Jezebel, Joash, and Jesus Christ
Aspects of Athalia
The oratorio Athalia, based on Jean Racine's Athalie (1690), was composed for performance during the Oxford Public Act of 1733. The biblical Athaliah story tells how the true Davidic heir Joash is restored to the throne after seven years during which the idolatrous usurper Athaliah has reigned. As such, the story had potentially subversive (Jacobite) political associations, and this chapter considers why it was chosen for use in Oxford. First, the biblical Athaliah material is examined. Then the results of this analysis are considered against Racine's Athalie, and finally Samuel Humphreys' libretto for the oratorio Athalia is compared with both Racine and the biblical text. From this it is possible to see how Humphreys' libretto focuses on God's preservation of his people from unjust and tyrannous rule and defines the true monarch by spiritual credentials rather than by physical lineage. The story's Jacobite associations are thereby overwritten with Hanoverian ones.
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