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François Rabelais was a French writer and priest who, for his contemporaries, was also an eminent physician and humanist and for posterity is the author of the comic masterpiece ‘Gargantua and Pantagruel’. The four novels composing this work are outstanding for their rich use of Renaissance French and for their comedy, which ranges from gross burlesque to profound satire.
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Key Facts & Information
Early Life and Education
- Little is known about Rabelais’ early life and even details of his adult life are sparse and difficult to interpret.
- Believed to be born in the year 1494 in Poitou, France, Francois Rabelais was the son of Antoine, a prominent lawyer and landowner in Touraine.
- As a young man, Rabelais joined the Franciscans in 1510, studied both theology and law, and frequented or corresponded with leading humanist scholars of the day.
- By 1521, he had become a priest and acquired the reputation of being both an excellent scholar of Greek studies and a troublemaker, as his Franciscan superiors confiscated his Greek books because Greek was suspect to hyper orthodox Roman Catholics as a “heretical” language that opened up the original New Testament to study.
- By the early 1530s, Rabelais obtained a temporary dispensation from Pope Clement VII and was removed to the Benedictine house of Saint-Pierre-de-Maillezais.
- As a Benedictine, Rabelais studied medicine in Paris and later on left monastic life entirely to continue his studies at the University of Montpellier with the support of Geoffroy d’Estissac.
- Graduating within weeks, he lectured on the works of distinguished ancient Greek physicians and published his own editions of Hippocrates’ Aphorisms and Galen’s Ars parva (“The Art of Raising Children”) in 1532.
After practicing briefly in Narbonne, Rabelais was appointed and later became a prominent physician in Lyon, the cultural and publishing capital of France at that time.
- There he took up a position at a hospital, began a correspondence with Desiderius Erasmus, and published several medical texts. It was during this period that he discovered his true talent.
- Fired up by the success of an anonymous popular chapbook, Les Grandes et inestimables cronicques du grant et énorme géant Gargantua, Rabelais published his first novel, Les horribles et épouvantables faits et prouesses du très renommé Pantagruel, roy des Dipsodes (in English, “The Horrible and Terrifying Deeds and Words of the Renowned Pantagruel, King of the Dipsodes”) in 1532 under the pseudonym Alcofribas Nasier, an anagram of his real name.
- In Pantagruel, Rabelais displayed his delight in words, his profound sense of the comedy of language itself, his mastery of comic situations, monologue, dialogue, and action, and his genius as a storyteller who was able to create a world of fantasy out of words alone.
- Though condemned by the Sorbonne in Paris as obscene, Pantagruel was a popular success. It was followed in 1533 by the Pantagrueline Prognostication, a parody of the almanacs, astrological predictions that exercised a growing hold on the Renaissance mind.
- In 1534, Rabelais left the Hôtel-Dieu to travel to Rome with the bishop of Paris, Jean du Bellay. He returned to Lyon in May of that year and published an edition of Bartolomeo Marliani’s description of Rome, Topographia antiquae Romae.
- He returned to the Hôtel-Dieu, but left it again in February 1535, upon which the authorities of the Lyon hospital appointed someone else to his post.
- The year 1534 saw the release of Rabelais’ La vie inestimable du grand Gargantua (“The Inestimable Life of the Great Gargantua”) in which he continued to exploit medieval romances mock-heroically, telling of the birth, education, and prowesses of the giant Gargantua, who is Pantagruel’s father.
- In the novel, old-fashioned scholastic pedagogy is ridiculed and contrasted with the humanist ideal of Gargantua, widely learned in art, science, and crafts, and skilled in knightly warfare.
- The war between Gargantua and his neighbour, Picrochole, is partly a private satire of an enemy of Rabelais’s father and partly a mocking of Charles V, the Holy Roman emperor, and the imperial design of world conquest.
- Gargantua’s last major episode centres on the erection of the Abbey of Thélème, a monastic institution that rejects poverty, celibacy, and obedience. Instead it welcomes wealth and the well-born, praises the aristocratic life, and rejoices in good marriages.
Back with the Benedictines
- After Gargantua, Rabelais published nothing new for 11 years and continued to serve as physician to Jean du Bellay, who had become a cardinal.
- In 1535, Rabelais accompanied the cardinal to Rome where he regularized his position by appealing his apostasy to the pope. The pope then issued a pronouncement freeing Rabelais from ecclesiastical censure and allowing him to reenter the Benedictine order.
- Rabelais entered the Benedictine convent at Saint-Maur-les-Fossés, where Cardinal du Bellay was abbot. The convent was secularized six months later, and Rabelais became a secular priest, authorized to exercise his medical profession.
- After his novels were condemned by the Sorbonne and the Parliament of Paris in 1543, Rabelais sought protection from the French king’s sister Marguerite, Queen of Navarre, dedicating to her Tiers livre des faits et dits héroïques du noble Pantagruel (“Third Book of the Heroic Deeds and Words of the Noble Pantagruel”), published in 1546.
- Despite its royal privileges, the book was immediately condemned for heresy by the Sorbonne, and Rabelais fled to Metz and stayed there until 1547.
- From 1547 onward, Rabelais worked again as Cardinal du Bellay’s physician and accompanied him to Rome via Turin, Ferrara, and Bologna.
- Passing through Lyon, he gave his publisher an incomplete Quart livre (“Fourth Book”), which, as printed in 1548, finishes in the middle of a sentence but contains some of his most delightful comic storytelling.
- In 1552, through the influence of a new patron, Cardinal de Guise, Rabelais was able to publish the full Quart livre des faits et dits héroïques du noble Pantagruel (“Fourth Book of the Heroic Deeds and Words of the Noble Pantagruel”), his longest book.
- The Quart Livre was, like Rabelais’s previous volumes, promptly attacked by the Sorbonne, but thanks to the author’s fame and connections the censors, the Sorbonne could not prevent its publication.
- In 1562, there appeared in Lyon the Isle sonante, allegedly by Rabelais. It was expanded in 1564 into the so-called Cinquiesme et dernier livre (“Fifth and Last Book”).
- The work is partly satirical, partly an allegory although it cannot be by Rabelais as it stands. Some scholars believe it to be based on his lost drafts, while others deny any authenticity whatsoever.
- In 1553 Rabelais resigned his religious and monastic appointments. He died shortly thereafter and was buried in Saint-Paul-des-Champs, Paris.
François Rabelais Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about François Rabelais across 23 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use François Rabelais worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about François Rabelais who was a French writer and priest who, for his contemporaries, was also an eminent physician and humanist and for posterity is the author of the comic masterpiece ‘Gargantua and Pantagruel’. The four novels composing this work are outstanding for their rich use of Renaissance French and for their comedy, which ranges from gross burlesque to profound satire.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Authors Online
- Pop Quiz
- Judge By The Cover
- According to François
- Men of the Movement
- What’s in a Name?
- Famous François
- Un Appel
- The Big Picture
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