The language of power relationships in Racine (Britannicus, Berenice, Bajazet), with parallels in Sartre
This study is concerned with the way in which Racine, particularly through his use of language, dramatises areas of tension inherent in the concept of power. Considering three plays from Racine's middle period (Britannicus, Bajazet and Berenice), Chapter One seeks to uncover the basis of political power. Taking as its starting point the ambivalence underpinning the term legitimacy, Section A examines the foundations of power in the sense of political and moral authority. Section B in turn looks at the implications of these findings for the nature and operation of power, while Section C highlights the discrepancy between real and imagined power, by raising the all-important question as to its locus. Chapter Two takes a fresh look at the relationship between power and love. The ruler/lover dichotomy dramatises both an exterior clash and an interior conflict. We see firstly how the role of ruler impinges upon the role of lover, betraying the transgressive nature of power. However, the examination of the operation of power in a realm where it should not prevail, is ironically confounded by the fact that the political and the erotic are shown to be almost inextricably intertwined. The roles of ruler and lover therefore paradoxically conflict and concord simultaneously. By examining relations between individual characters from the Sartrean perspective of pour autrui, Chapter Three ultimately reveals what the power structure would conceal, that is that those in power are subject to the same cycle of dominance and subservience as those who are not. Section A demonstrates the way in which the familiar acts of thinking and speaking, traditionally perceived as our principal means of positive interaction with others, give rise to conflictual relationships similar to those portrayed three centuries later by Sartre in Huis Clos. Language itself, far from uniting characters, becomes a source of anxiety and discord. Characters find themselves in a bewildering hall of mirrors as speech becomes increasingly deceptive, distorting and concealing the truth. In this way we see how the dit gives way to the tyranny of the non-dit, for like a sinister 'thought police', Racine's protagonists set about capturing and controlling the Other's mind. Section B highlights the development of techniques of manipulation and suppression. The title of this section, Merry-Go-Round, reflects the endless and fruitless struggle to dominate the Other's thought-process.