"Imagining Rabelais in Renaissance England" by Anne Lake            Prescott

Imagining Rabelais in Renaissance England Anne Lake Prescott

Publication date:
28 May 2013
Yale University Press
278 pages: 235 x 156mm
21 b-w illus.
Sales territories:

Famed for his learning, wordplay, clever fantasy, and insight, the notorious French writer Francois Rabelais (1494?-1553) was also widely known for scoffing, supposed atheism, salacious writing, and irresponsible whimsy. This engaging book is the first exploration in more than sixty years of Renaissance England’s response to the humorous yet difficult and ambiguous Rabelais. Anne Lake Prescott describes in entertaining detail how a host of English writers—Philip Sidney, Ben Jonson, John Webster, John Donne, James I, Shakespeare, and Michael Drayton, among many others—collectively and sometimes individually appreciated and condemned Rabelais.

Prescott documents the extent to which Rabelais’s name and work permeated Renaissance English literature and thought. Tudor and Stuart writers quoted him, told funny or scandalous stories about him, imitated him, abhorred him, even judged Rabelais without reading him. In this wide range of responses, from the urbanely appreciative to the pompous and grumpy, Prescott finds new understandings of cultural ambivalence and the ambiguities of literary reception. She shows that precisely because Rabelais’s reputation was contradictory, appropriating his name or words was useful in Renaissance England for expressing division on topics ranging from authorship and sex to heresy and political secrets.

Anne Lake Prescott is professor of English at Barnard College, Columbia University, co-editor of Edmund Spenser’s Poetry: The Norton Critical Edition, and the author of French Poets and the English Renaissance, published by Yale University Press.

"Prescott is really breaking new ground here. Her book is original and entertaining. I can't remember when I've laughed as often while reading a thoroughly scholarly book."óBarbara C. Bowen, Vanderbilt University