Penn State

Priscilla Meléndez - Professor of Spanish, Penn State University Park

Book Title: Molière

Author: Sabina Berman

Book Description:

n Borges' story "Averroes' Search," the Muslim protagonist encounters in Aristotle's Poetics two words that represent a mystery for him: tragedy and comedy. He searches for these words in the works of Arab scholars with no success, concluding that their constant presence in the Poetics underlines their importance in the Western tradition.

The 1999 play Molière by the Mexican dramatist Sabina Berman is an ingenious work that constructs a metatheatrical world in which the most remarkable French playwrights of the 17th century--Molière and Racine--dispute the role of theatre (comedy and tragedy) in the life and political development of their country.

This old dispute allows Berman to examine her own understanding of the dynamics between art and politics throughout Western history and in her own country, and also to analyze the role humor has increasingly played in her theatrical production. Furthermore, it allows her to explore other dichotomies related to the problematics of power in political, social, sexual and artistic terms not only in France under Louis XIV, but implicitly in Mexico and Latin America at the end of the twentieth century: pleasure vs. moral and national duty; theory vs. practice, text vs. context; the historical vs. the literary; ideology vs. rhetoric; destiny vs. free will; life vs. death.

The fact that Molière was a prolific writer of comedies that frequently dealt with the author's personal circumstances, and that these plays were favored by King Louis XIV, angered Racine, who believed that tragedy was the genre that should have been supported by the King as a tool to promote and consolidate political power. Ironically, Racine's success in establishing the hegemony of tragedy over comedy backfired as he became the official historian of Louis's court, a responsibility which did not allow him to continue writing his political tragedies. As both Molière and Berman demonstrate through their works, even faced with the abysm--personal and national tragedies--they both continue to laugh and make us laugh through their writings.

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