Villon, François (Literary Criticism (1400-1800))
François Villon 1431–-c. 1463
(Also François des Loges and François de Montcorbier) French poet. See also Francois Villon Poetry Criticism.
Villon is considered one of the greatest French poets of the Middle Ages. In Le Lais (The Legacy; 1456), Le Testament (1461), and other works, Villon wrote about an underworld—populated by thieves, pimps, and whores—that he knew well and a way of life that brought him into conflict with legal and clerical authorities. His reputation as a dissipated pauper stands in stark contrast to the image of refinement cultivated by the courtly poets of the Middle Ages, and it made him an object of embarrassment and derision for high-minded scholars, but made him a favorite of Romantic poets. While Villon's works highlight his life of crime and debauchery, they are also characterized by the author's unusually personal poetic voice and the depth of his spiritual concerns. Villon's ability to move seamlessly between high and low—and to rouse sympathy for a cruel and vulgar, if pathetic, narrator—distinguish his poetry both from the ballads of contemporary aristocrats and from merely journalistic portrayals of urban Parisian life. His bittersweet evocation of the relentless oblivion of history—reflected in his most often quoted verse, “Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan?” (“But where are the snows of yesteryear?”)—has ironically kept alive his own fame as an undisputed master of direct poetic expression.
Most of what is known about Villon's life has been taken from his work, particularly his two mock-wills, Le Lais and Le Testament. Separating fact from fiction in these works has long posed a challenge for Villon's biographers. “Villon” is not even the poet's birth name: sometime in his adult life, the poet changed his name to Villon to honor his patron, Guillaume Villon. Survivng court documents suggest that he was also known as François des Loges and François de Montcorbier. Records indicate that he studied at the University of Paris, earning a bachelor of arts degree in 1449 and a master of arts three years later. While at the university, Villon had his first notable run-in with authorities for his participation in a student prank involving the theft of a stone called “The Devil's Fart.” His conflicts with the authorities grew more serious after he left the university. In 1455 a priest attacked Villon with a knife. Villon fought back, and the priest later died of the wounds he received. Villon fled Paris until, through the efforts of his friends, he received a pardon in 1456. Later that same year, however, Villon was involved with the theft of 500 écus from the Collège de Navarre. When he was named as the leader of the criminal expedition, he was forced to flee Paris again, or risk imprisonment. Scholars presume that before he left he wrote Le Lais, his first mock-testament. Little is known of his activities for the next four years, but it is believed that he spent some time at the court of Duke Charles d'Orléans.
Villon was imprisoned at Meung-sur-Loire in the summer of 1461. The nature of Villon's crime is unknown—earlier biographers maintained that he was there “no doubt for good cause,” while more sympathetic later scholars have imagined that the fault was minor. Villon was imprisoned by order of the bishop of Orléans, Thibaut d'Aussigny, whom he would attack viciously in Le Testament. If Villon was forthright in his poetry, he was tortured and starved until his release in October 1461, in an act of clemency celebrating the arrival of the new king, Louis XI. Villon, embittered by poor treatment in prison, the desertion of his friends, and his financial destitution, returned to Paris, where he wrote Le Testament. He was soon imprisoned again for a minor offense; while he was incarcerated authorities recognized him as one of perpetrators of the theft at Navarre. He was released, but was required to pay his share of the stolen écus. Within a month Villon was arrested again, apparently for no reason—a brawl broke out with a group of Villon's friends, but although Villon fled the scene before the fight began, he was imprisoned, subjected to water torture and condemned to hanging. Villon appealed his sentence, which was commuted on January 5, 1463, to a ten-year exile from Paris. Most scholars believe that Villon died shortly after his exile, a consequence of failing health and spirits as well as the utter destitution he detailed so poignantly in Le Testament.
