Explore the themes of speech and silence in Hippolytus:
Euripides adopts the themes of speech and silence within Hippolytus in order to enable plot progression, to create dramatic effect and to develop his characterisation of key individuals such as Aphrodite, Phaedra, the Nurse, Theseus and Hippolytus himself. Through exploration of the themes in relation to the characters and chronologically it is clear that the sporadic pattern of speech and silence creates suspense and induces a far more intrinsic and natural response among the audience. Firstly, in the outset of the play, Aphrodite’s speech is necessary for both plot development and characterisation. Her contempt towards Hippolytus and her dark intentions are at first revealed to the audience, as she proclaims that ‘death’s gates are wide open’ for Hippolytus who she will punish ‘this very day’. Moreover, one could also comment on Aphrodite’s opening statement, "I am named in earth and heaven the Cyprian, Aphrodite." Aphrodite identifies herself as one who 'is named' a god instead of simply 'being' a god. The goddess is presented, in this opening scene, as being greatly aware of her own importance and reliant upon speech in order to command her authority. In contrast, the theme of silence also plays a subtle role in this opening scene of Hippolytus. A sense of stillness is created by the silence just before the opening of the play before the speech of Aphrodite which reflects the presence of the statues of both Aphrodite and Artemis on opposing sides of the stage. Aphrodite’s speech cuts through this silence, and sets of the rivalry and tragedy that will ensue. The momentary silence that would have occurred on stage prior to this and Artemis’ silence initially on stage also both emphasise Aphrodite’s severe and outspoken nature. The theme of Speech is also effective in drawing the audience’s attention to minor yet insightful characters. Hippolytus’ servant, a seemingly less important character, is brought to the audience’s attention through his dialogue with his master (Hippolytus) in which he offers advice which, if Hippolytus had abided by, could possibly have prevented his downfall. The modest and knowledgeable words of the servant contrasts to the arrogant words of Hippolytus. For example, while Hippolytus expresses that he has ‘no liking for a god worshipped at night’, the obedient servant advises his master to ‘Abhor pride, and avoid exclusiveness’. The grammatical contrasts within the dialogue reflect the differing nature of the characters. The servant uses imperatives to reflect his obedience while Hippolytus adopts more casual phrasing in order to reflect the lack of respect he has for Aphrodite as ‘she means nothing’ to him. Furthermore, it could also be argued that the servant’s speech here is effective as he could never physically force Hippolytus through punishment, to worship Aphrodite as he was socially below him. In this way, a verbal warning is the only persuasive technique available to the servant. In this way, one could argue that speech is more essential for certain characters than others. Through the nature and mood of the speech, the intricacies of a personal dialogue or prayer are brought to life, to the effect that certain assumptions can be drawn. For example, in the opening of the play, the servant's prayer to Aphrodite to forgive Hippolytus for his foolish notions implies that Hippolytus’ actions up to this point have already been detrimental and that Aphrodite has already begun to carry out her plot. Hence, the servant’s appeal to the goddess on the grounds that ‘gods must be wiser than men’, foreshadows the havoc that both the servant and reader know will ensue. In this sense, it is clear that the theme of speech is central within the early stages of the play in order to develop the plot and create an air of tension, which the silence will later retain and enhance. Moreover, the role of the chorus depends upon the theme of...
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