1902 Encyclopedia > France > Satiric and Didactic Works

(Part 34)


Satiric and Didactic Works

Among the direct satirists of the Middle Ages, one of the earliest and foremost in Guyot de Provins, whose Bible, as he calls it, contains an elaborate satire on the time. The same spirit soon betrayed itself in curious travesties of the romances of chivalry, and sometimes invades the later specimens of these romances themselves. One of the earliest examples of the travestie is the remarkable composition entitled Audigier. This poem, half fabliau and half-romance, is not so much an instance of the heroi-comic poems which afterwards found so much favour in Italy and elsewhere, as a direct and ferocious parody of the Carlovingian epic. The hero Audigier is a model of cowardice and disloyalty; his father and mother, Turgibus and Rainberge, are deformed and repulsive. The exploits of the hero himself are coarse and hideous failures, and the whole poem can only be taken as a counterblast to the spirit of chivalry. Elsewhere a trouvére, prophetic of Rabelais, described a vast battle between all the nations of the world, the quarrel being suddenly atoned by the arrival of a holy man bearing a huge flagon of wine. Again, we have the history of a solemn crusade undertaken by the citizens of a country town against the neighbouring castle. As erudition and the fancy for allegory gained ground, satire naturally availed itself of the opportunity thus afforded it; the disputed of Philippe le Bel with the pope and the Templars had an immense literary influence, partly in the concluding portions of the Renart, partly in the Roman de Rose, still to be mentioned, and partly in other satiric allegories of which the chief is the romance of Fauvel. The hero of this is an allegorical personage, half man and half horse, signifying the union of bestial degradation with human ingenuity and cunning. Feuvel is a divinity in his way. All the personages of state, from kings and popes to mendicant friars, pay their court to him.

But this serious and discontented spirit betrays itself also in compositions which are not parodies or travesties in form. One of the latest, if not absolutely the latest, and yet not one of the least remarkable of the chansons de gestes is Baudouin de Sebourc, one of the members of the great romance or cycle of romances dealing with the crusades, and entitled Le Chevalier au Cygne. Baudouin de Sebourc dates from the early years of the 14th century. It is strictly a chanson de geste in form, and also in the general run of its incidents. The hero is dispossesses of his inheritance by the agency of traitors, fights his battle with the world and its injustice and at last prevails over his enemy Gaufrois, who has succeeded in obtaining the kingdom of Friesland and almost that of France. Gaufrois has as his assistants two personages who were very popular in the poetry of the time, -- the devil, namely, and money. These two sinister figures pervade the fabliaux, tales, and fantastic literature generally of the time. M. Lenient, the historian of French satire, has well remarked that a romance as long as the Renart might be spun out of the separate short poems of this period which have the devil for hero, and many of which form a very interesting transition between the fabliau and the mystery. But the devil is in one respect a far inferior hero to Renart. He has an adversary in the Virgin who constantly upsets his best-laid schemes, and who does not always treat him quite fairly. The abuse of usury at the time, and the exactions of the Jews and Lombards, were severely felt, and money itself, as personified, figures largely in the popular literature of the time.

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