The Tragedy of Being a Historical Creature in Nicolas de Montreux' La Sophonisbe (1601)

Activity: Talks and presentationsConference presentations


Nicolas de Montreux’s tragedy "La Sophonisbe" (1601) dramatizes the suicide of the Carthaginian noblewoman Sophonisbe, who opts to kill herself to avoid being taken captive by the Romans. A minor event in Ancient historical sources (among others Livy’s Ab urbe condita, Appian’s Punic Wars, and Plutarch’s Life of Scipio), Sophonisbe’s death became a popular subject for French Renaissance dramatists. Contrary to his predecessors, such as Saint-Gelais’ 1556 French translation of Trissino’s Sofonisba (1515) and Montchrestien’s Sophonisbe from 1595, Montreux downplays the romantic knot between Masinissa and Sophonisbe and instead stages a world of personal and political hopelessness. By using Walter Benjamin’s interpretation of women as a historical creature in the German Trauerspiel, this paper presents a reading of Sophonisbe’s lamentation in act 5 as a reflection on the precariousness of historical existence. I will argue that the play’s rhetoric of mortality engages its audience to think about historicity, thus highlighting a neglected reflective dimension of the drama.
Period15. Apr 2021
Held atRenaissance Society of America
Degree of RecognitionInternational