Racine's Mid-Career Tragedies

Racine's Mid-Career Tragedies

Racine's Mid-Career Tragedies

Racine's Mid-Career Tragedies

Excerpt

The four tragedies of Racine which this book contains have an interesting significance as a group. Written one after another in immediate succession, they may be said to represent "a dramatist's progress." That progress, the circumstances and the nature of it, I have explained in the Introduction to Britannicus in my first volume of translations of Racine's plays, and repeated this explanation in my study of Bérénice which was published in The Romanic Review for February, 1939, and which (with slight changes) serves as the Introduction to the translation of Bérénice in the present volume.

As to the merits of these four dramas, the consensus of critical opinion for upwards of a century, at least, has been that they are inferior to what are generally called Racine "four masterpieces"--Andromaque, Britannicus, Phèdre, and Athalie. There are dissenting appraisals, however, by individual critics. I have commented upon what is practically a cult of admirers of Bérénice in modern times; Jules Lemaitre ranked it and Bajazet among their author's very best tragedies. Sainte-Beuve at one period of his life regarded Iphigénie as equalled or surpassed only by Athalie. But, on the other hand, not a few authorities have rated Bérénice below all the others, and Lemaître rated Iphigénie the lowest of all! My own view is that there was a steady improvement in the quality of Racine work from Bérénice to Iphigénie, though really not much to choose between Bajazet and Mithridate. I state in discussing Iphigénie that I think it rivals Andromaque in merit--but then I dissent from the customary estimate of Andromaque as a masterpiece like Britannicus, Phè dre . . .

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