Books by Jean Racine
Bajazet is Racine's most violent drama; it ends, like Phèdre, with a female character's on-stage suicide, here the culmination of a vividly described sequence of off-stage murders. The setting, in a claustrophobic space within the harem at Constantinople, menaced from both without and within, seems to license a violence of emotion as well as of deed.Violent too are the repeated reversals of fortune, and the terrifying acceleration of the play towards its inexorable catastrophe.
Alan Hollinghurst's translation of Berenice premiered at the Donmar Warehouse, London, in October 2012 and Bajazet, at the Almeida Theatre, London, in November 1990.
Jean Racine is the greatest tragedian of the French seventeenth century, using its strict rules and conventions to tell stories of overwhelming passion and cruelty.
This volume brings together three of his greatest plays. Britannicus, the earliest, is set in the court of the young Emperor Nero, and in an atmosphere seething with erotic tension, documents the power-struggles surrounding the birth of a legendary despot. Berenice probes the hearts of two lovers as they are torn apart amidst the splendours of Imperial Rome, and in Phedra, the most famous of the three, a woman betrayed by her own desires descends into a personal hell of shame, guilt and remorse.
These classic versions, by two of the country's most distinguished director-translators, prove that Racine is far from untranslatable; they offer blisteringly effective poetry, urgent plotting and powerhouse roles for both actors and actresses.
Complementing the translation are the illuminating Discussion, intended as much to provoke discussion as to provide it, and the extensive Notes and Commentary, which offer their own fresh and thought-provoking insights.
In Iphigenia, his ninth play, Racine returns to Greek myth for the first time since Andromache. To Euripides’s version of the tale he adds a love interest between Iphigenia and Achilles. And dissatisfied with the earlier resolutions of the Iphigenia myth (her actual death or her eleventh-hour rescue by a dea ex machina), Racine creates a wholly original character, Eriphyle, who, in addition to providing an intriguing new denouement, serves the dual dramatic purpose of triangulating the love interest and galvanizing the wholesome “family values” of this play by a jolt of supercharged passion.
The plays in this volume - Cinna, The Misanthrope, Andromache and Phaedra - span only thirty-seven years, but make up the defining period of French theatre. In Corneille's Cinna (1640), absolute power is explored in ancient Rome, while Molière's The Misanthrope (1666), the only comedy in this collection, sees its anti-hero outcast for his refusal to conform to social conventions. Here also are two key plays by Racine: Andromache (1667), recounting the tragedy of Hector's widow after the Trojan War, and Phaedre (1677), showing a mother crossing the bounds of love with her son.
This translation of Phaedra was originally broadcast on Radio Three with a cast including Prunella Scales and Timothy West, and was praised by playwright Harold Pinter. This is the first time it has been published. The edition also includes an introduction by Joseph Harris, genealogical tables, pronunciation guides, critiques and prefaces, as well as a chronology and suggested further reading.
After a varied career as an actor, teacher, and BBC TV national newsreader, John Edmunds became the founder-director of Aberystwyth University's department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies. Joseph Harris is Senior Lecturer at Royal Holloway, University of London and author of Hidden Agendas: Cross-Dressing in Seventeenth-Century France (2005).
Originally published in 1958.
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