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Montchretien, Antoine De

MONTCHRETIEN, ANTOINE DE (1575 or 1576-1621), French dramatist and economist, son of an apothecary at Falaise named Mauchrestien, was born about 1576. In one of his numerous duels he had the misfortune to kill his opponent. He consequently took refuge in England, but through the influence of James I., to whom he dedicated his tragedy, L'Ecossaise, he was allowed to return to France, and established himself at Auxonne-sur-Loire, where he set up a steel foundry. In 1621 he abandoned this enterprise to serve on the Huguenot side in the civil wars. He raised troops in Maine and Lower Normandy, but was killed in a skirmish near Tourailles on the 8th of October 1621. There is no evidence that he shared the religious opinions of the party for which he fought, and in any case he belonged to the moderate party rallied round Henry IV. In 1615 he published a valuable Traite de Veconomie politique, based chiefly on the works of Jean Bodin. He had the good fortune to write before the pruning processes of Vaugelas and Balzac had been applied to the language, and M. Lanson praises him as one of the best prose-writers of his time.

His dramas are Sophonisbe (1596), afterwards remodelled as La Cartaginoise; L'Ecossaise, Les Lacenes, David, Aman (in 1601); Hector (1604). As plays they have little technical merit, but they contain passages of great lyrical beauty. In L'Ecossaise Elizabeth first pardons Mary Queen of Scots, and no explanation is given of the change that leads to her execution. Aman has been compared not too unfavourably with Esther, and the hatred of Haman for Mordecai is expressed with more vigour than in Racine's play. All Montchretien's heroes 'face death without fear. M. Petit de Julleville finds the characteristic note of his plays in the same cult of heroism which was later to inspire the plays of Corneille. Poet, economist, ironmaster, and soldier, Montchretien represents the many-sided activity of a time before literature had become a profession, and before its province had been restricted in France to polite topics.

The tragedies were edited in 1901 by M. Petit de Julleville with notice and commentary; the Traite de I' economic politiqiie in 1889 by Th. Funck Brentano, whose estimate of Montchretien is severely criticized by W. I. Ashley in the Eng. Hist, Rev. (Oct. 1891). See also Emile Faguet, La Tragedie au XVI me siecle, ch. xi. (1883); G. Lanson, Revue des deux mondes (Sept. 1891).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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