Pierre Corneille

Pierre Corneille (pyĕr kôrnā´yə), 1606–84, French dramatist, ranking with Racine as a master of French classical tragedy. Educated by Jesuits, he practiced law briefly in his native Rouen and moved to Paris after the favorable reception of his first play, Mélite (1629), a comedy. His first trágedy, Médée (1635), was followed by Le Cid (1637). This masterpiece, based on a Spanish play about the Cid, took Paris by storm; "beautiful as the Cid" became a French proverb. However, Jean Chapelain composed a paper for the newly founded French Academy that attacked the play as plagiaristic and faulty in construction, and thereafter Corneille adhered to classical rules. Among the finest of his score of tragedies that followed are Horace (1640), Cinna (1640), and Polyeucte (1643). The comedy Le Menteur (1643) had great success. Corneille's tragedies exalt the will at the expense of the emotions; his tragic heroes and heroines display almost superhuman strength in subordinating passion to duty. At his best, Corneille was a master of the grand style, powerful and majestic. His last plays are marred by monotonous declamation. Corneille's old age was embittered by the rise of Racine, who replaced him in popular favor.

See studies by D. A. Collins (1966) and H. T. Barnwell (1982).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Le Cid
Pierre Corneille; John C. Lapp; John C. Lapp.
Harlan Davidson, 1986
Corneille, His Heroes and Their Worlds
Robert J. Nelson.
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1963
The Tragedy of Origins: Pierre Corneille and Historical Perspective
John D. Lyons.
Stanford University Press, 1996
The Stage Controversy in France from Corneille to Rousseau
M. Barras.
Columbia University, 1933
Studies in French-Classical Tragedy
Lacy Lockert.
Vanderbilt University Press, 1958
Librarian’s tip: Chap. I "The Amazing Career of Pierre Corneille"
Recognitions: A Study in Poetics
Terence Cave.
Clarendon Press, 1988
Librarian’s tip: "Corneille: The Hero versus Oedipus" begins on p. 296 and "Between Corneille and Racine: La Thebaide" begins on p. 327
Dramatic Essays of the Neoclassic Age
Henry Hitch Adams; Baxter Hathaway.
Columbia University Press, 1950
Librarian’s tip: "Pierre Corneille, 1606-1684" begins on p. 1
The Performance of Nobility in Early Modern European Literature
David M. Posner.
Cambridge University Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Noble Romans: Corneille and the Theatre of Aristocratic Revolt"
The Freedom of French Classicism
E. B. O. Borgerhoff.
Princeton University Press, 1950
Librarian’s tip: "The Liberalism of Pierre Corneille" begins on p. 46
The Myth of Medea and the Murder of Children
Lillian Corti.
Greenwood Press, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Corneille and the Importance of Gratitude"
Studies in Self-Interest: From Descartes to La Bruyere
A. J. Krailsheimer.
Clarendon Press, 1962
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "Corneille"
Structural Forms in the French Theater, 1500-1700
Darnell Roaten.
University of Pennyslvania Press, 1960
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Corneille, Le Cid (1637)"
Gender and Literary Voice
Janet Todd.
Holmes & Meier, 1980
Librarian’s tip: "Power or Sexuality: The Bind of Corneille's Pulcherie" begins on p. 236
The Code of Reciprocation in Corneille's Heroic Drama
Rubidge, Bradley.
The Romanic Review, Vol. 89, No. 1, January 1998
Pierre Corneille's Medea-Machine
Wygant, Amy.
The Romanic Review, Vol. 85, No. 4, November 1994
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