To teach the truth smilingly was, during the Renaissance, a frequently expressed goal among prose writers and poets such as Erasmus, Berni, Ronsard, Rabelais, and du Bellay, who adopted an ironic posture within their mock encomia in order to refer the reader beyond the realm of the literary structure. In this book Annette Tomarken reconstructs the history of the classical satirical eulogy as it was revived, expanded, and finally adapted to new purposes in Renaissance literature. Tracing the development of this type of paradox from its classic roots through the Neo-Latin, Italian, and French mock encomia, Tomarken examines its various forms in the Renaissance, including the Pliade “hymne-blason,” the mock epitaph, and the stage “harangue.” Her book provides a new context for such works as In Praise of Folly and for such literary passages as Rabelais’s praise of debts and Falstaff’s denunciation of honor. Dividing the eulogies into three groups — praises of vices, disease, and animals and insects — Tomarken brings humor as well as close textual analysis to her study. She finds that the practitioners of the form were aware of its history and that such self-awareness became an integral part of the works themselves. An increased sensitivity to the literary structure and history of the paradoxical encomium, Tomarken stresses, first requires and then enriches our understanding of the genre’s relationship to the extra-literary domain.
Originally published in 1990.
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