I Will Hear Those Glances That You Think Are Silent

Jean Racine? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The 17th-century French dramatist Jean Racine once presented a scenario in which a powerful emperor wished to split apart two lovers. The emperor ordered one lover to banish the other without revealing that the rejection was occurring under coercion. The emperor further stated that he would hide and carefully monitor the meeting of the couple. He employed the following ominous and memorable line:

I will hear those glances that you think are silent.

Would you please help me to find the play containing this scene?

Quote Investigator: This scene occurs in the tragedy “Britannicus” by Jean Racine which was first performed in 1669. The leader Neron desired to sever the relationship between Junie and Britannicus. He ordered Junie to break with her beloved. Here are the key lines spoken by Neron to Junie from a 1713 edition of the play. Boldface added to excerpts from QI: 1

Caché prés de ces lieux, je vous verrai, Madame;
Renfermez vôtre amour dans le fond de vôtre ame,
Vous n’aurez point pour moi de langages secrets.
J’entendrai des regards que vous croirez muets;
Et sa perte sera l’infaillible salaire
D’un geste, ou d’un soûpir échappé pour lui plaire.

A translation of Racine’s play into English by Robert Henderson and Paul Landis appeared under the publishing banner of The Modern Library in 1931. These were the key lines: 2

I shall be near, behind a curtain, lady.
Shut up your love within your inmost heart,
For I shall miss no secret words you say.
Looks that you think are silent, I will hear,
And he shall have his death for a reward
If any little move or sigh betray you.

Below is one additional selected citation together with a conclusion.

Continue reading I Will Hear Those Glances That You Think Are Silent

Notes:

  1. 1713, Œuvres de Racine, Tome Premier, Play: Britannicus, Act 2, Scene 3, Start Page 223, Quote Page 259, Compagnie des Libraires, Paris. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1931, Six Plays By Corneille And Racine, Edited and with an introduction by Professor Paul Landis, Britannicus by Jean Racine, Translated by Robert Henderson and Paul Landis, (Act 2), Start Page 185, Quote Page 209, The Modern Library: Random House, New York. (Verified with scans)