A Bit About Jean Racine
French dramatist, playwright, dramatic poet and historiographer Jean Racine was born in 1639 in La Ferté-Milon. He has become renowned for his work in French classical tragedy, and although numerous attempts have been made, the excellence of his work is said to be untranslatable.
Orphaned at a young age, Racine’s mother passed away 13 months after he was born and his father died 2 years after that. His grandparents took him in and took care of him, and later when his grandfather died his grandmother took him with her to live in a convent along with a number of great scholars.
Racine was greatly influenced by Jansenist ideas in his formative years at the convent. These ideas were inspired by the writings of Saint Augustine and were preoccupied with concepts of original sin, the (lack of) free will in receiving salvation, and living life as a form of penance for original sin. Involvement with the theatre was disapproved by his Jansenist teachers, as theatre was considered a distraction from the wretchedness of the human condition.
Racine was associated with the great writer Moliere in that Moliere’s theatre troupe produced a number of Racine’s first plays. Throughout Racine’s writing career he was accused numerous times of poisoning the minds of audiences by his former Jansenist teachers. Having written poems, tragedy plays and comedy plays, by the end of his writing career he wrote religious plays to be performed by young people.
Around 1679 Racine married Catherine de Romanet, with whom he had 7 children, and retired from commercial theatre. He moved into working as a royal historiographer for King Louis XIV, progressing into roles including the treasurer of France, distinguished as an “ordinary gentleman of the King”, and becoming the secretary of the King.
Top Five Plays by Jean Racine
- Andromaque (1667)
- Britannicus (1669)
- Bérénice (1670)
- Phèdre (1677)
- Athalie (1691)
Jean Racine Quotes
“The principle rule of art is to please and to move. All the other rules were created to achieve this first one.”
“There are no secrets that time does not reveal.”
“A tragedy need not have blood and death; it is enough that it all be filled with the majestic sadness that is the pleasure of tragedy.”
“A noble heart cannot suspect the pettiness and malice that it has never felt.”
“Is a faith without action a sincere faith?”
“Love is not a fire to be shut up in a soul. Everything betrays us: voice, silence, eyes; half-covered fires burn all the brighter.”
“Justice in the extreme is often unjust.”