'Three Plays of Racine: Phaedra, Andromache, and Brittanicus'
By Jean Baptiste Racine (Author), George Dillon (Translator)
The 17th century dramatist Jean Racine was considered, along with Molière and Corneille, as one of the three great playwrights of his era. The quality of Racine's poetry has been described as possibly his most important contribution to French literature and his use of the alexandrine poetic line is one of the best examples of such use noted for its harmony, simplicity and elegance. While critics over the centuries have debated the worth of Jean Racine, at present, he is widely considered a literary genius of revolutionary proportions.
"George Dillon has elected for speed and clarity; his speed, of which short quotations can impart no notion, is his equivalent for Racine's impetuous dexterity with the French Alexandrine. . . . Momentum, in such a version, is everything. It stands as a homage to Racine's strength of construction . . . and to the expressive power of his themes, on which Mr. Dillon's prefaces have eloquent and sensible things to say."—Hugh Kenner, National Review
Jean Racine, baptismal name Jean-Baptiste Racine (22 December 1639 – 21 April 1699), was a French dramatist, one of the three great playwrights of 17th-century France (along with Molière and Corneille), and an important literary figure in the Western tradition. Racine was primarily a tragedian, producing such "examples of neoclassical perfection" as Phèdre, Andromaque, and Athalie, although he did write one comedy, Les Plaideurs, and a muted tragedy, Esther, for the young.
Racine's plays displayed his mastery of the dodecasyllabic alexandrine; he is renowned for elegance, purity, speed, and fury, and for what Robert Lowell described as a "diamond-edge", and the "glory of its hard, electric rage". The linguistic effects of Racine's poetry are widely considered to be untranslatable, although many eminent poets have attempted to do so, including Lowell, Ted Hughes, and Derek Mahon into English, and Schiller into German. The latest attempt to translate Racine's plays into English earned a 2011 American Book Award for the poet Geoffrey Argent. Racine's dramaturgy is marked by his psychological insight, the prevailing passion of his characters, and the nakedness of both the plot and stage.
Note: 'The Great Books of the Western World' recommends Racine's 'Andromache'