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Zaïre


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Othello

Voltaire (1694—1778) writer and philosopher

 

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AT:ZaraA: Voltaire Pf: 1732, Paris Pb: 1733 Tr: 1736 G: Trag. in 5 acts; French alexandrines S: Jerusalem, 13th c. C: 7 m, 2 f, extrasZaïre is a slave-girl in the palace of the enlightened sultan Orosmane, who has fallen in love with her and, contrary to Muslim custom, wishes to make her his sole wife. Orosmane has captured many French knights engaged in the seventh crusade of Louis IX. Nérestan, a young knight, comes with ransom money to free some of the captives, and Zaïre pleads that their old commander Lusignan should be included. It transpires that Lusignan is the father of Nérestan and of his long-lost daughter Zaïre. Lusignan, who is dying, begs Zaïre to reconvert to Christianity. So, while affirming her love for Orosmane, she asks him to defer their wedding without being able to explain why. Orosmane suspects that she has fallen in love with Nérestan, and, when he finds a letter inviting Zaïre to a secret meeting (so that she may be baptized), he intercepts her and murders her in a fit of jealous rage. When he learns the truth, he releases all the French prisoners, hands over Zaïre's body to Nérestan, and stabs himself.

AT:ZaraA: Voltaire Pf: 1732, Paris Pb: 1733 Tr: 1736 G: Trag. in 5 acts; French alexandrines S: Jerusalem, 13th c. C: 7 m, 2 f, extras

Possessing neither the quality of language nor the psychological insights of Racine, Voltaire's plays are now seldom performed. But Zaïre, which has obvious parallels with Othello (although the handkerchief is replaced by a satin cushion), has a number of points of interest. In his attempt to revitalize neo-classical tragedy in France, Voltaire, no doubt influenced by his love of English drama, provided a much greater sense of history than the mythical settings of his predecessors. As a man of the Enlightenment he also cast the Muslim Orosmane in a very favourable light.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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