In This Article Pierre de Ronsard

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Biographies
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Editions
  • Translations
  • Collections
  • Poetics and Rhetoric
  • The Political Poet
  • Publication
  • Ronsardian Landscapes
  • The Plastic Arts
  • Contemporary Reception
  • Legacy

Renaissance and Reformation Pierre de Ronsard
by
Katherine Maynard
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0323

Introduction

Perhaps no poet of the French Renaissance has known as much fame, in both his own lifetime and through his legacy, as Pierre de Ronsard (b. 1524–d. 1585). Born at the manor of La Possonnière in the Vendômois region of France to a father who served François I, the noble Ronsard served in the royal diplomatic corps before turning to poetry under the tutelage of Jean Dorat at his Collège de Coqueret in Paris. Here, Ronsard studied with the poet Joachim Du Bellay, and the two became the founding members of a poetic coterie, “the Brigade,” later known as “the Pléiade.” With Ronsard at the helm, the group inaugurated a poetic movement that aspired to break with French poets of the past by promoting the study of Ancient Roman and Greek poetry as a source of inspiration and imitation. In so doing, Ronsard and his comrades hoped to raise the reputation of French poetry to compete with France’s cultural rivals the Italians. From the mid-16th century to his death in 1585, the prolific Ronsard adopted numerous poetic forms from Antiquity and Renaissance Italy and adapted them to French poetry, all the while remaining responsive to contemporary trends and current events. He made waves in 1550 with his first collection of poetry, Les quatre premiers livres des Odes, which was largely inspired by his readings of Pindar and, to a lesser extent, Horace. His first book of Amours, which demonstrated his skill as a Petrarchan sonneteer, followed two years later. Ronsard was also a court poet closely associated with the last Valois kings, and, in particular, Charles IX (b. 1550–d. 1574, r. 1560–1574), the second son of Henri II and Catherine de’ Medici, to whom the poet dedicated an epic poem La Franciade in 1572. Throughout the course of the Wars of Religion, Ronsard supported the king and the royalist Catholic cause, most dramatically in the early 1560s with a series of poems that became the Discours des Misères de ce Temps. Finally, Ronsard is noteworthy for his interest in the emerging media of print. His collected works were published for the first time in 1560, and he continued to edit and republish them throughout his life. In addition, Ronsard published new poems in separate volumes, and he would then revise and re-publish them within his complete works. Ronsard’s practices in safeguarding his poetic legacy thus paint a fascinating picture of the development of printing and editing in the 16th century.

General Overviews

Readers beginning their exploration of Ronsard might find it useful to start with the lucid surveys in Kenny 2008 and Rigolot 2002. More advanced scholars will appreciate the way that Greene 1982 situates Ronsard’s poetry in a larger European intellectual context. Many of the best overviews of Ronsard’s work include a consideration of his literary coterie the Pléiade. For those familiarizing themselves with this poetic circle, Bellenger 1988 is a good place to start, as is Castor 1964. Aulotte 1991 is another useful orientation for undergraduates with strong French reading skills. Chamard 1961 is a balanced introduction to the story of the Pléiade as a whole; Ronsard’s career serves as the common thread of his four volumes. More specific to Ronsard in this context is Nolhac 1921.

  • Aulotte, Robert, ed. Précis de la Littérature française du XVIe siècle. Paris: PUF, 1991.

    E-mail Citation »

    Chapter 4, written by Gisèle Mathieu-Castellani and Jacques Pineaux, offers a comprehensive overview of French poetry in the 16th century and provides a sense of Ronsard’s preponderant role in poetic production of the second half of the century.

  • Bellenger, Yvonne. La Pléiade: La poésie en France autour de Ronsard. Paris: Nizet, 1988.

    E-mail Citation »

    A slender volume in French that is a fine and pithy introduction to Ronsard and his poetic circle, divided into sections on ideas, forms, and themes. With brief biographies of each of the poets affiliated with Ronsard.

  • Castor, Grahame. Pléiade Poetics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1964.

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    Castor’s careful explanation of major theoretical concepts of the Pléiade—imitation, invention, and inspiration—remains an essential starting point for students of Ronsard.

  • Chamard, Henri. Histoire de la Pléiade. 4 vols. Paris, France: Didier, 1961.

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    For those seeking greater detail, Chamard’s extensive chronological account of the lives and works of the Pléiade poets is accessible and informative.

  • Greene, Thomas. The Light in Troy: Imitation and Discovery in Renaissance Poetry. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1982.

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    A classic study of imitation in Renaissance poetry with a valuable overview of theories of imitation in a Renaissance context. A chapter on Ronsard treats the poet’s intertextual relationship to Petrarch and Hesiod in the Amours and touches upon many recurring poetic tropes in Ronsard’s poetry.

  • Kenny, Neil. An Introduction to Sixteenth-century French Literature and Thought: Other Times, Other Places. London: Duckworth, 2008.

    E-mail Citation »

    An essential introduction to the historical and intellectual context in which Ronsard wrote. The author not only explains the underlying principles of Renaissance Humanism, rhetoric, poetry, and philosophy but also illustrates these principles through insightful analyses of texts by Ronsard’s contemporaries. With a bibliography of quintessential books on the Renaissance.

  • Nolhac, Pierre de. Ronsard et l’Humanisme. Paris: Librairie Ancienne Honoré Champion, 1921.

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    Although it contains some archaic assumptions, this book nevertheless provides a larger cultural context for Ronsard’s poetic production. Also available on Gallica.

  • Rigolot, François. Poésie et Renaissance. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 2002.

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    Readers of all levels will find interest in this eloquent introduction to French Renaissance poetry. With chapters on conceptions of poetry, the birth of the poet-author, the école lyonnaise, the mid-century poetic revolution of the Pléiade, political poetry, and poetic forms. Bibliographies accompany each chapter.

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