Robert Garnier’s reputation rests solely on his plays. His first published work, however, was a collection of love poems, Plaintes amoureuses de Robert Garnier (amorous laments), which appeared in 1565. A longer poem of royalist propaganda in praise of Charles IX followed: the “Hymne de la Monarchie.” Both works are no longer extant. There exist contemporary references to other poems by Garnier, yet only two detached pieces survive, an “Épître au Roi” (epistle to the king) in honor of Henri III and “Élégie sur la mort de Ronsard” (elegy on the death of Ronsard) in honor of the French Renaissance “prince of poets.”
During his life and into the first part of the seventeenth century, Robert Garnier’s plays were staged and reedited more often than those of any other contemporary playwright. His influence extended not only to other dramatists but also to the genre of oratory prose so popular at the time. Contemporaneous treatises of rhetoric often cite Garnier as a model in their explanations of rhetorical figures.
French criticism has looked on Garnier as a precursor of the classical theater inaugurated in the 1630’s. At the end of the sixteenth century, most French dramatists and many English and Dutch writers imitated his dramatic techniques; there is even evidence that William Shakespeare drew from Garnier’s Antonius (translated into English in 1592) certain scenes for his Julius Caesar (c. 1599-1600). Garnier eschewed somewhat the seventeenth century classicists’ aim to please and instruct; yet his plays do attempt for the most part to impart a patriotic, moral, and religious lesson to his audience. Written during a period of civil war between Catholics and Protestants, his plays contain general meditations on the tragic events of the period. In several of his dedicatory prefaces, Garnier referred to the subjects of his tragedies as reflections of the “misfortunes of our time.” The subject of the Roman play Cornelia, for example, “concerns a great Republic torn apart by the ambitious discord of its citizens.” His political...
Holyoake, John. A Critical Study of the Tragedies of Robert Garnier. New York: P. Lang, 1987. Holyoake presents a critical examination and interpretation of the tragedies written by Garnier. Includes bibliography.
Jondorf, Gillian. Robert Garnier and the Themes of Political Tragedy in the Sixteenth Century, 1969. Jondorf examines the political and social views of Garnier, as expressed in his dramatic works. Contains bibliography.
Witherspoon, A. M. The Influence of Robert Garnier on Elizabethan Drama. 1924. Reprint. New York: Phaeton Press, 1968. Witherspoon looks at the influence that Garnier had on drama in Elizabethan England. Bibliography included.