- Clément Marot: The Mirror of the Prince
Scholars have long sought to determine Clément Marot's (1494-1544) allegiance to a particular religious stance. Examining Marot's paradoxical role as both court poet and exile, Ahmed demonstrates that his spiritual quest reveals a multiplicity of voices that cannot be reduced to a certain sectarian alliance. In interpreting Marot's works through the lens of his complex association with patron Francis I rather than through a purely theological analysis, Ahmed convincingly argues that it is this relationship with the king that is the most permanent of the poet's loyalties. The cornerstone of his oeuvre, "Marot's literary mirror of his sovereign is laden with theopolitical meaning, which he shapes to reflect various beliefs" (2). Following a loose chronological approach to the poems addressed to the king, Ahmed analyzes three principal representations of Francis in Marot's poetry: redemptive agent, defender of humanism, and Good Shepherd.
In depicting a monarch who occupies a realm between the sacred and the profane, Marot "builds his oeuvre on the overlapping discourse of the celestial and the worldly" (4). Ahmed contends that in maintaining the orthodox sacral function of the king, Marot incorporates a poetics of redemption into the text of political theology, thus according himself a place both at court and in the cosmos. This is apparent in his works from the 1532 collection L'Adolescence clémentine to his 1541 and 1543 translations of the Pseaumes. In Marot's earlier works, his princely redeemer reinforces the sacred alliance with Christ in Le Temple de Cupido (1513-14), liberates the poet from hell in L'Enfer (1526), and reflects God in the psalmodic subtext of "Au Roy, pour avoir esté desrobé" (1531). Ahmed traces the evolution of the monarch's portrait from the Catholic imagery of Le Temple de Cupido to humanist imprints in the king-poet relationship in "Desrobé," modeled on Petrarch's and David's psalms.
Focusing on the 1535 Epistre au roy du temps de son exil à Ferrare, Ahmed [End Page 1217] contextualizes Marot's troubles with the faculty of theology of the University of Paris, as the poet claims for himself an interdisciplinary line of inquiry proposed by the humanist Budé. Entreating Francis to oppose the faculty's monopoly on the interpretation of holy writ, thus sanctioning poetic space for himself and for the royal readers, Marot assigns to Francis a Christological role as defender of humanism. Ahmed's close reading of this epistle, penned in the aftermath of the affaire des placards, contrasts Marot's own slippery confession of faith with his consistent portrait of the king as representative of Catholic orthodoxy.
After constructing a variety of pastoral incarnations of Francis in his rustic works, Marot effects the monarch's ultimate transformation from poet-God-Pan to poet-king-prophet David. The "felicitous completion of a poetic design" (53), the 1541 dedication of the psalm translations to the "Most Christian" Francis refashions the princely identity according to a humanist theology, grounding the monarch's virtue not only in his faith, but also in his enlightened learning. Commemoration of the bond between the French king and the Hebrew king announces David's role as a prophet revealing figures of Christ. Ahmed finds that Marot's "competitive bravura" (59) may in fact lie in humanist efforts to explain Christ's presence in the Old Testament, espousing a complex interpretation of the Psalms that is both historical and figurative, a position between that of Lefèvre and Erasmus on the one hand, and Calvin and Luther on the other. Ahmed maintains that "the combination of their religious thoughts in his depiction of Francis ironically defies the meaning some of these humanist thinkers had of kingship and yields a complex portrait of the monarch — one painted by a poet en mouvement" (64).
Ahmed offers this compact, thoroughly-researched study to specialists and to those familiar with Marot and his age, aptly situating his argument in the context of...