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

By Tony Hunt | Go to book overview

4
The Voice of Morality

Ceste matiere a tous ne plest.1

[This subject matter is not congenial to everyone]

NOT all readers appreciate irony, especially if it is endemic and undiluted. Though no reader could deny the presence of irony in the Testament, there has traditionally been a general resistance to the suggestion that the work is ironic through and through, from beginning to end.2 Yet surely insufficient attention has been paid to the evidence (see above pp. 31-3) that by the conclusion of the poem both the testator and his testament have been abolished by order of the author. It seems that the didactic strain of much literature of the later Middle Ages has come to be regarded as inseparable from the period and that a common feeling persists that somewhere the author of the Testament is bound to have a moral message to convey.3 Already in the sixteenth century Clément Marot identified the relevant spot and marked it by the rubric 'Belle leçon de Villon aux enfans perduz' (stanza 156) and then entitled the following poem 'Ballade de bonne doctrine ... ceux de mauvaise vie' ( 1692-719).4

____________________
1
Testament, 267.
2
See most recently D. Fein, François Villon and his Reader ( Detroit, 1989),45 'To read irony and concealed meaning into every passage of the Testament would not only do injustice to the tonal complexity of the poem, reducing the rich diversity of narrative registers to a monotonous repetitive pattern, but would also result in a poor reading if not a misreading of the entire poem' (p. 45). These are just assertions which can only be judged by a 'lecture suivie' of the whole text. There is nothing intrinsically monotonous (or unmonotonous) about irony.
3
Cf. Mühlethaler, Poétiques, 173 'Les œuvres de Taillevent, Pierre Chastellain, François Villon étaient, pour leurs contemporains, profondément didactiques.'
4
Until the first modern edition of 1832 (by l'Abbé Prompsault) the text of Villon (in the early print known as I) was known through the work of Clément Marot, who undertook to correct and revise the text at the request of François I and issued it in 1533 (it lacks forty-eight lines of today's received text). On Marot's exercise of his skills see M. B. Speer, "'The Editorial Tradition of Villon's Testament: From Marot to Rychner and Henry'", Romance Philology, 31 ( 1977), 344-61; M. Lazard, "'Clément Marot éditeur et lecteur de Villon'", Cahiers de l'Association Internationale des études Françaises, 30 ( 1980), 7-20 and 'Les Sources de Marot éditeur de Villon', in J.-C. Aubailly et al., 'Et c'est la fin pour quoy sommes ensemble': Hommage ... Jean Dufournet (Paris, 1993),

-72-

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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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