Villon's Last Will: Language and Authority in the Testament

By Tony Hunt | Go to book overview

Introduction

De viel porte voix et le ton, Et ne suis qu'un jeune cocquart.1 [I sound like an old man and am just a young whipper-snapper]

THERE is no denying that dramatic techniques of presentation and impersonation are salient features of Villon Testament. Besides impersonating 'characters' like Robert d'Estouteville or la Belle Heaulmiere, the narrator-testator himself goes through a series of costume changes, including the part of 'povre Villon', so that the whole idea of recovering a single unitary or authentic personality from the work is misguided and, indeed, futile. Whether we attempt to identify such a figure, viewed as both actor and auctor, with the implied author, that is, the creator of the whole poem including the final ballade (where the 'povre Villon' is depicted as dead), or with a historical person François Villon (or des Loges, or de Montcorbier), the dominant personality in the work remains irreducibly multiform. We are presented with a variety of impressions of the testator without ever encountering the substance of what remains tantalizingly protean. Certainly, from a reading of his will we derive a strong sense of his presence, but we scarcely gain a coherent picture of his identity. We hear voices, but not the voice of a single, consistent authority. Rather, we hear the prisoner, the Christian penitent, the Job-like sufferer, the persecuted victim abandoned by his family, the nostalgic adult, the authority on love, the theologian, the musician, the joker, the student, the linguist speaking dialect, the literary parodist, various relatives, and a number of unidentified interlocutors. As I shall attempt to show in the following pages, any notion of individual authority is constantly subverted. The critical conditioning which obliges modern readers to seek unity above all other textual attributes of writing is not an appropriate attitude of mind when contemplating the Testament and we should do better to recognize at the outset its multiplicity of voices and to confront the heterogeneity of its language.

____________________
1
Testament, 735-6.

-1-

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Villon's Last Will: Language and Authority in the Testament
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgements v
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1- Writing and the Fragmentation of Authority 13
  • 2- Praise and Blame 34
  • 3- Love's Martyrs 50
  • 4- The Voice of Morality 72
  • 5- Dialogue 82
  • 6- Rhetoric and Irony 97
  • 7- The Indeterminate Author 125
  • Appendix 1 Villon and the Mendicants 143
  • Appendix 2 Glossary of Rhetorical Terms 146
  • Appendix 3 The Use of Anadiplosis in The Introduction to the Testament 149
  • Appendix 4 Binomial Expressions in the Testament 151
  • Bibliography 154
  • Index of Rhetorical Terms (see Also Appendix 2) 157
  • Index of Persons 158
  • Index of Lines Cited 160
  • Index of Subjects 165
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