Oser pleurer: Horace and the Power of Tears
Author: Harris, Joseph
Source: Seventeenth-Century French Studies, Volume 31, Number 2, December 2009 , pp. 163-174(12)
Publisher: Maney Publishing
Abstract:This article explores the representation of tears onstage in Corneille's Horace. Far from being a straightforward passive response to suffering, tears appear in Corneille's play as a dangerous political act of insubordination — most notably, of course, when Camille provokes her own death at her brother's hand by lamenting her own dead lover Curiace. As I demonstrate, Corneille strategically rewrites his historical source in order to accentuate both the harshness of Roman honour codes and the transgressiveness of Camille's tears. Within Corneille's fictionalised ancient Rome, weeping threatens to be doubly transgressive. For a start, the stock association of tears with femininity and weakness paradoxically accords women a powerful weapon in their dealings with male relatives and suitors; through tears, the perceived contagiousness of feminine weakness threatens to infect men and compromise their autonomy. On a more general level, Camille's mourning for Curiace also symbolically challenges the positivistic, anti-tragic ethos of Roman society — a society which regards tears as an appropriate response only to a loss of honour rather than to a loss of life. Camille's defiant tears, therefore, suggest a new value system that transcends and threatens the blinkered patriarchal, homosocial system in which she lives.
Document Type: Research Article
Affiliations: Royal Holloway, University of London, UK;, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Publication date: 2009-12-01