Jean Racine World Literature Analysis
Although he did write one witty comedy, The Litigants, Racine has remained famous almost exclusively for the nine tragedies that he wrote between Andromache in 1667 and Athaliah in 1691. His first two plays, The Theban Brothers and Alexander the Great, are rather weak tragedies, and critics generally agree that there is a significant difference in quality between these two early plays and his later tragic masterpieces. Like Corneille, who was the other great French tragic playwright in the seventeenth century, Racine depicted very effectively the use and abuse of political power, but Racine also developed profound connections between love and violence and created both sympathetic victims and psychologically complicated and fascinating villains.
Britannicus (pr. 1669, pb. 1670; English translation, 1714) illustrates beautifully Racine’s creative method. This tragedy deals with very famous historical characters whom the Roman historian Tacitus had analyzed in his Ab excessu divi Augusti (c.116 c.e.; Annals, 1598). Although the title character in this tragedy is the half brother of Emperor Nero, Racine affirms in his preface that the main focus is not Britannicus but the evil Nero. Racine speaks of Nero thus:I always considered him to be a monster. But here he is a monster being born. He has not yet set fire to Rome. He has not yet murdered his...
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