Mendacity in Racine's Britannicus

Wilton-Godberfforde, Emilia (2022). Mendacity in Racine's Britannicus. In: Hammond, Nicholas and Hammond, Paul eds. Racine's Roman Tragedies: Essays on Britannicus and Bérénice. Faux Titre, 456. Leiden: Brill, pp. 203–217.



In Britannicus the characters repeatedly mention their fears and suspicions, and a deeply disquieting sentiment prevails that there are hidden enemies all around. ‘Combien tout ce qu’on dit est loin de ce qu’on pense!’ exclaims Junie to Britannicus, recognising the ubiquity of lies and pretence at the court (V. 1. 1523). Néron learns how to master his ability to deceive others, and is intent on deciphering the semiotics of the court. In turn, the audience’s attention is brought to focus on how deception and truth are manifested visually. This chapter examines how Racine employs techniques that are familiar to comedy (spying and performing for a hidden spectator) but transforms such tropes. More specifically, this involves examining how deception operates within the tragic space, and appreciating how the tragic space is shaped by it. The playfulness and rivalry of the comic world are transformed into sadistic tormenting followed by assassination through the treacherous display of reconciliation. This chapter offers a new way of thinking about the important overlap of the tragic and comic frameworks, and explores the significance of the parallel game-playing and manipulation in both genres.

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