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Racine

Racine, Jean (1639-99), was born at La Ferte-Milon, department of Aisne, his father being a procureur (solicitor). He was educated at Beauvais and at Port Royal, and was for a time assistant steward to the Duc de Luynes. For some time he led the life of a young man of pleasure at Paris, and in 1661 his relations had him sent to Uzes. Two years later he returned to Paris, and gained the favour of Louis XIV. by some courtier-like odes, while he also became intimate with Boileau, La Fontaine, and Moliere. Racine's first period lasted from 1664, when La Thebaide was played at the Palais Royal by Moliere's company, to 1677. Andromaque was produced in 1667, Iphigenie in 1675, and Phedre in 1677. A quarrel with Moliere (little to Racine's credit) arose out of the production of Alexandre le Grand (1665). Phedre, perhaps Racine's masterpiece, was unsuccessful at the time owing to a powerful opposition, who hired an inferior dramatist to produce a play on the same subject immediately after it was performed. During this period the poet became an Academician (1673), and made a bitter onslaught on Port Royal, which disapproved of players. From his marriage in 1677, however, he returned to the Jansenism in which he had been brought up, but was none the less a highly-successful courtier, being made with Boileau historiographer-royal, and accompanying Louis in his campaigns. His second period began in 1689 with Esther, and ended with Athalie in 1691. Racine was a perfect master of verse and of a certain thin passion, but lacked vigour; his relation to Corneille is that of Pope to Drydon. Les Plaideurs, produced in 1668, is an excellent comedy still often acted.

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