Impacting French Theatre in A Big Way – Pierre Corneille


Pierre Corneille, a lesser known playwright than other playwrights like Racine and Molière, had a significant influence on the growth of French classic drama. Born in 1606 in Rouen, Corneille penned his premier play called Mélite, and this was even before turning twenty years old. HIS play gained unexpected momentum once it reached Paris. This led to the playwright’s move his base to Paris, while he continued writing successful comedies. This fame of Corneille attracted Cardinal Richelieu’s attention, and he invited Corneille to collaborate with ‘Les Cinq auteurs,’ who were a set of writers that the Cardinal was gathering, but due to personality clashes, Corneille went back to Rouen.

The Powerful Impact

In the 17th century, the French theatre was much behind, and Corneille was the first dramatist to enter it as the great traditionist of French theatre. He was most lauded by historians and scholars for his revolutionizing tragedy, though his plays also included impressive and groundbreaking comedies. At this time, the rules of a classical tragedy were rewritten.  Corneille’s first real foray was in 1637 with tragedy Le Cid, where he first performed. This place is known to be the earliest step toward French tragedy, and even though it was popular, the performances in public was not acceptable as the play did not focus on classical unities. Thus, Corneille returned only after three years of hiatus to the stage with three tragedy plays namely Horace in 1640, Polyeucte in 1643 and Cinna in 1641. All his work featured a moral dilemma and consumed the attention of the protagonists and also revealed the extremity of his influence in the relating situation.

Influential Plays

Corneille wrote tragedies after that and he also penned in 1643 ‘The Liar.’ This was his first ever attempt at comedy after a long gap of seven years. Corneille borrowed a storyline from a Spanish-based story and made it a comedy with his intelligent wordplay manners. The Renaissance in France was the base for this play. This play revealed character influences, and the Commedia narrative devices made them perfect for a drama script. It was a true success that the playwright pursued it by writing a sequel in 1645. The glory that came with the original was a significant inspiration to Molière who is known to be a master in French comedy plays.  He also confessed that he was indebted to his mentor, he said when he first performed he wished to write but did not know what his plot should be. He admitted that he had confused ideas, but the play finally determined his success. The theatre company of Moliere performed several of Pierre’s plays, both tragedies, and comedies. Corneille’s career after that was dotted with prolific output periods alternating with inactivity. And then, between the years 1659 right up to the year 1673, Corneille wrote a play every year.  Corneille died in 1684, but his playwright influence is everlasting.  In the present-day, even scholars acknowledge his immense contributions.

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