Translated from the French by Alan Brownjohn; introduction by David Clarke
Corneille’s Horace (1640), together with its author’s Le Cid, launched French classical tragedy. It is a darkly gripping play which speaks directly to our own time. Corneille takes his plot from pre-Republican Roman history – the legendary episode of the triple combat between two sets of brothers to decide a war between Rome and Alba. Horatius’s sister, Camilla, is betrothed to his opponent Curiatius, and his wife Sabina is Curiatius’s sister. The scene is set for a clash between heroic male commitment to state interests and female values which give prime place to individual feeling.
Horace, containing pointed allusion to contemporary French military ambitions, has the power to challenge and disturb modern audiences with its unflinching reckoning of the personal cost of national glory.
This translation was commissioned by Damned Poets Theatre Company for a production at the Lyric Theatre Studio, Hammersmith in October 1996. The distinguished poet Alan Brownjohn compellingly recreates the rhetoric and passion of a neglected but magnificent work.
‘Corneille’s rhyming alexandrines have been superbly translated by Alan Brownjohn into a flexible blank verse which captures the nuances of meaning, but sounds as natural and flows as smoothly as prose. The language is discreetly updated, dignified but not pompous.’ – Maya Slater, Times Literary Supplement
‘Alan Brownjohn’s blank verse pentameters are clear and fresh without losing the patterning of Corneille’s emotional algebra.’ – Paul Taylor, Independent
‘Damned Poets’ highly effective production at the Lyric Studio, Hammersmith under Sydney Blake’s strong direction does full justice to the grandeur of the theme, as Alan Brownjohn’s specially commissioned translation brilliantly conveys the nobility and passion of the original in contemporary English …’ – Brian G. Cooper, The Stage
PIERRE CORNEILLE (1606–84) was a lawyer who served for some twenty years in Normandy’s courts in Rouen. He enjoyed the patronage of Richelieu as a dramatist, his reputation being built at first on comedies. Following the intense literary controversy aroused by his tragicomedy Le Cid (1637) he wrote his major tragedies and other serious plays, but after the civil war during Louis XIV’s minority, public taste for heroic tragedy waned and Corneille was eclipsed by a younger generation of dramatists, including Racine. Corneille created a new type of historical drama in France, of great psychological depth, structured round conflicts between private and public morality.