The Nurse is an important character in Seneca’s Phaedra. Some cities have called her an admirable foil to Phaedra. The Nurse stands by her, helps Phaedra in her difficulty and gives wise advice and makes her aware of the consequences of her love for her stepson, Hippolytus. Phaedra is rationally aware that her love is impious, but her emotions force her to seek its fulfillment or else to choose death. The Nurse is shocked by Phaedra’s reaction and immediately tries to deflect her from her impulse to commit suicide. When Phaedra shows her determination to die, the Nurse desperately incites her to forget about her reputation, and she charges herself with the duty to try to convince Hippolytus to answer Phaedra’s feelings. In Seneca’s play, the Nurse plays a conspicuously more active role n her relationship with Phaedra and that is why, the nurse has been called an admirable foil. She causes Phaedra. In her emotionally unstable condition, to behave in a way that will prove to be fatal for both herself and Hippolytus, it is she who inspires Phaedra to reveal her feelings to Hippolytus. When he predictably responds in a negative way, it is she who devises the plot to pass the buck to Hippolytus. She shares Phaedra’s responsibility for his death. The Nurse, generally, is an elderly woman acting as a governess or compassion in charge of a young woman of an aristocratic family. She is in charge of Phaedra, her mistress. She is trusted in Phaedra’s private affairs. She consoles or advises her troubled heroine.
In the very beginning Phaedra is in a sad mood as her husband, Theseus, has gone to the underworld and even after the lapse of four years he has not come back. She has grown suspicious of her husband’s character. She believes that her illicit love for her stepson, Hippolytus, is because of Venus. The Nurse becomes aware of directing her mistress to the right way. She advises Phaedra to do away with her flame if love and to give no support to evil hopes. Afterwards, the Nurse shows her experience in the royal household in her speech. She tells her that to choose the good is the first rule of life and she must not falter in the observance of good, otherwise she will face punishment for her sin. The Nurse now asks Phaedra to follow the conduct which is fitting for the great ones of the land.
The sudden comeback of the king puts Phaedra in a dumbfounded condition and a plan is chalked out to take revenge on her stepson for her rejection. Hippolytus meets a sad end and Phaedra commits suicide. The Nurse tries to console Phaedra in her distraught condition. The Nurse is quite skilled in using morally correct expressions although she is not always alert in their application. The Nurse may be partly responsible for the death of Hippolytus, but everything she does to save the mistress from shame and guilt. She exposes the truth and proves Hippolytus, innocent. This is one of her weakness of the character of the Nurse. Another weakness is her pronouncements of high moral principles which she does not observe strictly. She is a very close compassion of her mistress, always trying to save her from guilt and feelings, but cannot save her finally. She may be called the foil to Phaedra.