Building the Text: Architecture as Metaphor in Late Medieval and Early Modern France

By David Grant Cowling | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION

For the characters, the Rock may be a real place, perhaps the one described by Hesiod, but, for the reader at least, it is a textual fragment of uncertain provenance, dredged up from the past and pointing towards a possibility of ethical meaning. It is also, by the same token, an enigma, a phenomenon that raises questions but does not wholly answer them.

Habert's temple is built on the Rock of Virtue: at each point, the reader's path is signposted so that he knows exactly what value, positive or negative, to assign to the emblematic figures he encounters and so that he emerges with a clearly and explicitly articulated evangelical message.1

Terence Cave's analysis of the contrasting images of the rock of Virtue in Rabelais Quart Livre ( 1552) and François Habert Temple de Vertu( 1542) serves both as a suitable conclusion to the preceding chapters and as a pointer to the divergent nature of later sixteenth-century practice. Rabelais "manoir de Areté", in Cave's reading, functions like Lemaire's temple of Honour, raising questions within the text about its true nature but frustrating the search for definitive and absolute enlightenment. Habert's temple, on the other hand, shares with the explicit, 'mixed' allegories of the devotional tradition the satisfying and reassuring provision of ordered moral teaching. Habert's text appears highly conservative in technique; it takes few risks with a timehonoured allegorical tradition. Rabelais, like Lemaire, exploits the plurality of possible meanings that architecture suggests to readers, both within and outside the text. And yet it cannot be ruled out that Rabelais is poking gentle fun at those, like Lemaire, who sought to capitalize on the indeterminacy of architectural allegory and the inherent semantic flexibility of the metaphors upon which it relied. The treatment of architectural subjects,

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1
T. Cave, "Reading Rabelais: Variations on the Rock of Virtue", in P. Parker and D. Quint (eds.), Literary Theory/Renaissance Texts( Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), 78-95 (80, 89).

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