Villon, François

Villon, François
(1431–1463)
   Since medievalists have rediscovered the 15th century as a fertile period in the history of late medieval literature, they have always celebrated the provocative, often outrageous, poems by François Villon.His contemporaries, however, did not seem to have had much respect for him, and he obviously failed in his plans to achieve the status of a court poet and to secure a patron. Although he was once a guest at CHARLES D’ORLÉANS’s court and wrote several poems for him, this did not translate into public recognition of his poetic art.Villon was of humble origin, as he tells us in his rhymed TESTAMENT (vv. 273–75) (composed in 1431). Because of financial woes his mother entrusted the child to her relative, Guillaume de Villon, chaplain of the Parisian church of Saint-Benoît-le-Bétourné. François’s original name was Montcorbier, or des Loges, but he adopted the name of the chaplain, who made sure that Villon gained a solid education, which led to a university baccalaureate degree in 1449, and the degree of magister (master) in 1452. But Villon, as we call him now, could not find steady employment, and soon got into conflict with the law. In 1455 he killed a priest in a quarrel, fled from Paris, and later pleaded that he had acted in self-defense, a plea that was subsequently accepted. In 1456, he committed burglary and fled from Paris once again. At this time he began the long cycle of his Lais. In 1457, Villon visited Charles d’Orléans in Blois, and wrote three poems for him. In 1461, Villon was a prisoner in Meungsur-Loire, but the recently enthroned King Louis XI granted him and other prisoners amnesty. Villon immediately returned to Paris, where he began a collection of poems under the title Testament. In the fall of that year the poet was again charged with burglary, but was soon released. Only a few days later Villon was involved in a street brawl in which a notary was stabbed. This time Villon was sentenced to be executed, but his appeal to the secular court of Parlement was successful, since they converted the death penalty to banishment from Paris for 10 years.Villon left us several poems about this incident, and beyond that, we have no police records or further poems by Villon.
   In his Lais (320 verses grouped into octaves in which he metaphorically says good-bye to all his friends, his mistress, and his own property), in his Testament (more than 2,000 verses), and also in his many miscellaneous poems,Villon talks much about himself, his miserable life, his failures, and his misfortunes in love. The poet also voices sarcastic criticism of the church, the university, and the general social ills of his time. The more we can identify Villon as a man without any career or family life, the more we must credit him with an astonishing creativity and innovative quality in his poetry. Being free of any literary patronage— which was, of course, to his personal disadvantage— Villon was independent enough to explore a wide range of topics and poetic forms with which he left his unique mark on 15th-century French poetry. More than any other contemporary poet—perhaps with the only exception of the German poet Oswald von Wolkenstein from South Tyrol (1376/77–1445)—Villon projects a poetic autobiography without following the rigid framework of a narrative autobiography. In his individual poems he addresses himself, his friends, his enemies, then an imaginary reader, and he constantly combines ironic comments with crude jokes, and incorporates learned references, gibes, and puns.
   Villon openly admitted his disappointment with life and regularly tried to find a scapegoat for his many failures, and although he often blamed the church for many of his own problems, the poet still firmly embraced the Christian faith in a manner typical for his time. Villon repeatedly resorted to the topos of the ubi sunt formula, reflecting upon the transitoriness of life in general and of his personal situation in particular. In formal terms Villon heavily relied on the traditional genres of the BALLADE and the RONDEAU. In contrast to GUILLAUME DE MACHAUT (the most influential French poet of the previous century),Villon did not set his poems to music, but intended them to be read aloud. A few examples will quickly illustrate the richness of Villon’s poetic discourse. When he laments about his poverty (Testament no. 36), he assures himself that it is better to be poor than once to have been a rich lord and “now to rot in a rich tomb” (Villon 1994, l. 288). Considering the deaths of all the famous and wealthy people before him, Villon wonders about his own destiny. He knows that he will die as well, but he places all emphasis on his own life at the present: “Provided I’ve enjoyed myself / I do not mind a decent death” (ll. 419–20). Proud of his advanced education, the poet includes references to Orpheus and Narcissus (ll. 633–640), but he always reminds his readers that he sees himself in the center of life: “About poor me I want to speak, / Beaten like laundry at a stream” (ll. 657–658). Villon admits that he failed in love (ll. 713ff.), and also alludes to a water torture he was exposed to during his imprisonment (ll. 737–738). The Testament concludes with an epitaph for his own tomb and then some ballads in which he sarcastically expresses his forgiveness to all those who hurt him in his life.
   Although it would be inappropriate to identify Villon’s poems as autobiographical in the narrow sense, they clearly stand out for their highly individualized perspectives and the directness with which he approaches his readers and listeners, although in one of his ballades, he also admits: “I know all things except myself ” (VI, 8). He never expresses any respect for political and philosophical authorities and argues, for example, that he gained more understanding of life through wandering the world than from reading AVERROËS’s commentaries on Aristotle (Testament, 89–96). This refreshing individualism that pokes fun at everything and everyone represents the decisive rupture that was to separate the Middle Ages from the Renaissance.
   Villon’s works were preserved in some manuscripts and quite a number of early modern prints, but his true recognition did not come until 1832, when Jean Henri Romain Prompsault published his complete works for the first time, based on a solid examination of the relevant manuscripts.
   Bibliography
   ■ Burl, Aubrey. Danse macabre: François Villon, Poetry, & Murder in Medieval France. Stroud, Gloucestershire, U.K.: Sutton, 2000.
   ■ Fein, David. François Villon Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1997.
   ■ Sargent-Baur, Barbara N. Brothers of Dragons: Job dolens and François Villon. New York: Garland, 1990.
   ■ Taylor, Jane H. M. The Poetry of François Villon: Text and Context. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
   ■ Villon, François. Complete Poems. Edited with English translations and commentary by Barbara N. Sargent-Baur.Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1994.
   Albrecht Classen

