Like Molière, he was of middle-class origin. His father was controller of the state’s salt monopoly at La Ferté-Milon, some fifty miles northeast of Paris; his mother was the daughter of an attorney at Villers-Cotterêts. She died in 1641, when Jean was not yet two; his father died a year later; and the boy was brought up by his paternal grandparents. There was a strong Jansenist bent in the family; a grandmother and an aunt joined the Port-Royal sisterhood, and Jean himself, at the age of sixteen, was sent to the petite école kept there by the Solitaries. He received from them an intensive training in religion and Greek—two influences that were to take turns in dominating his life. He was fascinated by the plays of Sophocles and Euripides, and translated some of them himself. At the Collèged’Harcourt in Paris he learned some philosophy and more classical lore, and discovered the mysterious charms of young womanhood, new and used. For two years he lived on the Quai des Grands-Augustins with his cousin Nicolas Vitart, who fluctuated between Port-Royal and the theater. Racine heard several plays, wrote one, and presented it to Molière. It was not good enough for production, but Molière gave him a hundred louis nevertheless, and encouraged him to try again. Racine decided upon a literary career.
Alarmed by this madness, and by reports of his amours, his relatives sent him to Uzès in south France (1659) as understudy to an uncle who, as canon of the cathedral, promised him an ecclesiastical benefice if he would study theology and be ordained. For a year the young poet, still simmering with Paris, covered his fire with a black robe, and read St. Thomas Aquinas—with a little Ariosto and Euripides on the side. Now he wrote to La Fontaine:
All the women are brilliant. . . corpus solidum et succi plenum [flesh firm and succulent]; but as the first thing that was said to me was to be on my guard, I do not wish to say more about them. Besides, it would be profaning the house of a beneficed priest, in which I live, to make a long discourse on the matter; domus mea domus orationis [my house is the house of prayer]. . . . I was told, “Be blind.” If I can’t be that entirely, I can at least be mute; for . . . one must be a monk with monks, just as I was a wolf with you and the other wolves of your pack. 6
The canon fell into difficulties, the promised benefice became uncertain, Racine discovered that he had no vocation to the priesthood. He changed his garb, closed the Summa, and returned to Paris (1663).
Arrived, he published an ode that drew a hundred louis from the royal purse. Molière suggested to him a theme which Racine turned into his second play, La Thébaïde. Molière produced it on June 20, 1664, but had to withdraw it after four performances. However, it made enough noise to be heard at Port-Royal-des-Champs. His nun aunt sent him thence a letter that deserves to be quoted as part of a drama as eloquent and touching as anything in Racine:
Having learned that you are planning to come here, I have asked of our Mother permission to see you. . . . But I have heard news, these last days, that has moved me deeply. I write to you in the bitterness of my heart, shedding tears that I should wish to lay in abundance before God to obtain from him your salvation, which is what I long for with more ardor than anything else in the world. I have learned with sorrow that you frequent, more than ever, people whose name is an abomination to all who have any measure of piety, and with reason, since they are forbidden entry to the church, or access to the Sacrament. . . . Judge, then, my dear nephew, in what state I must be, for you must know the tenderness I have always had for you, and that I have asked for nothing except that you should belong to God in some honorable employment. I beg you, then, my dear nephew, to have pity on your soul, to look into your heart and consider seriously into what an abyss you have cast yourself. I hope that what has been told me is not true; but if you are so unfortunate as to be continuing a commerce which dishonors you before God and men, you must not think of coming to see us, for you well understand that I could not speak with you, knowing you to be in a state so deplorable and so contrary to Christianity. Meanwhile I shall not cease to pray God to have mercy upon you and thereby upon me, since your salvation is so dear to me. 7
Here is quite another world than that which our pages usually record—a world of profound belief in the Christian creed, and of loving devotion to its moral code. We cannot but sympathize with a woman who could write with such sincerity of feeling, and not without excuse in her view of the French drama as it had been in her youth. Not quite so tender was a public statement by Nicole, who had taught Racine at Port-Royal:
Everyone knows that this gentlemen has written . . . stage plays. . . . In the eyes of right-minded people such an occupation is in itself not a very honorable one; but, viewed in the light of the Christian religion and the Gospel teaching, it becomes really a dreadful one. Novelists and dramatists are poison-mongers who destroy not men’s bodies but their souls. 8
Corneille, Molière, and Racine separately answered this indictment, Racine with an angry vigor that he keenly repented in later years.
