Re-writing history for the early modern stage: Racine’s Roman tragedies

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Nowhere has the Nachleben of Roman historiography been more visible and productive than in early modern theater. From the Renaissance to Romanticism, legions of tragedies and operas took their subjects from ancient history and drew heavily, and often literally, on Latin and Greek sources, many of which were familiar to dramatists and audiences alike. This intertextual dependence was especially strong in theatrical cultures which - unlike those of Elizabethan England or Golden Age Spain - came to be governed by a neo-classical poetics of imitatio that virtually excluded not only purely fictional subjects (which were restricted to comedy) but also the staging of recent, national history: in this framework, the role of serious drama was to re-enact illustrious and distant events attested by a textual tradition, be it mythology or secular and sacred history. At the same time, Aristotle’s famous distinction, in chapter 9 of his Poetics, between history, which recounts "the particular" (what actually happened), and poetry, which tends to express "the general" (what could happen), freed writers from the yoke of factual truth and authorized a creative handling of the historical matter.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to the Roman Historians
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781139002714
ISBN (Print)9780521854535
StatePublished - Jan 1 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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