In This Article François Rabelais

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Language and Style
  • Genre and Narrative Situation
  • Reception
  • Law and Medicine
  • Relation to Sources
  • Rabelais and His Contemporaries
  • Comic Aspects
  • Religion

Renaissance and Reformation François Rabelais
by
Bernd Renner
  • LAST REVIEWED: 03 June 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 November 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0153

Introduction

Few writers in world literature have had as considerable an influence on letters and later authors or have garnered as much critical attention as François Rabelais. As the first great French prose author, Rabelais straddles the divide between his indebtedness to Greco-Latin, medieval, and contemporary traditions and the modernity of his style, preoccupations, and approaches. He truly incarnates what has come to be known as the transitional status of the early modern period by illustrating the continuous, gradual evolution of humanist thinking (and not the myth of a radical rupture that had long been identified with the Renaissance) in an age of tremendous religious, social, technological, and ideological upheaval. The modern period of Rabelais scholarship started with the Revue des études rabelaisiennes (1903–1912). Its focus on philology illustrated the need to rehabilitate an allegedly comic or obscene author by insisting on the texts’ heavy erudition and abundant classical sources containing serious hidden meaning. The Revue helped create the series Études rabelaisiennes (1953 to present; Volume 51 appeared in 2011); this series is the most important resource for Rabelais scholars and publishes monographs, conference proceedings, and varia. A noteworthy journal is the Bulletin de l’Association des Amis de Rabelais et de la Devinière (since 1951). The 1953 collective volume commemorating the four hundredth anniversary of Rabelais’s death marked the pinnacle of this approach of historical positivism and triggered Leo Spitzer’s famous 1960 polemical article in Studi francesi (“Rabelais et les ‘rabelaisants,’” Spitzer 1960, cited under Problems of Writing and Interpretation) in favor of a reorientation toward literary qualities of aesthetics, style, and language. This new approach dominated the 1960s and 1970s, leading up to the spirited debate on the prologue of Gargantua between “positivists” (represented primarily by Michael A. Screech, Gérard Defaux, and Edwin M. Duval) and “stylists” (led by Terence Cave, Michel Jeanneret, and François Rigolot) in the pages of the Revue d’histoire littéraire de la France (1985–1986), triggered by Duval’s fundamental article in Études rabelaisiennes 28 (1985). The essential question was whether Rabelais had intentionally hidden specific higher meanings in his text that could be found through erudition and philological research or whether the text consciously resists totalizing interpretations and was inherently polysemic and thus prone to constantly generating new meanings. The debate has not only invigorated Rabelais scholarship but has also led to a healthy middle ground between erudition, philology, and aestheticopoetic concerns since around 1990, which has advanced the study of this essential author considerably. Other noteworthy developments of the past few decades are the increasing scholarly interest in the long-neglected Third Book and Fourth Book as well as scrutiny of the controversial Fifth Book that goes well beyond the intriguing question of its authenticity and studies the text for its intrinsic literary qualities.

General Overviews

Lazard 1979 and Faure 1999 are the most general introductory texts for the period and Rabelais’s place in it. Demonet-Launay 1988 addresses a more specialized readership and would be suited to students especially. Defaux 2001 and Zegura 2006 are excellent compact overviews of Rabelais’s life and writings. Balmas and Giraud 1997, Jouanna 2001, and Lestringant and Zink 2006 are very detailed overviews of the period that target a specialized audience. Zegura 2004 is an indispensable starting point for any research project on Rabelais.

  • Balmas, Enea, and Yves Giraud. Histoire de la littérature française: De Villon à Ronsard. Paris: Flammarion, 1997.

    E-mail Citation »

    Very accessible paperback divided into three parts: society, culture, and religion; literature; and great authors.

  • Defaux, Gérard. “François Rabelais.” In Dictionnaire des lettres françaises: Le XVIe siècle. Edited by M. Simonin, 976–996. Paris: Fayard, 2001.

    E-mail Citation »

    Quite substantial encyclopedic entry with a balanced interpretative approach and a good bibliography.

  • Demonet-Launay, Marie-Luce. Histoire de la littérature Française: XVIe siècle (1460–1610). Paris: Bordas, 1988.

    E-mail Citation »

    Excellent introductory text divided into sections on historical background, intellectual framework, and literature.

  • Faure, Paul. La Renaissance. 11th ed. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1999.

    E-mail Citation »

    Concise introductory text from the popular Que sais-je? series covering all aspects of the period (economy, society, technical progress, arts, religion).

  • Jouanna, Arlette, ed. La France de la Renaissance: Histoire et dictionnaire. Paris: Robert Laffont, 2001.

    E-mail Citation »

    Two substantial studies on France and the rest of Europe (titled “Rivals, Neighbors, and Partners of France”) are complemented by an encyclopedia and a very extensive bibliography.

  • Lazard, Madeleine. Rabelais et la Renaissance. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1979.

    E-mail Citation »

    Basic introduction in the popular series Que sais-je?. Helpful as a starting point, especially for undergraduate students.

  • Lestringant, Frank, and Michel Zink, eds. Histoire de la France littéraire: Naissances, Renaissances; Moyen Âge–Renaissance. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2006.

    E-mail Citation »

    Very comprehensive introductory text covering the sociopolitical context and all the main aspects of literary creation; nicely insists on the continuity and the change that characterize the two periods.

  • Zegura, Elizabeth Chesney, ed. The Rabelais Encyclopedia, ed. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2004.

    E-mail Citation »

    Mostly short and to-the-point articles on a rather complete array of key words, concepts, episodes, characters, and themes; each article followed by a list of helpful secondary readings.

  • Zegura, Elizabeth Chesney. “François Rabelais.” In Sixteenth-Century French Writers. Edited by Megan Conway, 334–353. Dictionary of Literary Biography 327. Minneapolis: Thomson-Gale, 2006.

    E-mail Citation »

    Encyclopedic entry, the most solid one in English, with a good bibliography.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.

Purchase an Ebook Version of This Article

Ebooks of the Oxford Bibliographies Online subject articles are available in North America via a number of retailers including Amazon, vitalsource, and more. Simply search on their sites for Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guides and your desired subject article.

If you would like to purchase an eBook article and live outside North America please email onlinemarketing@oup.com to express your interest.

Article

Up

Down