His break with Port-Royal was soon followed by a break with Molière. On December 4, 1665, Molière’s company presented Racine’s third play, Alexandre. Molière was characteristically generous; he knew that Racine did not admire him as a tragic actor, and that the young author was in love with the most beautiful but not the most capable of his actresses; he kept himself and the Béjarts out of the cast, gave the leading female role to Thérèse du Parc, and spared no expense on the production. It met with a good reception, but Racine was dissatisfied with the acting. He arranged a private performance of his play by the Troupe Royale; he was so pleased that he withdrew it from Molière and gave it to this rival company. He persuaded Mlle, du Parc, who had become his mistress, to leave Molière’s company and join the older one. In its new home at the Hôtel de Bourgogne the play ran through thirty performances in little more than two months. It was not one of Racine’s masterpieces, but it established him as the successor of Corneille, and won him the guiding friendship of the critic Boileau. When Racine boasted, “I have a surprising facility in writing my verses,” Boileau replied, “I want to teach you to write them with difficulty.” 9 Henceforth the great critic taught the poet the rules of classic art.
We do not know with what difficulty Racine wrote Andromaque; in any case he reached in it the full perfection of his dramatic power and poetic style. Its dedication to Madame Henrietta recalls that he read the play to her, and that she wept. Yet it is a drama of terror rather than of sentiment, with all the inevitable catastrophe that we expect in Aeschylus or Sophocles. The plot is a tangle of loves. Orestes loves Hermione, who loves Pyrrhus, who loves Andromache, who loves Hector, who is dead. Pyrrhus, son of Achilles, has been awarded three prizes for his share in the Greek victory over Troy: Epirus as his kingdom, Andromache (Hector’s widow) as his captive, and Hermione (daughter of Menelaus and Helen) as his wife. Andromache is still young and beautiful, though always in tears; she lives only to remember her noble husband, and to fear for their child Astyanax, whom Racine, by dramatic license, rescues from the death allotted him in Euripides to use him here as a hinge of fate. Orestes, son and slayer of Clytemnestra, comes to Epirus as envoy of the Greeks to demand of Pyrrhus the surrender and death of Astyanax as a possible future avenger of Troy. Pyrrhus rejects the proposal in a passage of untranslatable music:
On craint qu’avec Hector Troie un jour ne renaisse,
Son fils peut me ravir le jour que je lui laisse.
Seigneur, tant de prudence entraîne trop de soin:
Je ne sais point prévoir les malheurs de si loin.
Je songe quelle était autrefois cette ville,
Si superbe en ramparts, en héros si fertile,
Maîtresse de l’Asie; et je regarde enfin
Quel fut le sort de Troie et quel est son destin.
Je ne vois que des tours que la cendre a couvertes,
Un fleuve teint de sang, des campagnes désertes,
Un enfant dans les fers; et je ne puis songer
Que Troie en cet état aspire à se venger.
Ah! si du fils d’Hector la perte était jurée,
Pourquoi d’un an entier l’avons-nous differée?
Dans le sein de Priam n’a-t-on pu l’immoler?
Sous tant de morts, sous Troie il fallait l’accabler.
Tout était juste alors: la vieillesse et l’enfance
En vain sur leur faiblesse appuyaient leur defense;
La victoire et la nuit, plus cruelles que nous,
Nous excitaient au meurtre, et confondaient nos coups.
Mon courroux aux vaincus ne fut que trop sévère.
Mais que ma cruauté survive à ma colère?
Que malgré la pitié dont je me sens sàisir,
Dans le sang d’un enfant je me baigne à loisir?
