Esther and Athaliah
This book contains a complementary pair of neoclassical tragic plays based on biblical history. They were the last two plays written by Jean Racine, who had previously retired as a playwright to concentrate on establishing himself better in the courts of Louis XIV's France. In those times the work of playwrights was held in low esteem. The plays were commissioned by the Kings second wife, Madame de Maintenon. These plays were ahead of their time, in that they were written to be performed by not just women playing their own parts, but the daughters of nobility in the School of Saint Cyr. At this period it was still considered morally indefensible, by the churches in particular, for women to play their own roles in the ",crude", world of theatre. In these English language prose version the beautifully stylised form of the poetic original has been completely abandoned, as have nearly all the choral elements of the plays. What is left of the choral parts is now written as narrative. The plays in this form are reasonably accurate translations of both the direct meaning and the deeper sentiment. The stories behind the poetry have been elevated to a centre stage. The result is two robust plays suitable for dramatic performance by any and all English speakers. From here the dialogue is easily adaptable to actors of widely different abilities. These two tragic plays have a biblically based content, but can be played as everything from religious choral based works, to historical drama, to psychological thriller, and everything between. In reality the originals were a mix of all three. The choral parts could be reintroduced in infinitely variable ways, but that is far beyond the scope of this book. Racine was one of the very first to really explore the psychology of the characters, the people themselves behind the action, though quite obviously, he would have been unable to see his works in quite such modern terms. Racine although very much a man of the 17th Century aristocratic court, was also in many ways a much more modern man. He was a scholarly thinker who strode out from the aristocratic expectations of his position into a deep study of classics, these causing him to reflect on the contemporary expectations of his time, and arguably to step forward towards our modern age. These adaptations don't negate the value of the original. Those that are able should properly study them as penned by Racine, with or without the help of my versions. Rather I hope they add to the diverse ways in which we Anglophones can learn to appreciate Racine's art.
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