Villon's first known work was Le romaunt du Pet au Deable (The Romance of the Devil's Fart). Although no copies have survived, several accounts of manuscripts passed among Villon's fellow students demonstrate its existence. The work details the misadventures of those students involved in the prank of stealing the stone known as “The Devil's Fart” from the garden of Mademoiselle de Bruyères. Between 1450 and 1463 Villon composed some twenty-seven short poems, which survive in a variety of manuscript sources. These have been gathered into two groups. The eleven Ballades en jargon were written in the Coquille slang of thieves and counterfeiters. Although modern readers have found them largely unintelligible because of the archaic slang, the meter and form of the ballads are perfect, and they exhibit the same acrostics that have become familiar to readers of Villon's other works. The sixteen Poèmes variés include several pieces that pertain to his time at the court of the Duke d'Orléans; others address other members of the nobility and the Parlement, and still others detail his wretched existence in the prison at Meung. Villon's first major work is Le Lais, which follows the mock-testament form popular in the Middle Ages. The poem is a humorous will in which the poet leaves both real and imagined possessions to friends and enemies. The particularity of many of the names, places, and events described in the poem renders much of the humor lost on modern readers, and critics have been divided on whether this early work contains any of the more universal themes found in Le Testament. Most readers of Villon, however, know him only for Le Testament, which uses the same mock-will form asLe Lais but demonstrates a greater scope and vision. For years scholars considered Le Lais a precursor to Le Testament, but that view has largely been discarded. Critics currently focus less on the particular biographical details and coarse humor of the poem, and more on Villon's capacious view of humanity and his eschatological concerns.
The tragic facts of Villon's biography—particularly his likely ignominious death—demonstrate that he was not widely appreciated in his own time, although he was known to patrons of the arts such as the Duke d'Orléans. Indeed, it was the appreciation of authors such as François Rabelais, Nicolas Boileau, and several poets of the Romantic era that has preserved his work in the Western canon. Even Villon's admirers could not always ignore his reputation for debauchery and crime, however; although Robert Louis Stevenson professed admiration for the poet, he excoriated Villon for his cynicism, dissolution, and amoral lifestyle. Others, such as William Carlos Williams, found Villon's reputation part of his renegade charm. Such views, however, presumed that Villon is accurately represented by the narrator of his poems—a presumption that has been challenged by more recent scholars. Ann Tukey Harrison has pointed out that despite his conflicts with authority, Villon wrote as one very much involved in the literary culture of his day and, despite his “povre Villon” persona, as a master of his chosen field. Karl D. Uitti has suggested that the perception of Villon's “marginality” has been an important factor in his later reception. In a study of Villon and the theme of authority, Tony Hunt has examined in detail how Villon created a complex persona throughout Le Testament, and argued that readers must not equate the “François” of the poem with Villon the poet.
The issue of Villon's vulgarity and amorality has been treated by modern scholars as merely part of his broad worldview. Critics including David A. Fein and Evelyn Birge Vitz have addressed the Christian themes in Villon's work, noting that despite Villon's cynicism, his faith in a redemptive deity was sincere and an important theme of his later work. Robert D. Peckham has suggested that, rather than being contradictory, Villon's mix of crude humor and religious supplication demonstrates the possibility of redemption. Villon's technique, lauded as flawless by critics and fellow poets alike, has prompted critics to consider his education: Barbara Sargent-Baur has cited Villon's classical education as a source for his rhetorical style, while Nancy Freeman Regalado has argued that Villon's education enabled him to make the evocative faux-errors, or misquotations, that adorn his poetry
*Ballades en jargon [Poems in Jargon] (poetry) c. 1450
†Poèmes variés (poetry) c. 1450-63
‡Le Lais [The Legacy] (poetry) 1456
§Le Testament [The Testament] (poetry) 1461
Le Grant Testament Villon et le petit. Son codicille. Le jargon & ses ballades (poetry) 1489
Oeuvres complètes de François Villon, publiées d'après les manuscrits anciennes éditions (poetry) 1892
François Villon: Oeuvres [François Villon: Works, 4th ed.] (poetry) 1970
François Villon: Complete Works (poetry) 1994...
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SOURCE: “Francois Villon, Student, Poet, and Housebreaker,” in Virginibus Puerisque and Familiar Studies of Men and Books, J.M. Dent and Sons, 1929, pp. 229-251.
