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A Madame: before the nineteenth century it was the custom of French poets to dedicate their works to noble patrons, who usually responded with some tangible sign of their appreciation of the honor. In any event, a noble protector, by allowing his name to stand at the head of a literary work, gave it a certain prestige which was bound to impress contemporary society. It was a kind of substitute for the modern pressnotice. Racine chose his patrons with much perspicacity. He dedicated his first play to the Duc de Saint-Aignan who had introduced him at court. He was thus enabled to show his gratitude and, at the same time, preserve for himself the protection of this powerful courtier, chevalier des ordres du Roi et premier gentilhomme de sa chambre. For the " Alexandre" Racine was still more ambitious, dedicating it to the king himself as the Alexander of modern times. The Madame to whom the " Andromaque" is dedicated was a no less happy choice. (See the work of G. Michaut, cited in the Introduction, for a very interesting and suggestive discussion of Racine's dedications.) Madame la duchesse d'Orléans, before her marriage to Philippe duc d'Orléans in 1661, had been HenrietteAnne d'Angleterre, daughter of Charles the First of England and Henriette de France, daughter of Henri IV. Racine hardly exaggerates the very prominent place she filled at court. All her contemporaries have testified to her many talents and her personal charms. When she died in 1670 at the age of twenty-six, it was remarked that in her "on perdit toute la joie, tout l'agrément et tous les plaisirs de la cour." Molière dedicated to her his "École des femmes" (1662) in terms which are quite as flattering as those employed by Racine, although they do not suggest the same degree of personal intercourse. Finally her untimely death, preluded by very grave family and political troubles, gave Bossuet an opportunity to deliver one of his greatest funeral orations: an effort in its field quite as distinctive and as perfect as the "Andromaque."
Page 1 Line 6 conduite: in this connection the word has reference to the construction of the plot or story of the play. It implies, therefore, that the poet was considerably indebted to the princess. We may infer that, in the portrayal of Andromaque and Hermione especially, Racine received from her some very valuable suggestions. It was probably to this very keen personal interest on the part of the princess that Racine was indebted for the privilege of having his tragedy presented at court before it appeared upon the public stage. — On savait: these on savaifs ("it was known'), with all the society talk which they imply, offer a very suggestive indication of the literary conditions of the time. As a matter of fact the brilliant and highly polished, if somewhat artificial, social intercourse of the aristocratic society of the time furnished, one may say, the atmospheric conditions in which many of the masterpieces of French classic literature grew up. So, for example, Corneille read his "Polyeucte " to the guests of Madame de Rambouillet before producing it upon the stage: the youthful Bossuet is said to have entertained the same guests by improvising sermons, and the " Maximes" of La Rochefoucauld are nothing but highly concentrated precipitates of conversations between the author and his friends who frequented the salons of Madame de La Fayette and the Marquise de Sablé.
1 13 toucher: translate by passive after laisser. This sentence is evidently directed against the critics who persisted in quibbling over Racine's portrayal of the characters (cf. Prefaces).
1 15 esprit . . . cœur: note the contrast, 'mind ' and 'heart,' implying what should be the true attitude of the spectator.
119 fausse lueur: Racine protests by this term against the too artificial and too pedantic construction which was being put upon certain rules and conventions derived from the "Ars Poetica" of Aristotle and of Horace. Chapelain, the most influential critic of that day, claimed that the study is the proper place in which to pass upon the merits of a tragedy. Racine's insistence upon the direct appeal of a play to the feelings and native intelligence of its spectators, as the criterion by which it shall be judged, is very characteristic and important.
1 20 possédiez: subjunctive after rhetorical question implying a negative answer; same construction in the two sentences following.
2 28 dédaignez etc.: persons of noble birth had long considered studious or literary pursuits beneath their dignity. Mlle, de Scudéry declares that one of her noble characters (Sapho) is indeed versed in all things, but hastens to add that this knowledge has been acquired without study. George de Scudéry, her brother, proclaimed that he was a poet only by the gift of nature and that he had burned more arquebus fuses than lamp wicks.
2 37 La règle souveraine: ever since the quarrel which followed the production of the "Cid" (1636-1637), and the resulting "Sentiments de l'Académie française sur le Cid," there had been a great deal of discussion concerning the rules and conventions of regular tragedy. Characteristic of the works which grew out of this discussion are the "Pratique du théâtre" (1657) of François Hédelin, abbé d'Aubignac, and the three "Discours" of Corneille (1660, Œuvres, I). Molière, Racine, and Boileau were the chiefs in the reaction against these too stereotyped views of the dramatic art. Molière, in the "Critique de l'École des femmes" (1663), had already stated the proposition: "je voudrais savoir si la grande règle de toutes les règles n'est pas de plaire."
