Francois Rabelais’ Satire of Medieval and Renaissance Learning In Gargantua and Pantagruel

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Francois Rabelais’ Satire of Medieval and Renaissance Learning In Gargantua and Pantagruel

In his book Gargantua and Pantagruel, Francois Rabelais uses satire to address the dislocation felt by Renaissance Humanists. By providing an exaggerated fable, comical in nature, Rabelais poses a serious introspection into the extremes of both the Medieval and the Renaissance man. More importantly, however, he brings into question his own ideals of Humanism. Through an analysis of Rabelais’ satirical technique and by examining his social parody of the Medieval and the Renaissance man, we are able to better understand Rabelais’ introspection into the ideals of his own generation and to accept his argument that learning is transitory and often a necessary, yet futile, attempt to understand our world.

To understand the Gargantua and Pantagruel it is necessary to first understand Rabelais’ use of satire. As a man whose life spans the transition between the Medieval (Middle) Ages and the Renaissance, Rabelais, as most scholars of the time period, had to cope with a huge shift in thoughts and ideals. Between the changes in religion stemming from the Protestant Reformation, the changes in education stemming from the popularity of great philosophical thinkers, the move towards science and humanism, and the questioning of the universe arising from Copernicus’ discoveries, Rabelais felt the immense dislocation of his generation. He used satire, parody, and fantasy as a means to cope with this dislocation. Through the monstrous and grotesque comedy of Gargantua and Pantagruel, Rabelais is able to ridicule the institutions of his world without necessarily being offensive. He entices his readers to laugh at the events and human thoughts of ...

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... of quenching the thirst for knowledge. He writes, “Every good drinker, every good and gouty one, if he is thirsty, let him come to this barrel of mine” (395). In the end, Rabelais suggests that, like the comical giants of his stories, we are characterized by the desire to know, sometimes beyond our ability to understand.

In conclusion, through his depiction of the giant in his Gargantua and Pantagruel, Rabelais effectively satirizes two periods of thought, Medieval and Renaissance, and creates the argument that each, in its extreme, is limited. By comparing these two ages in the same satirical manner, Rabelais suggests that both schools of thought are transitory and that learning is often a necessary, yet futile, attempt to understand our world.

Work Cited

Putnam, Samuel, sel., transl., and ed. The Portable Rabelais. New York: Penguin Books, 1946.

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