Pierre Corneille

Pierre Corneille

French playwright, representative of classicism
Date of Birth: 06.06.1606
Country: France

  1. Pierre Corneille - The Father of French Tragedy
  2. Early Works and Comedies
  3. Transition to Tragedy
  4. Peak of His Career
  5. Later Years and Legacy

Pierre Corneille - The Father of French Tragedy

Pierre Corneille, the renowned French dramatist and representative of classicism, was born in Rouen in 1606 and passed away in Paris in 1684. He was the son of a civil servant and spent his childhood in the countryside. He studied at a Jesuit school and later pursued law, eventually becoming a prosecutor. However, he showed little interest in his career.

Early Works and Comedies

In 1629, Corneille staged his first play, a comedy called "Melite," which was criticized for its simplicity and natural language. He went on to write a series of comedies, filled with various incidents, such as "Clitandre ou L'Innocence delivree" (1632) and "La Veuve ou le Traitre puni" (1633). These comedies helped establish Corneille's reputation and gained him the favor of Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister of France at the time.

Transition to Tragedy

From 1635 onwards, Corneille began writing tragedies, initially imitating the works of Seneca. One of his early attempts in this genre was "Medee." Inspired by Spanish theater, he then composed "L'Illusion Comique" (1636), a weighty farce featuring a Spanish matamore as the main character. However, it was in 1636 that Corneille produced a tragedy that would become a milestone in French theater history - "Cid." Despite criticism from the Paris Academy in their "Sentiments de l'Academie sur le Cid," the play remained widely popular, with people in Paris and all over France continuing to admire it.

Peak of His Career

The peak of Corneille's career can be marked by his plays "Horace" (1640), "Cinna" (1640), and "Polyeucte." During this time, he also married Marie de Lampriere and enjoyed a lively social life, frequently staying at the Hotel Rambouillet. He continued to write both brilliant comedies like "Le Menteur" and somewhat weaker tragedies like "Pompee," "Rodogune," "Theodore, vierge et martyre," and "Heraclius." In 1647, Corneille was elected a member of the French Academy.

Later Years and Legacy

In the later years of his life, Corneille faced financial difficulties and lived in seclusion. Thanks to the efforts of his friend, Bualo, he was granted a small pension. In addition to his theatrical works, Corneille also engaged in religious poetry, publishing a poetic translation of "Imitation de Jesus Christ" that achieved significant success. His other translations, including panegyrics to the Virgin Mary and psalms, were also influenced by the Jesuits.

Corneille's contribution to French theater lies primarily in the creation of national tragedy. Prior to his works, French theater had primarily imitated the Latin dramas of Seneca. Corneille revitalized French drama by infusing it with elements of Spanish theater, adding movement and passion. Additionally, he renewed the traditions of classical drama by depicting deeply human conflicts that transcended ordinary life. Some critics have contrasted Corneille's idealized portrayals of humanity with the more realistic works of his successor, Racine.

Corneille's tragedies, characterized by the eternal struggle between duty and emotion, showcase his adherence to Aristotle's principle that tragedy should depict important events and feature characters whose internal conflicts have fatal consequences. His best tragedies are marked by a sense of tragedy and conflict that resonates with the audience. Corneille's powerful verse, marked by its expressiveness and strength, is unparalleled. He has the ability to capture the essence of a character's soul in a single phrase or sentence, an unmistakable sign of true genius.

Despite his brilliance, Corneille's tragedies are not without flaws, and his talent is characterized by some unevenness. Nevertheless, his four best tragedies truly earn him the title of a great classic.