The Complete Plays of Jean Racine

The Complete Plays of Jean Racine: Volume 1: The Fratricides

Translated into English rhymed couplets with critical notes and commentary by GEOFFREY ALAN ARGENT
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 184
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  • Book Info
    The Complete Plays of Jean Racine
    Book Description:

    This is the first volume of a planned translation into English of all twelve of Jean Racine’s plays—a project undertaken only three times in the three hundred years since Racine’s death. For this new translation, Geoffrey Alan Argent has taken a fresh approach: he has rendered these plays in rhymed "heroic" couplets. While Argent’s translation is faithful to Racine’s text and tone, his overriding intent has been to translate a work of French literature into a work of English literature, substituting for Racine’s rhymed alexandrines (hexameters) the English mode of rhymed iambic pentameters, a verse form particularly well suited to the highly charged urgency of Racine’s drama and the coiled strength of his verse. Complementing the translations are the illuminating Discussions and the extensive Notes and Commentaries Argent has furnished for each play. The Discussions are not offered as definitive interpretations of these plays, but are intended to stimulate readers to form their own views and to explore further the inexhaustibly rich world of Racine’s plays. Included in the Notes and Commentary section of this translation are passages that Racine deleted after the first edition and have never before appeared in English. The full title of Racine’s first tragedy is La Thébaïde ou les Frères ennemis (The Saga of Thebes, or The Enemy Brothers). But Racine was far less concerned with recounting the struggle for Thebes than in examining those indomitable passions—in this case, hatred—that were to prove his lifelong focus of interest. For Oedipus’s sons, Eteocles and Polynices (the titular brothers), vying for the throne is rather a symptom than a cause of their unquenchable hatred—so unquenchable that by the end of the play it has not only destroyed these twin brothers, but has also claimed the lives of their mother, their sister, their uncle, and their two cousins as collateral damage. Indeed, as Racine acknowledges in his preface, “There is hardly a character in it who does not die at the end.”

    eISBN: 978-0-271-05528-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Ronald W. Tobin

    On June 8 and 9, 2001, a conference was held in Uzès, a small town in southern France in which Jean Racine spent almost two years (1661–63).¹ The conference title, “Confrontations Raciniennes” (Confrontations Among Racine Scholars), was an appropriate designation for debates about the most controversial dramatist of the past three hundred years of French literary history. (Molière, too, generated decades of heat among those who viewed his plays as dramatized philosophical treatises — the work of Molière the Thinker — and those who principally defined the author ofTartuffeas someone interested only in the production of theatrical...

    (pp. xv-xx)
    (pp. xxi-lx)

    Poor Racine! Martin Turnell begins hisJean Racine: Dramatistby quoting François Mauriac: “Of all our authors, Racine is one of the least accessible to the peoples of other countries” (Turnell, 3). Robert Lowell’s preface to his translation ofPhèdreopens with this disheartening pronouncement: “Racine’s plays are generally and correctly thought to be untranslatable” (Lowell, 7). Patrick J. Smith, in aNew York Timesarticle of January 3, 1999, occasioned by the imminent importation of the Almeida Theater Company’s productions ofPhaedraandBritannicus, accurately reports that “it has long been an axiom of Racinian criticism that his works...

    (pp. 1-26)

    WithThe Fratricides, Racine’s first play, we are plunged into a world where human passions, whether ordained by destiny or instigated by the gods, whether resulting from an ancient curse or released by chance circumstances, hold unchallenged sway. But Racine is much less interested in the cause of passion than in its effects. As Martin Turnell observes, “It is of the essence of Racinian passion that it carries all before it. The normal restraints of civilization merely serve to intensify the violence of the eruption when it comes” (Jean Racine, 33). Turnell echoes Creon’s observation about his nephews, when he...

    (pp. 27-28)

    Your Grace,

    I present to you a work which is perhaps noteworthy only for the honor of having pleased you. But in truth that honor is something so important to me that if my play had offered me no other benefit, I would be able to say that its success had surpassed my hopes. And what could I have hoped for more glorious than the approbation of one who knows how to estimate so justly the value of things, and who is himself the admiration of the whole world? Thus, your Grace, ifLa Thébaïdehas received some fair amount...

    (pp. 29-30)

    The reader will permit me to beg a little more indulgence for this play than for the others that follow it. I was quite young when I wrote it. Some verses that I had produced at that time fell by chance into the hands of certain persons of good taste. They exhorted me to write a tragedy and proposed as its subject the Saga of Thebes. This subject had been treated earlier by Rotrou under the title ofAntigone.¹ But he had the brothers die at the beginning of the third act. The rest of the play was in effect...

  9. The Fratricides 1664
    (pp. 31-94)

    ETEOCLES, king of Thebes

    POLYNICES, brother of Eteocles

    JOCASTA, mother of these two princes and of Antigone

    ANTIGONE, sister of Eteocles and Polynices

    CREON, uncle of the princes and the princess

    HAEMON, son of Creon, in love with Antigone

    OLYMPIA, confidant of Jocasta

    ATTALUS, confidant of Creon

    A soldier in Polynices’ army


    The scene is at Thebes, in a chamber of the royal palace.


    They’ve left, Olympia?¹ — Ah! these mortal woes!

    I’ll pay with weeping for one hour’s repose!

    Six months my open eyes have stared through tears,

    And does sleep close them just when danger nears?...

    (pp. 95-120)

    The opening scenes of most of Racine’s later plays immediately launch into lengthy, detailed exposition; in this play we find ourselves in medias res and need time to get our bearings. Only the title of the play provides a hint regarding whom Jocasta means when she poses this question. (Racine’s original title read:La Thébaïde ou les Frères ennemis[The Saga of Thebes or The Enemy Brothers].) It is those brothers, then — Jocasta’s own sons, Eteocles, King of Thebes, and Polynices — to whom she refers. The “crime so heinous” (line 6) may be inferred frommytitle: Jocasta...

    (pp. 121-123)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 124-125)