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  • Credits: 3

Course Description: This course is an introduction to the major French writers of the 16th century. We will read a variety of texts and examine, through the prism of literature, how the Renaissance and the Reformation played themselves out in France, from the Italian wars and the “re-birth” of French letters under King François Ier to the religious war that engulfed the country in the second half of the century.

Literary texts will be supplemented with visual documents aimed at giving students a sense of the period’s artistic development (in painting, sculpture, and architecture).

General Learning Goals

  • Analyze French literature in itself and in relation to the history of French and European culture during the Renaissance period.
  • Communicate complex ideas pertaining to this subject effectively, in standard oral and written French.
  • Evaluate and critically assess multiple sources relevant to 16th-century or Renaissance culture and literature; analyze and synthesize information and ideas from those sources to generate new insights; use the conventions of attribution and citation correctly.
  • Reflect, on the basis of this particular subject, on larger issues concerning the nature of reality, human experience, knowledge, value, and cultural production.

Detailed Goals

Students of this course will acquire a basic knowledge of some of the most important written works from 16th-century France. In particular, they will become able to:

- explain what the Renaissance and the Reformation meant for writers from the first half of the century, such as Rabelais, Marot, Scève, and Marguerite de Navarre, and their respective aesthetics;
- explain what the religious and political crisis of the century’s second half meant for writers such as Ronsard, Du Bellay, Labé, Montaigne, and d’Aubigné, and how the Renaissance ideal was at once upheld and upended in their works;
- describe the development of Renaissance poetry as a specific art, over the course of the entire century, from Marot to d’Aubigné;
- explain the distinct project of Montaigne’s Essais and understand how (and why) a book like no other became “consubstantial to its author.”


The texts studied in this course will be made available in copied or scanned form via the course’s Canvas site. Most of them will come from the anthology by J. Bogaert and J. Passeron, Les Lettres françaises - XVIe siècle (Magnard), which is out of print.

Faculty: François Cornilliat