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Doubt and the Cornelian Hero

  • Robert McBride

Abstract

No greater proof of the vitality of Corneille’s theatre could be found than that provided by the variety of different interpretations to which his heroes have given rise in modern criticism. One does not need to list the imposing bibliography which has grown up around him to be convinced of this. Among the innumerable expressions of critical viewpoints, not all are of equal importance, and in the field of Cornelian criticism, as in every other, some establish themselves on account of their lucidity and coherence. The conclusions of such seminal works may be modified and nuanced ad infinitum and thus dominate, in one form or another, the critical tendencies of their age. At the beginning of this century, the commonly accepted view of the Cornelian hero was founded on the authority of Gustave Lanson. In an article which is justifiably famous, he established a parallel between the heroes of Corneille’s plays and the conception of the généreux as formulated in Descartes’ Traité des Passions.1 According to Lanson, Cornelian heroism was essentially a heroism of the will and the reason, detached from any movement of the passions and following with equanimity its resolute and unshakeable decision. This view of the hero remained intact for some fifty years, and it was not until the publication of the studies of Cornelian heroism of Paul Bénichou and Octave Nadal that the critical framework which sustained it was seen to be seriously flawed and finally dismantled.2 These two scholars in particular have provided us with many invaluable insights into the nature of Corneille’s heroes.

Keywords

Christian Faith Human Feeling Natural Feeling Opening Scene Dramatic Situation 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    G. Lanson, ‘Le héros cornélien et le ‘généreux’ selon Descartes’, RHLF, I (1894) pp. 397–411;Google Scholar
  2. 1.
    see also A. J. Krailsheimer, Studies in Self-Interest from Descartes to La Bruyère (Oxford, 1962 ), pp. 47–60.Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    P. Bénichou, Morales du grand siècle (Paris, 1948);Google Scholar
  4. 2.
    O. Nadal, Le sentiment de l’amour dans l’oeuvre de Pierre Corneille (Paris, 1948 ).Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    Ibid., p. 127; cf. G. Poulet, Etudes sur le temps humain (Edinburgh, 1949 ), p. 127.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    La Bruyère, Les caractères, ou les moeurs de ce siècle (Paris, 1962), p. 88.Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    L. Herland, Horace ou la naissance de l’homme (Paris, 1952), pp. 71ff.Google Scholar
  8. 14.
    Corneille, Writings on the Theatre, ed. H. T. Barnwell (Oxford, 1965 ), p. 111.Google Scholar
  9. 16.
    Ibid., p. 9; see the illuminating study by R. C. Knight, ‘A minimal definition of seventeenth-century tragedy’, FS, 10 (1956), pp. 297–308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 19.
    See M-O. Sweetser, ‘Importance du personnage d’Auguste dans la dramaturgie cornélienne’, RR, LII (1961), p. 262, and op. cit., pp. 122–3.Google Scholar
  11. 19.
    A. D. Sellstrom, ‘The structure of Corneille’s masterpieces’, RR, XLIX (1958), p. 275.Google Scholar
  12. 20.
    S. Doubrovsky, Corneille et la dialectique du héros (Paris, 1963), p. 193; G. Lanson, art. cit., p. 401.Google Scholar
  13. 21.
    L. Herland, ‘Le pardon d’Auguste dans Cinna’, TR, 158 (février 1961 ), pp. 113–26.Google Scholar
  14. 26.
    R. Lebègue, ‘Remarques sur Polyeucte’, FS, III (1949), p. 218;.Google Scholar
  15. 26.
    cf. A. Adam, Histoire de la littérature française au XVIle siècle (Paris, 1962 ), I, pp. 538–9.Google Scholar
  16. 28.
    On the importance of emulation in Polyeucte see L. E. Harvey, ‘The role of emulation in Corneille’s Polyeucte’, PMLA, LXXXII, 5 (October 1967), pp. 314–24.Google Scholar
  17. 30.
    Lytton Strachey, Landmarks in French Literature (Oxford, 1964), p. 39 (1st ed. 1912);Google Scholar
  18. 30.
    also E. Faguet, En lisant Corneille (Paris, 1913);Google Scholar
  19. 30.
    J. Calvet, Polyeucte de Corneille ( Paris, 1932 ); P. Bénichou, op. cit.; O. Nadal, op. cit.Google Scholar
  20. 33.
    See R. Tobin, ‘Le sacrifice et ‘Polyeucte’, RSH (1973), p. 595, n. 18.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Robert McBride 1979

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert McBride
    • 1
  1. 1.The Queen’s University of BelfastUK

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