With What Arms Do We Fight? Possible Worlds and the Network of Characters in Corneille’s Nicomède

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Nicomède contains a manifestly imbalanced distribution of action. While we expect little action per se on stage because of the bienséances, virtually nothing of note changes from the initial situation until Nicomède is arrested at the very end of act 4. Offstage action is restricted to act 5, ant its eventful nature—an abduction, a popular revolt, an assassination, the return of fleeing characters—contrasts sharply with the bulk of the play. Indeed, the first four acts are devoted to a dense series of verbal skirmishes and clashes rarely relieved by monologues or scenes with a confidant. These confrontations contain abundant references to realms and states of affairs that, while possible, do not in fact exist Nicomède. These are embryonic possible worlds articulated by characters and embedded within the far more extensive possible world constituted by Corneille's play itself. Marie-Laure Ryan calls this the "actualizable domain," one that has no ontologcially concrete referent, but respects the natural laws of the factual domain. All of the characters in the play make frequent reference to this domain of the possible, which linguistically encompasses the future tense as well as the conditional and subjunctive modes. I propose to examine first the role of possible worlds as an arm of aggression in Nicomède and then to consider how this form of attack relates to the network of characters employing such references in their struggles with one another.


Ellen R. Welch & Michèle Longino







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Networks, Interconnection, Connectivity: Selected Essays from the 44th North American Society for Seventeenth-Century French Literature Conference, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill & Duke University, May 15-17, 2014

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