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Double Speech

Janus-faced poems, or: Marot's double speech

Because of the religious troubles of the times, Marot himself got into trouble several times (see the short biography). During his exile he was well looked after by two Grand Ladies of the French nobility: first he found shelter with Marguerite of Navarra, and from Spring 1534 to Summer 1536 he moved to another member of the Royal family: Renée de France, married to the Duke of Ferrara. Both Courts were famous/notorious for the Evangelical or Reformed atmosphere. This had nothing to do with John Calvin yet, since he was only a young unknown scholar then. Among friends Marot openly aired his feelings about the Church and Religion. Certainly in Ferrara the French Courtiers formed a kind of Evangelical community and Renée celebrated Mass with a personal adapted (reformed) liturgy.

Two poems by Marot, both dating from the time of his exile and both addressed to the protectrice of so many refugees, Renée de France exist in two versions: one overtly Evangelical, the other politically and religiously correct: the Avant–naissance (a solemn chant celebrating the imminent birth of Renée’s third child) and an Epistle to Renée, send from Venice to Ferrara, which at first sight reports the beauties and vices of Venice.The original versions are overtly Evangelical and both include sharp anti–papal passages and vehement attacks on the existing Church as such. These passages are absent in the second versionn we know of, and this is not much of a surprise, since these edulcorated versions are known from an anthology offered to the Constable of France, Anne de Montmorency in 1538. And this very powerful man was combative and intransigent in matters of religion. Whether either version was known in Marot’s days cannot be said, except that the official (i.e., expurgated) version of the Avant–naissance appeared in print posthumously in 1547.[1]

In the Avant–naissance the imminent birth of Renée’s child heralds a new era (a typical topos embroidering on and referring to Virgil’s aurea aetas, the golden age from the past of which the return is imminent...). This new era will be an age of enlightenment (‘la grand lumière,’ vv. 4–5, returning in the final line: v. 74). In the original version the new light is coming from two sources: the Renaissance of the Arts (vv. 19–28) and the Reformation of the Church (vv. 51–60). The last is characterised by the unveiling of the Truth (‘verité revellée’ v. 51) and the concordant destruction of the papal tyranny (phrases like ‘beste sans raison’; ‘grand enemy de ta noble maison’; ‘triple creste’ vv. 55–58 are passed in review).[2] This passage is not present in the version offered to Montmorency, who was not a fan of the Pope either, but would never have accepted an equation of the Pope with the Antichrist as presented in this passage. It is replaced by a more general description of nature.

Marot’s Epistle to Renée 'envoyée de Venize' has a similar twofold redaction, with a more elaborate and detailed attack on the corruption in/of the Church, a corruption originating once more in Rome. In this epistle the splendours of Venice are evoked, but this literary exercise seems to serve as a pretext to embark on a critique of the materialism, lack of love for the neighbour (charity) and the general low moral standards (acceptance of fornication) of the Venetians, a lifestyle labeled 'Epicurism'.

The two versions of the texts speak for themselves if juxtaposed; One only has to read them, compare them, and let the differences sink in. Since in critical editions this generally is not possible (one has to construct the alternative text based on footnotes or endnotes, or - in the best case: in an appendix), I decided to publish them on the internet, where in matters of layout much more is possible than in paperprint.

[1] In the appendix to Epigrammes de Clement Marot, faictz à l’imitation de Martial (Poitiers, J. and E. de Marnef, 1547), Mayer n° 154.

[2] This reference to the Pope equates Rome with Babylon that is going to fall (Rev. 17–18). The ‘triple creste’ unequivocally equates the beast from the Apocalypse (Rev. 13) with the Pope, since it refers to the papal crown, the tiara. Cf. the depiction of ‘La Fée nommee Rommaine’ in the Deploration de Florimond Robertet.  

 

 

 
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