Hippolytus

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Nurse Character Analysis

The nurse has the difficult job of looking after Phaidra after she has gone sick with desire. She is both deeply sympathetic with Phaidra’s suffering, but also willing and pragmatic enough to follow her own designs to try to fix things. As a result, when she learns of Phaidra’s illicit desire, she feels so shocked that she decides to take matters into her own hands and acts against Phaidra’s wishes, with disastrous results.

Nurse Quotes in Hippolytus

The Hippolytus quotes below are all either spoken by Nurse or refer to Nurse. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Oxford University Press edition of Hippolytus published in 1992.
Lines 426-816 Quotes

[Love] brings you sweetness and pain, almost
Beyond our human power to feel.

Related Characters: Nurse (speaker)
Page Number: 535-536
Explanation and Analysis:

Having returned after her initial shock, the nurse claims she overreacted when she heard about Phaidra's love for Hippolytus and offers consolation.

Here, the nurse seems to be trying to get Phaidra to realize the uncontrollable nature of love, that--in its purest form--is something beyond the limits of mortal thought and feeling. Of course, we know that a divine force--Aphrodite--has specifically intervened and engineered Phaidra's passion for Hippolytus, but the nurse here seems to be referencing the event of human love when it is not burdened by a god's machinations. While the nurse seems to think that Phaidra should abandon her sense of having a perfectly controlling grip on her emotions, and not feel guilty for having them, Phaidra seems totally unwilling to do this. She clings to the possibility of being morally perfect and the sense of necessarily having to erase her faults.

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Your passion is what the god
Has chosen you to become. Accept it.
And though you suffer, be gallant about it.

Related Characters: Nurse (speaker), Phaidra
Page Number: 735-737
Explanation and Analysis:

Taking back her initial, harsh condemnation of Phaidra's love for Hippolytus, the nurse offers Phaidra this consolation.

Once again, the nurse tries to assure Phaidra that her passion for Hippolytus is out of her control and that, because of this, she should not feel morally responsible. The nurse wants Phaidra to accept Aphrodite's choice to force her to love Hippolytus--for if Phaidra cannot accept this, then she will continue to feel agony and will likely commit suicide or wither away. The nurse thinks that Phaidra should not be so concerned with thoughts of social reputation and honor, but should rather accept her fallibility as a mortal with a lack of control over her passions.

Aphrodite,
Sea goddess, share this adventure with me,
Though I have my own tactics
And these, once set in motion,
Once I share them inside with a certain young friend,
Will carry our affair to its climax.

Related Characters: Nurse (speaker), Hippolytus, Aphrodite
Page Number: 811-816
Explanation and Analysis:
Having devised a plan to make Phaidra feel better, the nurse invokes Aphrodite to support her endeavors. The nurse has given up on the possibility of getting Phaidra to see things her way, and so decides to follow her strategy herself . Yet, she invokes for help the very goddess responsible for Phaidra's downfall--perhaps out of total disregard for Phaidra's understanding of the situation, or out of faith that Aphrodite has good intentions in causing Phaidra to fall in love with Hippolytus. Either way, the nurse's plan proves catastrophic; not buying into Phaidra's sense of total responsibility for her sinful desire, the nurse accepts the involuntary nature of Phiadra's longing and thinks that satisfying it is the best way to end her despair.
Lines 817-1119 Quotes

You couldn’t keep your mouth shut.
Because of you, after I die
My name will stink of depravity.

Related Characters: Phaidra (speaker), Nurse
Page Number: 1045-1047
Explanation and Analysis:
Phaidra speaks these lines (to her nurse) after learning that the nurse told Hippolytus about Phaidra's desire for him. Now Phaidra's darkest secret is out--and in the hands of the very person it was intended to be kept from. Her reputation and honor are now in greater danger than ever--even committing suicide may no longer suffice to spare her social status from being tarnished. Phaidra's name will forever "stink of depravity" after her death, written into the social history of Troizen and Athens. To prevent this, she must now concoct a new plan--if not to save her own honor, at least to save that of her sons.
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Nurse Character Timeline in Hippolytus

The timeline below shows where the character Nurse appears in Hippolytus. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Lines 1-425
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
Cities and Place Theme Icon
The nurse enters, supporting Phaidra, along with servants from the palace. After lamenting that she does not... (full context)
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
Cities and Place Theme Icon
...of her desire, she expresses her shame and humiliation. As a result, she asks the nurse to cover her face. While Phaidra hides, the Koryphaios – the name given to the... (full context)
Lines 426-816
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
Family Relationships Theme Icon
The nurse attempts to find out what is afflicting Phaidra, but with no success. On the verge... (full context)
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
Family Relationships Theme Icon
The detective game continues, as the nurse makes guesses and Phaidra reluctantly leads her down the right track. It isn’t that Phaidra... (full context)
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
Family Relationships Theme Icon
Phaidra begs the nurse to stop pursuing the truth, because she fears that the nurse will succeed and the... (full context)
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
Gods and Fate Theme Icon
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
Family Relationships Theme Icon
This is the common fate of the women in her family, says Phaidra, and the nurse slowly catches on. It is the nurse who finally guesses the name of Phaidra’s beloved,... (full context)
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
Gods and Fate Theme Icon
The nurse, recovered from her initial shock, changes her approach. She tries to explain that sexual desire... (full context)
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
Gods and Fate Theme Icon
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
Phaidra resists such “seductive words” that threaten to destroy her honor. The nurse continues to push: without saying it explicitly, she implies that Phaidra should follow her desire,... (full context)
Lines 817-1119
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
Gods and Fate Theme Icon
After the nurse disappears into the palace, the chorus sings an ode that elaborates on the enormous powers... (full context)
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
...huge fury”, shouting vicious slurs against some woman. The Koryphaios helps Phaidra realize that the nurse has told Hippolytus her secret, who in turn ferociously denounces her. Phaidra resolves to die. (full context)
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
Hippolytus enters still raging, and the nurse follows, urging him to be quiet. Worried that Hippolytus will spread the secret even further,... (full context)
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
...the situation and of her shame. Then, gathering up more anger, she turns on the nurse, blaming her for the inevitable spreading of rumor and disgrace to her own name. The... (full context)
Desire, Sexuality, and Chastity Theme Icon
Gods and Fate Theme Icon
Truth, Falsehood, and Reputation Theme Icon
When the nurse exits, Phaidra makes the chorus swear an oath, like the one that binds Hippolytus, not... (full context)
Lines 1120-1368
Gods and Fate Theme Icon
When the chorus finishes singing their ode, the nurse calls out for help from within the palace. She wants a knife, to free Phaidra’s... (full context)