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  • Racine et Euripide: la révolution trahie by Tristan Alonge
  • Mary Hamil Gilbert
Racine et Euripide: la révolution trahie. Par Tristan Alonge. (Travaux du Grand Siècle, 43.) Genève: Droz, 2017. 414 pp.

Although Jean Racine is widely considered an exceptional reader of ancient Greek, there are few studies devoted to the topic, and those that do exist are not recent (for instance, Roy C. Knight, Racine et la Grèce (Paris: Boivin et Cie, 1951)). Tristan Alonge's welcome contribution (a revised version of his 2015 Paris IV-Sorbonne doctoral dissertation), traces the development of Racine's commitment to Euripides from childhood through his dramatic career. Alonge contends that the 'révolution racinienne' (a term adopted from Georges Forestier) was largely due to Racine's successful imitation of Euripidean characterization as understood through the lens of Aristotle's Poetics. The title hardly does justice to the scope of the book, which includes analyses of Racine's engagement with early modern authors as well as many additional ancient texts. The book is organized into five lengthy chapters plus an Introduction and Conclusion: the first chapter lays the [End Page 598] groundwork for the others by exploring Racine's early training in Greek translation; the following four offer case studies of the 'Euripidean' plays. Chapter 1, 'Un élève pas comme les autres: l'origine de la révolution', provides an overview of Racine's Jansenist education, a targeted study of his annotations of Greek texts, and some preliminary thoughts about how the reading practices he developed as a student at Port-Royal would colour his early theatrical forays. Chapter 2, 'La Thébaïde ou le "crime involontaire": la révolution à l'épreuve de la scène', suggests that Racine's initial attempt to stage pure Aristotelean heroes — characters that are neither too good nor too bad — was unsuccessful in large part because of his failure to engage seriously with French predecessors and contemporaries. Chapter 3, 'Andromaque, entre trauma et espérance: la révolution contestée', demonstrates that contemporary literary quarrels compelled Racine to renegotiate his allegiance to Euripides (and Aristotle), a mediation evidenced by the changes he made to the end of the play in subsequent years. Chapter 4, 'Iphigénie, obéir et mourir: la révolution oubliée', argues that, although Racine nominally returns to Euripides after a six-year hiatus, he fundamentally distances himself from the Greek playwright by portraying his Iphigénie as unambiguously 'good' (in other words not Aristotelian) and by employing a traditional (Cornelian) plot. Chapter 5, 'Phèdre ou Euripide abandonné: la révolution affichée', claims that at the height of his career Racine was so immersed in the French theatrical milieu that his programmatic overtures to Euripides belie what amounts to a 'betrayal' of antiquity. The titular emphasis on 'revolution' feels forced, and the insistence that Racine discovered 'the secret' of Euripidean tragedy (or of Aristotelian characterization) seems overstated. The author's tendency to oversimplify the Greek texts can compromise his case, and the drive to rank the relative importance of Racine's sources threatens to obscure the rich tapestry of textual interplay that emerges from his study. A greater awareness of certain theoretical models, such as intertextuality and reception studies, would help. Nevertheless, this book offers many insights into Racine's deep engagement with antiquity and will be a crucial reference for anyone working on early modern tragedy and classical reception.

Mary Hamil Gilbert
Birmingham-Southern College


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pp. 598-599
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