[In this essay, originally published in 1874, Stevenson celebrates Villon's writing style while condemning both his life and his choice of subjects.]
Perhaps one of the most curious revolutions in literary history is the sudden bull's-eye light cast by M. Longnon on the obscure existence of François Villon.1 His book is not remarkable merely as a chapter of biography exhumed after four centuries. To readers of the poet it will recall, with a flavour of satire, that characteristic passage in...
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SOURCE: Introduction to The Complete Works of Francois Villon, Bantam Books, 1964, pp. ix-xv.
[In this essay, Williams cites Villon's intensity and directness as key reasons for continued interest in his work. Williams also delights in finding Villon to be consummately French.]
By a single line of verse in an almost forgotten language, Medieval French, the name of Villon goes on living defiantly; our efforts, as we seem to try to efface it, polish and make it shine the more. What is that secret that has escaped with a mere question, deftly phrased, the profundity of the ages:
Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan?
All that has been forgotten...
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SOURCE: “‘Contamination’ and the Central Metaphors,” in The Crossroad of Intentions: A Study of Symbolic Expression in the Poetry of François Villon, Mouton, 1974, pp. 29-63.
[In this excerpt, Vitz examines patterns of erotic and gustatory metaphors to establish the major contrasts in Villon's work. For Vitz, “contamination” describes the way in which metaphor seems to work by proximity in Villon's poetry, as symbolic connotations seem to seep from one line to the next.]
I propose, as an initial approach or avenue into Villon's Testament and accessorily his other works, a study of certain aspects of his use of symbolic expression: a study of certain...
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SOURCE: “Gothic Love and Death: François Villon and the City of Paris,” in Journal of Popular Culture, Vol. 11, No.3, 1977, pp. 719-29.
[In this essay, Hayes focuses on the theme of death and dying to demonstrate how Villon wrote “city” poetry, in contrast to the courtly poetry of the aristocracy. In addition to literary analysis, Hayes draws from the culture of Medieval France and the art of the late Gothic era to establish Villon's place in the development of a more popular literature.]
In the popular imagination one literary figure from the close of the Middle Ages towers above all others, Francois Villon. Later ages have made much of his death-defying...
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SOURCE: Introduction to The Poems of François Villon, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1977, pp. xi-xx.
[In this excerpt from the introduction to his translation of Villon's poems, Kinnell contrasts Villon's Laiswith his Testament as forms of mock-testaments, arguing that the later poem, despite its frequently comic tone, offers a very serious and unflinching view of death and mortality.]
François Montcorbier, also known as François des Loges, was born in Paris in 1431. He took his bachelor's degree in 1449, and his master's degree in 1452, according to records at the University of Paris. Villon is a nom de plume taken from his friend and benefactor,...
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SOURCE: “The Flight of Time: Villon's Trilogy of Ballades,” in Romance Notes, Vol. 22, No.3, 1982, pp. 353-78.
[In this essay, Lacy, an important Villon scholar, suggests that the latter two ballades of the trilogy on the ubi sunt theme—“Ballade des seigneurs”” and “Ballade en vieil langage françoys”—have been undervalued by modern critics. Lacy argues that as a unit, the ballades represent Villon's continuing development of a unified theme, that of fleeting fame and the relentless forgetfulness of history.]
Villon's three ballades concerning the flight of time and the ubi sunt topos have rarely been studied as an ensemble. This failure...
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SOURCE: “Final Preparations (Verses 1844-1995),” “Three Readings of the Final Ballad (Verses 1996-2023),” and “Conclusion” in A Reading of Villon's Testament, Summa Publications, 1984, pp. 69-83.
[In this excerpt, Fein turns to the conclusion of Villon's Testament, suggesting that behind its sarcasm and apparent celebration of dissipation the poem reveals an enthusiasm for life and offers a serious meditation on both humanity and eternity.]
FINAL PREPARATIONS (VERSES 1844–1995)
Now that all the bequests have been made, Villon turns his attention to the last few remaining formalities: provisions for the execution of the...
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SOURCE: “Love in Le Testament,” in Romance Notes, Vol. 24, No. 3, 1984, pp. 270-76.
