Athalie

Definition

Theater

  • Jean Racine's last play, often considered his finest.It was commissioned after his retirement from the commercial stageby Madame de Maintenon, Louis XIV's morganatic wife, for the girls'school she ran and presented at Versailles in 1691. Despite its beautifulchorus passages, Louis XIV disliked the play because Racine had departedfrom his usual theme of praising the monarchy, promoting instead theviews of the Jansenist cult that had educated him. Louis later dispersedthe religious group. The first public performance was not until 1716,the year after Louis's death. The tragedy subsequently became a centrepiecein the repertoire of the Comédie-Française.

    The plot concerns Athalie, the first queen of Jerusalem, whoworships the pagan god Baal. Having already murdered her own grandchildren,she orders the massacre of those who worship Jehovah. The one grandchildto escape was Joash. When Athalie encounters him, she has one momentof weakness and rejects advice to kill him. This hesitation, a miraclefrom God, leads to her downfall.

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