Theme: Love is an all consuming amoral emotion that is both destructive and self-destructive. Love cuts across all gentler impulses and noble ideals, leaving them scarred and maimed.
Style: Racine uses 12- syllable rhyming couplets with a restricted vocabulary of 4000 words (Shakespeare uses 25,000).
Chief Strengths: There are no villains and yet each character must bear some weight for the tragic denouement. As the action accelerates, Racine maintains a universal sympathy while remaining icily impersonal.
Chief weakness: For the Francophobe, the language can seem too starchy to be expressive, and the plot too didactically tidy to be tragic.
What they thought of it then: The play was a brilliant success. Racine's racy drama of driven sexuality made Corneille's ponderous plays of duty and patriotism seem dated and jejune.
What we think of it now: Along with Phedre, it is one of Racine's greatest works, although British actors, trained to mouth Shakespeare, are inclined to turn the long rhetorical speeches in rant.
Responsible for: Craig Raine's 1953 which relocates the play's action to a post Second War Europe here the Axis powers have been triumphant.