[In this essay, Storme argues that in avenging his own domination, Villon—as the narrator of Le Testament—victimizes the women he writes about, particularly in ballades such as “Les regrets de la belle Heaulmière” and “Ballade de la Grosse Margot.”]
The strength of Villon's poetry comes not from conventional poetic forms or didacticism, but rather from the poet's presence in his art which engages him in a struggle to define and resolve his feelings about himself and his life. He reaches, however, neither definition nor resolution; the internal struggle...
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SOURCE: “Francois Villon's Testament and the Poetics of Transformation,” in Fifteenth-Century Studies, Vol. 11, 1985, pp. 71-83.
[In this essay, Peckham considers the mix of high and low—spiritual and crude—in Villon's Testamentas a sign of the transformation of the narrator that takes place within the poem.]
Readers have long observed ambiguities in François Villon's Testament (T.). Some of these have been deemed the incidental results of an extended period of composition,1 but more recent scholarship tends to view them as the deliberate acts of a truly protean poetic voice.2 Furthermore, studies by Jean...
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SOURCE: “Audience” and “Another Poet, Another Audience” in François Villon and His Reader, Wayne State University Press, 1989, pp. 15-27, 111-22.
[In the first excerpt, Fein informally theorizes a historically aware reader-response approach to Villon's Testament drawing from the work of literary scholars Stanley Fish and Hans R. Jauss, establishes an identity for Villon's contemporary readership, and discusses Villon's deft maneuvering between obscure historical detail and universal themes. The second excerpted chapter compares Villon's Testament to the work of his patron Charles d'Orléans, discussing the role of the interpretive community.]
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SOURCE: “The (Un)naming Process in Villon's Grand Testament,” in The French Review, Vol. 66, No. 2, 1992, pp. 216-28.
[In this essay, Cholakian discusses Villon's widespread use of names in his Testament, suggesting that they serve to disempower those who are named and empower the narrator. The intense self-referentiality of the poem, he argues, further emphasizes Villon's use of naming as a means of asserting selfhood against dominating Others.]
Many scholars have delved into the university, police, and municipal archives of fifteenth-century Paris to identify the names appearing in Villon's pseudo-testament.1 My own interest in the...
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SOURCE: “‘Faulte d'Argent M'a Si fort Enchanté’: Money and François Villon,” in Romance Studies, Vol. 24, 1992, pp. 59-70.
[In this essay, Freeman contends that the critical tendency to interpret Villon as a precursor to Romantic poets has caused scholars to overlook the importance of money and poverty in Villon's oeuvre. Focusing on Le Lais and Le Testament, Freeman suggests that the modern view of the Romantic starving artist cannot take into account Villon's real desire and need for material security.]
Since he was rediscovered at the beginning of the 19th century (one thinks of Théophile Gautier's seminal chapter in Les Grotesques...
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SOURCE: “Persuasion and (Special) Pleading in Francois Villon,” in Fifteenth-Century Studies, Vol. 22, 1995, pp. 1-18.
[In this essay, Sargent-Baur examines possible influences for Villon's rhetorical style of addressing potential benefactors, especially those Greek and Roman models Villon would have studied in school. The author considers Villon's Testament as well as several of his Poèmes variés.]
“Le lesserez la, le povre Villon?” asks le povre Villon, clearly soliciting the answer No. This appeal to readers, developed in each strophe of the “Epitre a ses amis”1 and driven home four times by the refrain, is perhaps Villon's...
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SOURCE: “Villon's Le Grand Testament and the Poetics of Marginality,” in Modern Philology, Vol. 93, No.2, 1995, pp. 139-60.
[In this essay, the author reviews Romantic, Victorian, and Modernist interpretations of the legend of Villon, arguing that such legends have been detrimental to readings of Villon's most famous poem. With comparisons to Le Roman de la Rose and the genre of hagiography, Uitti demonstrates how Villon illustrates issues of marginality and power in the context of Medieval France.]
My discussion will focus upon François Villon's best-known work, the 2,025-line poem called Le Grand Testament. This work, usually dated around...
