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Rutebeuf (fl. 1245–1285) poet, playwright, hagiographer. Encyclopedia of World Writers, Beginnings To 20th Century

Very little is known of Rutebeuf ’s life, except that
he lived in Paris, introduced a sense of individualism
into medieval French poetry, and produced his
works between 1248 and 1272.He apparently died
before 1285.
Rutebeuf wrote in a variety of genres: hagiography
(biography of saints’ lives), drama, and of
course, poetry. Rutebeuf mastered the various intricate
forms of medieval French poetry, proving
to be a virtuoso in rhyme. His poems range from
moral polemics to crusade propaganda to political
satire and to personal complaints of his poverty
and misfortune.
Some of Rutebeuf ’s personal problems may
have stemmed from his involvement in religious
and political events of the time. Starting in 1252,
the masters of the University of Paris quarreled
with the Mendicant friars over authority in parish
duties and teaching positions in the theology faculty.
Although Pope Alexander IV ruled in favor of
the friars in 1255, the secular masters of the university
refused to recognize the ruling and continued
to stage protests and resist the Mendicants’
attempts to take control of parish duties and the
theology faculty. The university masters hired
Rutebeuf to write poems that explained and popularized
their viewpoints while satirizing and attacking
the friars’ positions.
Rutebeuf also attacked the clergy in a morality
play, Le Miracle de Théophile (The miracle of
Théophile). Théophile is a cleric who makes a deal
with the devil to regain his wealth and power,
which he then uses to insult his bishop and other
priests.After seven years, Théophile repents to save
his soul, and the Virgin Mary fights the devil and
reclaims the priest’s soul for heaven. Théophile
publicly repents and summarizes his sin:
The devil, who assaults good men,
Made my soul commit a sin
For which I should die;
But Our Lady, who directs her own,
Turned me from the path of wrong
Where I had strayed
And lost my way.
Rutebeuf used another genre, the fabliau (a short,
comic tale), to attack the self-interest and
hypocrisy of both church and state in Renart le Bestourné
(Renart the Hypocrite). This poem uses the
characters from the ROMAN DE RENART to portray a
society ruined by corruption and lies.
While poverty and bad luck were a common poetic
trope of medieval poets, Rutebeuf gave it a personal
stamp that prefigures the poetry of François
Villon. Many scholars see these complaints as
Rutebeuf ’s greatest contribution to medieval
French poetry. As the literary historian David
Coward says, it “goes beyond a literary persona and
expresses not collective values but a distinctive individual
consciousness.”
An English Version of Works by Rutebeuf
Medieval French Plays. Translated by Richard Axton
and John Stevens. New York: Barnes & Noble,
1971.
Works about Rutebeuf
Coward, David. “Lyric Poetry to Rutebeuf” in A History
of French Literature: From Chanson de Geste to
Cinema. Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell, 2002.
Ham, Edward Billings. Rutebeuf and Louis IX. Chapel
Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1962.
Regalado,Nancy Freeman. Poetic Patterns in Rutebeuf:
A Study in Noncourtly Poetic Modes of the Thirteenth
Century. New Haven,Conn.:Yale University
Press, 1970.

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