Jean Mairet published two slim collections of lyric poetry, much of it occasional verse, as addenda to the first editions of Sylvie and La Silvanire. A handful of poems composed in later years, left in manuscript, were published by his biographer Gaston Bizos. Mairet’s prose writings, apart from a few surviving letters and diplomatic correspondence, consist of a treatise on poetic theory, published as the preface to La Silvanire, and several polemical pamphlets directed against Pierre Corneille. Mairet is remembered chiefly for his plays.
It is unfortunate that Jean Mairet has been traditionally remembered mainly for his role in the quarrel over Corneille ’s Le Cid (pr., pb. 1637; The Cid, 1637). In fact, he was one of the pivotal figures in the development of French classical drama and was among the most influential champions of what would become known as the three unities (those of time, place, and action). Revived interest in the Baroque stage has prompted a reevaluation of Mairet as a gifted representative of the preclassical sensibility who was unaware of the extent to which the new critical doctrine of classicism would conflict with that sensibility and ultimately banish his works from the Parisian stage. Mairet also deserves much of the credit for notable advances in the refinement of style, sophistication of characterization, and tightness of plot construction that occurred in the second quarter of the seventeenth century. Although he did not possess the genius of Corneille, Mairet had genuine dramatic talent. After more than three centuries, the best of his plays can still be read with pleasure and could conceivably be revived.
Despite his crucial role in the evolution of French classical doctrine, Mairet’s exposition of theoretical issues is disappointing. His prefaces and polemics tend to be rambling and confused, with too much pedantic accumulation of sources and technical terms and too little original thought. A careful reading of these documents, however, reveals a number of innovations that would have a...
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Bunch, William A. Jean Mairet. Boston: Twayne, 1975. A basic treatment of Mairet’s life and works. Includes a bibliography and index.
Chadwick, C. “The Role of Mairet’s Sophonisbe in the Development of French Tragedy.” Modern Language Review 50 (1955): 176-179. Chadwick examines Mariet’s Sophonisbe and how it helped developed the genre of tragedy in France.
Kay, Burf. The Theatre of Jean Mairet: The Metamorphosis of Sensuality. The Hague: Mouton, 1975. Kay analyzes the works of Mairet in terms of the sensuality employed in them. Includes a bibliography and index.