Theatrical tragedy has long served as a focal point for studies of seventeenth-century French letters, and of French literature tout court. Turn-of-the-century critics such as Gustave Lanson, René Bray, and Eugène Rigal attributed to “l’époque classique” under Louis XIV a quintessentially French “génie” that had the distinction of being codified by explicit rules, set out most famously (albeit a bit late in the game) by Nicolas Boileau’s 1674 Art poétique and best exemplified by the tragedies of Jean Racine. Hélène Bilis aligns Passing Judgment with the well-established body of scholarship that has questioned how closely tragedians in practice adhered to these rules. More specifically, Bilis explores, through the character of the king as judge in theatrical tragedy, the tension between the poetic imperatives of neoclassicism and the political constraints imposed by an increasingly absolutist royal court. From the moment Richelieu’s Académie...

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