By Robert McBride
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Additional info for Aspects of Seventeenth-Century French Drama and Thought
In the light of his professed intention, do not his earlier words to Pauline seem blandly deceptive? The point has been put pertinently by R. '26 It cannot be doubted that there is a considerable discrepancy between the conciliatory remarks of Polyeucte about Severe to Pauline and the intransigent tone of the potential iconoclast several lines afterwards. But to infer that he is cynically deceiving Pauline in lying to her about his intentions in the temple is to forget that in the opening scenes of the play he had been at great pains to calm her fears for his life, and had shown himself loath to disregard them in front of Nearque.
Like those of Rodrigue in Le Cid, they are far from being mere rhetoric, but fulfil the dramatic function of galvanising a will to action which feels itself threatened by emotional persuasion from within and without. Hence the Stances represent a counter-persuasion couched in absolute terms, and the fragile honours and pleasures of the world are opposed to the constancy of eternal felicity (lines 1105-14). Rodrigue and Horace both had varying degrees of insight into the brittle nature of earthly gloire.
Our first view of Auguste is of the omnipotent Emperor who has achieved his power at the expense of his peace of mind. The Emperor who intimates his wish to relinquish his imperial power in the presence of the conspirators Cinna and Maxime is a man wearied by the continuing plots against his life, seeking only escape from the fruits of his ambition: L'ambition deplaft quand elle est assouvie, D'une contraire ardeur son ardeur est suivie; Et comme notre esprit, jusqu'au dernier soupir, Toujours vers quelque objet pousse quelque desir, Il se ramene en soi, n'ayant plus ou se prendre, Et, monte sur le fafte, il aspire a descendre.