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Glimpsing the Divine : Prophets in Sixteenth Century French Literature


This project looks at literary representations of prophets from Rabelais to Montaigne. It discusses the centrality of the prophet to the construction of literary texts as well as the material conditions in which these modes of representation were developed. I analyze literature’s appropriation of Hebrew and Classical sources to establish its practices as both independent and politically relevant to the centralizing French monarchy. I propose that prophets are important to the construction of literary devices such as polyphonic discourse, the lyric subject, internal space, and first-person prose narration. The writers discussed in this project rely on the prophet to position their texts on the edge of larger socio-political and religious debates in order to provide a perceptive, critical voice. By participating in a language of enchantment, these writers weave between social and religious conceptualizations of prophets to propose new, specifically literary, roles for prophets. I look at François Rabelais’ prophetic genres – the almanac and the prognostication – in relation to his Tiers livre to discuss prophecy as a type of advice. I then turn to the work of the Pléiade coterie, beginning with Pierre de Ronsard, to argue for the centrality of the prophet to the formation of the lyric subject. The second Pléiade member that I discuss, Robert Garnier, puts prophets on the stage to interrupt the temporality of the dramatic action and direct the audience’s gaze toward the king as the embodiment of the divine on earth. I conclude with a reading of one of Montaigne’s essays in relation to contemporary descriptions of religious ceremonies as haunted houses. This allows me to pinpoint the formal literary constructions that arise in sixteenth century approaches to the representation of prophets.

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