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SOURCE: “Writing and the Fragmentation of Authority,” in Villon's Last Will: Language and Authority in the Testament, Clarendon Press, 1996, pp. 13-33.
[In this excerpt, Hunt examines the methods by which Villon calls into question the authority of his narrator in Le Testament, including his asides to the “scribe,” his allusions to other sources, and his use of irony.]
Ce que j'ay escript est escript.(1) [What I have written is written]
The testator places some emphasis on the writing of the Testament, that is, on its status as a written record—‘Escript l'ay l'an soixante et ung’ (81). There is never the slightest doubt...
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SOURCE: “Villon's Legacy from Le Testament of Jean de Meun: Misquotation, Memory, and the Wisdom of Fools,” in Villon at Oxford: The Drama of the Text, Rodopi, 1999, pp. 282-311.
[In this essay, first presented at a conference of Villon scholars in 1996, Regalado argues that instances of misquotation in Villon's work are not errors of memory, but intentional poetic devices. Regalado proposes further that the faux-errors help create the wise-fool persona of the poems' narrators.]
Can a poet make a mistake? What is the meaning of Villon's poetic mistake, his misquotation in the Testament (T, 113-20)1 from an important yet largely...
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SOURCE: “‘Bourde jus mise’? Villon, the Liturgy, and Prayer,” in Villon at Oxford: The Drama of the Text, Rodopi, 1999, pp. 170-194.
[In this essay, first presented at Oxford in 1996, Vitz traces Villon's use of liturgical language and themes, noting that modern scholars wrongly tend to dismiss Villon's serious spiritual concerns. Instead, Vitz argues, Villon is deeply concerned with eschatological questions, in both the Lais and the Testament.]
This paper is part of a large study on the impact of the liturgy on medieval vernacular literature.1 By “liturgy” I mean not merely the Mass, but more broadly the official and public life of church...
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SOURCE: “The Lais” in François Villon Revisited, Twayne Publishers, 1997, pp. 20-34.
[In this excerpt, Fein details the groups of people Villon addresses in his earlier mock-testament, many of which reappear in The Testament. Fein demonstrates the variety of tones—playful, ironic, cruel, sympathetic—Villon uses in portraying the various classes of society.]
Although it was long believed that Villon participated in the Navarre theft and wrote the Lais on the same night—Christmas Eve of 1456—most critics now doubt that these events occurred so close together. First, we must remember that Villon's dating of the poem is somewhat...
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SOURCE: “In Defense of Villon's Lais,” in The French Review, Vol. 72, No. 6, 1999, pp. 1000-09.
[In this essay, Lacy takes exception to the standard critical practice of devaluing the Lais—seeing it as trivial or as merely an early draft for Le Testament. Lacy suggests that the habit of imagining that the first-person narrator of Villon's poems is Villon himself leads readers to overlook the more serious themes of the light-hearted earlier work.]
François Villon's 1456 Lais is a pleasant, amusing, and poetically inconsequential text. That this statement accurately summarizes prevailing scholarly sentiment is beyond dispute. For...
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Anacker, Robert. François Villon. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1968, 117 p.
Presents a short biography of Villon and a history of his era before offering interpretations of Villon's major works.
Fein, David A. “The Conclusion of Villon's Testament: An Image in the Shroud?” Fifteenth-Century Studies 5 (1982): 61-66.
Argues that Villon reconciles the vulgar and the religious at the conclusion of his poem, focusing on his use of Christian themes and images.
———. “Joined Hearts and Severed Tongues: An Illustration of Antithetical Juxtaposition in Villon's...
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Villon, François (Poetry Criticism)
François Villon 1431–1463?
(Born François de Montcorbier alias des Loges) French poet.
Villon is considered one of the most significant French poets of the Middle Ages. His best known works, Les Lais (also called Le Petit Testament or The Small Testament) and Le Testament (also Grand Testament or The Large Testament) have been held up as exemplars of the popular Medieval verse form, the testament, which parodies the traditional legal will. The personal nature of his subject matter—especially his vivid descriptions of his life as a thief and vagabond on the streets of Paris—is deemed atypical for his time, and he is credited with imbuing the poetry of his age with vitality and realism.
