Other Literary Forms
Although Pierre Corneille is known principally for his plays, he wrote a number of poems and at least one ballet libretto. Of his poetry there remain approximately one hundred pieces in French and a small number in Latin. Outside the theater, however, his best-known literary work is a long religious poem of thirteen thousand lines, the Imitation de Jésus-Christ, published in its entirety in 1656. A free translation of Saint Thomas à Kempis’s Latin work, it enjoyed an immediate success; four editions were published in 1656 alone. Another adaptation of a Latin religious work into a lengthy French verse, Office de la Sainte Vierge, published in 1670, was a relative failure, for it was not reedited. To accompany a three-volume edition of his plays, Corneille published in 1660 a series of essays in which he formally presented his critical theories: three Discours and the Examens (one for each play). While some critics refer to Corneille’s theory of drama as evidence that he misunderstood his own plays, the Discours and Examens can nevertheless be very helpful in understanding French classical theater. There exist twenty-four letters by Corneille, of little general interest.