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

By Tony Hunt | Go to book overview

2
Praise and Blame

Tant vault l'homme comme on le prise.1
[A man is as good as his reputation]
En l'an de mon trentiesme aage,
Que toutes mes hontes j'euz beues,
Ne du tout fol ne du tout saige
Non obstant maintes peines eues,
Lesquelles j'ay toutes receues
Soubz la main Thibault d'Aucigny . . .
S'esvesque il est, signant les rues,
Qu'il soit le mien, je le regny. (1-8)

[When I was thirty and had suffered every sort of rebuff, neither completely crazy nor wholly wise in spite of the many penalties inflicted on me, all of them at the hands of Thibault d'Aussigny . . . if that man's a bishop, blessing crowded streets, let me say categorically that he's no bishop of mine]

THE opening stanza is strikingly unusual, whether we approach the Testament primarily as a poetic, literary fiction or else as a spurious legal document or pseudo-will. From the beginning the writing displays instances of ironic inversion which will continue to characterize the work until the final ballade. If we read the work as a poem, we soon realize that the author has prefaced it with an anti-dédicace instead of the usual dedication. That is to say, in place of the conventional praise of a patron or benefactor, with which so many medieval poems begin, he has substituted malediction of an enemy or malefactor, a sort of 'patron' of all the testator's woes and misfortune. Such vilification was officially proscribed from wills under the code of Justinian, quite apart from being totally out of place in the introduction to a poem, so there are two respects in which our expectations are already overturned.

Leaving aside the anti-dedication and approaching the Testament as a will, we presume at the least that there will be some indication of a date, for naturally, without a date, no will can have any real interest or validity. What the testator actually offers us can best be

____________________
1
'Ballade des Proverbes', 5.

-34-

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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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