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Racine

From Ancient Myth to Tragic Modernity

2009
Author:

Mitchell Greenberg

Racine

Seeing Racine’s tragic oeuvre as a rewriting of the evolving legacy of the Oedipus legend

A study of all of the major tragedies of Jean Racine, France’s preeminent dramatist—and, according to many, its greatest and most representative author—Mitchell Greenberg’s work offers an exploration of Racinian tragedy to explain the enigma of the plays’ continued fascination. Greenberg shows how Racine uses myth, in particular the legend of Oedipus, to achieve his emotional power.

Racine is a rich and ambitious psychoanalytic study of Jean Racine’s tragedies. Mitchell Greenberg brings to his interpretation of these plays an impressively thorough knowledge of psychoanalysis, in both its clinical and anthropological dimensions, and he uses that knowledge to provide an innovative, original interpretation of the material.

Jay Caplan, Amherst College

A study of all of the major tragedies of Jean Racine, France’s preeminent dramatist—and, according to many, its greatest and most representative author—Mitchell Greenberg’s work offers an exploration of Racinian tragedy to explain the enigma of the plays’ continued fascination.

Greenberg shows how Racine uses myth, in particular the legend of Oedipus, to achieve his emotional power. In the seventeenth-century tragedies of Racine, almost all references to physical activity were banned from the stage. Yet contemporary accounts of the performances describe vivid emotional reactions of the audiences, who were often reduced to tears. Greenberg demonstrates how Racinian tragedy is ideologically linked to Absolutist France’s attempt to impose the “order of the One” on its subjects. Racine’s tragedies are spaces where the family and the state are one and the same, with the result that sexual desire becomes trapped in a closed, incestuous, and highly formalized universe.

Greenberg ultimately suggests that the politics and sexuality associated with the legend of Oedipus account for our attraction to charismatic leaders and that this confusion of the state with desire explains our continued fascination with these timeless tragedies.

Racine

Mitchell Greenberg is Goldwin Smith Professor of Romance Studies at Cornell. His books include Canonical States, Canonical Stages: Oedipus, Othering, and Seventeenth-Century Drama (Minnesota, 1994) and Baroque Bodies: Psychoanalysis and the Culture of French Absolutism.

Racine

Racine is a rich and ambitious psychoanalytic study of Jean Racine’s tragedies. Mitchell Greenberg brings to his interpretation of these plays an impressively thorough knowledge of psychoanalysis, in both its clinical and anthropological dimensions, and he uses that knowledge to provide an innovative, original interpretation of the material.

Jay Caplan, Amherst College

The book’s sustained diachronic examination of Racine’s theatre argues compellingly for a thematic unity to the playwright’s evolving dramaturgy.

Journal of Theatre Research International