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When Mithridate opens, the king is rumored dead in Colchide, killed by the Romans in battle. His return by sea at the end of the first act is not merely a surprise, but also a temporal, geographical, and almost metaphysical displacement. Mithridate's homecoming turns everything upside down and brings the full force of incest to the amorous rivalry between Phamace and Xipharès. Having successfully spread rumors of his own demise, Mithridate seems to return from the dead, arriving after an absence of a year, from a relatively distant land by the waters of the Pont-Euxin (the Black Sea). Life and death as well as land and sea suddenly seem open to transformation. In a play riddled with oppositions and dualities, these two specific polarities define both the force and the tragedy of Mithridate the king. Suspended between two deaths - the death rumored when the curtain rises and the death we witness onstage as the curtain falls - Mithridate grasps at life with force and energy. Despite his advanced age and his military defeat, he returns full of desires, both sexual and military. In some measure, Mithridate's tragedy is that he is unable to fulfill these desires. He has lived too long, as Donna Kuizenga has remarked, and finds himself displaced sexually by his sons and militarily by the Romans.


Claire Carlin







Publication Information

La Rochefoucauld, Mithridate, Frères et Soeurs, Les Muses Soeurs: Actes du 29e Congrès Annuel de la North American Society for Seventeenth-Century French Literature, The University of Victoria, 3-5 Avril 1997