern the poet's intentions for his own audience, although it is impossible to completely disregard the viewpoints of the current audience. Analyzing the central aspects of the play -the nature of the characters -reveals that Euripides intended his audience to view Hippolytus in a sympathetic and tragically heroic role. Ironically, a complex analysis reduces the complexity of the play. This paper aims to dissect the Hippolytus to reduce the sources of confusion and discover a thorough interpretation: that interpretation being that Euripides wrote his drama in a way that the audience identifies and sympathizes with Hippolytus.