French Poet – Pierre Corneille

Pierre Corneille was a French poet-playwright born in Rouen (Kingdom of France)  on June 6th, 1606. Both of his parents were magistrates. His parents were able to afford giving him a rigorous education at a Jesuit school after which he decided on a legal career. He entered to a law school and ultimately became a lawyer. Unfortunately he did not have the disposition to present and plead cases in court. He was simply too shy resulting in leaving a career in law even though his father had secures two magisterial posts for him with the Rouen department of Forests and Rivers.

He floundered for year in his position as a magistrate, trying to decide what profession he might become passionate about. At one point an uncle, a merchant, offered him a position in his upholstery and drapery firm. His uncle’s company was a prestigious firm that made elegant custom curtains & drapes for the upper classes and the nobility. As his uncle showed him the offices and workrooms explaining how any design for drapes was possible because of his designers and seamstress’ skills, Pierre Corneille questioned why he was even there. The bolts of silks, cottons and linens in the myriad colors and patterns was astounding, but he knew that a life working in such as business was not for him.

It was probably during the final year he was a magistrate, his wrote his first work, a literary comedy called Melite. He showed it to a group of traveling actors who presented his play in Paris. After experiencing the empowering feeling of its success, he knew he wanted a profession in the arts, specifically a theatrical career. He was just 23 years old. His early comedies, starting with Mélite, departed from the French farce tradition. Instead they reflected the elevated language and manners of fashionable Parisian society. For the next six years, he wrote 5 more literary comedies, and his first literary tragedy. He gained further attention after being selected to write verses and to realize the vision of Cardinal Richelieu that emphasized virtue in dramatic form. Unfortunately the Cardinal’s demands were too restrictive for the brilliant and restive Corneille, who attempted to innovate outside the boundaries defined by Richelieu.

It was after his break with the Cardinal that Pierre Corneille wrote what many consider his greatest play “Le Cid”. Le Cid was an enormous popular success. It was the first time that the city of Paris had seen such a triumph. Since it was written in a style that was considered outside the norms of dramatic practice, the play and playwright became the subject of a heated arguments. Even Cardinal Richelieu became embroiled in the controversy. Accusations of immorality were leveled at the play in the form of a famous pamphlet campaign. Pierre Corneille became the victim of his opponents’ jealousy, although he too traded slanderous blows with his critics. The controversy, along with the Academy’s ruling that said “Le Cid” broke too many of the unities to be a valued piece of work, proved too much for Corneille, who decided to return to Rouen.

After remaining publicly silent for some time, Corneille returned to the theater with works that paid closer attention to French classical dramatic rules. He even went so far as to make multiple revisions to Le Cid making it closer to the conventions of classical tragedy. Corneille’s popularity grew again and by the mid 1640s, the first collection of his plays was published.

Throughout the years of his career Pierre Corneille experienced both great successes and failures. Even though Corneille was prolific writing one play a year for the 14 years after 1659, his later plays did not have the same success as those of his earlier career. By the end of his career, Pierre Corneille faced an accumulation of failures. Corneille’s final play in 1674 was the tragedy Suréna, after which he retired from the stage for the final time.

Even though he was retired, Pierre Corneille still experienced the gratification that talented literature and poetry writers deserved. His most well known plays were regularly preformed at the Castle of Versailles for the king Louis XIV.

Pierre Corneille died at age 78 in Paris, France at home on October 1st, 1684.

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Works
* Mélite (1629)
* Clitandre (1630–31)
* La Veuve (1631)
* La Galerie du Palais (1631–32)
* La Suivante (1634)
* La Place royale (1633–34)
* Médée (1635)
* L’Illusion comique (1636)
* Le Cid (1637)
* Horace (1640)
* Polyeucte (1642)
* La Mort de Pompée (1643)
* Cinna (1643)
* Le Menteur (1643)
* Rodogune (1644)
* La Suite du Menteur (1645)
* Théodore (1645)
* Héraclius (1647)
* Don Sanche d’Aragon (1650)
* Andromède, (1650)
* Nicomède, (1651)
* Pertharite, (1651)
* L’Imitation de Jésus-Christ (1656)
* Oedipe (1659)
* Trois Discours sur le poème dramatique (1660)
* La Toison d’or (1660)
* Sertorius (1662)
* Othon (1664)
* Agésilas (1666)
* Attila (1667)
* Tite et Bérénice (1670)
* Psyché (w/ Molière and Philippe Quinault,1671)
* Pulchérie (1672)
* Suréna (1674)

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