Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: The 17th and 18th Centuries)
Article abstract: Combining psychological insight, poetic power, and a profoundly pessimistic view of human life, Racine wrote the finest tragedies in French literature.
Jean Baptiste Racine was born in the village of La Ferté-Milon, near Soissons, France, and was baptized on December 22, 1639, presumably shortly after his birth. His mother was Jeanne Sconin Racine, and his father was Jean Racine, a minor local official. When Jean Baptiste was a year old, his mother died in childbirth. Although his father remarried a year later, he too died, in 1643, leaving Jean Baptiste and his sister penniless. His grandparents took the two babies; Jean Baptiste’s sister went to his mother’s family, and he went to live with his father’s parents. When Jean was nine, however, his paternal grandfather died, and his grandmother entered the Convent of Port-Royal des Champs, southwest of Paris, where her sister was a nun and her daughter was a postulant.
Port-Royal was the center of Jansenism, an austere doctrine, based on Cornelis Jansen’s interpretation of Saint Augustine, arguing that man was predestined to be saved by grace alone, not by works. After its introduction at the Cistercian convent of Port-Royal in 1634, Jansenism began to spread throughout France,...
(The entire section is 2387 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Biography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Born in December, 1639, to a bourgeois family of La Ferté-Milon (about forty miles northeast of Paris), Jean Racine was left an orphan at the age of four and was adopted by his paternal grandmother. In 1649, his penurious grandmother sought refuge at the celebrated center of Jansenism, Port-Royal, where Racine received an excellent education in Latin as well as Greek. Jansenism, which upheld the doctrine of predestination and insisted on the helplessness of humankind without divine grace, can be described as a kind of Calvinistic Catholicism. Denying free will and practicing a very rigorous code of morality, the Jansenists reproved the more relaxed tenets of the dominant and rival Jesuits. Although many critics have focused on a Jansenist orientation in the plays, it is uncertain whether Racine was a Jansenist during his literary career or indeed whether his teachers actually inculcated their theology in their pupils.
After four years at Port-Royal, Racine spent two years at the Collège de Beauvais, then three more at Port-Royal, and finally completed his education in Paris at the Collège d’Harcourt. Racine’s austere and scholarly masters (called solitaires, the solitary persons) introduced the young Racine to the Bible and ancient literature. In an age in which education was based on Latin, Racine was fortunate to acquire a thorough knowledge of Greek. He read in the original ancient Greek tragedy, notably Sophocles and Euripides, and...
(The entire section is 1024 words.)
Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Jean Baptiste Racine (ra-SEEN) was born in the small French town of La Ferté-Milon and was baptized on December 22, 1639. His parents, Jean and Jeanne Racine, were relatively poor. His mother died in childbirth on January 28, 1641, and his father died on February 6, 1643. Racine and his sister were adopted by their maternal grandmother, Marie Desmoulins. In 1649, she left Racine’s sister with a cousin in La Ferté-Milon and moved to Paris so that she could become a nun in the Jansenist convent at Port-Royal des Champs, where her daughter Agnès was the abbess. The young Racine became a pupil at the Port-Royal School, where he received a superb classical education. The quality of the teaching at the Port-Royal School was held in the highest esteem even by those who did not agree with the Jansenists’ efforts to make major reforms in French Catholicism. Racine read Greek and Latin with equal fluency.
In 1661, he moved to the small French city of Uzès in the vain hope that a cousin would find a good position for him, but Racine soon tired of Uzès and returned in 1663 to Paris, where he met Molière, who was both a famous comic playwright and the director of the Palais-Royal theatrical company. Molière’s troupe performed Racine’s first two tragedies, La Thébaïde: Ou, Les Frères ennemis (pr., pb. 1664; The Theban Brothers, 1723)...
(The entire section is 751 words.)
Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Jean Racine was both a very fine poet and a profound playwright whose tragic vision of the world continues to fascinate theatergoers and readers almost three centuries after the end of his literary career. Racine had the extraordinary ability of transforming famous episodes from ancient history and mythology and from the Old Testament into powerful tragedies that express with refined eloquence the intense suffering of his characters.
(The entire section is 67 words.)
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Jean Baptiste Racine (ra-seen) is remembered, along with Pierre Corneille, as a leader of the classical revival in the drama of seventeenth century France. His father was a solicitor and local official in the town of La Ferté-Milon, but both parents died soon after Jean’s birth in December, 1639, and the boy was brought up by his Jansenist grandparents. He attended school first at Beauvais and later at the famous Jansenist monastery of Port-Royal, where he wrote quite passable odes in both Latin and French while still in his teens. By the time he had left the Collège d’Harcourt, he had composed an ode in honor of the marriage of Louis XIV that earned for him six hundred livres from the monarch, written two unsuccessful dramas, formed a friendship with Jean de La Fontaine, and conducted liaisons with several of the leading actresses of the day. A few years later, he also became a friend of the famous critic and arbiter of French taste Nicolas Boileau, who remained his mentor and friendly censor for much of his life.
The years between 1664 and 1673 were marked by the highly favorable reception of two plays, The Theban Brothers and Alexander the Great, the second of which raised Racine to the rank of Corneille in public opinion, and by an extremely unpleasant exchange of pamphlets with the Jansenists at Port-Royal, who hated the theater...
(The entire section is 696 words.)