Esther (Root)

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Esther, of , 1689. Tragedy with songs in 3 acts.


Act 1. After a prologue with the glory of Louis XIV and Madam de Maintenon, Esther tell with a friend how it became the favorite one of Assuérus. It even saved the king by revealing a plot with assistance of Mardochée, his adoptive father. However Mardochée precisely comes he to announce that the king, advised by Aman, promulgated a stop aiming at putting in death, in a few days, all the Jews of Persian kingdom.

Act 2. Aman tells that the Jews always persecuted it populate amalécite, of which it forms part. However it is not this reason which pushes it to eliminate the Jewish people, but lack of respect of Mardochée, which tous.les.jours, with the entry of the palate, refuses to greet it. However Assuérus learns now how Mardochée A saved plot formerly. It makes carry Mardochée triumphs over it by Aman. Esther, which seeks to save its people, requires of Assuérus to come to dine at it with Aman.

Act 3. Aman is furious to have had to carry Mardochée in triumph. It takes however its invitation at Esther like one mark favour. However Esther reveals in Assuérus that it is Jewish, that its people do not plot against him and that it is for reasons personal that Aman wants to make them perish. Assuérus gives then to Mardochée the place of Aman, who is put at died by the people.

Context and study of the?uvre


Since Phèdre (1677), Racine does not write any more for the theatre: it is devoted primarily to its role of historiographer of Louis XIV. It was also replongé in the faith Jansenist at the point to join with their vision of the theatre, which they regard as an impure art, and to defend with his/her son to attend profane parts. It can thus appear surprising that writes, in 1689, a new play, Esther. In order to include/understand this apparent paradox, it is necessary to underline two elements: First of all, Racine makes with this part an act of courtisanery since it is ordered to him by Madam de Maintenon (secret wife of Louis XIV); moreover, it achieves an act of piety by choosing a topic drawn from Deliver of Esther.

A part of order

Madam de Maintenon has just created St Cyr for noble girls but without fortune. Faithful to the designs Jesuits, it is convinced of the teaching value of the theatre. Thus the girls first of all find themselves to interpret Cinna. But enthusiasm with which they play the scenes of passion in love causes the stop of the representations. Madam de Maintenon thus calls upon Racine so that he writes on "some subject of piety and morals, a species of poem where the song was mixed with the account". This order makes it possible Racine to mix in its?uvre the song and the account and to thus unify the tragedy and the opera (very in vogue at this time) but it also enables him to join again with this tradition resulting from the old Greek tragedies which consisted in mixing the song with the action, which it does here thanks to the character of Elects (who has the double role of Coryphée and confidante). The music is entrusted by it to J. B. Moreau.

A crowned tragedy

By choosing this subject, is not satisfied to go in the direction of an increasing inclination of Louis XIV and Madam de Maintenon towards the devotion, it also joined her own religious aspirations: "all breathes here God, peace, the truth". This text indeed makes it possible to illustrate the concept of Providence (theorized in 1681 by Bossuet) according to which God would control with the Destiny as of his and it also illustrates a double fidelity: that of the Jews towards God and that of God towards his elected people. In addition, Esther is a model of purity, female perfection, piety and devotion to its people; as many qualities as Mme of Maintenon wishes to see inculcating in its protected. Biblical text, Racine removes all the same the beginning and the end (the refusal of Vasthi to present itself in front of the king while carrying the diadem and the massacre of the persecutors). In the field of the modifications made to the religious text, it also should be noted the importance that Racine adds to the character of Mardochée. It is him which in the part pushes Esther on the throne of Perse to release the Jews of their slavery: it has a political vision in the long run. It becomes even a kind of prophet inspired by God, an arm of God (what it is not in the Bible). Like Abraham, it dedicates a total confidence in its God. The episode of Esther makes it possible to put in scene God who saves his people by the intermediary of weakest. We attend the confrontation of Innocence and the Weakness vis-a-vis with the Force and the Perfidy according to a strongly tinted diagram of Manicheism. The reversal of the king also does not have any plausible psychological explanation, only the grace seems to push it with the final decision.


In this part, Racine respects the system aristotelician: exposure (I,1), n?ud (decree I, 3), bounce (II, III, 4) and outcome by inversion (III, 5 to 7). It also spares an important effect of suspense after the revelation of Esther, when Assuérus does not react immediately and leaves the room. The songs, as for them, should not be regarded as pure decorative passages, they express the "Mysteries of the religion" (Bossuet). The chorus takes part in the action not while acting but by looking further into the emotion and by expressing the fear and the pity of the spectator.

The unit of time is respected by Racine. The action proceeds in less than twenty-four hours. In the morning, Mardochée learns the fate reservé with its people and the meal who turns over this dramatic situation even takes place the evening. However, during all the part, of allusions do not cease being made on events external at this day. It is thus often refers to the history of the Jewish people and its misfortunes. Thanks to these echoes, the adventure of Esther is transformed into a digest of the history of the Jewish people which make it more dramatic, more suitable to move. But another time impregnates all the part: that of the time of Root. Thus Assuérus and Esther could only make think of Louis XIV and Mrs. de Maintenon for the spectators of the time.

The unity of place as for it is not strictly respected by the author. The action proceeds well in Suse but in varied places: "the apartment of Esther" for act I, the throne room of Assuérus for act II, the garden of Esther and the living room where the meal for act III proceeds. Root minimizes however this diversity in its foreword since it insists on the fact that "all the action occurs in the palate from Assuérus". It explains these variations by the will "to make this entertainment more pleasant to children, by throwing some variety in decorations". This plurality of places does not seem however so innocent only that since it accompanies the evolution by the dramatic intensity. The apartment of Esther is an intimate place, reassuring. The throne room impregnates the atmosphere of a serious, official nature. It is the place of the capacity, of the capacity of a man. It is the place where a word can decide death or life. The last place marks the victory of Esther. It is it which chooses it. While thus acting, it takes again in hand its destiny and prepares the happy outcome.

Perhaps this part marks the result of the theatrical art racinien so much it manages to melt there in a powerful poetry the ancient heritage of the Tragedy, the melody envoûtante of the Opera and the religious morals most strict, the whole in an irreproachable respect of the precepts aristotelicians.


  • Delfour, L.- Cl., The Bible in Root, Paris, Leroux, 1891.
  • Orcibal, Jean, Genesis of Esther and Athalie, Paris, Vrin, 1950.
  • Spillebout, Gabriel, The biblical vocabulary in the crowned tragedies of Root, Geneva, Droz, 1968.

External bonds

  • CRHT : Research center on the History of the Theatre. Edition in line and annotatedEsther.
  • Gallica Text on line ofEsther.


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