Pierre Corneille - Biography and Works

Pierre Corneille (1606-1684) was one of the greatest dramatists of France during the seventeenth century. He is considered as the greatest dramatist along with Moliere and Jean Racine. Possessing an inborn interest in plays, Corneille paved the new route for French tragedy, defying the classical theories of play.

Pierre Corneille (1606-1684)

His first play Melite (The False Letters) was written in 1625 and staged in 1629 which earned him many honors and proved him as a successful playwright.

Most critics considered Corneille the Father of French tragedy; even so, he wrote comedies and tragicomedies too. Corneille masterpieces include Le Cid (1637), Horace (1640), Cinna (1641) and Polyeucte (1642).

Corneille belongs to an era when France was becoming the essence of fashion and culture in Europe. The French critics like Le Bossu and Aubignac were in favor of the rigid classical notion of the three unities of Aristotle. Corneille was even criticized for taking liberties with the three unities in his plays like Le Cid.

Corneille in his opinions appears to be more prescriptive about playwrights than descriptive. He clings to the unities, but is not equally devoted to exterior canons of judgment as the earlier commentators on unities. He refers rules of dramatic art to common sense and to the situation of the audience. He likewise states that it is really tough to compose under the conventions. He states that it is real simple to indicate out the mistakes for the critics, but once they set about writing plays, they will disobey the regulations.

Corneille accepts that “unity of time” is debatable. What Aristotle actually meant by “single revolution of sun” is confusing and not clear which cannot be settled down easily. His ideas regarding the authorship of the plays are quite appropriate for the form of dramas he wrote. Corneille’s idea of rules in writing the plays influenced Dryden and other neoclassical writers.

Pierre Corneille Study Center

Of the Three Unities of Time, Place and Action

Mimetic Theory: Introduction