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Week 5 Activities

Corneille: Rodogune

Listen to the lecture podcast and follow the powerpoint slides (click here to access these)

Read the following extract dealing with the question of regency:

Crawford, K. 2004
Crawford, K. (2004) Introduction. In: Crawford, K. Perilous Performances : Gender and Regency in Early Modern France. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, pp.1-12

Analysis of the play

Seventeenth-century tragic drama

1. Look up the following terms. How important are these concepts in Corneille's theatre, and in Rodogune in particular? The two articles below are a good starting point for research on this. Add definitions and any accompanying information that you have useful to the glossary:

  • gloire
  • honnête / honnêteté / honneste ...
  • générosité
  • admiration
  • bienséance
  • vraisemblance

2. Find out about the Three Unities. What did they constitute for seventeenth-century dramatists? Have a look at Corneille's Examen prefacing Rodogune (p. 46). Does he make reference to the unities here? What other remarks about the play strike you as interesting?

Richard Goodkin, ‘Neoclassical Dramatic Theory in Seventeenth-Century France’, in A Companion to Tragedy (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005), pp. 373 – 392.

Nicholas Hammond, 'Rules and Terms', in Creative Tensions: An Introduction to Seventeenth-Century French Literature (London: Duckworth, 1997), pp. 11 - 23. PDF extract available here.


Preparation over reading week

(For more information about the plotline of the play, see Watts, Derek A. Corneille: Rodogune and Nicomède (London : Grant & Cutler, c1992), and Watts, Derek, 'A further Look at Rodogune', in Ouverture et dialogue, ed. by Döring, Ulrich et al (Tübingen, 1988). Book article.)

  1. Pinpoint the turning points (reversals) in the play and consider their relation to the question of power.
  2. The play has been said to have a symmetrical basis. Identify important points of symmetry (a) in the play's structure; (b) between the major characters of the play.
  3. Draw up a picture of associations with masculinity and femininity in the play. Is there any conflict between natural and political forces here?
Close analysis

EXTRACT 1: Study the first discussion between Séleucus, Antiochus, and their confidents (I, iii). Think particularly about:

  • What are the consequences of primogeniture for the princes?
  • To what extent do they experience a conflict between desire and duty?
  • What is the nature of the twin relationship at this early stage in the play?

EXTRACT 2: Study the dialogue between Laonice and Cléopâtre, II, ii: Think particularly about the following:

  • the theme of sight / blindness
  • what has Cleopâtre's political strategy been and how can this be connected with her position as a female ruler?
  • What kind of language does C use to describe the throne and her attachment to it?
  • Is this a turning point in the play? Think about the perspective of the audience? Think also about the role of the confidente here.

        EXTRACT 3: Examine the encounter between Séleucus and Antiochus: II, iv.

        • What differences can be detected in the twin's responses to the pressing demands of their mother?
        • Compare and contrast the language used by each twin to describe their mother.
        • Analyse the use of the lexical field of blood here.
        • Analyse the twin relationship articulated in the passage.

        EXTRACT 4: Examine III, iii (Rodogune's monologue)

        • What does Rodogune consider to be her duty in III, iii? To what extent is she in conflict with her advisers, and why?
        • Why does she try to resurrect memories of Nicanor? What has changed politically at this point in the play?

        EXTRACT 5: Examine III, iv The discussion between Rodogune and the twins

        • How do the twins seek to shift the political landscape and the nexus of power at this point?
        • How does Rodogune view passionate love?
        • How does Rodogune seek to exploit the twins' blood ties to their dead father?
        • Examine the language associated with the notion of duty

        In your groups, please also source one image that you think will be relevant to your passage (we will use this in our teaching grid session next week) and bring this with you on a memory stick. It might be a period picture, but you could also think 'out of the box' a little and find a more abstract image that represents some of the ideas you have discussed together.

        Critical readings: psychoanalysis / gender

        Brainstorm the following assertions, made by Mitchell Greenberg in ‘Rodogune: Sons and Lovers’, in Subjectivity and Subjugation in Seventeenth-Century Drama and Prose: The Family Romance of French Classicism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 87 - 113. This article is available to read here (PDF Document)

        • ‘The men [in the play] are mired in metaphysical dilemmas which gradually reduce them to positions of indecision, passivity, and ultimately impotence.’ (p. 87)‘
        • Rodogune reflects the desire she inspires in the men. She is, most naturally, a perfect “love object,” a mere reflection of desire. […] However, […] Rodogune becomes aware of the political potential of her own appeal.’ (pp. 104 – 105)
        • On Cléopâtre: ‘Despite devouring the males who surround her she is not immune to the constantly recurring anxiety that she is not sovereign.’ (p. 107)


        Further Research Questions


        Each group should source 3 items (book, web, journal articles; book chapters; books) relating to your topic or to the play more widely and add them to the bibliography on the wiki.

        In the comments section, explain why these sources are useful.


        Each group should choose 3 terms of interest that emerge from the text and add them to the glossary.