France Literature: 16th Century

After Villon we enter the full Renaissance. The word is recent, it was born in the century. XIX, but it precisely indicates that movement that began, in France, with the century. XVI and that lasted until the early years of the XVII. For France there is talk of the advent of the Renaissance with the coronation of Francis I (1515) and it ends with the death of Henry IV (1610). Everyone agrees on the second term, while for the first we would like to anticipate it to the innovative ferments already noticeable in the century. XII and XIII. In reality, one cannot speak of the Renaissance before a contact with Italian culture and this happened in the period known as that of the wars of Italy (1494-1519). The Italian Renaissance, when Charles VIII, Louis XII and Francis I, one after the other, with their aristocratic entourage entered the Italian courts, was in full splendor. The messages of Dante, Giotto, Petrarch had been collected. The courts of Florence, Mantua, Rome, Ferrara, Naples welcomed artists such as Brunelleschi, Masaccio, Leonardo, LB Alberti, Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Ariosto, while the art of printing was born, while Greek scholars revealed and disseminated manuscript works of antiquity. In this era of great cultural ferment, Francesco I and his sister Margaret of Navarre, both lovers and protectors of the arts, played an important part. The royal typography was born in Paris, which will become the National Typography, the Library and the Royal College were born. Meanwhile, the Reformation shocked the minds: Luther’s rupture with the Church became the rupture of free spirits against the spiritual monopolism of the Church and the teaching of the Scholastica and, while the humanists were studying the ancient works, the Reformed ones, Calvin in the lead, they dedicated themselves to the dissemination and free interpretation of the Bible.

The humanists, however, became suspicious at the Sorbonne, because the Sorbonne was the kingdom of the Scholastica and the humanists turned their studies to pagan antiquity, as reprehensible as the study of sacred texts by the reformers, who claimed to interpret them without the mediation of the Church. And in this struggle, in this quarrel between scholars, teaching and the university lost their prestige while the prestige of the French courts was affirmed, which began with Francis I, happy to call around him poets and artists, as he had seen in Italy. The first great court poet is Clement Marot (1497-1554). An independent and protesting spirit, Marot attracted the hatred of the clergy because he sympathized with the Reformation. He was even suspected of having participated in the affaire des placards, that is, of having taken part in the drafting of those offensive posters for the Catholic religion which in the night between 17 and 18 October 1534 were even posted on the door of the king’s chamber. Heir to the great rhetoricians (Jean Molinet, Guillaume Cretin, Jean Lemaire de Belges, Pierre Gringore) and his father Jean, Clement Marot wrote refined, cultured, elegant verses, but short-lived, and perhaps his best things remain the two epistles addressed to the king. Be that as it may, Marot was certainly the greatest among his contemporaries who should also be remembered, such as the aforementioned Margaret of Navarre, Mellin de Saint-Gelais, the Lyons Maurice Scève and Louise Labé who marked the transition towards the Pléiade, while in literature of France included the extraordinary work of François Rabelais (1494-1553), monk, doctor, humanist, who with his Gargantua et Pantagruel (1532) composed a work full of inventiveness, vigor, doctrine, satire, philosophy that remained unique. La Pléiade, on the other hand, was headed by a very fine poet, Pierre Ronsard (1524-85). It gathered a group of seven poets (Dorat, Baïf, Belleau, Jodelle, Du Bellay, Pontus de Tyard, as well as Ronsard himself) who promised to renew French poetry. Du Bellay wrote the manifesto with the Défense et illustration de la langue française, Ronsard illustrated it with a personal lyric. Poet of nature, in the Odes and in the Élégies he sang love with exquisite sweetness and sentiment in the Amours à Marie and above all in those in Héléne and remained, without doubt, the most persuasive singer of France. Once the poetry was renewed, even the theater was preparing itself with new ferments, to which the Pléiade was no stranger, to the Grand Siècle, with works such as the Eugène and the Cléopâtre (1552) by Jodelle, the Antigone by Baïf, the tragedies of Garnier and the comedies of Larivey and Turnebe, with a crowd of writers and poets, scholars and moralists, including La Boetie (1530-63), Du Bartas (1544-90), Pierre Charron (1541-1603) and Brantôme (ca. 1540-1614). The century ended and was recognized in the splendor of Montaigne (1533-92), who in 1580 published the first edition of his Essays (to reach the fifth, enlarged, in 1588), a livre de chevet, philosophical examination in which the man examines himself in order to suspend all judgment since the concept of good and evil is unstable in time and place. The religious wars ended with the conversion of Henry IV who entered Paris in 1594 and the anonymous Satyre Ménippée published in the same year, a masterpiece of pamphlets for wit and composure, offered his arm to the new king and buried the Catholic League in the ridiculous.

France Literature - 16th Century