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Clement Marot: A Renaissance Poet Discovers the Gospel.

Michael Screech, well-known for his scholarship on Rabelais, Montaigne and Erasmus, here takes on Clement Marot (1496-1544), a poet and reformer in early Reformation France. As a poet who exerted great influence on Edmund Spenser and others, and as the translator of the psalms that became the anthem of the reformed faith in France, Marot deserves more attention than he has hitherto received. Screech employs the method of explication de texte, a careful reading of Marot's writings, and particularly his use of scripture, to determine at what point and how thoroughly Marot converted to the reformed faith. This is often difficult to ascertain in the religious climate of evangelism, biblicism, and mysticism that characterized France in the first decades of the sixteenth century. The author traces Marot's writings through three crises: his arrest on suspicion of heresy in 1526; his suspected involvement in the Affaire des Placards of 1534-35; and his flight to Geneva in 1542 after the Paris Faculty of Theology condemned his translation of the psalms and issued a warrant for his arrest.

Throughout his life, Marot was accused of being a Lutheran, the name given to anyone suspected of heresy in France before Calvin's impact was felt. Screech examines Marot's writings closely for evidence of Lutheran beliefs through each of the critical stages of the poet's life. Screech begins by examining Marot's Au Roy, du temps de son exil a Ferrare, in which he states that the poet "is extremely bold and clear: Marot is openly confessing his Lutheranism" (13). Screech points out that it is precisely because Marot denied being a Lutheran that he must have been one. Although this denial has sometimes been interpreted as equivocation or even orthodoxy, Screech shows that Marot was following Luther's own counsel in this regard. Luther had urged his followers: "First of all I ask that you should avoid my name and call yourselves not Lutheran but Christian. What is Luther! The doctrine is not mine! Neither was I crucified for anyone! . . . Let us leave sectarian names alone and call ourselves Christians . . ." (14). At the same time, Marot clearly expresses the doctrine of justification by faith alone; these points taken together are evidence that Marot was a follower of Luther and not simply the evangelical doctrines of Jacques Lefevre d'Etaples and Erasmus. In the poem L'Enfer, composed at the time of his arrest in 1526, Marot mocked the Sorbonne's labeling of him as a "Lutherist" in a manner that leaves little doubt about his true beliefs. However, Screech notes that we cannot be sure that Marot didn't edit the work before its publication in 1539. At any rate, Screech believes that Marot was certainly a Lutheran after 1534.

Screech exculpates Marot from any participation in the Affair of the Placards; the poet himself attributed the deed to "certain madmen [who] did the vilest things . . ." (106), and justified his flight after the incident to his fear of a corrupt judiciary. In 1535, when Francis I offered a royal pardon to those willing to abjure their faith, Marot refused, hoping for an unconditional safe conduct. When this was not forthcoming, he eventually did make an amende honorable, but this did not last. The event seems to have forced Marot's conscience. Once back in France, he continued to translate the psalms, but avoided overtly evangelical propaganda. His writings after 1534 show his acceptance of Lutheran doctrine regarding the Virgin Mary, the saints, purgatory, and scripture. Unlike Luther, he seldom mentions the mass, an issue that seems to have been less important in France in the early days of the Reformation than in Germany and Switzerland. In 1542, after Francis reinstated a more repressive policy toward heterodoxy, a warrant was issued for Marot's arrest and he fled to Geneva. He died in Turin two years later.

The author's careful reading of Marot shows him to have been an avowed "Christian" (i.e. Lutheran) by 1534. Yet Marot's Lutheranism was distinctly informed by the French evangelical tradition personified by Lefevre d'Etaples and Marguerite of Navarre.

This is an erudite work that helps shed light on the work of a little studied figure of the early Reformation. Although this reader would have liked a bit more historical context, that was not Screech's intent. In addition to his analysis of Marot's poetry, Screech also illuminates a number of evangelical figures at the court of Francis I, and his sidelight reflections on Marguerite's piety and beliefs are very interesting. The only serious flaw in this otherwise excellent monograph is poor copyediting.

Larissa Taylor COLBY COLLEGE
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Article Details
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Author:Taylor, Larissa
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 1995
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