Jean Racine

Four French Plays
  • Four French Plays

  • This new Penguin volume includes the 'greatest hits' of French classical theatre, in vivid and acclaimed English translations.

    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.

    John Edmunds' translation of Phaedra was originally broadcast on Radio Three with a cast including Prunella Scales and Timothy West, and was subsequently praised by Harold Pinter. This is the first time it has been published.

    Often hailed as the father of French tragedy, PIERRE CORNEILLE made his name with the tragicomedy Le Cid in 1637. His best-known works include the tragedies Horace (1640) and Cinna (1641). MOLIÈRE founded the 'Illustre Théâtre' troupe and wrote numerous comedies, including Tartuffe (1664), which was banned, Le Misanthrope (1666) and L'Avare (1668). JEAN RACINE became known as one of the period's leading playwrights, with such tragedies as Andromaque (1667), Britannicus (1669) and Phèdre (1677).

    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).

Jean Racine was born in 1639 at La Ferté Milon, sixty miles east of Paris. In 1677, when he had ten plays to his credit and was high in favor with both the court and the public, he abandoned the theatre, which was regarded as far from respectable by the Church, and joined the Establishment as Royal Historiographer. It was only after a silence of twelve years that he wrote his last two plays (both on religious subjects), Esther and Athaliah. He died in 1699. John Cairncross also translated The Cid; Cinna ; The Theatrical Illusion (0140443126) for Penguin Classics.

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