1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/La Taille, Jean de

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LA TAILLE, JEAN DE (c. 1540–1608), French poet and dramatist, was born at Bondaroy. He studied the humanities in Paris under Muret, and law at Orleans under Anne de Bourg. He began his career as a Huguenot, but afterwards adopted a mild Catholicism. He was wounded at the battle of Arnay-le Duc in 1570, and retired to his estate at Bondaroy, where he wrote a political pamphlet entitled Histoire abrégée des singeries de la ligue, often published with the Satire Ménippée. His chief poem is a satire on the follies of court life, Le Courtisan retiré; he also wrote a political poem, Le Prince nécessaire. But his fame rests on his achievements in drama. In 1572 appeared the tragedy of Saül le furieux, with a preface on L’ Art de la tragédie. Like Jodelle, Grévin, La Péruse and their followers, he wrote, not for the general public to which the mysteries and farces had addressed themselves, but for the limited audience of a lettered aristocracy. He therefore depreciated the native drama and insisted on the Senecan model. In his preface La Taille enunciates the unities of place, time and action; he maintains that each act should have a unity of its own and that the scenes composing it should be continuous; he objects to deaths on the stage on the ground that the representation is unconvincing, and he requires as subject of the tragedy an incident really terrible, developed, if possible, by elaborate intrigue. He criticizes e.g. the subject of the sacrifice of Abraham, chosen by Théodore de Bèze for his tragedy (1551), as unsuitable because “pity and terror” are evoked from the spectators without real cause. If in Saül le furieux he did not completely carry out his own convictions he developed his principal character with great ability. A second tragedy, La Famine ou les Gabéonites (1573), is inferior in construction, but is redeemed by the character of Rizpah. He was also the author of two comedies, Le Négromant and Les Corrivaux, both written apparently by 1562 but not published until 1573. Les Corrivaux is remarkable for its colloquial prose dialogue, which foreshadows the excellence of later French comedy.

His brother, Jacques de la Taille (1542–1562), composed a number of tragedies, of which La Mort de Daire and La Mort d’Alexandre (both published in 1573) are the chief. He is best known by his Manière de faire des vers en français comme en grec et en latin, an attempt to regulate French verse by quantity. He died of plague at the age of 20. His Poésies diverses were published in 1572.

The works of Jean de la Taille were edited by René de Maulde (4 vols., 1878–1882). See also É. Faguet, La Tragédie française au XVI e siècle (1883).