This study will explore the themes ofillegitimacy/legitimacy and incest in three plays, Euripides's Hippolytus, Shakespeare's King Lear, and John Ford's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore. The study will focus on Hippolytus and the several illegitimate children in that play, followed by comparisons of that play with the latter two. The argument of the study will be that the issues of illegitimacy and incest have more to do with love rather than sex, or even with morality, and, therefore, investigation of those issues will focus on the roles which illegitimacy and incest play in the expression of love and in the obstacles to love.
Hippolytus is the illegitimate son of Theseus, but an obsessively virtuous man who incurs the wrath of Aphrodite because of his rejection of her and his alliance with Artemis, a "Maiden" who cavorts platonically with Hippolytus. In the Prologue, Aphrodite admits arranging the initial attraction of Phaedra, Hippolytus's stepmother, for Hippolytus: "That was my work" (Euripides 164), says Aphrodite. From that point forth, the love, or lust, of Phaedra for Hippolytus will be a plague haunting Hippolytus.
Immediately, then, one sees that the role of the gods is paramount in the incest theme of Hippolytus. If Phaedra is manipulated by Aphrodite, or even the puppet of the goddess, then her feelings of incestuous longing for her stepson are less a matter of morality then of tragedy. Aphrodite herself is manipulated by her own emotions of love for Hippolytus and/or jealous anger at Artemis. In response, Aphrodite tempts Phaedra with longing for her stepson, and the stage is set for tragedy. Still, the issue is not theoretical ethics, but love--involving primarily the goddesses, the stepmother and stepson, and the son and his father. After all, if as Theseus suspects, his son has had sexual relations with his wife, the love between father and son has been irreparably shattered.
As Aphrodite describes Phaedra's situa...