Emphasizing the crucial role played by the bodily medium in Racinian theater, this essay challenges the long critical tradition that has reduced Jean Racine’s dramaturgy to the poetic effects of its language, and French neoclassical tragedy to a transcoding of royal ceremonies. The omission of Racine’s tragic corpus is a gaping hole in Louis Marin’s discussion of the seventeenth-century theory of representation. Marin sees a perfect correlation between Pierre Corneille’s theater and the theatricality of power, conceived of as a force constructed through a dialectic between the hidden and the shown. Quite the opposite, Racine’s plays dramatize and reflect on two opposing regimes of theatricality. Each in its own way, Bérénice, Mithridate, and Phèdre contrast the political force of the “portrait of the king” and the emotional efficiency of theater as an art of the body. In resonance with the period’s debates in the visual arts, and within the overlapping contexts of the developing culture of galanterie and the quarrel of the ancients and the moderns, Racinian drama calls attention in a striking and unprecedented reflexive manner to the opacity of the theatrical body, whose effects reveal themselves to be both stronger and more unruly than those of monarchical representations.

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