Non, Seigneur. Que les Grecs cherchent quelque autre proie;
Qu’ils poursuivent ailleurs ce qui reste de Troie:
De mes inimitiés le cours est achevé;
L’Épire sauvera ce que Troie a sauvé.* 10
There is one defect here: Pyrrhus, and perhaps Racine, do not recognize how much the conqueror’s pity owes to the fact that he has fallen in love with the child’s mother—even to offering to marry her (whom he might have made his slave), and to adopt Astyanax as his son and heir. She refuses him; she cannot forget Hector, whom Pyrrhus’ father killed. He threatens to abandon the child to the Greeks, and, terrified, she consents to marriage. But Hermione—as powerful a conception as Lady Macbeth—burns with anger at being cast aside; while still loving Pyrrhus, she resolves to kill him; she accepts Orestes’ proffered devotion, on condition that he shall slay Pyrrhus. Reluctantly he agrees. At every step and in every character of this drama there is a conflict of motives mounting to a psychological complex as subtle as any in literature. Greek soldiers, violating sanctuary, kill Pyrrhus at the altar where he is exchanging marriage vows with Andromache. Hermione scorns Orestes, runs to the altar, plunges a knife into the dead Pyrrhus, stabs herself, and dies. This is Racine’s greatest play, worthy to stand comparison with Shakespeare or Euripides: a plot well constructed, characters revealed in depth, feelings studied in their full complexity and intensity,† and poetry of such splendor and harmony as France had not heard since Ronsard.
Andromaque was at once recognized as a masterpiece, establishing Racine as the successor, and perhaps the superior, of Corneille. He entered now his happiest decade, passing from one triumph to another, and even challenging Molière with a comedy. Les Plaideurs (1668), a burlesque on greedy lawyers, false witnesses, and corrupt judges, echoed Racine’s own experience of the law. He had solicited and obtained a lien on the income of a priory; his claim was disputed by a monk; a long lawsuit followed, which so disgusted Racine that he abandoned the case, and avenged himself with the play. It did not please its first audience; but when it was shown at court Louis XIV laughed so heartily at its sallies that the public changed its mind; and this mediocre comedy played its part in filling Racine’s purse.
One minor note intervened. On December 11, 1668, his mistress Mile. du Parc died in mysterious circumstances—of which more later on. After due delay he took another actress, Marie Champmeslé. She had an attentive husband but a bewitching voice; Racine eluded the one and surrendered to the other. The liaison lasted from Bérénice to Phèdre, after which, as a wit expressed it, the lady was déracinée—torn from the root—by the Comte de Clermont-Tonnerre.
Racine thought that Britannicus (1669) was his most careful work; and like Phèdre and Athalie it is often ranked above Andromaque. The modern reader, even if steeped in Tacitus, will likely find it distasteful: a termagant Agrippina, a whining Britannicus, a floundering Burrhus, a slimy Narcissus, a Nero all evil—no character here shows us complexity or development, none offers us that strain of nobility which should somewhere redeem any tragedy worthy of a poet’s pen.
As Britannicus looked into Tacitus’ chamber of horrors, so Bérénice (1670) took an emperor’s love story from a compact line in Suetonius: Berenicem statim ab urbe demisit invitus invitam12—“He, unwillingly, at once sent the unwilling Berenice from the city.” Titus, besieging Jerusalem (A.D. 70), had fallen in love with the Jewish princess. Though already thrice married, she follows him to Rome as his mistress; but when he inherits the throne he realizes that the Empire would not tolerate an alien queen, and he dismisses her in a royal burst of common sense. The play was warm with sentiment, and succeeded well with both the public and the King, who must have recognized with pleasure his own court and victories in Berenice’s description of the young Emperor’s glory:
De cette nuit. . . as tu vu la splendeur?
Tes yeux ne sont-ils pas tout plein de sa grandeur?
Ces flambeaux, ce bûcher, cette nuit enflaminée,
Ces aigles, ces faisceaux, ce peuple, cette armée,
Cette foule de rois, ces consuls, ce sénat,
Qui tous de mon amant empruntaient leur éclat;
Cette poupre, cet or, que rehaussait sa gloire,
Et ces lauriers encore témoins de sa victoire;
Tous ces yeux qu’on voyait venir de toutes parts
Confondre sur lui seul leurs avides regards;
Ce port majestueux, cette douce présence.
Ciel! avec quel respect et quelle complaisance
Tous les coeurs en secret l’ assuraient de leur foi!
Parle: peut-on le voir sans penser comme moi
Qu’en quelque obscurité que le sort l’eut fait naître,
Le monde, en le voyant, eut reconnu son maître?* 13
Is it any wonder that Racine, so skillful in adulation, rose rapidly in favor with the King?