2 42 en: object of parler. In verb phrases where the infinitive is governed directly (without a preposition), the pronoun object of the infinitive was quite regularly placed before the governing verb. Except in popular usage, this order now occurs only when the governing verb is voir, entendre, envoyer, sentir, laisser or faire.
Première Préface: this preface was written for the first two editions of 1668 and 1673.
3 1 Littoraque etc.: the eighteen verses cited by Racine are chosen from the forty beginning with verse 292 of the third book of the /Eneid.
And skirt Epirus' shore, till entering
Have from Achilles' heir endured the pride
Leda's Hermione, and nuptial ties 330
Orestes, with fierce love for his stol'n bride
4 27 de rien changer: this statement must be taken with some reserves. "Tous ses personnages [de Racine] enfin ont une connaissance d'euxmêmes et une profondeur exquise de sentiments qui est bien le fruit de la civilization moderne; et il est sûr que le désir de plaire à une amante n'était pas le mobile principal du véritable Oreste. . . . Mais le poète doit nous présenter des héros que nous comprenions, et auxquels nous puissions nous intéresser; l'idéal est de les conserver aussi antiques que nous pouvons les supporter." (P. Robert.) It is to these "antique traits " that Racine refers; we shall have occasion to note some of them. But the superimposed modern traits were what Racine's critics had in mind. Their pedantic scrupulousness tended to make of tragedy a bit of historical or archaeological reproduction rather than a portrayal of life. We admire here the art of Racine more than did his contemporaries.
4 29 Sénèque: L. Annseus Seneca, 3 B.c. (?) — 65 A.d., tutor of Nero; author of nine tragedies which exerted a great influence on sixteenth and seventeenth century French dramatists; now more admired for his works of moral philosophy. In his "Troades" Andromache has to choose not between marriage and the death of her son, but between the death of her son and the scattering of her husband's ashes. With the views held by the ancients concerning the burial of the dead, the one alternative was just about as desperate as the other.
4 30 le second de l'Enéide: reference to verses 491-558.
I saw the ravening Pyrrhus ... To the very shrine
He dragged him trembling, slipping in the blood
Of his own son, and held his hair, and flashed
The blade, and hid it in his side hilt-deep. (Billson's translation.)
4 32 se sont plaints: it is noteworthy that this was the only criticism that Racine cared to take up. That it was a quite common objection appears from the several scenes for which it furnishes subject-matter in Subligny's parody " La Folle Querelle." It is also said to have been raised by the great Condé. It is essential to note how Racine defends his presentation of the character in the interests of realism.
4 35 Céladon: the hero of the pastoral novel "Astrée" (1610-1626), written by Honoré d'Urfé (1568-1625). It inaugurated, and is typical of, the long series of still longer romances with which seventeenth century French literature abounded. Celadon declares his love to Astrée. Although in love with him, she treats him coolly. He plunges into the river, as he has nothing left to live for; but the river bears him to the realms of the princess Galathée, who makes love to him. He escapes to the wilderness and builds a temple to Astrée the goddess of justice; needless to say, the statue of the divinity which he carves bears the lineaments of his beloved. Astrée, repentant and in search of her lover, comes to the temple. He enters her service in maiden's disguise. A war ensues. Céladon performs prodigies of valor, thereby disclosing his identity. Astrée is shocked at his deception. Once more he seeks death, this time from the lions that guard the Fountain of the Truth of Love; but the lions do him no harm. Astrée, again repentant, finds him at the fountain. The magic waters attest the fidelity of both lovers, and this time all is for the best in the best of worlds. Céladon is the type of the perfect lover, and the sort of love he shows Astrée — always ready to " weep with delight when she gives him a smile and to tremble with fear at her frown " — is the précieuse conception of le parfait amour.
4 40 pour m'embarrasser = pour que je m'embarrasse in modern French.
4 46 farouche, inexorable, violent: "iracundus, inexorabilis, acer," in verse 121 of Horace's " Ars Poetica."
448 Aristote: Aristotle (384-322 B.c.) is called by Dante " the father of those who know." His " Poetica " was to the writers of the Renaissance and to all the French classic dramatists what the tables of Mount Sinai were to the Israelites. Lines 49-58 of Racine's preface are quoted, with a sufficient degree of literalness, from Aristotle's thirteenth chapter.
Seconde préface: this preface occurs for the first time in the edition of 1676. It begins with the quotation from Virgil and the first paragraph of the premiere Préface.
5 4 Euripide: Euripides (480-406 B.c.) is said to have composed a hundred and twenty dramas, of which about a score have been preserved. Aristotle called him " the most tragic of poets," referring to the almost