Jean Racine (French: [ʒɑ̃ ʁasin]), baptismal name Jean-Baptiste Racine (22 December 1639 – 21 April 1699), was a French dramatist, one of the three great playwrights of 17th-century France, along with Molière and Corneille, and an important literary figure in the Western tradition. Racine was primarily a tragedian, producing such “examples of neoclassical perfection” as Phèdre, Andromaque, and Athalie. He did write one comedy, Les Plaideurs, and a muted tragedy, Esther for the young.
Racine’s plays displayed his mastery of the dodecasyllabic (12 syllable) French alexandrine. His writing is renowned for its elegance, purity, speed, and fury, and for what American poet Robert Lowell described as a “diamond-edge”, and the “glory of its hard, electric rage”. Racine’s dramaturgy is marked by his psychological insight, the prevailing passion of his characters, and the nakedness of both plot and stage.
The linguistic effects of Racine’s poetry are widely considered to be untranslatable, although many eminent poets have attempted to translate Racine’s work into English, including Lowell, Richard Wilbur, Ted Hughes, Tony Harrison, and Derek Mahon, and Friedrich Schiller into German.
The latest translations of Racine’s plays into English have been by Alan Hollinghurst (Berenice, Bajazet), by RADA director Edward Kemp (Andromache), Neil Bartlett, and poet Geoffrey Alan Argent, who earned a 2011 American Book Award for the translating The Complete Plays of Jean Racine.