Reconsidering the Canon through Jansenist Contradiction in Phaedra

In Questioning Racinian Tragedy, John Campbell takes issue with analyses of Phaedra that simplistically map Jansenist belief onto the play, or make assumptions about authorial intent as, "an uneasy amalgam of theology, biography, and tragedy" (153). Campbell sees the conventional Jansenist reading of Phaedra, which usually understands the play as unequivocally exhibiting a religious preoccupation with tragic destiny and human fallibility, as producing a Racinian "corpse" (154), meaning a singular reading foreclosing the possibility of renewed interpretations. Given the limited biographical information that would clarify the extent of Racine's Jansenist influence, and ongoing debates as to the relationship between such information and artistic production, how are we to situate Racine's biography and his relationship to Port-Royal? This paper argues that Jansenism can still yield intriguing interpretations of Phaedra if scholars accept the inevitable limitations of religion or biography as explanatory tools. Instead, by using the frameworks and evidence of biography and Jansenism, the contradictions of Phaedra should be explored, rather than obscured in the interest of an authoritative reading....

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