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The tyrant is a frequent figure of seventeenth-century theater. While not as ubiquitous as young lovers, fathers, or kings, the tyrant is a persistent subset of this last group throughout the period. Like so many elements of seventeenth-century theater, the tyrant has it origins in antiquity, both in terms of political theory and drama. Tyrants first appeared on the stage of fifth-century Athens, and the legends and histories of the tyrants of antiquity are often repeated on the French stage of the seventeenth century, from Hérode sending Marianne to her death, to Brute assassinating César, to Néron eliminating his rival with poison. "Eternelle peur, la notion de tyrannie a toujours été le vrai centre des tragédies," according to Christian Biet. Politically speaking, tyranny is not an idle abstraction in the seventeenth century. The rise of absolutism strongly marks the period from Richelieu and Louis XIII to the apotheosis of Louis XIV. With the rise of absolutism came the real potential for tyranny. In Jean-Marie Apostolidès's terms,

à cause de l'étendue du pouvoir absolu, la hantise de la tyrannie traverse toute la pensée politique et la littérature du XVIIe siècle.


Gunter Narr Verlag

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Papers on French Seventeenth Century Literature