A study of all of the major tragedies of Jean Racine, France's preeminent dramatist-and, according to many, its greatest and most representative author-Mitchell Greenberg's work offers an exploration of Racinian tragedy to explain the enigma of the plays' continued fascination.
Greenberg shows how Racine uses myth, in particular the legend of Oedipus, to achieve his emotional power. In the seventeenth-century tragedies of Racine, almost all references to physical activity were banned from the stage. Yet contemporary accounts of the performances describe vivid emotional reactions of the audiences, who were often reduced to tears. Greenberg demonstrates how Racinian tragedy is ideologically linked to Absolutist France's attempt to impose the "order of the One" on its subjects. Racine's tragedies are spaces where the family and the state are one and the same, with the result that sexual desire becomes trapped in a closed, incestuous, and highly formalized universe.
Greenberg ultimately suggests that the politics and sexuality associated with the legend of Oedipus account for our attraction to charismatic leaders and that this confusion of the state with desire explains our continued fascination with these timeless tragedies.