François Rabelais

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François Rabelais (1483-1553) was an important French writer and satirist.

His most important work was the five book Gargantua and Pantagruel;[1] however it is unclear whether all of the fifth book was written by Rabelais himself. Within, although some chapters consist entirely of lists of vulgarities, a number of political and religious themes are considered, amongst them being:

  • Proper methods of education. (Book 1)
  • The Abbey of Theleme - a Utopian monastery, wherein customs were the exact opposite of the solemn, austere and strictly-regulated ones followed in typical monastic environments, and the primary commandment was "Do what thou wilt." (Book 1)
  • The absurdities of the legal system, and how the only way to finally resolve a dispute is to drag it out until both parties are sick of it. (Books 2, 5)
  • Methods of divination (Book 3)
  • Reasons for and against marriage. (Books 4-5)

Some of the topics explored by Rabelais were controversial, and only the support of influential patrons preserved him from severe ecclesiastical censure during his lifetime; the third and fourth books of Gargantua and Pantagruel were both banned at times. The adjective, Rabelaisian, from his name, describes something that is in the style of his writings: containing an abundance of coarse humor, extravagant language and keen satire.

The works of Rabelais were the subject of study by the Russian cultural theorist M. M. Bakhtin (1885-1975), who derived two major concepts from "Gargantua and Pantagruel": that of the carnivalesque, mocking authority through proletarian laughter; and of the grotesque body, seeing the greatest reality in the portrayal of bodily functions, principally sexual and excretory. The emphasis on anti-authoritarianism may explain why his work on the subject, Rabelais and his World, while submitted as a PhD thesis in the early 1940s, was not passed for a doctorate and was only published in the post-Stalinist (relative) thaw of 1965; though it is quite possible that Bakhtin, who smoked the only manuscript of his study of the German novel during the battle of Stalingrad,[2] did not consider publication a matter of any urgency.



  1. Text of Gargantua and Pantagruel at Project Gutenberg.