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The role of the Nurse in Seneca's play "Phaedra"

The Nurse is an important and interesting character in the tragedy "Phaedra" written by Seneca. She plays a two-fold role in the play. On the one hand, she is an admirable foil to her mistress Phaedra. On the other hand, she is a confidant whose role is to console or abuse Phaedra at the time of her anxiety. In fact, her advices save her mistress from many difficult situations.
the role of the nurse in seneca

Seneca introduces this character in the very first Act of his play. When Phaedra expresses her dissatisfaction at the long absence of her husband and her secret love for her step-son Hippolytus, the Nurse tries to give her good advice. She tells her mistress to put out the fire of passion and give no support to evil hopes. She proves her to be a moralist when she says to Phaedra-

"To choose the good is the first rule of life And not to falter on the way, next bestIs to have shame and know where sin must stop."

Phaedra replies that what the Nurse says is true but Cupid is in control of her heart. He is the unconquerable winged god who rules all earth. Then the Nurse proves that she is a woman with modern sensibility. She comments: 

.....vain fancies Conceived by crazy minds, they are all false! Venus' divinity and Cupid's arrows."
The Nurse warns Phaedra of the disastrous consequence of the kind of love that she is nourishing. She discourages Phaedra so that she may drive out her passion for Hippolytus. According to the Nurse, Hippolytus is a hater of the whole fair sex:

 "He hates the whole sex, he avoides them all, He has no heart, he dedicates his youth To single life; marriage is not for him Which proves him a True Amazonian.
However, Phaedra opines that she cannot conquer her passion. she adds that only- 

By death I shall avert transgression.
She also declares her resolve that she will commit suicide. As the Nurse has a deep affection for Phaedra she requests her not to take any rash step. She also tells Phaedra that she will speak to Hippolytus and "bend the stiffness of his stubborn will.

In Act II we find the Nurse talking to the Chorus. As advised by the Chorus, she prays to Hecate to bend the hard heart of Hippolytus and also to let him feel the flame of love. Suddenly, she finds Hippolytus coming that way. When Hippolytus asks her about Phaedra and her two sons, she delivers a long speech. She tries to persuade him to develop relationship with Phaedra but cannot succeed. Hippolytus declares in a straightforward manner that

 There is no woman now whom I must love.
It is at this time that Phaedra rushes towards him but falls on the ground. When Hippolytus lifts her up from the ground the Nurse asks Phaedra to notice that Hippolytus is with her and that arm she is in his. Phaedra uses this opportunity and goes to embrace Hippolytus. She requests him to have pity on her love. At this he becomes terribly angry and leaves the place by saying that she will obtain no boon from him. Then we mark that the Nurse has much ready wit we are started at the agility of her brain. As a well-wisher of Phaedra, she wishes to launch a counter attack against Hippolytus. In a loud voice she begins to seek the help of the Athenians because

"Rape is afoot, a ravisher, Hippolytus Attacking, assaulting us, threatening death Menacing a chaste woman with drawn sword.
She tells everyone that he has just fled leaving his sword behind. She adds that Phaedra's hair still remains in a torn and disordered state as a proof of his crime. After Theseus return from the "dark universe, it is the Nurse who has told the king that Phaedra is firm in her decision to die. When Theseus wants to know the cause for which she wishes to die, the Nurse cleverly replies She will tell no one. This is her last speech in the play. Though the Nurse does everything to save her dear mistress from shame and guilt, she fails in the long run. As after Hippolytus' death she loses all interest in living she decides to disclose the truth to Theseus. Thus the Nurse's plan ultimately brings about two deaths. First of Hippolytus who killed by Neptune (Poseidon) because Theseus requested him to do so and next of Phaedra who kills herself in despair. We may say that though the Nurse is a minor character of the play, her role is not insignificant. She is worldly wise. She has a habit to pronounce high moral principle without an all out effort to stick to them. However, her love for Phaedra, her mistress is genuine."


Unknown said...

It's really so good,,it helps me so much

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