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Iphigenia, Phaedra and Athaliah (Penguin Classics) Paperback – February 28, 1964
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Text: English, French (translation)
About the Author
Jean Racine was born in 1639 at La Ferté Milon, sixty miles east of Paris. Orphaned at an early age, he was educated at the Little Schools of Port Royal and the pro-Jansenist College of Beauvais. He soon reacted against his austere mentors and by 1660 he had begun to write for the theater and had been introduced to the court of Louis XIV. In 1677, when he had ten plays to his credit and was high in favor with both the court and the public, he abandoned the theatre, which was regarded as far from respectable by the Church, and joined the Establishment as Royal Historiographer. It was only after a silence of twelve years that he wrote his last two plays (both on religious subjects), Esther and Athaliah. He died in 1699.
Top customer reviews
'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' is Racine'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 of a 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 defend absolute monarchy by divine right and ended up by 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
Phèdre falls in love with her husband Thésée's son Hippolyte - and through her passion she dooms the young man, the woman (Princess Aricie), her husband, her nurse confidante (who drives the plot with her unwise, dishonorable advice to Phèdre), and ultimately herself (she takes poison after confessing her crime to Thésée).
Athalie (who worships Baal) murders her own grandchildren after becoming a Queen through her own usurption of the throne. Evil passion plays herself well at this point for Athalie now seeks to kill the child King of Judah, Joas. Joad, the high priest, intercedes and has Athalie killed at the hands of the Levites.
Les jeux agonie-à thème d'étape ont atteint leur zénith avec le stylo habile de dramaturge français, Jean Racine. La passion, la cruauté, le mensonge, et la conspiration a coulé comme le miel dans les tragédies : « Phèdre » (1677), « Iphigénie en Aulide » (1674), et « Athalie » (1691). Nous comprenons le pouvoir de tragédie quand il est contrôlé avec une main sûre. Quand les unités sont présentes, le crescendo règne suprême au-delà des simples dispositifs de complot, au-delà du thème, et au-delà du développement de caractère ; alors vous avez des chefs-d'oeuvre, comme ces trois oeuvres d'art dramatiques.
Phèdre tombe dans l'amour avec son Hippolyte de fils de Thésée de mari - et par sa passion elle condamne le jeune homme, la femme (Aricie de Princesse), son mari, son OEnone d'infirmière (qui conduit le complot avec son mauvais conseil à Phèdre), et finalement se (elle prend du poison après avoir avoué son crime à Thésée).
Athalie (qui adore Baal) assassine ses propres petits-enfants après avoir devenu Reine par sa propre usurpation du trône. La passion diabolique se joue bien à ce point pour Athalie cherche maintenant à tuer le Roi enfant de Judah, Joas. Joad, l'haut prêtre, intercède et a Athalie a tué aux mains du Levites.