No writer seems to have been quite as obsessed by antithesis as Corneille.
Author: Siaf Yousef Al-Soudi
Category: Dramatists, French
No writer seems to have been quite as obsessed by antithesis as Corneille. This figure of speech provides a satisfying sense of balance to poetic discourse, a means to provide order and symmetry to the poetic artifact. What is most interesting to note, however, is that Corneille's use of antithesis is systematically counterbalanced by a sustained and equally intense commitment to the use of oxymoron. The aim of this thesis, then, is two-fold: to identify the use of antithetical structures in Cornelian drama with the goal of establishing the function of this structure in his first four tragedies (Médée, Le Cid, Horace and Cinna), and to identify occurrences of oxymoron in order to explain the reasons why the author chose to use one figure versus an other in writing his tragedies. In order to distinguish between antithesis and oxymoron, I have prefaced my analysis with a comprehensive introduction that seeks to establish clear and distinct definitions for each structure. Because antithesis is by far the more prevalent of the two figures, I have analysed antithesis in detail in each of the plays. The primary antithesis in Cornelian tragedy is the fundamental distinction between life and death, consequences that derive from the conflicts each major character must confront. The use of antithesis reveals that Corneille's tragic vision is linked to his perception that the world is composed of irresolvable conflicts. Corneille's predilection for antithesis becomes both a reflection of his tragic perspective and a linguistic rendering of the conflict's fundamental irresolution. The final chapter contributes to a greater understanding as to why Cornelian closures seem so fundamentally irresolute, especially compared to the more "classical" Racine. Corneille appears to use antithesis and oxymoron in order to suggest a poetic rather than an ideological perspective on the nature of human conflicts. This chapter also demonstrates that, although Corneille was intensely committed to the dramatic nature of tragedy, he was equally committed to the poetic function of tragic discourse. He sets up impossible dilemmas for his characters to establish the fundamental necessity of art as the sole means of transcending an unforgiving reality that man is incapable of altering. In this regard, the artist himself becomes the real hero of the Cornelian tragedy, because he alone has transcended the conflicts that the antithesis posed, and the oxymoron denied.