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Home » , » To what purpose does Seneca use the rhetorical speeches of the characters in "Phaedra"?
To a reader of Seneca's Phaedra', the first impression that it leaves on his mind is that it is an appealing tragedy. An audience will also have the same impression if he is fortunate enough to see it enacted on the stage. Though the play contains many characteristies of the classical Greek tragedy, it also contains matters which are exclusively Senecan in nature.A Senecan  tragedy (süch as "Phaedra) is difterent from a classical Greek tragedy in some of the points mentioned below:(i ) it employs the Chorus not so much for action as for comment, information or lyrical effect; (2) it employs a highly rhetorical style as well as stoic philosophy; and (3) in it the presentation of action through long speeches is meant not so much for the purpose of actual dialogue as for narration and reporting.Seneca was not a dramatist who found pleasure in setting exciting action upon action. He would rather cheerfully suspend the action for the recital monologues. These monologues might be not very appropriate to the time and situation but relevant to the character of the speaker or his mood at that moment in the drama. In the application of this technique he made use of a dramatic speech that is quite narrow in range-either monologue or stichomythia. In the monologue, the speaker expresses his thoughts with great freedom with or without regard to the presence of any other person on the stage. It is to be noted that these types of speech recur persistently in the tragedies of Seneca. For example, the speech on 'simple life' of "Phaedra" gets repeated in his "Thyestes" and Octavia". Similarly the speeches of the messengers who usually report the final disaster fall into a stereotyped pattern. The interesting thing about such a speech, when isolated as a narrative, is that it can easily be detached from the main action of a play. The same happens in Seneca's "Phaedra" Seneca has used several set speeches in his dramas. Their content is very universal and treatment is very simple. They are marked by elaborate preparation, careful planning, impressive style and effective result. In Act I we have the set speech of Phaedra who is frustrated because of her husband's long absence. Describing herself as "wife to an alien lord" she regrets for her present wretched  condition. In a tone of anger and accusation, she calls her husband as one who has neither fear nor shame. She begins to suspect her husband and straightforwardly utters "Lust and lawless marriage in hell Hippolytus' father seeks."In the same Act, the Nurse has recourse to a set speech through it he advises Phaedra to get rid of Cupid at the first assault otherwise he will have to wear his yoke round her neck all the time. The Nurse realizes that Phaedra is not free from royal pride and does not pay  Heed to her advice. So she says that royal pride is stubborn and deaf to truth. What is more woeful is that it abhors correction.In another long speech, the Nurse warns Phaedra that every sin will come to light. She also asserts that though some have sinned with safety, their conscience have been evidently perturbed for that. Then in another set speech, she delineates the growth of lust and the rhetorical speeches of the characters in phaedra.
the rhetorical speeches of the characters in phaedra

According to the Nurse, when one is under the grip of lust, ordinary care no longer satisfies. Lust flourishes the most in palatial houses. In the same Act the Chorus in a set speech speaks about the powers of love. Act II is filled with set speeches. The Nurse makes use of two set speeches. In the first one she explains how conscience and royal order are at variance with one another. The second speech is comparatively long. Here she lays emphasis on the best use of youth. She tells Hippolytus that life should be enjoyed as it passes quickly. Youth is the best period of human life. So, instead of draining away the best days of his life, he should give up single life at once and enjoy the pleasures of conjugal life. Through  the mouth  of Hippolytus two set speeches come out in quick succession. The first speech is made in praise of open air rustic life which is "far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife. The second speech is about the legend of the ages of man. Then Phaedra makes use of a set speech. In it she tries to indicate her unprincipled action. She also points out that if she sticks to her purpose (to win Hippolytus' heart), she may conceal her sin in marriage. It proves that success may justify some evil actions. From this speech we get a hint that Seneca is not against the policy that the end justifies the means. Very soon, the audience can hear another set speech from the mouth of Hippolytus. It is about the way of cleansing sin. Hippolytus hates Phaedra so much that he cannot endure her 'wanton hands' touching his chaste body'.He asks himself "Will Tanais wash me clean, will the wild waves/Of far Meotis, feeding the Pontic sea" He suppresses his conviction He suppresses his conviction that even Neptune (the god of seas) cannot drown this great load of sin.  At the end of Act II, the Chorus has recourse to a set speech. Through this speech, the Chorus exhibits a balanced view on beauty. Initially, it speaks the magic spell of beauty which can even draw the moon from the sky. Then it shows the ephemeral nature of beauty.It reminds the audience that the cost of beauty is quite great. Very few men can keep beauty without paying a heavy price for it. It is onlydivine  favour that one can keep it till death when all beauty must be lost. The Chorus makes use of another set speech in Act lll. There it makes a wonderful study of the region of nature where care, discipline and order prevail and also of the region of man where virtue languishes and vice thrives. It also presents an excellent picture of reality that makes man a mere plaything at the hand of fact.In the last Act Phaedra uses a set speech intended for self punishment. She feels that she is responsible for Hippolytus death. So she cries .

Let all the blue sea's monsters,All that were ever brought to birth afarIn the deep lap of tethys all that Ocean Bears in the farthest tides of his wild waters Come againust me 

Thesus expresses a similar grief in another set speech. He speaks in such a way as he thinks that the highest punishment can alone match the type of crime he has committed.So, we find that in "Phaedra we get more of set speeches than  dialogues. These speeches show the playwright's neat planning and impressive style. Their content is so universal that they might without much effort be transposable  from one play to another.

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