Orphaned by the age of four his mother died in and his father in , he came into the care of his grandparents. At the death of his grandfather in , his grandmother, Marie des Moulins, went to live in the convent of Port-Royal and took her grandson with her. Port-Royal was run by followers of Jansenism , a theology condemned as heretical by the French bishops and the Pope. At Port-Royal, he excelled in his studies of the Classics and the themes of Greek and Roman mythology would play large roles in his future works. He was expected[ by whom? Racine eventually took up residence in Paris where he became involved in theatrical circles.
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Orphaned by the age of four his mother died in and his father in , he came into the care of his grandparents. At the death of his grandfather in , his grandmother, Marie des Moulins, went to live in the convent of Port-Royal and took her grandson with her.
Port-Royal was run by followers of Jansenism , a theology condemned as heretical by the French bishops and the Pope. At Port-Royal, he excelled in his studies of the Classics and the themes of Greek and Roman mythology would play large roles in his future works. He was expected[ by whom? Racine eventually took up residence in Paris where he became involved in theatrical circles.
His first play, Amasie, never reached the stage. Thus, Alexandre premiered for the second time, by a different acting troupe, eleven days after its first showing.
He broke all ties with Port-Royal, and proceeded with Andromaque , which told the story of Andromache , widow of Hector , and her fate following the Trojan War. Amongst his rivals were Pierre Corneille and his brother, Thomas Corneille. Others, including the historian Warren Lewis , attribute his retirement from the theater to qualms of conscience. He got married at about this time to the pious Catherine de Romanet, and his religious beliefs and devotion to the Jansenist sect were revived.
He and his wife eventually had two sons and five daughters. Around the time of his marriage and departure from the theater, Racine accepted a position as a royal historiographer in the court of King Louis XIV , alongside his friend Boileau.
He kept this position in spite of the minor scandals he was involved in. Two years later, he was given the title of "treasurer of France", and he was later distinguished as an "ordinary gentleman of the king" , and then as a secretary of the king Jean Racine died in from cancer of the liver.
Style[ edit ] This section possibly contains original research. Please improve it by verifying the claims made and adding inline citations. Statements consisting only of original research should be removed. His use of the alexandrine poetic line is considered exceptionally skilful. One was the lack of historic veracity in plays such as Britannicus and Mithridate Racine was quick to point out that his greatest critics — his rival dramatists — were among the biggest offenders in this respect.
General characteristics[ edit ] Racine restricts his vocabulary to words. The unities are strictly observed, for only the final stage of a prolonged crisis is described. The number of characters, all of them royal, is kept down to the barest minimum. Action on stage is all but eliminated. The mangled Hippolyte is not brought back, as is the Hippolytus of Euripides. The one exception to this is that Atalide stabs herself before the audience in Bajazet ; but this is acceptable in a play conspicuous for its savagery and Oriental colour.
Fundamental nature of tragedy[ edit ] Tragedy shows how men fall from prosperity to disaster. The higher the position from which the hero falls, the greater is the tragedy. Nature of Greek tragedy[ edit ] Greek tragedy, from which Racine borrowed so plentifully, tended to assume that humanity was under the control of gods indifferent to its sufferings and aspirations.
Instead, destiny becomes at least, in the secular plays the uncontrollable frenzy of unrequited love. As already in the works of Euripides , the gods have become symbolic[ citation needed ]. His tragic characters are aware of, but can do nothing to overcome, the blemish which leads them on to a catastrophe.
Her love for Pyrrhus is perfectly natural and is not in itself a flaw of character. But despite her extraordinary lucidity II 1; V 1 in analysing her violently fluctuating states of mind, she is blind to the fact that the King does not really love her III 3 , and this weakness on her part, which leads directly to the tragic peripeteia of III 7, is the hamartia from which the tragic outcome arises.
For Racine, love closely resembles a physiological disorder. It is a fatal illness with alternating moods of calm and crisis, and with deceptive hopes of recovery or fulfilment Andromaque , ll.
Her love is not founded upon esteem of the beloved and a concern for his happiness and welfare, but is essentially selfish. The characteristic Racinian framework is that of the eternal triangle: two young lovers, a prince and a princess, being thwarted in their love by a third person, usually a queen whose love for the young prince is unreciprocated. Bajazet and Atalide are prevented from marrying by the jealousy of Roxane. Pyrrhus forces Andromaque to choose between marrying him and seeing her son killed.
Dying, he unites the two lovers. In his all-too-human blindness, he condemns to death his own son on a charge of which he is innocent. Only Amurat does not actually appear on stage, and yet his presence is constantly felt. His intervention by means of the letter condemning Bajazet to death IV 3 precipitates the catastrophe. The queen shows greater variations from play to play than anyone else, and is always the most carefully delineated character.
Only very rarely do they further the action. They invariably reflect the character of their masters and mistresses. But Narcisse is more than a reflection: he betrays and finally poisons his master Britannicus.
Burrhus, on the other hand, is the conventional "good angel" of the medieval morality play. He is a much less colourful character than his opposite number. Observance of the dramatic unities[ edit ] Racine observes the dramatic unities more closely than the Greek tragedians had done. The philosopher Aristotle points out the ways in which tragedy differs from epic poetry: "Tragedy generally tries to limit its action to a period of twenty-four hours, or not much exceeding that, whilst epic poetry is unlimited in point of time.
He merely says that this limitation was often practised by writers of tragedy, but he well knew that there were many plays in which no such limitation existed. Nor was the unity of place a general feature of Attic tragedy. But the circumstances of the Greek theatre, which had no curtain and no distinctive scenery and in which the chorus almost always remained on stage throughout the play, were such that it was frequently desirable to confine the action to a single day and a single place.
