Jean Racine is considered the greatest of French tragic dramatists. If Shakespeare's (see Vol. 1) theater is characterized by exploration and invention, Racine's is defined by restraint and formal perfection. His themes are derived from Greco-Roman, biblical, and oriental sources and are developed in the neoclassic manner: keeping to few characters, observing the "three unities" defined by Aristotle (see Vols. 3, 4, and 5) as essential to tragedy (i. e., unity of time, place, and action), and writing in regular 12-syllable verses called "alexandrines." In contrast to Corneille, whose theater is eminently political and concerned with moral choices, Racine locates tragic intrigue in the conflict of inner emotions. He is a master at exploring the power of erotic passion to transform and pervert the human psyche. As a Jansenist who believed that a person deprived of grace was subject to the tyranny of instincts, Racine was interested in portraying human passions---particularly the passion of love---in a state of crisis. Racine is also one of the greatest of all French poets, and his plays are a challenge to any translator. His major tragedies include Andromaque (1667), Britannicus (1669), e Berenice (1670), Iphigenie (1674), and Phedre (1677).
When Richard Wilbur's Things of This World (1956) won the 1957 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award the same year, the N.Y. Times commented editorially: "A seemingly effortless craftsman, Mr. Wilbur reveals a fine lyrical gift, a searching wit and, in his translations, a sympathetic kinship to the works of others." Wilbur was born in New York City and educated at Amherst College and Harvard University. During the late 1950s he taught at Wesleyan University. He has also been on the English faculty at Harvard and Wellesley College, and he is a member of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Institute of Arts and Letters. With Lillian Hellman he wrote the libretto for the opera Candide. He also is one of the premier translators of his generation. He has translated Moliere's Tartuffe and Misanthrope and many poems of Andrei Voznesensky and others. Co-recipient of the Bollingen Translation Prize in 1963, he was made the second Poet Laureate of the United States in 1987.