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Conquer the pronunciation, though, and you're on to a winner. And then answer your own question by borrowing her opinion that Mirren's emotional scenes "are delivered as rhetorical set pieces; she never seems driven from one statuesque or writhing pose to another".

What is French like at St. John’s College? – The Johnnie Chair

Or you could pinch Michael Coveney 's rather splendid snipe that this "reverentially presented" version "feels like something devised for groups of tourists on the South Bank" and "has nothing much to do with Racine". Support this latter point, if necessary, with some airy mentions of the seaside setting and the loss of the original Alexandrines.

Twelve-syllable lines of verse, should anybody get suspicious. If you're in cheerleading mood, however, you can choose to take Henry Hitchings 's view that "in Hughes's version [Racine's] writing comes throbbingly alive" and add, as he does, that Dame Helen "anchors proceedings, and every time she steps on to Bob Crowley's austere set of battered stone To lend your views some authority, you might want to qualify this with Michael Billington 's suggestion that Mirren "gives us a real woman poleaxed by passion; and, even if she doesn't supplant the memory of past performances by Glenda Jackson and Diana Rigg, she more than matches them".

If you can't remember those past performances at all, of course, you might want to leave that bit out.

See a Problem?

Who knew Troezen was such a hothouse of intemperate decisions and mad passions! Telenovelas clearly have nothing on Greek mythology, which renders all the more difficult the performative challenges of this particular play. To put it bluntly, the drama school students simply bit off more than they could chew.

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The connective tissue of problems in this production stems from variety of sources: set design, body language, line delivery, plotting. Untangling the web is no small matter, but it is, without doubt, educative. Let's start with set design. It is notably at variance with the fairly traditional presentation. This version of Phaedra is not some gussied up modernization—although Racine's script could easily support, in artful hands, a campy soap opera. No, this is a straight shot, through and through, so why the set design effect of doors that open in all parts of the stage lower story and, upper story doors, ceiling hatches and trap doors?

Perhaps the arrangement is intended to convey a certain lack of privacy—everybody seems to know everybody's business, or will eventually, which is the nature of tragedy. Perhaps it is to bring to the fore a certain dynamism that the play lacks because of its Racinian stiffness. One can't be sure, however, the net effect hurts the entire production for one very critical reason: the upper doors require stairways—in this case metal rail versions—that take up stage space, specifically back stage right and front stage left the latter of which has the equally deleterious effect of "screening" off back stage left , and end up forcing the actors to crowd the corner of front stage right or work the stairs themselves, considerably limiting their ability to move about and gesture freely.

Consequently, too many characters stand block still during their recitations or when ostensibly listening, no doubt to avoid falling off the stairs. One notable exception stands out: Shannon Sullivan's Ismene, who quite literally writhes like a pole dancer during an exchange over her mistress Aricia's yearnings for the seemingly disdainful Hippolytus.

The tension derives from their centripetal acceleration toward collision. Racine never permits this sort of dramaturgical sprawl.

SÉNÈQUE, le tragique – Phèdre : adaptation radiophonique (France Culture, 1991)

Most of the scenes are dialogues, and everything is said in public; there are no asides and no soliloquies, no violence and no embraces. Each scene devolves inevitably from the one before it, as if Racine were laying down an unbeatable hand of dominoes. For Shakespeare it is the opposite. He has had no master in the English iambic pentameter line, rhymed or unrhymed, but in the course of his career he abandoned first the rhymed couplet, then the practice of ending the thought with the line, then the iambic meter itself, so that in the late plays the verse settings are mere conventions.

The verse, like the characters and like the action, has spilled over all its boundaries, so that what the poet gives us is really a supremely musical prose. He must have asked himself what place rhyme and strict meter could have in a world where daughters lock their aged father outdoors for the night in the midst of a thunderstorm. Racine took the opposite tack: there cannot be such a daughter if she speaks in flawless rhyme. Because of the psychological technology of catharsis, theater is the art that takes us deepest into hell, while guaranteeing a safe return, whereas painting, because of the discipline of the rectangular frame, is the art most suitable for the study of reason and order.


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No one requires painters to confine into a box what they see with their gifted eyes, but they do so nevertheless, and attempts to change the convention fail. And so the French, in prizing rationality, prize painting. For Turner, the frame is technologically convenient but aesthetically irrelevant. In the French tradition, the frame is the whole point. Without order, our experience of the visual world — in which perspectives contradict one another and planes are unstable — would disintegrate.

We have need of the French now, as we had once before. We have a President whom the French would give their eye-teeth for, because he measures everything against the yardstick of reason. Our right wing has lost its way in a maze of falsehoods, and our left and center cannot find their courage and their sense of a moral ground beneath.

I confess to a certain despair, and I am not alone in it. It was a Canadian production, directed by Carley Perloff of the American Conservatory Theater, and spoken in the English blank verse translation. Some people were there for the last day of a month-long run. There may still be reason to hope. David Rounds Writings, translations, music.

Rachel Félix

And now my eyes, despite myself, are filled with tears. Beside the stream that even gods must hold in dread Neptune gave me his word, and he will honor it. I could have died this morning worthy yet of tears; I followed your advice, and I will die dishonored. In Henry V there are forty-five roles, and the Chorus begins the play by asking: Can this cockpit hold The vasty fields of France? Or may we cram Within this wooden O the very casques That did affright the air at Agincourt? Like this: Like Loading Blog at WordPress.