University of Cambridge > > Cambridge Classical Reception Seminar Series  > Fragmentation and Unity: Psychoanalytical adaptations of the Hippolytus

Fragmentation and Unity: Psychoanalytical adaptations of the Hippolytus

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Benjamin Folit-Weinberg.

My research investigates thematic clusters in the reception of the Hippolytus and Phaedra myth, via the three major source texts: Euripides’ Hippolytus, Seneca’s Phaedra and Racine’s Phèdre. Integral to my study is the rejection of any idea of a single ‘source text’ exerting its influence on a single modern version. I instead argue that the three source texts together form a collective Hippolytus and Phaedra tradition and that this collective, rather than any original text in isolation, is what is received by the adaptations under discussion in my thesis. Each modern work under discussion in my thesis represents a newly re-imagined re-constructed version of the tradition as a whole, although this version may be influenced by prioritisation of one character over another, or by a particular thematic focus based on social factors (such as the consanguinity of the relationship between the protagonists) or developments in intellectual history (such as psychoanalytical theory).

This paper will discuss early 20th-century adaptations of the Hippolytus and Phaedra tradition, including Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms and H.D.’s Hippolytus Temporizes, which take a psychoanalytic approach and draw out the theme of the incestuous desires between stepmother and stepson. Although on the surface, Desire Under the Elms and Hippolytus Temporizes appear to have very little in common aside from the dates of their compositions, the similarities between the two texts, which both arose in a context heavily dominated by Freud’s discoveries, are striking. In both plays the connection between land/place/space and the feminine/maternal figure, as well as the father-son nexus or second half of the Oedipal complex, are dominant concerns in their re-workings of the source material. Both O’Neill and H.D. have configured the Hippolytus myth in a distinctly Oedipal framework: their Hippolytus figures see their lovers as quasi-maternal figures and also have a strongly antagonistic and competitive relationship with their fathers.

This talk is part of the Cambridge Classical Reception Seminar Series series.

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