Du Bartas, French Huguenot Poet, and His Humourous Ambivalence

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This book represents a radically new reading of Du Bartas’ Semaines, marking a significant change in our understanding of work by perhaps the most popular non-theological writer of the Renaissance world. The humourous aspect of Du Bartas’ work is conveyed in particular by a broad range of numerological and symmetrical patterns. Though playful in form and style, these patterns highlight a gentle insistence by a moderate Huguenot on the Logos as the one intermediary between higher and lower things. Du Bartas makes playful use of the chain of being not only addressing the fragmentation of the medieval worldview, but also portraying individual links of the chain as powerful poetic symbols of the Christian intermediary.


“Dr. Heather argues strongly that the Calvinist du Bartas writes as a Christian Platonist, and that following upon the processes used by God himself in creation he devotes a good part of his poem to the exploitation of number. This concept of a hidden message. . . is explored further through detailed analysis of particular passages of the poem. In the process the thesis emerges that du Bartas’s use of number symbolism is often humourous and intentionally ironic. . . . These arguments are bold and individual, and should certainly provoke debate. Hr. heather’s contribution to the critical literature on the poet is an incisive one.” – Stephen Bamforth, Rader in Renaissance Studies, University of Nottingham

“Noel Heather continues the rehabilitation of a poet once dismissed as a naïve and reactionary pedant but now acknowledged as one of the foremost mannerist or baroque writers and an influential scientific poet. Hiss successors included John Milton; heather adds to our knowledge of the parallels between Milton and Du Bartas, via the latter’s translator Sylvester . . . . Heather’s main and welcome innovation is to indicate, through learned and ingenious interpretations of some important passages of the Semaines, unexpected elements of ambivalence and humour which reveal an almost Rabelaisian or Lucianic side to the earnest Huguenot poet. . . . Despite the esoteric subject-matter, this concise study is clearly written, avoiding jargon, and provides in addition an interesting background survey of encyclopedic scientific poetry in hexameral tradition of which Du Bartas is now recognised as a leading exponent.” – Michael Heath, Professor of French Literature, King’s College, London

Table of Contents

Table of contents: Preface & Introduction; Du Bartas and Renaissance Traditions; The Middle Way in the Cosmos; The Cosmos Re-made; The Intermediary Poet; The Creator-Poet; Conclusion; Appendix 1 – Sylvester and Milton; Appendix 2 – summary of Main Patterns; notes, Bibliography, Index.

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