Essay: Boisterous Bawdiness and Brawls

Renaissance via Rabelais:

Boisterous Bawdiness and Brawls

by A.D. Shaffer

{Graduate studies; originally written for Humanities 530 Spring 2015}

French folklore inspired Rabelais to create Gargantua and Pantagruel in which he shows the importance and benefits of human enjoyment. During the Renaissance, or possibly because of the Renaissance, mankind blossomed with humanistic vigor for the arts – and with what a human being could physically do, whether artist or observer. Historically speaking, the Renaissance was a colorful, loud, humane response to the strict darkness of the Medieval world. Rabelais pushed the social boundaries of acceptable literature with carnivalesque tone and scatological humor. Larger than life, Gargantua and Pantagruel are obscene giants who enjoy drinking and discussing codpieces. They are virtuous in a new sense: aesthetic pleasure. Gargantua and Pantagruel encourage laughter and merriment with the other characters, and they produce laughter from their audience. Utopia for Rabelais’s characters would be a never-ending carnival of feasting and drinking, farting and urinating, sex and a little more drinking…at least on the surface. True utopia is the experience of mankind, and man’s abilities to express aesthetic pleasure.

The beautiful and the grotesque go hand in hand in Gargantua and Pantagruel. Rabelais’ characters are often crude and selfish. While in Paris, Panurge attempts to seduce a wealthy married woman. Even though he states her beauty rivals the goddesses, and notes her character as beautiful and pure, the vulgar demands he issues her keeps her cold to his attentions. Master John Thursday (whom we deduce is Panurge’s penis) is offered to the lady, Panurge said, “He is gallant, and doth so well know how to find out all the corners, creeks, and ingrained inmates in your carnal trap, that after him there needs no broom, he’ll sweep so well before, and leave nothing to his followers to work upon” (Rabelais 772). She finds him rude and offensive so he tries to ‘flatter’ her instead, Panurge said, “Madam, know that I am so amorous of you that I can neither piss nor dung for love” (Rabelais 775). Since the lady refused to submit to Panurge’s lustful advances, he pulls a disgusting trick on her by covering her clothes with a drug to lure dogs, which arrive in droves, to urinate on her – first her clothes, and then to create a creek of urine around her house (Rabelais 782-85). This scene demonstrates beauty being violated by the grotesque. Panurge’s desire for sex is not fulfilled so he cruelly issues humor through the lady’s suffering. The aesthetic nature of Panurge finds satisfaction for himself regardless of the outcome to others – if he can’t fornicate then he will make fun.

Laughter is an expression of pleasure. Before the Renaissance, laughter was held in a different opinion, but for Rabelais, laughter and merriment was his goal: “The sight of their game set them a-laughing, and the messenger of mischief grinned also for company’s sake” (Rabelais 3,998). Scatological humor was appealing to seventeenth century Europe, possibly because of the restraints of elite court society. Rabelais wanted to offend the upper-crust and clergy by using bawdy situations and extravagant decadence to satisfy the aesthetic designs of mankind’s human experience.

Works Cited

Rabelais, Francois. Gargantua and His Son Pantagruel. EBook #1200: Project

Gutenberg, 21 Jul 2014. Web.

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