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Language, Violence and Power

Mary Reilly

What is the nature of power in Racinian tragedy? Few questions have generated such widespread critical disagreement. This study looks beyond the conventional pageant of political power in the plays by exploring tensions inherent in the very concept of power. Each chapter elucidates how Racine’s power relationships are concentrated in the question of language. His characters seek to discover, channel and control the thoughts of others by means of a careful manipulation of the word. The limits of language and the way it can be distorted and controlled rather than its expressiveness are shown to be crucial to Racine’s power struggles. This book examines Racine’s portrayal of the disintegration of the processes of thought by means of linguistic engineering, showing how it mirrors the absolutist policies of Louis XIV and foreshadows more recent anxieties about the use and abuse of language in our own time. It therefore provides a new reading of Racine’s use of language which challenges previous critical responses. The emphasis throughout is on close engagement with the text.
Contents: Comparison between Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Racinian tragedy – Sin and crime in seventeenth-century France – Louis XIV and the control of language – Dragonnades and Huguenots in seventeenth-century France – The relationship between State, Church and language in France – Images of death, violence and the afterlife in Racinian tragedy – Confession in Racinian tragedy – The relationship between language and power.