French Literature in 16th Century: Renaissance and Humanism

The beginnings of humanistic culture

With the intervention of French kings in the political disputes in northern Italy from the end of the 15th century, the interest of the French elites in Italian Renaissance culture, Renaissance humanism and ancient culture grew. Franz I drew Italian artists and scientists to his court and founded what is now the Collège de France as a center of humanistic education in 1530 at the instigation of the French humanist G. Budé. The study of ancient texts in the original, their editing and translation led to the emergence of classical philology in France. A major translator of classical ancient works was J. Amyot, the Plutarch and works of Euripides, Heliodor and Longos transferred. R. and H. Estienne emerged as publishers and translators. The translation work also stimulated the creation of multilingual dictionaries as well as reflections on language comparison; J. Lemaire de Belges saw French as equal to Italian and tried to establish a cultural connection between France and classical antiquity in his “Illustrations de Gaule…” (1509–13). The humanistic method of text security was also carried over to the Bible. The first French Bible translator (1530) and commentator, the humanist J. Faber (J. Lefèvre d’Étaples), had a great influence on the development of the Reformation in France. 1535 followed the translation of the Bible by P. R. Olivetanus, who later became a collaborator with J. Calvin in Geneva. Like Faber and Olivetanus, the reformer Calvin had to leave France for religious reasons; his “Institution de la religion chrétienne” (1541), translated into French (based on the Latin original), is the first theological work in French. The printer, translator and commentator on ancient works, É. Dolet who was sentenced to death and burned for distributing heretical writings.

The beginnings of New French poetry

The poetry of the Renaissance also began with translations. C. Marot, who submitted the first French translation of the Psalms (as a supporter of the Reformation, was subject to persecution), stands between medieval traditions and the formal language of antiquity (epigram, eclogue, etc.) with his own lyrical works, and he was also open to Italian Renaissance poetry (he wrote the first French sonnet). The lyric poets of the Pléiade who broke with medieval tradition and chose the ancient authors and genres (in addition to the lyrical also tragedy, comedy and epic) as well as contemporary Italian poetry as models, took up this form of poetry. The manifesto of this school, “Defense et illustration de la langue française” (1549), also reveals a new kind of poetic self-confidence; the French language as an idiom on a par with Italian and the classical ancient languages ​​should be developed into an expressive poetic instrument (e.g. by borrowing from dialects and technical languages ​​as well as by neologisms). The Pléiade included, inter alia. P. de Ronsard, J. Du Bellay, É. Jodelle, R. Belleau, A. de Baïf, P. de Tyard and the Hellenist J. Dorat. Ronsard and Du Bellay also found a personal tone in the ancient and Italian lyric forms. With his attempt to create a French “Aeneid” with the “Franciade” (1572) and thus to revive the ancient epic, Ronsard stands at the beginning of the modern classical tradition. The Lyons school of poetry (École de Lyon) received Neoplatonic ideas and Petrarkism with its idealistically exaggerated conception of love via Italy, which was not far away, and conveyed them to French literature (M. Scève, Louise Labé). The poetry of P. Desportes was also inspired by Petrarkism. Check to see more about France and other countries in the world.

The drama of the renaissance

Following the example of the reception of antiquity in the Italian Renaissance, the ancient theater was also rediscovered in France. Antique renaissance dramas emerged, and poetics, too, was further developed by French theorists (including J. de La Taille), following on from Aristotle, G. B. Giraldi Cinzio and J. C. Scaliger. Tragedies based on ancient models wrote, among other things. L. de Baïf, Jodelle, A. de Montchrétien and R. Garnier; In 1582, the latter presented a dramatized version of an episode from Ariost’s “Orlando furioso” (“Rasendem Roland”) with “Bradamante”, which belonged to the new genre of tragicomedy and imitated Seneca’s sentence style. Jodelle, Belleau, J. Grévin and others worked as comedy writers based on ancient patterns; P. de Larivey was mainly referring to the Italian Renaissance comedy.

The prose

Forms of the Italian Renaissance poetry were also adopted in the narrative prose. The “Heptaméron” (published in 1559) by Margaret of Navarra (sister of Francis I), in the form of a novella, refers to the model of the “Decamerone” by Boccaccio. Humanistically educated and oriented towards Neoplatonic ideas, she was also open to new religious ideas and received numerous religiously persecuted people (including Calvin) at her court.

The inner turmoil of a time of intellectual and religious debate is also shown in memoir literature (e.g. de Monluc, P. de Brantôme) and in satire (such as the “Satire Ménippée”, 1594); the sufferings of the war were described from a Catholic and Protestant point of view (e.g. in the epic “Les tragiques”, 1616, by T. A. d’Aubigné). J. Bodin looked for a way to overcome the civil war in “Les six livres de la république” (1576), the first work on the theory of the state in French. L. Leroy, A. Thevet,and E. Pasquier wrote basic histories. The (in terms of content and form, novel) »Essais« by M. de Montaigne focus for the first time on an ego that becomes aware of its subjectivity. The »Essais«, in which the interest in researching human beings in all their complexity was combined with the skeptical doubts about the possibility of knowledge, were very well received by 17th century morality.

The outstanding figure of the French Renaissance was F. Rabelais. His large, multi-part novel about “Gargantua et Pantagruel” (1532–64), which was inspired by popular books and partly designed as a parody of the medieval chansons de geste, gave the European novel important impulses; Rabelais combines literary, ecclesiastical and political contemporary satire with an educational program in a humanistic spirit; The work, which is characterized by a renaissance-like joy in being and for the senses, is linguistically original with its bold satirical play on words and neologisms.

French Literature in 16th Century - Renaissance and Humanism