We pass respectfully by some lesser plays, all of them still holding the French stage: Bajazet (1672), Mithridate (1673), which Louis liked best of all, and Iphigénie (1674), which Voltaire ranked with Athalie as one of the finest poems ever written. 14Iphigéniehad its première in the Versailles gardens, by the light of crystal chandeliers hung in the orange and pomegranate trees; violins played; half the elite audience melted; Racine stepped forward to acknowledge the most cherished plaudits of his career. Produced in Paris, it ran for forty performances in three months. Meanwhile (1673) he had been elected to the French Academy. Nothing seemed lacking to his happiness.
But it is still not given to poets to be happy, unless beauty proves a joy forever, and praise encounters no discordant voice. “The applause I have met with,” Racine told his son, “has often flattered me a great deal; but the smallest critical censure . . . always caused me more vexation than all the pleasure given me by praise.” 15 He himself was not only thin-skinned, as he had to be, but he was short-tempered, and returned every unkind word. At the height of his success he found half of Paris carping at him, even working for his fall. Corneille had outlived himself, but his followers remembered the heroic tone and topics of his earlier tragedies, the air of nobility in his eloquence, the lofty level on which he raised the calls of honor and the state above the romances of the heart. They accused Racine of debasing the tragic drama with the half-mad passions of ignoble creatures, introducing to the stage the gallantries of courtly love, and drenching it with the tears of his heroines. They were resolved to bring him down.
When it became known that he was writing Phèdre, a group of his enemies persuaded Nicolas Pradon to write a rival play on the same theme. Both dramas had originally the same title—Phèdre et Hippolyte—and stemmed from the legend that Euripides had told with classic restraint. Phedra, wife of Theseus, developed an uncontrollable passion for Hippolytus, son of Theseus by an earlier marriage; finding him frigid to women, Phedra hanged herself, leaving in revenge a note accusing Hippolytus of an attempt against her virtue; Theseus banished his innocent son, who was soon afterward killed while driving horses along Troezen’s shores. Racine altered the sequence, making Phedra poison herself after hearing of Hippolytus’ death. This version was produced at the Hôtel de Bourgogne on January 1, 1677; Pradon’s was staged two days later at the Théâtre de Guénégaud. Both for a time had equal success; but Pradon’s play is now forgotten, while Racine’s is usually rated as his masterpiece; the role of Phèdre is the goal of all French actresses, as that of Hamlet lures the tragedians of the English theater.* Racine, model of the classic style, rivaled the romantics in the emotionalism of Phedra’s love, and Hippolytus (quite contrary to the legend) burns for the Princess Aricia. Phedra learns of this passion, and Racine gives us in excited detail a study of a woman scorned. He redeems these romantic ecstasies with a powerful description of how the frightened horses of Hippolytus dragged him to death.
In the preface to Phèdre (the religious element in him now rising as the sexual subsided) Racine offered an olive branch to Port-Royal:
I do not dare assure myself that this . . . is the best of my tragedies . . . But I am sure that I have written none in which virtue has been put in a better light. The slightest faults are here severely punished; the mere thought of crime is here regarded with as much horror as the crime itself. The weaknesses of love are here seen as real weaknesses. The passions are brought to view only to show all the disorder of which they are the cause; and vice is here painted throughout in colors that make us see and hate its deformity. This is the proper end that every man who works for the public should propose to himself. . . . It would perhaps be a means of reconciling the tragic drama with many persons famous for their piety and their teaching who have lately condemned it, but who would judge it more favorably if authors thought as much of instructing their spectators as of entertaining them, and if they followed in this the true intention of tragedy. 17
Arnauld, famous for his piety and his teaching, welcomed this new note, and announced his approval of Phèdre. Perhaps in writing the preface Racine, now thirty-eight, was looking forward to settling down from multiplicity to unity. On June 1 of this year 1677 he took a well-dowered wife. He discovered the comforts of domesticity, and found more delight in his first child than in his most successful play. The jealousies and cabals of competitors had soured his taste for the theater. He put aside the plots and notes that he had made for future dramas, and for twelve years he confined himself to writing occasional verse and prose—chiefly a filial and reverent history of Port-Royal.
