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In: Self-Commentary in Early Modern European Literature, 1400–1700


Auditory imagery echoes with curious frequency throughout Racine’s Bérénice, often mediating between the private onstage action and the public offstage world. This chapter explores the complex and at times discreetly metatheatrical relations between Racine’s main characters and their unseen but sometimes disruptively noisy offstage audience. As becomes clear, if Rome is – in Titus’ image – a ‘théâtre’, then as Emperor he proves particularly poorly placed to judge how well his performance is received by his audience. Unable to hear more than unreliable noises of applause, jeering laughter, or mumblings of discontent, Racine’s protagonists are effectively trapped in an onstage echo chamber, and rely on others (like the confidant Paulin) to be their ‘eyes’ and ‘ears’ to confirm what the ‘voix publique’ is really saying.

In: Racine’s Roman Tragedies


Oreste’s hallucinations of the bloodied ghosts of Hermione and Pyrrhus at the end of Andromaque are only the most striking examples of a more general issue that preoccupies Racine throughout his play: characters’ disarming capacity to see what is not present or to overlook what is. Sometimes, the trope of misperception is raised deliberately, as when Oreste ironically pretends that Hermione believes she is talking to Pyrrhus. Elsewhere, it has more serious resonances; Andromaque twice proves incapable of seeing her son Astyanax without also seeing her dead husband, while Pyrrhus’s presence triggers in her traumatic visions of their first encounter.

In: Racine's Andromaque