Born in France in 1431, Villon's real name was probably François de Montcorbier (after the village on the borders of Burgundy where his father was born) or des Loges (perhaps the name of his father's farm). Of his parents we know only that his father died while Villon was young, and that his mother was poor and illiterate. Villon was raised by Guillaume de Villon, a priest who was probably the poet's uncle. Under his patronage, Villon attended the University of Paris where he received both a Bachelor of Arts and later a Master of Arts. As a student he was often involved in thievery and mischief. In 1455, at the age 24, Villon killed a man, after which he fled Paris. As the murder was apparently a matter of self-defense, Villon received a pardon and returned to Paris six months later. On Christmas Eve, 1456, he participated in a robbery at the Collège de Navarre and fled Paris once again, this time for five years. Before leaving the city, he composed his first major poem, Les Lais. While wandering in exile in the provinces of France, Villon found a temporary patron in Charles, Duke of Orleans, who was himself a poet. According to Villon's poetry, he spent some time in the Duke of Orleans's prisons sentenced to death, but was pardoned in celebration of the birth of the Duke's daughter. During the summer of 1461 Villon suffered a particularly cruel imprisonment in Meung-sur-Loire under the order of the Bishop of Orleans, where he was apparently tortured and fed only bread and water. Upon his release in the fall of that year, the poet returned to Paris where he composed his major work, Le Testament, which expresses his bitterness toward the Bishop for this incarceration. In 1462, Villon was arrested under suspicion of committing another robbery, but was released due to lack of evidence. Shortly thereafter he was involved in a street brawl and, given his history of trouble with the law, was sentenced to death. While awaiting his sentence, Villon wrote his "Epitaphe Villon," also called "The Ballade des Pendus."
The poet appealed his death sentence and on January 5, 1463 the court commuted his sentence to ten years banishment from Paris. No authentic mention was made of Villon again.
Villon is known almost exclusively for his two testaments, Les Lais and Le Testament, the ballades which they contain, and for his epitaph. While his themes and forms were traditionally Medieval, his infusion of humor, pathos, and humanity into his verse was decidedly modern. His first testament, Les Lais, is said to genuinely evoke the atmosphere of Paris and the lives of common people during the Middle Ages. In this piece, Villon claims to be leaving Paris due to a troubled romance and he jokingly bequeaths mostly ridiculous items to his friends and enemies—a stolen duck, the sword and the breeches he has pawned, his broken heart. This work is noted by scholars for its clever wit and lighthearted tone. The larger Testament of 1461 is very different in sentiment and character from the first; this work is more serious and reflective. Villon reviews his life, his mistakes and disappointments, and the effect of his frequent imprisonments: sickness and poverty. Unlike traditional poetry of the day which was concerned with chivalry, mythology, and the lives of kings, Villon's work focuses on his own life, exploring a wide range of human emotions. Ezra Pound commented that in his poetry Villon "unconsciously proclaims man's divine right to be himself." Included within Le Testament are a number of ballades, which is a popular French verse form (not to be confused with the ballad) that follows a prescribed rhyme scheme and structure, with three stanzas and an envoi (a shorter closing stanza). Ballades such as "The Lament of La belle Heaulmière," and "Ballade of the Dead Ladies," are thought by some to best exemplify Villon's poetic genius. As another example of the intimacy and unflinching honesty of his work, "Villon's Epitaph," or "Ballade des Pendus," written under sentence of death, is a detailed and painful vision of himself dangling from the gallows among other hanged criminals.
