Racine’s favourite actress

La Champmeslé enjoyed considerable success on the Parisian stage and became the mistress and favourite actress of Jean Racine (1639-1699). He wrote all his major female roles for her and each play gripped the crowds: Marie Desmares thus triumphed in Bajazet (1672), Mithridate (1673), Iphigénie (1674) which she played in Versailles, and Phèdre (1677). Phèdre would bring their relationship to an end: like Boileau, Racine had become Royal Historiographer to the King and he decided to settle down by marrying Catherine de Romanet, and gave up the theatre.

La Champmeslé continued her acting career by maintaining her repertoire of Racine’s tragedies. Racine himself was highly regarded at Court and even gave in to Mme de Maintenon’s request to write tragedies on a biblical theme for her girls’ school at Saint-Cyr. Esther, and then Athalie, were first performed before the King and the Court by pupils of the school.