Canonical States, Canonical Stages was first published in 1994. Minnesota Archive Editions uses digital technology to make long-unavailable books once again accessible, and are published unaltered from the original University of Minnesota Press editions.
In the crucible of seventeenth-century Europe, a new kind of subjectivity formed, private and interior. Perversely, the new private subject made its most spectacular appearance on the public stage-an appearance that, as Mitchell Greenberg amply demonstrates, also marked the emergence of absolutism in Europe. What these two phenomena had to do with one another, and how they were elaborated in the theater of the seventeenth century, is the subject of Greenberg's book, a masterful critical work that relates the dramatic construction of modern subjectivity and absolutist culture to the formation of the Western literary canon.
In particular, Canonical States, Canonical Stages shows how the Oedipus myth, reinterpreted on various stages at the end of the Renaissance, served the purposes of the emerging culture by replaying the founding moment of absolute rule. Working with models of genealogical criticism, psychoanalysis, and a certain Continental feminism, Greenberg reads plays by Shakespeare, Lope de Vega, Calderón, Corneille, and Racine to show how, as symptomatic texts staged within the confines of familial scenarios, they combine a dynamics of politics with a conflicting "private" desire shown to be inimical to the dominant ideology. This analysis reveals how scenarios of sacrifice and transcendence are brought into play to normalize and naturalize inchoate and threatening forces of social change by appealing to preexisting cultural models such as the myth of Oedipus. A fascinating integration of texts from political theory, psychoanalysis, history, and literature, Canonical States, Canonical Stages offers a powerful interpretation of the interrelated representation of subjectivity and absolutism on the seventeenth-century stage.
Winner of the 1995 MLA Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Prize for Comparative Literary Studies
Mitchell Greenberg is chair of the Department of French and Italian at Miami University in Ohio. He is the author of, among other books, Subjectivity and Subjugation in Seventeenth-Century Drama and Prose: The Family Romance of French Classicism (1992).
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.