Villon's work was much disseminated and appreciated during his lifetime. The earliest edition of his work bearing a date appeared in 1489, with as many as twenty-seven editions appearing by 1542. From early on, critics have remarked less on the structure and composition of the poetry and more on the content, particularly the vivid descriptions of the medieval streets of Paris. Interest in Villon's work almost completely dissipated after the sixteenth century but was revived in the nineteenth as French and English scholars rediscovered Villon. In 1877, August Lognon's study Etude biographique sur François Villon revealed new biographical details of the poet's life and helped decipher obscure references in his work. Some critics, such as Robert Louis Stevenson in the Cornhill Magazine in 1877, criticized the poet as an insincere cad and a troublemaker whose poetic skills were not sufficient to redeem his work. Most critics agree that Villon's use of personal subject matter, informal language, and sharp wit made him a truly innovative poet. John Payne wrote of Villon in 1880: "The true son of his time, he rejected at once and for ever, with the unerring judgement of the literary reformer, the quaint formalities of speech, the rhetorical exaggerations and limitations of expressions … that dwarfed the thought and deformed the limbs of the verse of his day."
*Les Lais [also referred to as Le Petit Testament] 1456
*Le Testament [commonly called Le Grand Testament] 1461
Le grand Testament Villon et le petit. Son codicille. Le jargon et ses balades 1489; reprinted 1924
Les oeuvres de Françoys Villon de Paris, reveues et remises en leur entier par Clément Marot 1533
The Complete Works of François Villon 1960
The Poems of François Villon 1982
* Dates provided for these works are those given by Villon on the original manuscript versions of his work.
SOURCE: "Early French Poets," in The London Magazine, Vol. VIII, October, 1823, pp. 436-38.
[Below, Cary reviews the Grand Testament and the Petit Testament.]
The praise bestowed by Boileau on Villon, and still more the pains taken by Clement Marot, at the instance of Francis the First, to edit his poems, would lead us to expect great things from them; but in this expectation most English readers will probably be disappointed. For while Alain Chartier is full as intelligible as Chaucer, and Charles Duke of Orleans more so, Villon (who wrote after both) can scarcely be made out by the help of a glossary. Even his editor, Marot, who, as he tells us in the preface,...
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SOURCE: "François Villon, Student, Poet, and Housebreaker," in The Cornhill Magazine, Vol. XXXVI, No. 212, August, 1877, pp. 215-34.
[Stevenson was a Scottish novelist and poet. His novels Treasure Island (1883), Kidnapped (1886), and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) were considered popular literary classics upon publication and firmly established his reputation as an inventive stylist and riveting storyteller. Stevenson is also noted for his understanding of youth, which is evident both in his early "boy's novels," as they were known, and in his much-loved A Child's Garden of Verses (1885). In the following excerpt, Stevenson probes Villon's biography and verse,...
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SOURCE: "François Villon," in The Nineteenth Century, Vol. VIII, No. XLIII, September, 1880, pp. 481-500.
[Below, Payne discusses Villon's ability to portray common people and events of 15th-century Paris in a clear and realistic manner, making him "the first great poet of the people."]
There are few names in the history of literature over which the shadow has so long and so persistently lain as over that of the father of French poetry. Up to no more distant period than the early part of the year 1877, it was not even known what was his real name, nor were the admirers of his genius in possession of any other facts relative to his personal history than could be...
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SOURCE: "Poets of the French Renaissance: Villon," in The Living Age, Vol. XX, No. 3089, September 19, 1903, pp. 763-65.
[At the turn of the century Belloc was one of England's premier literary figures. His characteristically truculent stance as a proponent of Roman Catholicism and economic reform—and his equally characteristic clever humor—drew either strong support or harsh attacks from his audience, but critics have found common ground for admiration in his poetry. W. H. Auden called Belloc and his longtime collaborator G. K. Chesterton the best lightverse writers of their era, with Belloc's Cautionary Tales (1907) considered by some his most successful work in...
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SOURCE: "Montcorbier, alias Villon," in The Spirit of Romance, New Directions Books, 1910, pp. 166-78.
[An American poet and critic, Pound is regarded as one of the most innovative and influential figures in twentieth-century Anglo-American poetry. He is chiefly renowned for his ambitious poetry cycle the Cantos, which he revised and enlarged throughout much of his life, and his series of satirical poems Hugh Selwyn Mauberly (1920). In the following essay, Pound analyzes Villon's particular method of writing poetry, comparing his approach to those of various literary movements and medieval and renaissance poets, especially Dante.]
