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To win without risk is to triumph without glory - Pierre Corneille

Together with his contemporary and rival Jeane Racine, Pierre Corneille [kohr-nay] (1606-1684) is regarded as one of the founders of French tragedy, although six of his first eight plays were comedies, and many of his other works contain elements of comedy.

Educated by Jesuits, he studied law before entering the Normandy parlement in 1629. He continued as a member of this regional council for 21 years, writing a play a year during this period, and a further 12 plays later on.

He is remembered in particular for four plays, known as his "Classical Tetralogy". The first of which is Le Cid (1637), influenced by tales of the 11th century Castilian nobleman, diplomat and warrior. In each of his four major plays Corneille explores an aspect of choice. In Le Cid our hero must choose between the claims of society and personal choice in a clearly defined social world. In Horace (1640), inspired by one of Livy's tales of ancient Rome, Horace chooses between patriotic duty and friendship. In Cinna (1641), also set in ancient Rome, Corneille explores the role of clemency as a political tool; and in Polyeucte (1643), based on the life of martyr Saint Polyeuctus, the choice is one of religion.

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