Pierre Corneille

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Plays by Pierre Corneille

audio The Liar

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

The Liar by Pierre Corneille, translated by Richard Wilbur. Directed by Martin Jarvis.

In this classic farce, a young man pretends to be a war hero to impress a pretty girl. As his lies progress, so do his troubles – with hilarious results. Playwright Pierre Corneille’s comedy of manners is considered a groundbreaking work which influenced contemporaries such as the young Molière.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast production, starring Tara Lynne Barr, Janine Barris, Sue Cremin, Danny Mann, Christopher Neame, John Sloan, Mark Sullivan, and Matthew Wolf

Includes a conversation about Corneille and French drama with Larry F. Norman of the University of Chicago.

Lead funding for this production is provided by the Sidney E. Frank Foundation.

Featuring: Tara Barr, Janine Barris, Sue Cremin, Danny Mann, Christopher Neame, John Sloan, Mark Sullivan, Matthew Wolf

Pierre Corneille (1606–84) was a French poet and playwright, considered the father of French classical tragedy. His reputation earned him the informal title le grand Corneille in his own lifetime. Born into a family of lawyers, Corneille worked from 1628 to 1650 as crown counsel in a local government office in Rouen. The success of his first play, the farce Mélite (1629), encouraged him to concentrate on comedy for the next six years. In the 1630s he became one of a team of playwrights employed by Cardinal Richelieu, but the two men fell out in 1635, apparently because Corneille demanded an increased share of the takings. The same year saw the production of Médée, his first experiment in tragedy. Corneille’s great tragicomedy Le Cid achieved instant success at the Théâtre du Marais in 1637. Ironically, the play that is now considered to have founded the French classical theatre was denounced by critics for disregarding the unities. Following a critical report by the Académie Française (under Richelieu), the play was suppressed. Le Cid was followed by a series of tragedies in the new classical style, the most notable being Horace (1640), Cinna (1641), and Polyeucte (1643), a story of Christian martyrdom. The plays, written mainly in rhyming Alexandrines, are remarkable for their formal symmetry and stylized rhetoric. There is little external action, the main emphasis falling on the moral dilemmas of the heroic protagonists. Despite his reputation as a tragedian, Corneille continued to write in other genres. His finest comedy, Le Menteur, was produced in 1643 with Floridor in the lead, while the spectacle play Andromède (1650) gave a starring role to Giacomo Torelli’s stage machinery at the Salle du Petit-Bourbon. Psyché, a comédie-ballet produced in 1671, was written in collaboration with Molière. After the failure of Pertharite in 1651 Corneille wrote nothing for the stage for seven years. In the 1660s he found himself rivalled by the young Jean Racine, who gradually overtook him in public estimation. He died in comparative poverty. Even in his declining days, however, Corneille knew the power of his reputation. When Molière and the actor Michel Baron admitted during rehearsals for Titus and Bérénice (1670) they did not understand a passage, Corneille confessed that neither did he. “Just say the lines as written,” he shrugged. “There will be some in the audience who won’t understand yet will deeply admire them.” From Jonathan Law ed., The Methuen Drama Dictionary of the Theatre (London, 2011).