Jean Racine (1639–1699) was a gifted playwright. He is not given nearly enough credit for influencing playwrights Henrik Ibsen, Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter. Racine was the first French author to live entirely on money earned from writing. How many plays, apart from those of Shakespeare, are staged three hundred years after the playwrights death? Racine’s are.
His parents died when he was young so he was brought up by grandparents in Picardy.
During The Sun King’s (Louis XIV) reign, France was admired all over the world. Its political and cultural success forged a proud national identity (l'esprit français) which hasn’t quite gone away. France had the greatest king, the greatest army and the greatest culture in Europe. Racine, who wrote nine classical tragedies in the space of fourteen years, was part of it. He was idolised. His plays were considered perfect by which all others were judged. Jealous competitors bought all the tickets on first nights to ensure an empty theatre.
Racine said: ‘All creativity consists in making something out of nothing’. Racine's plays are not about nothing, but nothing happens in them. in Berenice there are just three stage directions: ‘Titus reads a letter’,’Berenice sits down’, ‘Berenice stands up’. He uses violent language but violence is never seen. It is reported on in an enclosed, claustrophobic, space. His audience enjoyed vicariously the strong feelings they dared not show. His tragic characters are mostly women whose tirades were met with wild applause. Necessity being the mother of invention, each Act had to last just twenty minutes, the time it took for candles in the theatre to burn down.
When his mistress, with whom he was in love, left him, Racine gave up the theatre, married a rich woman, accepted a prestigious post at the Palace of Versailles and became a respected insider at court.
Racine, who wrote the history of Port-Royal Abbey, was buried there. When the abbey was demolished his remains were moved to the church of St-Etienne-du-Mont near the Panthéon in Paris.
Among writers influenced by Racine are Émile Zola, Marcel Proust, Henry James, Honoré Balzac, Samuel Beckett, Tom Stoppard, and Harold Pinter. Nothing new under the sun springs to mind.
The title character of Balzac's play Mercadet is waiting for his never-seen business partner, a man called Godeau. Becket’s play, Waiting For Godot could have been written by Racine. Nothing happens, a nothing which keeps audiences glued to their seats. There is only one scene. A country road by a tree. Beckett was a devotee of Racine. He wrote in his diary: Last night a marvellous Bérénice on the air...nothing happens, they just talk...’ Stoppard's play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead has only two characters and very little action. Pinter’s Old Times has just three characters who talk without moving so, as in Racine’s plays, audiences hang on every word. A critic wrote: ‘A rare quality of high tension is evident, revealing in Old Times a beautifully controlled and expressive formality seldom been achieved since the plays of Racine.'
Post by Pamela