- Sotise à huit personnaiges (Le Nouveau Monde)
The Bibliothèque nationale de France's Gallica site allows one to download in the blink of an eye a digitized copy of the very text — all 3.73 MB in sixteen seconds with a high speed connection, to be exact — of the Sotise à huit personnaiges on which the critical edition under review is based, and for free. This accounts, however, for less than a quarter of what the attentive reader can access from Olga Anna Duhl's magisterial new edition of an (admittedly minor) bit of early sixteenth century political theater. Author of an earlier Droz study of a closely related late medieval genre (Folie et rhétorique dans la sottie, 1994), Duhl turns to an example of something of a hybrid — unusual by its title, structure, and content, comprising as it does elements of the sottie, the moralité, and the political and religious pamphlet — published in Paris between 1510 and 1512 but composed and performed in Toulouse a few years earlier. The work has been variously ascribed to such noted rhétoriqueurs as Jean Bouchet, Pierre Gringore, and André de La Vigne, all of whom Duhl considers carefully before arguing cautiously but persuasively in favor of not so much a conclusive attribution as of a "new hypothesis" and "new line of inquiry": the Sotise à huit personnaiges as an anonymous, perhaps collaborative, and above all imitative artifact of the Basoche and the University of Toulouse, likely stitched together by some such local poetizing notable as Blaise d'Auriol.
The Sotise has not seen a modern edition since its collection in Émile Picot's three volume Recueil général des sotties of 1902-12. It is a bit of an exaggeration to claim surprise, as Duhl does, that this work has not been reedited in the hundred years since. From a bibliographic and bibliophilic perspective, the much more [End Page 177] congenial, and arguably more influential, French medieval farces themselves have only been getting the modern dusting off and editorial attention they deserve in the last few decades: for example, André Tissier's multivolume Recueil de farces, 1450-1550 for Droz. But what editor has not been moved to take umbrage at the shadows in which his or her pet project has been allowed to languish? All the more so when that editor has been as thorough, not to say relentless, in explicating every facet of a work as Duhl has been. Her 155-page introduction includes the expected history and contextualization of the Sotise, most valuable for its rehearsal of the "gallican" religious and political polemics of Louis XII's reign, to which, Duhl leads us to understand, this is a clever and barbed contribution. It also includes a detailed working through of the plot and of the allegorical characters. Briefly, our old, melancholic World is first hypnotized by Abuse, then destroyed by Abuse's six Sots, or Fools, representing the traditional "estates": clergy, nobility, the third estate — in the triplicate incarnation of corrupt lawyer, deceitful merchant, and ignorant peasant — and, finally, women. The new World they attempt to construct in its place on a foundation of vices traditionally associated with each estate ultimately collapses in the general struggle of the five male sots to win the favors of the female sotte, all "incapable," as Duhl glosses, "of subordinating their erotic desire to the requirements of the feudal code" (66). A revived old World returns to sermonize on the dangers of all abuses. Duhl's intricate analysis is critical to grasping the satirical intent, particularly the daring ad hominem attacks on Louis XII's minister and papal legate Cardinal Georges d'Amboise, and on the papacy of Jules II.
The introduction also offers metrical analysis of each constituent part of the Sotise, and even a lengthy survey of its grammatical and lexical characteristics as representative of late medieval French usage. Thorough annotation follows the text proper, as does an extensive glossary. More frivolous readers might...