Examine the historical context as reflected in the play Cinna.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The historical context of Corneille's Cinna can be seen in both the work's setting as well as the time period in which it was written.  In terms of the drama itself, the historical context is the Roman Empire.  Augustus confronts the reality of wondering if he should continue his rule and how to deal with individuals engaged in insurrectional behavior.  Corneille's development of this historical context is deliberate as he sees the scenarios of the Roman Empire and the rule of Augustus as reflective of what modern rulers experience.   The historical context of what a ruler does in terms of relating to his noble advisors and how to address what happens when faith in such advisors is tested is the historical context of the drama.

Corneille does not miss a beat in terms of relating this to the context in which it is written.  Corneille envisioned the political example of Augustus as applicable to Louis XIV and his ow reality of power.  The context of the drama can be applicable to "The Sun King" and how he should pursue his own challenges of being in power.  Lines such as "We read that we ought to forgive our enemies; but we do not read that we ought to forgive our friends" serve as Corneille's way of reminding Louis XIV that mercy can be both spiritually liberating and politically expedient.  Augustus's mercy at the end of the drama sustains his rule and ensures that previously disloyal subjects are actually more honorable and committed to his rule.  This form of "generosity" is vital in expressing both the historical context, but also the political context in which the drama was written.

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