The only rule which Aristotle lays down concerning the dramatic action is  that, in common with all other forms of art, a tragedy must have an internal unity, so that every part of it is in an organic relationship to the whole and no part can be changed or left out without detracting from the economy of the play.
No dramatic critic has ever dissented from this unity of action;[ citation needed ] but the unities of time and place were in fact read into the Poetics by theoreticians of the New Learning Jean de La Taille and other writers Jean Vauquelin de la Fresnaye and Jean Mairet. The support which the unities received from Cardinal Richelieu eventually secured their complete triumph and Pierre Corneille , who had not conformed to them in his earlier plays, did so from the time of Le Cid onwards.
But even he found them a tiresome imposition. These discrepancies — and others besides, which Corneille admits to in his Examen of the play — are obvious even to the most inattentive spectator. The so-called Aristotelian rules happen to suit this type of drama perfectly since they lead the playwright to concentrate the tragic action on those few hours when, after months or years of emotional tension, a new event supervenes and precipitates the catastrophe.
Furthermore, Aricie only leaves the stage at the end of V 3, and therefore in the space of two short scenes has met her dying lover on the seashore and has taken her leave of him!
These chronological inconsistencies pass unnoticed in the theatre. Racine invariably observes the unity of place. At times, of course, the unity of place leads to slightly far-fetched meetings: why, for instance, does Pyrrhus come to see Oreste Act I Sc. As regards the unity of action, Racine differs sharply from William Shakespeare in excluding minor plots compare the parallel themes of blind and unnatural fatherhood and the retribution it invokes, in King Lear and in ruling out the comic element.
The fact that Act II scene 5 of Andromaque or many of the scenes of Alexandre le Grand and Mithridate have comic undertones is beside the point. Will Andromaque agree to marry Pyrrhus? Can Esther persuade her husband to spare the Jews? Tempo of Racinian tragedy[ edit ] Unlike such plays as Hamlet and The Tempest , in which a dramatic first scene precedes the exposition, a Racinian tragedy opens very quietly, but even so in a mood of suspense.
In a darkening atmosphere, a succession of fluctuating states of mind on the part of the main characters brings us to the resolution — generally in the fourth Act, but not always Bajazet , Athalie — of what by now is an unbearable discordance. Hermione entrusts the killing of Pyrrhus to Oreste; wavers for a moment when the King comes into her presence; then, condemns him with her own mouth.
With the working-out of a situation usually decided by the end of Act IV, the tragedies move to a swift conclusion. Treatment of sources[ edit ] In the religious plays, Racine is fairly scrupulous in adhering to his Old Testament sources, taking care to put into the mouth of Joad the Second Jehoiada only those prophetic utterances that are to be found in the Bible.
In the secular plays, he takes far greater liberties. The frequently conflicting sources of Greek and Roman mythology enable him to fashion the plot he thinks suitable to his characters and, above all, to present the old stories in a modern light.
In another respect also, Racine departs from the lines laid down by the Andromache , for whereas in the earlier play the heroine fears that the son she has had by Pyrrhus may suffer death if she refuses to marry the father, the later heroine fears for the life of a legitimate son.
Racine, like Homer , conceives her as sublimely faithful to Hector; yet the tension III 8 between maternal love and a reluctance to marry Pyrrhus must as in Euripides be paramount. And so Astyanax is brought back to life. Criticism[ edit ] As with any contributor to the Western Canon, Racine has been subjected to many generations of literary criticism. His works have evoked in audiences and critics a wide range of responses, ranging from reverence to revulsion. In his book Racine: A Study, Philip Butler of the University of Wisconsin broke the main criticisms of Racine down by century to best portray the almost constantly shifting perception of the playwright and his works.
In his own plays, Racine sought to abandon the ornate and almost otherworldly intricacy that Corneille so favored. Audiences and critics were divided over the worth of Racine as an up-and-coming playwright. Audiences admired his return to simplicity and their ability to relate to his more human characters, while critics insisted on judging him according to the traditional standards of Aristotle and his Italian commentators from which he tended to stray.
Attitudes shifted, however, as Racine began to eclipse Corneille. This new self-perception acknowledged the superiority of all things French; the French believed France was home to the greatest king, the greatest armies, the greatest people, and, subsequently, the greatest culture. In this new national mindset, Racine and his work were practically deified, established as the perfect model of dramatic tragedy by which all other plays would be judged. French critics, too, revolted.
Racine came to be dismissed as merely "an historical document" that painted a picture only of 17th century French society and nothing else; there could be nothing new to say about him.
However, as writers like Charles Baudelaire and Gustave Flaubert came onto the scene to soundly shake the foundations of French literature , conservative readers retreated to Racine for the nostalgia of his simplicity. As Racine returned to prominence at home, his critics abroad remained hostile due mainly, Butler argues, to Francophobia. The British were especially damning, preferring Shakespeare and Sir Walter Scott to Racine, whom they dismissed as "didactic" and "commonplace.
Other critics cast new light upon the underlying themes of violence and scandal that seem to pervade the plays, creating a new angle from which they could be examined. In general, people agreed that Racine would only be fully understood when removed from the context of the 18th century. Marcel Proust developed a fondness for Racine at an early age, "whom he considered a brother and someone very much like himself
Acomat, grand vizir, wishes to take advantage of this failure by encouraging the Janissaries to revolt. He has already refused to execute Bajazet as the sultan commanded. In reality, Bajazet is in love with Atalide; he only returns the love of Roxane in order to become king. Act 2 5 scenes [ edit ] Roxane wants to dethrone Amurat by wedding Bajazet. He is reticent, which infuriates Roxane.