A bitter contretemps disturbed his exemplary peace. In 1679 the special court investigating the charges of poisoning made against Catherine Monvoisin drew from her the accusation that Racine had poisoned his mistress Thérèse du Parc. “La Voisin” gave details, but there was no corroboration. Being confident of death, she had nothing to lose by making false accusations; and it was noted that one of her clients and friends was the Comtesse de Soissons, a member of the clique that had opposed Racine in theaffaire Phèdre. 18Nevertheless Louvois wrote to the commissioner Bazin de Bézons, on January 1, 1680: “The royal warrant for the arrest of the Sieur Racine will be sent to you as soon as you ask for it.” But as the investigation proceeded and seemed to implicate Mme. de Montespan, the King ordered the suppression of the trial record, and no action was taken against Racine. 19
Louis showed continued faith in the dramatist. In 1664 he assigned him a pension; in 1674 he gave him a sinecure worth 2,400 livres per year, in the department of finance; in 1677 he appointed Racine and Boileau court historiographers; in 1690 the poet became gentleman in ordinary to the King, which brought him an additional two thousand livres annually. In 1696 he was rich enough to buy the office of secretary to the King.
His active fulfillment of his duties as historiographe royal shared in withdrawing him from the theater. He accompanied the King on campaigns to record the events more faithfully. Otherwise he remained at home, busying himself with the development of his two sons and five daughters, but sometimes, amid their turbulence, wishing that he had become a monk. He might never have written another play had not Mme. de Maintenon appealed to him to compose a religious drama, purified of all love interest, to be played by the young women whom she had gathered into the Academy of St.-Cyr. Andromaque had already been played there, but the virtuous Maintenon noted that the girls enjoyed the passages of amorous passion. To bring them back to piety Racine wroteEsther.
He had never before taken a theme from the Bible, but he had studied that book for forty years, and knew all the complex history recorded in the Old Testament. He himself coached the young ladies in their parts, and the King contributed 100,000 francs to provide the Persian costumes required. When it was produced (January 25, 1689) Louis was among the few men in the audience. The clergy, then the court, clamored to see it; St.-Cyr gave twelve more performances. Esther did not reach the general public till 1721, six years after the death of the King, and then (religion having lost its royal patronage) it met with indifferent success.
On January 5, 1691, St.-Cyr produced Racine’s latest play, Athalie. Athaliah was the wicked queen who for six years led many of the Jews into the pagan worship of Baal, until she was deposed by a priestly revolution. 20 Racine made from the story a drama whose power can be felt only by those who come to it familiar with the Bible narrative, and still warm with orthodox Jewish or Christian faith; others will find its long speeches and somber spirit discouraging. The play seemed to applaud the expulsion of the Huguenots and the triumph of the Catholic hierarchy; on the other hand it contained, in the high priest’s warning to the young King Joad, a strong denunciation of absolute rule:
Brought up far from the throne, you have not felt its poisonous charm; you do not know the drunkenness of absolute power, and the enchantment of cowardly flatterers. Soon they will tell you that the holiest laws . . . should obey the king; that a king has no other restraint than his own will; that he should sacrifice everything to his supreme grandeur . . . Alas! they have misled the wisest of kings. 21
The lines won much applause during the eighteenth century, and may have moved Voltaire and others 22 to rank Athalie as the greatest of French dramas. Subsequent lines suggest that the highpriest was merely arguing for the subordination of kings to priests.
Louis, whose piety now exceeded Racine’s, saw no harm in the play, and continued to receive Racine at court despite the poet’s known sympathy with Port-Royal. But in 1698 the royal favor lapsed. At the request of Mme. de Maintenon Racine drew up a statement of the sufferings that were afflicting the people of France in the final years of the reign. The King surprised her reading this document, took it, drew from her the author’s name, and flew into a rage. “Does he think, because he is a perfect master of verse, that he knows everything? And because he is a great poet does he want also to be minister?” Maintenon, all apologies to Racine, assured him that the storm would soon pass. It did; Racine returned to the court and was received graciously, though, he thought, not as warmly as before. 23*
What killed the poet was not a cold look from the King, but an abscess of the liver. He submitted to an operation, and was for a time relieved; but he was not deceived when he said, “Death has sent in its bill.” 26 Boileau, himself ailing, came to stay at his friend’s bedside. “I rejoice,” said Racine, “to be allowed to die before you.” 27 He drew up a simple will, whose central paragraph was a plea to Port-Royal:
I desire that my body shall be taken to Port-Royal-des-Champs, and that it shall be buried in the cemetery there . . . I most humbly beg the Mother Abbess and the nuns to grant me this honor, though I know that I am unworthy of it, both by the scandals of my past life and by the little use that I have made of the excellent education that I formerly received in that house, and the great examples of piety and penitence that I saw there. . . . But the more I have offended God, the more do I need the prayers of so holy a community. 28
He died April 21, 1699, aged fifty-nine. The King pensioned the widow and the children till the death of the last survivor.