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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  • Villon, François — Vil·lon (vē yōɴʹ), François. 1431 1463?. French poet. His satirical lyrics are contained in Le Petit Testament (c. 1456) and Le Testament (c. 1461). * * * orig. François de Montcorbier or François des Loges born 1431, Paris, France died after… …   Universalium

  • Villon, François — (ca. 1431 ca. 1463)    poet    François Villon, whose works reflect his controversial life and who is often considered France s outstanding lyric poet, was born in or near Paris. His original name was probably either de Montcorbier or des Loges,… …   France. A reference guide from Renaissance to the Present

  • Villon, François — (1431 ca. 1463)    French poet, usually classed as a late medieval rather than a Renaissance author since his works lack the classicizing style associated with the French Renaissance. Yet his poetry was admired by leading figures of the… …   Historical Dictionary of Renaissance

  • Villon, François — ► (1431 63?) Poeta francés. Supo expresar los sentimientos más humanos ante la muerte y los azares de la vida. Obras: Pequeño y Gran testamento y Balada de las damas de antaño, elegía sobre el paso del tiempo, entre otras. * * * orig. François de …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • VILLON, FRANÇOIS —    French poet, born in Paris; studied at the university, but led a singular life; had again and again to flee from Paris; was once condemned to death, but set free after a four years imprisonment into which the sentence was commuted; is the… …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

  • Villon, François — pseud. di de Montcorbier, François …   Sinonimi e Contrari. Terza edizione

  • Francois Villon — François Villon François Villon (Grand Testament de Maistre François Villon, 1489) François de Montcorbier dit Villon (né en 1431 à Paris, disparu en 1463) est un poète français de la fin du Moyen Âge. Il est probablement l auteur français le… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • François de Moncorbier — François Villon François Villon (Grand Testament de Maistre François Villon, 1489) François de Montcorbier dit Villon (né en 1431 à Paris, disparu en 1463) est un poète français de la fin du Moyen Âge. Il est probablement l auteur français le… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • François de Montcorbier — François Villon François Villon (Grand Testament de Maistre François Villon, 1489) François de Montcorbier dit Villon (né en 1431 à Paris, disparu en 1463) est un poète français de la fin du Moyen Âge. Il est probablement l auteur français le… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • François Villon — (in modern French, pronounced|fʀɑ̃swa viˈjɔ̃; in fifteenth century French, IPA| [fʀɑnswɛ viˈlɔn] ) (c. 1431 ndash; after 5 January 1463) was a French poet, thief, and vagabond. He is perhaps best known for his Testaments and his Ballade des… …   Wikipedia

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