Jean Racine: A Critical Biography

Jean Racine: A Critical Biography

Jean Racine: A Critical Biography

Jean Racine: A Critical Biography

Excerpt

Wednesday, 20th June, wrote La Grange in his clear, curving hand, first performance of La Thébaïde, a new play by M. Racine, receipts: 370 livres, 10 sols.

Racine the practising dramatist is in some danger of being crowded out from the numerous studies on his psychology and style: and it is of course true that he was very much more than a successful playwright. A unique poet, an uncannily lucid analyst of the passions, and himself a character of considerable complexity, he is not to be confined within the limits of a history of the theatre. The fact that nearly every generation of critics since his time has returned to him with enthusiasm and has made fresh discoveries in his work is proof enough of his variety. Thus, the poet who was once held up as the supreme example of classical clarity is discerned to-day rather as a monstrous shadow moving under the surface of his own style. Improved methods of observation reveal new depths. As a man, he has been represented by different biographers as sentimental, dissipated, bourgeois, or devout--and each of these images contains a salting of truth. Here, it must be admitted, the temptation to take sides has always been very strong. Ever since that early biography by Racine's youngest son, which pictured a man whose true life was his religion and whose aberration was his plays, the tendency has been to follow the family lead; or, on the other hand, for more perverse minds, to resist it over- violently and to imagine a debauched and cynical Racine-- at best a hypocrite, at worst a criminal.

Where so much can be said inconclusively, it is best to go back to the concrete. Racine's correspondence and . . .

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