Customer Reviews (4)
Classical French tragedy
This volume contains three of Racine's classical drama. Two 'Iphigenia' and 'Phaedra' are based on plays of Euripides. The third is based on a Biblical story.
'Iphigenia' relates to the conflict Agammemnon has over whether or not to meet the demands of the gods and sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia, or by not doing so to prevent the Greek expedition from proceeding on its way to war with Troy. The outcome is an unusual one for Racine in that Iphigenia is spared, and the expedition nonetheless goes ahead.
'Phaedra' isRacine's best known play. It is based on an earlier version of the play by Euripides. It is written at a relatively late period in Racine's career when he was moving back toward Jansensim and a fully religious life. The play is considered the most perfect French example ofa tragedy written according to the classic rules. The story is one of illicit passion and its price. One strange idea of Racine was that the 'gods' forced people to sin, and then punished them for this. This cruelty of the gods somehow suits the whole tenor of Racine's work which has a certain fierce kind of cruelty in it. Phaedra the second wife of the king Theseus falls passionately in love with Theseus' son Hippolytus. Hippolytus who supposedly hates woman is in fact secretly in love with Arcis. Upon receiving a message that Theseus has died Phaedra contain contain her passion and confesses her love to a horrified Hippolytus. Then it is revealed that the message of Theseus dead like Mark Twain's has been premature. Theseus returns and urged on by her wicked servant Oenone Phaedra indicates that Hippolytus has attempted to seduce her. Outraged Theseus orders that his son be executed. Phaedra upon learning this thinks to confess, but then learns that Hippolytus is not indifferent women as he has pretended to her but in fact loves Arcis. In a fit of jealousy she allows Theseus to carry out the execution. Upon learning of Hippolytus death, she commits suicide.
The virtous Phaedra who worked so hard to overcome her passion for Hippolytus has been defeated by that passion. The passion, the sinful nature of the human heart has ruthlessly brought to the tragic death of the innocence. This is the harsh and bleak world of Racine's tragedy, the cruel world in which sinner and innocent alike go to their doom.
In 'Athaliah' Racine's Jansenist religious sympathies come to the fore, though in contradiction with loyalty to the monarchy and Louis XIV who despised Jansenism. Athaliah is a ruling queen who despite her sympathetic character is eventually defeated by a cruel and inevitable fate.
As John Cairncross puts it in his excellent introduction to this play ..." Racine set out ostensibly to defendabsolute monarchy by divine right and ended upby appeals to pity the poor that smack of eighteenth- century humanitarianism. ..There can be few more striking examples of an artist going beyond and indeed against the aims that he might be expected to follow. ..Racine was too rich and complex, too sensitive to the endless contradictions of life, not to reproduce these in his last play. It is a fitting conclusion to a series of works of genius that hold perpetual revelations to the attentive reader."pp.232
Brevity and depth in a great tragedy.
According to my class' notes, Barthes said that there is a law about Racine's tragedies: A loves B. B does not love A. B is under A's control. This is a simplistic approach that sort of works, but "Phaedra" is far more complex than a simple letter soup. Hippolytus is not totally under Phaedra's control, since he decides not to tell Theseus what has really happened between himself and his stepmother. This makes him noble, but less than brilliant. Phaedra is guilty of a passion she cannot help, and turns her guilt into criminal acts by accusing Hippolytus of either lecherous intent or outright rape, depending on how one reads her words. Theseus is a cad who projects his own behaviour onto everybody else, so he immediately believes the worst about his son. And Oenone is a snake, the personification of bad counsel who does not even begin to pay, with her own suicide, for the tragedy she has helped unleash. Racine has created a masterpiece of brevity and passion, following the example of his much admired Euripides. It is clear after reading "Phaedra," that his work goes far beyond the simple A-B-C of Barthes, and into deep psychological development of characters who make fateful choices based on their passions. This is a great play by a great playwright.
I'm unqualified to judge the translation since I don't speak any French, but the play is very accessible.Although I have read many of the classic Greek plays, I never read anything by Racine.It's helpful to pick up a book on Racine like the Twayne's Masterworks series to find out some background information.Like many French authors, he grew up in poverty and ascended to power and prestige later.Several of his plays were based on Greek stories and plays -- in this one, he even quotes out of the originals.The plot line is easy to follow and very interesting, plus Phaedre strikes me as one of the most developed female characters around.Compare her depth to Dido's in Virgil's Aeneid and you'll see what I mean.This play is excellent and now I'm inspired to read more of Racine's wonderful plays which still have a modernness of theme about them.There are some moving speeches -- I'd like to see it performed. This edition also as the prefaces which are supposed to be included but aren't always.
Great reworkings of Greek Tragedy
Racine's plays capture the Enlightenment's revival of interest in GreekTragedy. Racine powerfully retells classical Greek mythology asinner-conflicts between passion and reason. This edition is particularlyuseful because it includes Racine's original prefatory remarks to each ofhis plays. Highly recommended for those who enjoy the human drama of Greektragedy.
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