City Readers Digital Historic Collections at the New York Society Library
Jean Racine (1639-1699)
Jean Racine (French: [ʒɑ̃ ʁasin]), baptismal name Jean-Baptiste Racine (22 December 1639 – 21 April 1699), was a French dramatist, one of the three great playwrights of 17th-century France (along with Molière and Corneille), and an important literary figure in the Western tradition. Racine was primarily a tragedian, producing such "examples of neoclassical perfection" as Phèdre, Andromaque, and Athalie, although he did write one comedy, Les Plaideurs, and a muted tragedy, Esther, for the young.
Racine's plays displayed his mastery of the dodecasyllabic alexandrine; he is renowned for elegance, purity, speed, and fury, and for what Robert Lowell described as a "diamond-edge", and the "glory of its hard, electric rage". The linguistic effects of Racine's poetry are widely considered to be untranslatable, although many eminent poets have attempted to do so, including Lowell, Ted Hughes, and Derek Mahon into English, and Schiller into German. The latest attempt to translate Racine's plays into English earned a 2011 American Book Award for the poet Geoffrey Argent. Racine's dramaturgy is marked by his psychological insight, the prevailing passion of his characters, and the nakedness of both the plot and stage.