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Poesie et Renaissance.

Francois Rigolot. Poesie et Renaissance.

Points Essais serie Lettres. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 2002. 406 pp. index. illus. gloss. bibl. [euro] 7.95. ISBN: 2-02-047423-9.

In the preface to his new study of French sixteenth-century poetry, Francois Rigolot assures the reader that this work is intended for a broad, cultivated audience, and not for a small number of narrowly-focused scholars. Such a hedge is unnecessary, however, because specialists and neophytes alike will find in this book many stimulating reflections by a prolific scholar whose work has spanned the period in question, from the rhetoriqueurs to Louise Labe to Montaigne.

The book is divided symmetrically into six parts, subdivided into three chapters each, and it progresses for the most part chronologically. The first section on continuity and innovation in French poetry raises the question of the collaborative nature of the arts and other disciplines, including poetry set to music, the connectedness of music and mathematics, the visual aspects of Renaissance poetry, arts rhetoriques, and what might be called the ethics of poetry in the early sixteenth century.

The emergence of the individual author and the development of literary consciousness provide the focus for chapters on the grands rhetoriqueurs and Clement Marot. With a neologism worthy of the rimailleurs, Rigolot describes the revived interest in these figures since the 1970s as a process of "rhehabilitation" (84). The work of the rhetoriqueurs at once modernizes and corrupts the humanist ideal of sanitas antiqua. Differing from many previous critics who have tended to see Jean Marot as a medieval relic and his son Clement as a Renaissance innovator, Rigolot insists on the continuity between the two. The embryonic desire for authority in Jean Marot and other rhetoriqueurs, manifested in their pursuit of protectors, gives way in Clement Marot to a decided desire for personal poetic glory.

Subsequent chapters treat of Lyons, the French Renaissance cultural and printing capital, which produced a group of poets marked by autonomy, cosmopolitanism, and eclecticism. The Italianized literary scene is represented by Maurice Sceve, whose complex Delie recalls Petrarch's Laura in its subtle rhetoric and its mythical richness, although he differs from Petrarch both formally and metaphysically. Fine, albeit brief, close readings of individual poems punctuate these and other chapters.

Rigolot's appraisal of "les jeunes Turcs de la Pleiade" (the Young Turks of the Pleiade, 175, 187) is more critical than that of the poets from Lyons. He notes Ronsard's arrogance as well as the disconnect between the Pleiade's elevated theory and its imperfect practice. In this group, Du Bellay receives the highest marks from the author, who offers a compelling analysis of the rejection of metaphor in favor of simile and metonymy in the Regrets. In a critical aside, Rigolot reflects on the nature of Renaissance readers, who sought in poetry not "realism" but rather the possibility of meaning within the context of their universe. In this sense, departures from "truth" in Renaissance poetry and fiction do not constitute a falsehood but rather a distancing from the imperfection and mediocrity of real life.

Chapters on satirical, polemical, scientific, mannerist, and baroque poetry provide a glimpse of the wealth of poetic traditions exploited as the century draws to a close. The problematic terms "baroque" (assertive persuasion, as in d'Aubigne or de Sponde) and "mannerist" (seduction, even while casting doubt on its own validity, as in Desportes) depict the unstable, mutable, hybrid works of the turn of the century. Rigolot's treatment of the complicated literary relationship between the Catholic Ronsard and the Huguenot d'Aubigne is particularly illuminating.

In a study intended to be comprehensive, inevitably, some readers will identify areas that have been insufficiently treated or ignored. It is surprising, for example, that women writers are granted little attention, especially given the wealth of critical material on the subject today. Pernette du Guillet and Madeleine des Roches receive mention only in passing, and Catherine des Roches, Anne de Marquets, Nicole Estienne, Gabrielle de Coignard, and Marie Le Gendre figure nowhere in the book. Further, the category of gender, crucial in lyric poetry, remains virtually untouched (with the exception of Louise Labe's appropriation of the Orpheus myth). Religious poetry, prevalent during all parts of the century and worthy of consideration in itself, is largely subsumed under "poesie engagee" ("committed" or polemical poetry).

Despite these omissions, Francois Rigolot makes in his book a considerable contribution to Renaissance studies. Rigolot succeeds admirably in situating French Renaissance poetry within a rhetorical tradition, a vocabulary, and a social context not easily accessible to new readers: "Autres temps, autres metaphores" (12). In addition, each chapter provides a substantial bibliography of critical works, and a modest glossary allows the author to employ sixteenth-century terms without becoming mired in explanations throughout his analyses. Poesie et Renaissance may well become the introductory ur-text, the classic work through which students will view one of the richest moments in the history of French poetry.


Carleton College
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Title Annotation:Reviews
Author:Yandell, Cathy
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2004
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