Scholars agree that Héraclius (1646) occupies the extreme point of plot complication in the Cornelian oeuvre. Numerous events have occurred prior to the action of the play, events that are necessary to the spectators' understanding of what transpires onstage. Twenty years before the play opens, Phocas assassinated the emperor Maurice as well as his sons and took his throne. Léontine, the royal governess, switched the youngest of Maurice's sons, Héraclius, with her own son, thus sacrificing the latter's life so that the royal blood of Maurice might survive. Not long after, Léontine made a second substitution, this time switching Héraclius with Phocas's son, Martian. The double switch left the son of the emperor Maurice in the position of the son of the usurper Phocas, while Phocas's son took the place and identity of Léontine's son. The play's action, set in motion by the rumour that Héraclius is alive, involves untangling these confused identities.
Document Object Identifier (DOI)
Ekstein, N. (2001). Uncertainty in Corneille's Héraclius. Nottingham French Studies, 40(2), 3-13. doi: 10.3366/nfs.2001-2.002
Nottingham French Studies