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Rabelais and French Renaissance Satire

Edwin M. Duval

Subject Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405119559.2007.00008.x


The early French Renaissance witnessed a great flowering of satirical writing in which traditional comic mechanisms of farce, fabliau, and mock Arthurian epic were combined with newly rediscovered modes of classical irony to produce some of the most brilliant and influential works of prose satire in Western literature. The undisputed master and model of this new kind of satirical literature was Francois Rabelais (1483?—1553), a Franciscan and Benedictine monk, who left the orders to become a doctor of medicine and an accomplished scholar of Greek medicine, Roman law, the Greek New Testament, and classical literature. Rabelais' works, collectively known as Gargantua and Pantagruel , combine the most exquisite classical learning and the most indecorous popular humor, the ideals of pre-Reformation evangelism and the disreputable pranks of rascals, “high sacraments and horrific mysteries concerning our religion as well as political and domestic government” ( Gargantua prologue) expressed in what Mikhail Bakhtin euphemistically referred to as the “language of the marketplace.” To appreciate the originality and importance of Rabelais' satire, it is essential to consider the intellectual climate in which it originated. During the reign of Francis I (1515–47), a cataclysmic culture war broke out in France as a new generation of scholars, inspired by Italian and northern humanists and ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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