Pierre Corneille, one of the most prominent playwrights of French classical literature, is known for his tragicomedies and tragedies that graced the stages of 17th-century France. Born on June 6, 1606, in Rouen, France, Corneille’s works epitomize the ideals of French neoclassicism, with their focus on honor, duty, and the exploration of human emotions. His plays captivated audiences with their well-crafted characters, moral dilemmas, and soaring poetic language.
Here are five notable plays by Pierre Corneille that readers should discover:
“Le Cid” (1637)
Considered Corneille’s masterpiece, “Le Cid” tells the story of Rodrigue, a young nobleman torn between love and duty. The play explores themes of honor, loyalty, and the conflicts that arise between personal desires and societal expectations.
Set in ancient Rome, “Horace” presents a dramatic conflict between familial loyalty and patriotism. The play follows the Horatii and Curiatii, two rival Roman families whose members are chosen to fight in a duel that will decide the fate of their city.
This politically charged tragedy delves into themes of power, conspiracy, and moral choices. It tells the story of Emperor Augustus and his confidant, Cinna, who grapples with his desire for revenge and his loyalty to the emperor.
Inspired by the life of Saint Polyeuctus, this play explores religious conversion and martyrdom. It follows Polyeucte’s transformation from a Roman nobleman to a Christian, challenging the conventions of love, faith, and duty.
“L’illusion comique” (1636)
This tragicomedy combines elements of fantasy and reality as it follows a father’s quest to find his lost son. “L’illusion comique” explores the themes of illusion, truth, and the power of theatricality.
Pierre Corneille’s plays continue to be celebrated for their timeless themes, complex characters, and poetic language. Exploring Corneille’s works offers readers an opportunity to delve into the rich tapestry of French classical literature, where honor, passion, and moral choices collide on the stage. His plays remain a testament to the enduring power of theater and the exploration of the human condition.