Thursday, December 13, 2007

Racine, Jean (1639-1699)

Racine, Jean (1639-1699)

French dramatist, known for the effective simplicity of his poetic style and his psychological portrayals of the passions of his characters.

His works include La Thébaïde ( 1664); Alexandre ( 1665); Andromaque ( 1667); Les Plaideurs ( 1668), his sole comedy; Britannicus (1669); Bérénice (1670); Bajazet (1672); Mithridate (1674); Iphigénie ( 1674); Phédre ( 1677), regarded as the author's masterpiece; Esther (1688-1689); Athalie (1690), performed privately, called by some critics the author's greatest dramatic poem. The subjects of most of these dramas were derived from the tragedies of Euripides or historical accounts.

Racine was educated in a Jansenist school and at first intended for the priesthood; the influence of Jansenist doctrines of Original Sin combined with the classic Greek concept of Fate has been found in his tragedies. Moliére, La Fontaine, and Boileau were his friends in Paris, where his plays suffered through the enmity of partisans of his rivals, among whom was Corneille. Racine retired as a writer for the stage after the production of Phèdre. Esther was performed by the schoolgirl daughters of French nobles, and Athalie was not produced in Paris until 1716.

Rabelais, François (1494?-1553)

Rabelais, François (1494?-1553)

French scholar, humanist, physician, and satirist, early in his career a member first of the Franciscan order and then of the Benedictine order.

He is famous for his robust and outspoken burlesque Gargantua and Pantagruel, satirizing contemporary religion, pedantry, politics, and social institutions, exalting nature, empiricism, and characteristic Renaissance variety and richness, and showing evidence of derivations from numerous source-books of the author's day. This work was published as follows: Les Grandes et Inestimables Chroniques du Grand et Enorme Géant Gargantus ( 1532), a chapbook; Pantagruel ( 1533), later Book II of the work in its best-known form; La Vie Inestimable du Grand Gargantua, Père de Pantagruel ( 1534), later Book I; Book III (1546); Book IV (1552), condemned by the Sorbonne and prohibited from sale; Isle Sonnante ( 1562) and Le Cinquième et dernier Livre des Faits et Dits Héroïques du Bon Pantagruel ( 1564), constituting Book V and considered by some scholars to be of doubtful authenticity, although it is believed that an outline prepared by the author was used for it.

Rabelais took his Master's and Doctor's degrees in medicine and divided his time between his practice as a physician and a second profession of editing and publishing books. His great work contributed in an important degree to the development of the French language, more than 600 words having been added through it to the Vocabulary of the modern language of France. Rabelais is considered to have influenced most Montaigne, Moliere, Blaise Pascal, Anatole France, Jonathan Swift, and Laurence Sterne.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Swinburne, Algernon Charles (1837-1909)

Swinburne, Algernon Charles (1837-1909)

English poet, associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, known for his rebellion against Victorian social conventions and religion, his active sympathies with the movements and leaders of political revolution of his time, and the pagan spirit and amazing musical effects of his poetry.

He was an intense admirer of P. B. Shelley and Victor Hugo, and was influenced in his own poetry by Greek legend and Roman classic literature, medieval romance, and Elizabethan drama. Among his poetic works are Atalanta in Calydon ( 1865), a drama in classical Greek form; The Queen Mother, Rosamund--Two Plays ( 1860); Poems and Ballads: First Series ( 1866), lyrics dealing chiefly with sensual love, which caused a sensation on its first publication; A Song of Italy ( 1867) and Songs before Sunrise ( 1876), on the cause of Italian union and independence; Poems and Ballads: Second Series ( 1878); Songs of the Springtides ( 1880) and Studies in Song ( 1880), concerned mostly with the sea; Tristram of Lyonesse ( 1882), a narrative poem on the legend of Tristan and Iseult; Poems and Ballads: Third Series ( 1889); Chastelard ( 1865), Bothwell: A Tragedy ( 1874), and Mary Stuart ( 1881), a trilogy of verse dramas on Mary Queen of Scots; Marino Failero ( 1885), a tragedy on the same theme used by Byron; Astrophel ( 1894); A Tale of Balin ( 1896); A Channel Passage ( 1904); The Duke of Gandia ( 1908). Essays and Studies ( 1875), Miscellanies ( 1886), and several sketches in the Encyclopaedia Britannica works of criticism.In his early career, Swinburne's behavior was eccentric, violent, and dissipated, intended to shock the respectable people of his age.

After an illness resulting from his excesses, he was taken into the home of Theodore WattsDunton, a literary critic, and stayed there the rest of his life. Some critics believe that WattsDunton stifled Swinburne's talent by "reforming" him, curbing his rebellion and forcing him to be docile and conventional. The poet's later work is not considered to be of as high a quality as his earlier. Cf. Max Beerbohm's classic essay "No. 2, The Pines," describing a visit to the couple.Among Swinburne's best-known single lyrics are Hymn to Artemis, Hymn to Prosperpine, The Garden of Proserpine, and Hertha. A study of Swinburne's life and poetry is contained in Poor Splendid Wings, by Frances Winwar , and a biography was written by Edmund Gosse.