Litterae magistrae vitae: usages exemplaires des figures historiques dans les Lettres du premier XVIIe siècle
CitationMenu, Gregoire. 2017. Litterae magistrae vitae: usages exemplaires des figures historiques dans les Lettres du premier XVIIe siècle. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractCapitalizing on the early modern period’s rejection of historical exemplarity, epitomized by Montaigne’s famous criticism that “every example is lame”, seventeenth century writers dissociated themselves from historians, claiming that fiction, thanks to its plasticity, could provide more efficient examples for a redefined audience. They argued that their art could give a general meaning to a singular exemplar, transforming it into an example by adapting their representations to their contemporaries’ tastes. This dissertation examines the poetical and rhetorical strategies used by these writers to represent historical figures as examples and exemplars within their cultural contexts.
The foundation of this study is Nicolas Caussin’s Cour sainte (1624), a treatise of mundane devotion that was well-known in its time, which depicts numerous illustrious lives and, paradoxically, leverages the moral imperfection of certain examples to increase their persuasiveness.
These same figures are then represented in tragedies in the 1630s and 1640s, following two major trends: one adapting history to meet the spectators’ preconceptions of it, the other using the authority of history to challenge them. In the first case, the singularity of the figure is reduced; in the second, it is used to provoke admiration and requires spectators to adapt the figure to their own experience.
A decade later, these historical paragons resurfaced in epic poems that flourished during the 1650s. The poets’ insistence on the exemplarity of their characters, through both discursive and representative means, reveals a change in the theoretical conception of reception that took place during the period between Louis XIII’s death and the beginning of Louis XIV’s personal reign and, more broadly, tension surrounding the political role of literature within society as a whole.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:42061484
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