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Oxford Companion to French Literature
[1st edition 1959, revised/reprinted many times; in 1995 replaced by the New Oxford Companion to French Literature]

Marot, Clément (1496-1544). Protestant poet, born in Cahors, son of Jean Marot. Clément moved to Paris when his father became secretary to Anne de Bretagne. He may have studied law, and it is known that he was page to Nicolas de Neufville some time between 1510 and 1519. In 1519 he became valet de chambre in the household of Marguerite d'Alençon (later de Navarre), who was to protect him throughout his life, and in 1526, after the death of his father, he succeeded him as valet de chambre to François Ier. He was imprisoned in the Ch�telet in 1526 for breaking the Lenten fast, indicative of his Protestant sympathies. His earliest poems date from around 1515, and his first collection of poetry, L'Adolescence Clémentine, was published in 1532, followed by the Suite de l'Adolescence Clémentine in 1533. Forced to flee in the wave of persecution of Protestants following the Affaire des Placards in 1534, he took refuge firstly with Marguerite in Navarre, and then in Italy, with another French princess of Protestant sympathies, Renée de Ferrare. In 1536, when François Ier declared a general amnesty for exiled Protestants, he returned to France, solemnly abjuring his errors in Lyon. During a further period at the French court Marot enjoyed considerable literary success, his Oeuvres being published in 1538. He had been working on his translations of the Psalms for many years, and it was probably the publication of the Trente psaumes de David in 1541, coinciding with a renewal of anti-Protestant measures, which led to a second period of exile from 1542 in Geneva, where he was welcomed by Calvin. He died of the plague [cause of death unknown] in Turin in 1544.

Marot's poetry is immensely varied, both in genre and in tone. Among his early works are a number of long allegorical pieces: e.g. the Temple de Cupido, a pure Rhetoriqueur's poem: L'Enfer, a curious hybrid of medieval allegory and Renaissance protest, which recounts his experiences in the Châtelet prison; the Déploration de Florimond Robertet, a medieval funeral complainte used as a vehicle for Protestant theology. They also contain examples of two of the medieval formes fixes, ballades and rondeaux. He was perhaps at his best in the épitres, which he wrote throughout his life. The majority are light pieces, many of them begging-letters to patrons or friends, e.g. Au roi pour avoir été dérobé (a request for money) and A son ami Lyon (a plea to his lifelong friend Lyon Jamet to secure his release from prison). Virtually all the épitres are in decasyllabic rhyming couplets, but the coq-à-l'âne, a sub-species of the épitre, are ludic, anarchic, satirical poems written in octosyllables. Many of his épigrammes, the best of them wittily satirical, show the influence of classical writers such as Martial. Among them, the two blasons, Du beau tétin and (later) Du laid tétin, which sparked off a Concours des Blasons, are very revealing of contemporary attitudes to women. His long plaintive élégies are love poems, though not particularly successful ones. In his own day his supreme lyrical achievement was probably seen as the chansons and the translations of the Psalms, songs of love, profane and sacred, their popularity in both cases being enhanced by their musical settings.

Marot was undoubtedly many-sided. On the one hand a frivolous court entertainer, summed up by Boileau's "mitons de Marot l'élégant badinage", on the other a committed Protestant polemicist. As a poet, he is a Janus-like figure who both looks back to the Middle Ages (his earliest works perpetuate late-medieval poetic traditions, and he edited François Villon [okay] and the Roman de la Rose [view now abandoned] and at the same time ushers in the first phase of the French Renaissance (he translated Virgil, Ovid, and Petrarch, and he may well have been the first to write sonnets in French). He was a witty and sometimes biting satirist, often savagely anticlerical, but with a buoyant confidence in the New Age. Marot was rapidly eclipsed by the Pléiade, but remained both popular and influential when the Pléiade fell into disfavour in the 17th and 18th c.

Christine Scollen-Jimack


  • C. A. Mayer, Clément Marot (1972)

  • R. Griffin, Clément Marot and the Inflections of Poetic Voice (1974)