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Defining France Forum Texts that work within/redirect existing textual or learned traditions

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  1. Please add your thoughts and ideas here.

  2. Molière – Le Tartuffe
    • Le Tartuffe is structured into 5 acts and is written in Alexandrine verse. It also conforms to the classical model of a tragedy with the three unities, vraisemblance and bienséance. This allows Molière to combine both tragedy and comedy, breaking away from the classical comic mode.
    • The three unities are unity of time, place and action. Although it can be argued that Mariane and Valère’s love story is separate from the main plot, their attachment to Tartuffe means that they comply with the unity of action.
    Vraisemblance: Although in this day and age it seems perhaps a little ridiculous that someone could be so easily tricked and manipulated by someone else, in 17th century France this was possible and did actually happen.
    Bienséance: This is where Moliére really pushes the boundaries and challenges bienséance. Tartuffe attempts to seduce Elmire in Act 3 Scene 3 and this would have been very shocking for a 17th century audience, yet Molière still obeys the rules and only stretches them.
    • One of the main themes of Molière’s play is that of religion. In the 17th century religion was not a topic that was traditionally written about in comedies and because of the Divine Right of Kings if someone attacked religion they were attacking the King. The play was surrounded by controversy and banned.

    A contemporary reaction to Le Tartuffe:
    Lettre sur la comédie de l’Imposteur, 1667 “il y est parlé de la religion, et que le theatre, disent’ils, n’est pas un lieu où il la faille enseigner.”
    Here the author tells Molière that religion should not be a topic in theatre and that he should stick to the traditional models of comedy.

    • However, Molière does remain within the traditional form of comedy through his use of the comedy of: language, gesture, characters and situation.
    Comedy of language
    Act 3 Scene 3: Tartuffe is attempting to seduce Elmire. He uses religious language (“offrande,” “quietude,” and “béatitude”) which clashes with his immoral intentions and actions.
    Comedy of gesture
    Act 4 Scene 5: The audience sees Orgon, the head of the household, hiding under the table. There is humour in the audience being able to see Orgon and Tartuffe not knowing he’s there and also in the man, who’s supposed to be in charge and respected, crouching on the floor at a lower lever to everyone else.
    Act 3 Scene 3: When Damis is hiding in a cupboard, listening in to Tartuffe and Elmire
    Act 2 Scene 4: Dorine running across the stage from Mariane to Valère.
    Comedy of characters
    The conflicts between Orgon and Dorine, Orgon and Cléante and the tartuffistes and the anti-tartuffistes.
    Comedy of situation
    Reversal of position: Orgon is the head of the household yet he is easily undermined and manipulated by Tartuffe.


    Julia Prest, Controversy in French drama: Molière’s Tartuffe and the struggle for influence
    “It has been widely understood that the elements of the play that allegedly render it an insult to religion are the same that make it capable of producing some very dangerous consequences and that both have to do with the infamous distinction (or lack thereof) between true and false devotion as well as the simple fact of portraying religious hypocrisy on stage.”

    James F. Gaines, The Molière Encyclopedia Page 393
    “Another set of proprieties protected things that were sacred: Gods, priests and sacraments were not to be presented in the theatre.”

  3. Texts that work within/redirect existing textual or learned traditions

    Labé works within the textual traditions of Petrarchan form and tropes, but also redirects the Petrarchan neoplatonic theory and points towards a reciprocal feeling which is the opposite of Petrarchan tradition. Labé also uses her platform as an educated Lyonaise woman to redirect the traditional basic education for women towards something more wholesome, grounded in the knowledge that her extensive and developed education has enabled her to write; a feature that has been identified as pivotal in labelling the text as an early feminist manifesto.

    Learned tradition: Female speaker in long-standing male tradition

    ‘Et pource que les femmes ne se montrent volontiers en publiq seules, je vous ay choisie pour me servir de guide, vous dediant ce petit euvre, que ne vous envoye à autre fin que pour vous acertener du bon vou- loir lequel de long tems je vous porte, et vous inciter et faire venir envie en voyant ce mien euvre rude et mal bati, d’en mettre en lumiere un autre qui soit mieus limé et de meilleure grace.’ Epistle

    In the Epistle, dedicated to Mademoiselle Clemence de Bourges of Lyon, Labé encourages women to ‘non en beauté seulement, mais en science et vertu passer ou eager les hommes’ as it will not only bring them ‘gloire’, ‘honneur’ and ‘plaisir’, but it would spur on men to work harder as they would fear being surpassed. The Epistle contains a sustained use of the imperative tense as Labé tells her contemporary audience to ‘ne devez eslongner ny espargner votre esprit’. She closes the Epistle with a provocative statement, which looks to instil some self-belief into Clemence, who is capable of writing ‘un autre qui soit mieus limé et de meilleure grace.’

    The form and structure of the Epistle is significant as it strengthens Labé’s argument in favour of female education. By introducing her work with an appeal to ‘Mademoiselle’ that women need to take advantage of the removal of laws preventing women from studying, she not only identifies with Clemence, but with every other ‘Mademoiselle’ in Lyon. Furthermore, Labé’s use of ‘notre’ throughout the Epistle draws attention to Labé’s role as a leader for this movement as she aims to draw women together to achieve this communal goal, rather than distancing herself from them now that she has achieved her own glory, honour and pleasure.

