Corneille, Pierre (16061684)

Corneille, Pierre, the father of French tragedy, born at Rouen, the son of a government legal official; was bred for the bar, but he neither took to the profession nor prospered in the practice of it, so gave it up for literature; threw himself at once into the drama; began by dramatising an incident in his own life, and became the creator of the dramatic art in France; his first tragedies are “The Cid,” which indeed is his masterpiece, “Horace,” “Cinna,” “Polyeucte,” “Rodogune,” and “Le Menteur”; in his verses, which are instinct with vigour of conception as well as sublimity of feeling, he paints men as they should be, virtuous in character, brave in spirit, and animated by the most exalted sentiments. Goethe contrasts him with Racine: “Corneille,” he says, “delineated great men; Racine, men of eminent rank.” “He rarely provokes an interest,” says Professor Saintsbury, “in the fortunes of his characters; it is rather in the way that they bear their fortune, and particularly in a kind of haughty disdain for fortune itself... He shows an excellent comic faculty at times, and the strokes of irony in his serious plays have more of true humour in them than appears in almost any other French dramatist” (16061684).

Definition taken from The Nuttall Encyclopædia, edited by the Reverend James Wood (1907)

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