Pierre Corneille

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Pierre Corneille (6 June 1606 – 1 October 1684) was a French tragedian who was one of the three great seventeenth-century French dramatists, along with Molière and Racine. He has been called “the founder of French tragedy” and produced plays for nearly forty years.



Early life and plays

Corneille was born at Rouen, France, to Marthe le Pesant de Boisguilbert and Pierre Corneille, a distinguished lawyer.[1]He was given a rigorous Jesuit education and at 18 began to study law. His practical legal endeavors were largely unsuccessful. Corneille’s father secured two magisterial posts for him with the Rouen department of Forests and Rivers. During his time with the department he wrote his first play. It is unknown exactly when he wrote it, but the play, the comedy Mélite, surfaced when Corneille brought it to a group of traveling actors in 1629. The actors approved of the work and made it part of their repertoire. The play was a success in Paris and Corneille began writing plays on a regular basis. He moved to Paris in the same year and soon became one of the leading playwrights of the French stage. His early comedies, starting with Mélite, depart from the French farce tradition by reflecting the elevated language and manners of fashionable Parisian society. Corneille describes his variety of comedy as "une peinture de la conversation des honnêtes gens" ("a painting of the conversation of the gentry"). His first true tragedy is Médée, produced in 1635.

Les Cinq Auteurs

The year 1634 brought more attention to Corneille. He was selected to write verses for the Cardinal Richelieu’s visit to Rouen. The Cardinal took notice of Corneille and selected him to be among Les Cinq Auteurs (“The Five Poets”; also translated as “the society of the five authors”). The others were Guillaume Colletet, Boisrobert, Jean Rotrou, and Claude de Lestoile.

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