    Textual tradition: Classical form vs Change from Petrarchan ideas

    Labé was working within several existing textual traditions due to the Italian influence in Lyon as demonstrated by the theme of absence in the sonnets, which is Petrarchan, and the address of the Élégie to ‘toy, Ami’(II.4) is in a similar style to the letters of Ovid’s Heroides, which demonstrates her classical knowledge. Labé continues to work within the Petrarchan sonnet structure of an octet, a sestet and a volta in line nine, but redirects her subject matter in two main ways. Firstly, she is critical of love rather than the lover and secondly, she does not reflect the Petrarchan position on death as a welcome end to suffering.
    Sonnet 4, highlights Labé’s criticism of Love, rather than the lover as in Petrarch’s sonnets and opens with a direct address:

    ‘Depuis qu’Amour cruel empoisonna
    Premièrement de son feu ma poitrine’ (s.14.1-2)

    The placement of ‘empoisonna’ at the end of the first line, places additional emphasis on it and the references to fire throughout the Sonnet add to Labé’s personification of Love as powerful and cruel.
    Significantly, although Labé continues to use the Petrarchan image of weeping as her speaker regrets the loss of her lover with ‘larmes espandre’(s.14.1) and ‘sanglots et soupirs’(s.14.3), the Petrarchan position on death as a welcome end to suffering is not reflected in sonnet 14 as in the volta the speaker abruptly states that she ‘ne souhaitte encor point mourir’(s.14.9), unlike in the Élégies. Instead, Labé’s speaker would rather continue to endure the regret and sadness she continually expresses and die only when her body fails her and she can no longer ‘montrer signe d’amante’ (s.14.13), rather than die so that she can forgo the pain of love, as she feels in the Elegies.

    Female speaker in long-standing male tradition

    ‘Writing in the mid-sixteenth century, she was faced with the challenge of establishing a role and creating a voice for a female speaker in a poetic tradition that was dominated by male authors. Far from attempting to subvert the tradition that she inherited, Labé operates within it, reproducing its vocabulary and dilemmas up to a point and then inserting a direction of her own.’ Sterritt, D. E. L.. (2005). A Latin Legacy in Louise Labé: Imitation of Tibullus 1.2.89-94. French Forum, 30(2), 15–30. Retrieved from p.21

    ‘The mixture of styles and voices is, I believe, at the very core of Labé’s porto-feminist program, as it reveals a desire to subvert the literary tradition of the sixteenth century from within by establishing a dialogue with the major figures of this tradition. Her daring works raise issues of sexual difference and subjectivity and propose a powerful model of and for female authorship.’ MÜLLER, C. M.. (1999). Celebrating Difference: The Self as Double in the Works of Louise Labé. Renaissance and Reformation / Renaissance Et Réforme, 23(1), 59–71. Retrieved from p.60

    Subverts and transcends the Petrarchan model 

    ‘simultaneous embrace and subversion of the lyrics discourse are immediately visible in sonnet XIII, where the poet confronts a key problem at the heart of all Petrarchan poetry: the absence/ inaccessibility of the Beloved’ Baker, Deborah Lesko. 1990. “Louise Labe's Conditional Imperatives: Subversion and Transcendence of the Petrarchan Tradition”. The Sixteenth Century Journal 21 (4). The Sixteenth Century Journal: 523–41. P.523

  4. Gargantua

    • Scatological language - writing to shock - taboo, language of lower stratum, body imagery - disgusting tones and themes - redirects - later brings about purification of French language by Académie Francaise - torchécul in Chap 12 - treats facetious subjects seriously with detailed investigation 
    • Structure - enumeration, amplification - moves away from previous popular form of romance - textual tradition of paragraphing, formal style - discarded in favour of long lists, playful textual appearance - printing press and economical ability to print cheaply - many pages, few words - different to MS culture of high expenditure and need for patron - list of games - bamboozles the reader 
    • Learned tradition of humanism - promotes humanism in education, new wave of ideas in Ponocrates's teaching method, creates a higher being in Gargantua by going back to classical and antique texts - allusions in prologue - 
    • Mangled use of Latin to criticise and satirise Faculty of Theology at Sorbonne - promotes French as better language - Latin was a language of aristocratic intellect, redirects this by mocking and using it as source of comedy 


    • Tradition: presenting translation of Latin text - redirects this by writing in French for English audience - wants to be different, present oral legends as fiction - vernacular French evokes spoken style - yet speech in text is dangerous 
    • Tradition: helps redirect relatively new tradition of non-monastic text - invokes God in prologue, but Laustic is secular, focuses on romance - monks would enjoy scandalous themes - wider audience of patron would use as courtly entertainment - part of Harley MS 
    • Tradition: women writing - redirects male-dominated tradition - active presence taken by Marie mirrored by lady in laustic as she embroiders to save love affair - lady is the victim however - tainted with blood, betrayal results in loss of life - she is damaged by his violence, as is her affair - Marie would receive backlash - anonymous author - hides from any severe repercussions - lack of identity, men more likely to accept text as not a threat to social female uprising 

    Boule de Suif 

    • Textual tradition of short story - real-time effect - works within time constraints - must evoke characters rapidly, deeply, efficiently - flows from one character to another - prose style is flowing, quick-paced - suitable for form as characters and deeper suggestions evoked - organisation in coach displays hierarchy for example
    • Lack of French faith - Franco-Prussian war - sacrifice of Boule de Suif represents sacrifice of France - writers often critical of France as a nation - delaying the introduction of the characters until the details of violence have established a tension that effectively prepares the reader for the real conflict between private and public virtue
    • Naturalism - doesn't judge, portrays cross-section of society, focuses on everyday style - part of naturalist writers, les soirées de Médan - writes within tradition together with them for overarching text collection 



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