La politique selon La Mort d’Agrippine de Cyrano de Bergerac : conspiration, athéisme et libertinage érudit sur scène
The present article examines the vision of politics, especially linked to religion, in the only known tragedy by French author Cyrano de Bergerac. Provoking a major scandal during its premiere due to several dialogues considered as atheist by contemporary authorities, this complex piece of dramatic art provides some insights into the political thought of a 17th-century philosophical (underground) tendency known as libertinage érudit. As I try to show, one of the major problems we face in the tragedy’s (political) interpretation is its overall composition, which Cyrano based on baroque principles like (dis)simulation, illusion, and manipulation, turning the whole piece into a dramatic trompe-l’œil. Focusing on the close reading of some crucial dialogues that involve three of the tragedy’s protagonists (Agrippina, Emperor Tiberius, and Sejanus), this article postulates two axes as central to politics according to Cyrano: (1) religion is useful for political enterprises and the foundation of the state, but has no basis in itself since the gods do not exist — they are mere creations of the human mind. (2) At least in Cyrano’s Rome, there simply are no good politicians (‘good’ understood in a moral sense), only brilliant liars and deceivers, Machiavellian rulers, cruel emperors, and equally cruel conspirators. Politics is perceived as a dirty business where there is no space for morals — scandalous conclusions explaining the immediate suppression of any further representations of La Mort d’Agrippine after its tumultuous premiere.