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SOURCE: "The Great Testament, with the Codicil and the Lesser Poems," in Francois Villon: A Documented Survey, Coward-McCann, Inc., 1928, pp. 333-40.
[Unrelated to the English author and painter Wyndham Lewis, D. B. Wyndham Lewis was a prominent English essayist, humorist, historian, and biographer. In the following excerpt, he defends Villon's poetry as high art of the most accomplished sort.]
Of [Villon's] scattered irregularities, his obscurities, his occasional untidiness of syntax, his wilful carelessness, his one or two verses left helpless in the air, dangling their legs, his demi-assonances, like the rhyming of Grenobles with Doles, peuple with...
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SOURCE: "The Impenitence of François Villon," in The Romanic Review, Vol. XXXVII, No. 3, October, 1946, pp. 225-36.
[In the following essay, Frank studies the believability of what she considers Villon's feigned penitence.]
It has long been customary to think of François Villon as a great sinner who was truly remorseful and penitent on occasion. To be sure, since Siciliano put the famous phrase "je ris en pleurs" in its proper setting critics have recognized this contemporaneous cliché as a suitable contrevérité among the many others of the "Ballade du concours de Blois" rather than as the poet's description of himself. Nevertheless the romantic and...
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SOURCE: "Syntax and Vocabulary," in The Poetry of Villon, Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., 1962, pp. 78-111.
[In this excerpt, Fox concerns himself with Villon's often curious word order and phrasing, which give the impression of realistic thought and speech patterns while retaining poetic qualities. Fox also examines Villon's expansive vocabulary.]
It is impossible to read far into Villon's works without being struck by the concentrated, elliptical nature of his language. We have only to turn to the opening lines of his major work:
En l'an de mon trentiesme aage,
Que toutes mes hontes j'eus beues,
Ne du tout fol, ne...
(The entire section is 9267 words.)
SOURCE: "Francois Villon," in An Introduction to the French Poets: Villon to the Present Day, revised edition, Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1973, pp. 1-10.
[Brereton is an English educator who has written extensively on French literature of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. Here, in a revised version of an essay originally published in 1956, he praises Villon's poetic technique of combining the traditional ballade form with the modern tendency to write about highly personal subject matter.]
Villon was the last of the great French poets of the Middle Ages and one of the few who can now be read without a considerable background knowledge of...
(The entire section is 3623 words.)
SOURCE: "The Theme of Authority in the Works of François Villon," in The Centennial Review, Vol. XXIV, No. I, Winter, 1980, pp. 65-78.
[Below, Tukey Harrison comments on the respect for authority displayed in Villon's poetry.]
Because of his life as an activist, both student and postgraduate, Francois Villon has often appeared to be engaged in a lifelong rebellion against all authority figures. He was supremely poor, often in difficulty with the law, and he wrote irreverently about many of the men of high station of his time and place; it is easy to conclude that he condemned authority out of hand. Yet, a close reading of his poems reveals a mixed set of attitudes...
(The entire section is 3905 words.)
SOURCE: "Communication and Implied Audience(s) in Villon's Testament," in Neophilologus, Vol. LXXVI, No. 1, January, 1992, pp. 35-40.
[In the following essay, Sargent-Baur finds Villon addressing three separate audiences in the Testament and examines the various personas that Villon presents to this "plural audience."]
By now, most careful readers are aware that behind every speech act as preserved in writing there is a speaking voice, an implied or explicit "I" from whom the text stems. This applies, as well, to compositions conceived as written from the outset. In the case of the Testament of François Villon the "I" of the narrator is very...
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Peckham, Robert D. François Villon: A Bibliography. New York: Garland, 1990.
Comprehensive bibliography of some 2000 foreign- and English-language sources, arranged chronologically by year, with an author and subject index.
Longon, Auguste. Etude biographique sur François Villon d'après les documents inédits conservés aux Archives Nationales. Paris: Henri Menu, 1877.
Earliest comprehensive biography of Villon. This french-language study is a seminal work of Villon scholarship.
(The entire section is 392 words.)