Jean Racine

Jean Racine (zhäN räsēn´), 1639–99, French dramatist. Racine is the prime exemplar of French classicism. The nobility of his Alexandrine verse, the simplicity of his diction, the psychological realism of his characters, and the skill of his dramatic construction contribute to the continued popularity of his plays. Educated at Port-Royal, he broke with his Jansenist masters over his love for the theater. His first dramatic attempts, La Thébaïde (1664) and Alexandre le Grand (1665), were imitations of Corneille. With Andromaque (1667), a tragedy after Euripides, Racine supplanted Corneille as France's leading tragic dramatist. Corneille's friends, including Racine's former friend Molière, tried to ruin the young playwright, but the backing of Louis XIV and later of Boileau saved him. Racine's next play, Les Plaideurs (1668), wittily satirizes the law courts. His subsequent plays are milestones in French literature—Britannicus (1669); Bérénice (1670); Bajazet (1672); Mithridate (1673); Iphigénie en Aulide (1674); Phèdre (1677). After a concerted attack on Phèdre, Racine, in a revulsion against his irregular life, gave up the theater. In the same year he married and was appointed official historiographer by Louis XIV. Mme de Maintenon persuaded him to write Esther (1689) and Athalie (1691) for performance at Saint-Cyr. These differ from the earlier plays in their biblical subjects and use of a chorus and in the length of Esther, which has three acts instead of five. There are many English translations of Racine, among them those of John Masefield, Lacy Lockert, Kenneth Muir, and Robert Lowell.

See biography by G. Brereton (rev. ed. 1974); studies by R. Barthes (tr. 1964), P. France (1966), M. Turnell (1972), P. J. Yarrow (1978), and L. Goldman (1981).

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

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Jean Racine: A Critical Biography
Geoffrey Brereton.
Cassell, 1951
Mid-Career Tragedies
Jean Racine; Lacy Lockert.
Princeton University Press, 1958
Librarian’s tip: Includes "Berenice," "Bajazet," "Mithridate," and "Iphigenie"
Word as Action: Racine, Rhetoric, and Theatrical Language
Michael Hawcroft.
Oxford University, 1992
Last Periods of Shakespeare, Racine, Ibsen
Kenneth Muir.
Wayne State University Press, 1961
The Anxiety of Senecan Influence in Racine, or Phedre in the Labyrinth
Bold, Stephen.
The Romanic Review, Vol. 92, No. 4, November 2001
Subjective Dispersion in Iphigenie or the Unbearable Fullness of being.(Critical Essay)
Racevskis, Roland.
French Forum, Vol. 27, No. 2, Spring 2002
The Classical Model: Literature and Knowledge in Seventeenth-Century France
Harriet Stone.
Cornell University Press, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Two "Perspectives on Knowledge: Andromaque and Berenice"
Sounding the Classics: From Sophocles to Thomas Mann
Rudolph Binion.
Praeger, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "In Flames and Tears: Racine's Phaedra"
Baroque Bodies: Psychoanalysis and the Culture of French Absolutism
Mitchell Greenberg.
Cornell University Press, 2001
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Racine's Oedipus: Virtual Bodies, Originary Fantasies"
Artisans of Glory: Writers and Historical Thought in Seventeenth-Century France
Orest A. Ranum.
University of North Carolina Press, 1980
Librarian’s tip: Chap. IX "Racine Learns to Be a Historiographer"
Rhetoric: Readings in French Literature
Michael Hawcroft.
Oxford University Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: "Rhetoric at Court: Racine's Britannicus" begins on p. 97
After Poststructuralism: Reading, Stories and Theory
Colin Davis.
Routledge, 2003
Librarian’s tip: "Racine and la Nouvelle Critique" begins on p. 11
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