A study of the use of language in three major authors: Racine, Corneille and La Bruyère. Students of classical discourse often refer to the "ideology of representation" in which language is considered as the perfect mirror of thought. While this ideal is indeed expressed in critical and theoretical writings of the period, literary language itself takes a different twist. In Corneille's plays, for example, language serves a largely rhetorical function: to fight the offensive and defensive battles of the self. In Racine, on the other hand, words become problematic; instead of communicating the truth, they disguise it from both speaker and listener. This sense of a truth hidden within, or beyond, language links Racine to the Augustinian tradition, along with other writers of the period like Pascal. Finally, La Bruyère remorselessly reveals the mechanism of social discourse in the seventeenth century: speech is a marketplace where conventional counters are exchanged, whether they be authentic or not. In sum, this study aims to show the variety of linguistic modes present in the classical period, and their irreducibility to a single ideology.