François Rabelais Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

0111201620-Rabelais.jpg François Rabelais (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

In preparation for his doctoral degree, François Rabelais (RAHB-uh-lay) composed commentaries on the Aphorisms of Hippocrates and the Ars medicinalis of Galen in editions of these works that Rabelais published in 1532. After his first trip to Rome, he edited a Topographia antiquae Romae, based on a work by Bartolome Marliani, which was published by Sébastien Gryphe in 1534. La Sciomachie et festins (simulated combats and feasts), published in Lyons by Gryphe in 1549, also refers to Rabelais’s journeys. It is also known that Rabelais composed poetry. Many of his letters, especially letters that he wrote while in Rome, are available in various editions.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

With François Rabelais, French literature entered into a new phase. After the great medieval epics and romances of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, there had been a steady decline until the sixteenth century. In France, the new learning brought about by the rediscovery of ancient Greek manuscripts, the invention of printing, and the great voyages of discovery found its first expression in Rabelais. Gargantua and Pantagruel breathes the spirit of enthusiasm, liberation, and discovery that inspired the rebirth of culture and learning.

Nevertheless, there is in Rabelais much of the medieval. In fact, he chose as his inspiration a book popular at the time, Grandes et inestimables cronicques du grant et énorme géant Gargantua (1532; great and inestimable chronicles of the great and enormous giant Gargantua), based on the story of a giant associated with King Arthur, Merlin, Morgan, and Mélusine. Rabelais proposed a sequel in which he continued the popular comic of the cronicques. He enriched his legend with notes on history, geography, local custom, and theater; his is a Renaissance interpretation of a medieval carnival.

As the critic Jean Plattard noted, Rabelais maintained the medieval spirit of the farces and fabliaux in his violent imagery, his vulgarity, and his preoccupation with sexual matters. At the same time, Rabelais introduced the spirit of the Renaissance with his rejection of Scholasticism, his...

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Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Does it appear that François Rabelais’s work will be read only by scholars?

What aspects of Rabelais’s early life may have suggested the character of Gargantua to him?

How does Rabelais take literary advantage of his medical training?

Can broad comedy of the type Rabelais practiced blunt the force of his satire?

Who were the Goliards, and why is Rabelais like them?


(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Bowen, Barbara C. Enter Rabelais, Laughing. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1998. Each chapter is a different study of laughter: “literary,” “humanist,” the “comic lawyer,” the “comic doctor.” Includes notes and bibliography.

Carron, Jean-Claude, ed. François Rabelais: Critical Assessments. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995. A selection and revision of papers delivered at a 1991 symposium at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Chesney, Elizabeth A., and Marcel Tetel. Rabelais Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1993. A good introduction to the novels, with an annotated bibliography of important studies on Rabelais. Examines relationships between men and women in the works.

Coleman, Dorothy Gabe. Rabelais: A Critical Study in Prose Fiction. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1971. A meticulous analysis of Rabelais as a prose stylist and of the genres in which he wrote.

Frame, Donald M. François Rabelais: A Study. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977. A detailed study of Rabelais’s life and work, including several chapters on his major fiction and on topics such as obscenity, comedy, satire, fantasy, storytelling, giantism, humanism, evangelism, characters, and fortunes. Includes detailed notes and an annotated bibliography.

Greene, Thomas M. Rabelais: A Study in Comic Courage. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1970. Often cited as the best introductory study of Rabelais.

O’Brien, John, and Malcolm Quainton, eds. Distant Voices Still Heard: Contemporary Readings of French Renaissance Literature. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2000. A collection of paired essays on five major authors, including Rabelais.