Abstract

Generally speaking, deaths in tragedy involve murder or suicide. This article brings together a handful of disparate cases, from within Corneille’s dramatic work, of deaths that do not fit into this typical tragic schema. Such deaths held something of a fascination for Corneille throughout his career: between his comedy L’Illusion comique (1635) and his swansong tragedy Suréna (1674), four of his female characters die of a broken heart, and one man is struck down by a lethal haemorrhage. Although these ‘(un)natural deaths’ clearly compromise vraisemblance, the very backbone of seventeenth-century dramaturgy, Corneille is also keen to harness their potential benefits as a source of dramatic, ethical, or emotional effect. This article traces the various techniques that Corneille adopts in order to integrate such causally problematic deaths into his plays. As I argue, although Corneille never settles for a single strategy (sometimes refusing to re-use even techniques he deems successful), he increasingly tends to draw on his rhetorical skills to ‘prepare’ these potentially awkward deaths on a thematic or poetic level. This becomes most poignantly clear at the end of his final tragedy Suréna, which reworks elements of his earlier ‘(un)natural deaths’ to unexpectedly elegiac effect.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1468-2931
Print ISSN
0016-1128
Pages
pp. 289-304
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-09
Open Access
No
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