Garnier's la Troade between Homeric Fiction and French History: The Question of Moral Authority

By Bizer, Marc | Romance Notes, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

Garnier's la Troade between Homeric Fiction and French History: The Question of Moral Authority


Bizer, Marc, Romance Notes


SUCH faithful reworkings of classical themes and ancient sources as Robert Garnier's La Troade--which borrows in some parts from Euripides' Trojan Women, and quite heavily from Seneca's Troades--immediately pose the question of their raison d'etre. Is the Troade yet another example of slavish Renaissance imitatio? The fact that the play was published in 1579, during some of the worst years of the Wars of Religion in France, invites consideration of the play's historical context. Indeed, in his preface to the Archbishop of Bourges, Renaud de Beaune, Garnier begins by apologizing for this least agreeable of poems that "ne represente que les malheurs lamentables des princes, avec les saccagemens des peuples." He then goes on to say:

les passions de tels sujets nous sont ja si ordinaires, que les exemples anciens nous devront doresnavant servir de consolation en nos particuliers et domestiques encombres. (p. 41) (1)

Thus Garnier begins to suggest that the "argument" of classical tragedy is so "ordinary," so commonplace, that it can offer some consolation for the problems besetting contemporary France. Furthemore, although the parallel is not initially clear, Garnier means to give courage to the downtrodden, by reminding the archbishop of their common Trojan ancestors on whose ruins "s'est peu bastir, apres le decez de l'orgueilleux Empire Romain, ceste tres-florissante Monarchie" (p. 42). (2) Thus the reference to the destruction of Troy clearly implies a very grave situation in France. However, the point of the example is that the destruction of Troy was not definitive, but rather foreshadowed a far greater glory than that of the Greeks, one that eventually triumphed over Rome by culminating in a flourishing French monarchy. Despite the fact that this "tres-florissante Monarchie" is now mired in intractable religious conflict, Garnier wants de Baune and his audience to believe that the hardiness of the Trojan stock (as demonstrated in its rebirth in the French monarchy, which traced its origins back to Troy) guarantees a second resurgence.

Again, the play's plot undermines its author's professed optimism. Indeed, a pervasive sense of unremitting doom and inevitable destruction leave little place for hope that the characters will be able to influence their destiny in any significant way. Yet Garnier's tragedy does not seem to say that the characters are entirely controlled by their fates. Indeed, the Troade consistently focuses on how different characters react when confronted with their "fate," and how they respond to the different forms of authority charged with carrying out that destiny. These questions were, of course, of vital importance during the Wars of Religion. A great deal of thought was devoted by both the Catholic and Huguenot sides in the conflict precisely to defining (or redefining) the relationship between the French king and his subjects and their respective roles in that relationship. If we can accept the idea of analogy (and not allegory) being Garnier's modus operandi in writing La Troade, it will be useful to examine the interaction between characters and their destiny and then see whether this interaction is congruent with the questions regarding royal authority that arose during the Wars of Religion.

Garnier's Troade has three literary predecessors: Euripides' Hecuba and Trojan Women, and Seneca's Troade. All three plays begin with Hecuba receiving decrees concerning the fate of certain members of her family. In Garnier, the Greek messenger Talthybius arrives, demanding that Cassandra be handed over as Agamemnon's prize. Hecuba asks him about the fate of her daughter Polyxena, and she is left in uncertainty because "le sort n'est pas jette" (l. 309). Soon after, at the beginning of Act II, Odysseus arrives and demands of Andromache that Hector's son Astyanax be sacrificed so that the Greeks can leave without the fear that the Trojans will eventually be avenged. Finally, in Act III, Achilles's son Pyrrhus argues with Agamemnon over the necessity of the sacrifice of Polyxena to appease Achilles' shade, with the seer Calchas resolving the dispute by declaring "Le sang d'Astyanax ne suffit pas encore" (l. …

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