(c. 1545-1590)
Considered by his contemporaries and by modern literary historians as France's foremost writer of tragedy in the sixteenth century, Robert Garnier engaged in the humanist enterprise of imitating exemplary classical sources in order to establish French as a national language that could rival Latin and Greek. Born in La Ferte-Bernard near Le Mans, Garnier developed his literary procliv­ities and his legal career simultaneously. While he was in law school in Tou­louse, he entered the Jeux floraux, a yearly poetry competition whose origins date back to the fourteenth century. In 1566 he garnered first prize for his Plaintes amoureuses. These lyric poems were his first publication; even though they are mentioned by his contemporaries, no editions have come down to us. Some of the early poetry, however (e.g., the 1567 Hymne de la monarchye) has survived. An edition of his complete works appeared in 1585; a new two-volume edition was published in Paris in 1923. In 1567 he became a lawyer in the Parlement of Paris. Two years later he assumed the post of magistrate in Le Mans, and in 1574, through the king's influence, he became deputy president of the city's assembly, as well as chief justice for the entire district of Maine. In 1586 Garnier returned to Paris, where, by King Henri III's request, he became a member of the royal judicial body, the Great Council. Poor health and penury characterized the end of his life; he died on 20 September 1590.
Garnier's legal career involved him in the politics of his day. An ardent Catholic, he lived during a period of civil unrest. From 1562 to 1598 the French Wars of Religion pitted Catholics against Huguenots and ravaged the country. These facts help to explain his choice of subject matter for his plays. It seems no coincidence that the seven tragedies of Garnier that appeared between 1568 and 1583 have civil war as their backdrop, with the consequences of war and rebellion as a major theme. Three take place during the fall of the Roman Empire: Porcie (1568), Cornelie (1574), and Marc Antoine (1578). Three take their inspiration from Greek mythology: Hippolyte (1573), La Troade (1579), and Antigone (1580). One, Les Juives (1583), takes its inspiration from a biblical source. Garnier makes clear the parallels he sees between events in these plays and the woes befalling France. In the explanatory title to Porcie, for example, he writes that the cruel and bloody times of the Roman period provide a fitting mirror for the misfortunes of contemporary times. His dedication to Cornelie describes the play as a poem that is sadly appropriate, given France's current misfortunes. His plays deal with the uses and abuses of authority and the pitfalls of tyranny and rebellion.
The continental vogue for neoclassical historical drama as a means of drawing parallels to current political troubles became fashionable in Elizabethan England, in large part due to translations of Garnier into English, which spurred trans­lations of works on related subjects by other authors and subsequently influenced the subject matter of Elizabethan drama. Mary Sidney* Herbert, countess of Pembroke and sister of Sir Philip Sidney,* translated Marc Antoine. Appearing in 1592, its influence is seen in William Shakespeare's* Antony and Cleopatra (c. 1606). Descriptions of battles in Elizabethan dramatist Thomas Kyd's* Span­ish Tragedy, performed in 1592, bear witness to his familiarity with Garnier's Cornelie. The interest in neoclassical tragedy and Garnier subsequently spurred Kyd to translate this play. The dedication to the countess of Suffolk proclaims his intention to follow with a translation of Porcie, a project that did not come to fruition.
G. Jondorf, Robert Garnier and the Themes of Political Tragedy in the Sixteenth Century, 1969.
Dora E. Polachek

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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