'Cette pièce n'est que pour les yeux': Corneille's view of Andromède.

My title is taken from one of Corneille’s prefaces to the printed version of the play. There were several prefaces and examens published over several years and they give some sense of Corneille’s rethinking of the puzzling success of this play. The thematics and the vocabulary of the monstrous run as a kind of complement to those of the vraisemblable throughout his work; but this is his only play with a literal monster (and, in later productions, a real live flying horse) on stage. In explaining his changes to the standard versions of the legend -- in poetry, history and, increasingly, painting -- Corneille drew his readers’ attention to the fact that the play’s success had little to do with what the audience could hear: neither the music, nor the words he had written mattered very much. What struck people most about Andromède was what they could -- and could not -- see: the privileged terms of Corneille’s poetics -- noeud, dénouement, nécessaire, merveilleux -- are all reserved, in his discussion of the piece, for the machines and the visual effect of the story, both on himself and on the spectators. In this paper I shall take a closer look at looking in Andromède: in other words at the vocabulary, the staging, the erotics and the mechanics of what is and is not revealed in the play, its production, and its reception. What may emerge is a neo-classical sense of how, while the monster proper is there in the water on stage for all to see, the power of the play -- and of the Andromeda legend, as told here, and retold in Racine’s Phèdre -- lies in its ability to focus attention on that which cannot, must not, be revealed: be it Andromeda’s nakedness, the author’s care with rhyme, the cables which drive Torelli’s machines, or the head of the Medusa kept carefully hidden from view.

Wes Williams
Symposium Title: 
Gods, Men and Monsters – 2001
Author affiliation: 
Fellow in French, New College, Oxford, UK