Racine uses classics to teach in modernity

February 5, 2008

“The passions are portrayed merely in order to show the aberrations to which they give rise; and vice is painted throughout in colours which bring out its hideousness and hatefulness. That is really the objective which everyone working for the public should have in mind. And it is what the tragedians of early times aimed at above all else. Their theatre was a school in which virtue was taught not less well than in the schools of the philosophers. Hence it was that Aristotle was prepared to lay down rules for drama; and Socrates, the wisest of philosophers, did not disdain to lend a hand to the composition of Euripides’ tragedies. It would be greatly to be desired that modern writings were as sound and full of useful precepts as the works of these poets. This might perhaps provide a means of reconciling to tragedy a host of people famous for their piety and their doctrine who have recently condemned it and who would no doubt pass a more favourable judgement on it if writers were as keen to edify their spectators as to amuse them, thereby complying with the real purpose of tragedy.”

-Racine’s Preface to Phaedra (translated by John Cairncross, Penguin Group, London, 2004.)

As artists of the contemporary world, do you feel compelled to teach?

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