After the nurse disappears into the palace, the chorus sings an ode that elaborates on the enormous powers of desire and Aphrodite. The Greeks, the chorus sings, pile up huge sacrifices of cattle in shrines in order to appease the gods – but they do not give offerings to Eros, desire, even though he is “man’s premier tyrant” who can invade anybody’s soul. They give examples from Greek mythology of the power of love, telling about virginal young women who still could not escape marriage and love.
The choruses of Greek tragedies often fill moments of intermission or offstage action with their own singing. As they sing, the nurse speaks with Hippolytus inside. The chorus’ words confirm what the play has already represented: that desire, or Eros, is all-powerful. As a group of young women, the chorus singers themselves know the truth of their song and their own “fates” to end up in love and marriage.
Phaidra, leaning against the palace doors, groans about what she hears inside. The Koryphaios gets her at last to describe what she’s hearing: it’s Hippolytus “in a 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.
Hippolytus’ huge, righteous, arrogant anger here fits his character. His commitment to chastity has already gone so far as to be an arrogant affront to Aphrodite, and the idea that he would have an affair with his stepmother fills him with disgust. On the one hand Hippolytus’s refuse to have an affair with Phaidra is morally correct; on the other hand the rage and denunciation in his refusal, the degree to which he does not care about respecting his stepmother is morally wrong.
Hippolytus enters still raging, and the nurse follows, urging him to be quiet. Worried that Hippolytus will spread the secret even further, she reminds him of the oath of silence that he swore before hearing of Phaidra’s desire. In response, Hippolytus launches into a huge rant outlining his hatred for women. He characterizes them as a constant ruin to their family, always motivated by their sexuality and looking for adultery. In the end, he admits that his oath prevents him from telling Theseus.
The nurse has strategically made sure that Hippolytus, however angry, will not spread the truth about Phaidra. Here the oath prevents him from telling Theseus the truth, which is the nurse’s design (but will also lead to Hippolytus’s death). But the oath does not stop him from venting his hatred for women in general, and we watch as his commitment to chastity goes to such extremes as to becomes a version of misogyny.
Phaidra, though standing or lying elsewhere onstage, has heard Hippolytus’ rant and admits defeat. Hippolytus’ comments about the hideousness of the female sex seem to have convinced her of the impossibility of 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 nurse protests by pointing out that if Hippolytus had received her words differently, Phaidra would be thanking her. Nevertheless, Phaidra dismisses the nurse, saying that she will look after her own affairs.
Hippolytus’s extreme rage seems to utterly convince Phaidra of two things: the immorality of her desire and the inevitable destruction of her own reputation. The nurse pragmatically argues that Phaidra’s opinion of the nurse’s tactics depends entirely on the outcome, but it is not clear in fact that Phaidra would have ceased to feel shame or fear for her reputation even if Hippolytus was game for the affair. As it is, Phaidra blames all possible sources: the entire race of women is corrupt, the nurse has betrayed her, and she herself has failed.
When the nurse exits, Phaidra makes the chorus swear an oath, like the one that binds Hippolytus, not to reveal what they have seen unfold. The Koryphaios, speaking for the rest of the Troizenian women, swears by Artemis. That done, Phaidra hints at her next moves. She will die – that much is clear – but when she does so, another unnamed victim will perish as well, who will as a result feel the consequences of his arrogant chastity. With this riddle, Phaidra exits.
This oath of silence, like the one that binds Hippolytus, keeps the plot alive. The characters that know the truth, and would be able to prevent Phaidra from successfully framing Hippolytus for rape, have sworn oaths to keep silent. In prioritizing preserving reputation above truth through the swearing of oaths, the nurse and Phaidra ensure others will suffer for their own crimes—Phaidra totally obvious riddle as she exits makes it clear, also, that she wants revenge on Hippolytus not for rejecting her but for arrogantly doing so.