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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.

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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 confidence in antiquity, his faith in science, and his belief in human progress.

Rabelais did not write a novel in the modern sense of the word, nor did he intend to compose one. As Jacques Boulenger observed, Rabelais wanted to embroider a vast canvas both with fantasies and with scenes from real life; in his encyclopedic ambition, he was typical of the Renaissance. Rabelais’s achievement lies above all in his style, in a remarkable exploitation of all the possibilities of language. His giants are polyglots, and so is their creator. He uses French and Latin with ease; he creates words in torrents. He is equally adept in dialect, patois, argot, and scientific terminology. Boulenger described Rabelais’s styles as “verbal intoxication in the dionysiac sense,” yet when the occasion demands, as in the description of Badebec’s death, Rabelais is a master of economy. The first French prose writer with genuine artistic talent and one of the greatest examples of the esprit gaulois found in the Roman de Renart (c. 1175-1205), the fabliaux, Molière, and Voltaire, Rabelais was truly a turning point in French literature.

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 65

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...

(The entire section contains 815 words.)

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