France ranks Racine among her greatest poets, as representing, with Corneille, the highest development of the modern classic drama. Under Boileau’s urging he accepted a strict interpretation of the “three unities,” and achieved thereby an unrivaled concentration of feeling and power through a single action transpiring in one place and completed in one day. He avoided the intrusion of secondary plots, and all mingling of tragedy and comedy; he excluded commoners from his tragedies, and dealt usually with princes and princesses, kings and queens. His vocabulary was purged of all words that might have been out of place in the salons or the court, or might have raised an eyebrow in the French Academy. He complained that he did not dare mention, in his plays, so vulgar an operation as eating, though Homer was full of it. 29 The aim was to achieve a style that would reflect in literature the speech and manners of the French aristocracy. These restrictions limited Racine’s range; each of his dramas, before Esther, was like its predecessors, and in each the sentiments were the same.
Despite the classical idea of intelligence overspreading life and controlling emotion and speech, Racine verged upon romanticism in the character and intensity of the feelings he expressed. Whereas in Corneille the sentiments stressed honor, patriotism, and nobility, in Racine they centered largely about love or passion; we sense in him the influence of the romances of d’Urfé, Mme. de Scudéry, and Mme. de La Fayette. He admired Sophocles most among all dramatists, but he reminds us rather of Euripides, in whom the Sophoclean restraint and dignity of expression passed now and then into an abandon of ardor and feeling; there is more restraint of speech in Hamlet or Macbeth than in Andromaque or Phèdre. Racine frankly stated his view that “the first rule” of drama “is to please and touch the heart.” 30 He did this by dealing with the heart, by taking as his main characters persons—usually women—of emotional intensity, and turning his plays into a psychology of passion.
He accepted the classic prohibition of violent action on the stage, and therefore restricted himself to expressing passion by speech. This put a heavy burden upon style; the drama became a succession of orations, and the uninterrupted march of alexandrines—twelve-syllable lines rhyming in couplets—skirts the edge of monotony; we miss in Racine and Corneille the flexibility, naturalness, and incalculable variety of Elizabethan blank verse. What a labor of genius must have been required to lift this narrow form out of a wearying sameness by the force and beauty of style! Racine and Corneille should not be read, they must be heard, preferably at night in the court of the Invalides or the Louvre.
To compare Racine with Corneille is an old pastime among the French. Mme. de Sévigné, after seeing Bajazet, and before Iphigénie or Phèdre had been staged, pronounced for Corneille with her usual verve. Rashly, but perhaps rightly, she predicted:
Racine will never be able to go beyond . . . Andromaque . . . His plays are written for [Mlle.] Champmeslé . . . When he grows old and ceases to be in love, then it will be seen whether I am mistaken or not. Long live, then, our friend Corneille; and let us forgive the bad lines we meet with in him for the sake of those divine passages that so often transport us . . .
It is in general the opinion of everyone of good taste. 31 But Voltaire, having undertaken to edit Corneille, shocked the French Academy by noting the faults, the crudities, the rhetoric of the great dramatist. “I confess,” he wrote, “that in editing Corneille I become an idolater of Racine.” 32 Time has recognized those faults, and has forgiven them in one who had not Racine’s advantage of coming after Corneille. To have raised the French drama from its previous level to the height of Le Cid and Polyeucte was a more difficult achievement than to reach the passionate ecstasies and melodious beauty of Andromaque and Phèdre. Corneille and Racine are the masculine and feminine themes in the poetry of the Great Century—the powerful expression of honor and love. They must be taken together to feel the scope and strength of the French classical drama, just as we must take Michelangelo and Raphael together to judge the Italian Renaissance, or Beethoven and Mozart to understand German music at the close of the eighteenth century.
David Hume, a canny Scot well versed in the language and literature of France, thought that “with regard to the stage, the French have excelled even the Greeks, who far excelled the English.” 33 This is a judgment that would have surprised Racine himself, who worshiped Sophocles as perfection, though he dared to rival Euripides. And in this he succeeded, which is praise indeed. He kept the modern drama at a level that only Shakespeare and Corneille had reached, and that no one but Goethe has touched again.