French Literature

French Literature
  • French authors
  • Literature in the Middle Ages
  • Renaissance Literature
  • Classicist Literature
  • Rationalist Literature
  • 19th century Literature
  • 20th century Literature

The Middle Ages

The first works that began appearing recorded in French were epic stories told in verse form, called "chansons de geste". They were performed in aristocratic feudal courts by minstrels or troubadours called jongleurs or trouvèrs, who wandered from one town to the next. The subject matter of these stories was based mainly on courtly love and the heroic deeds of Christian knights.

Celtic folklore also provided the inspiration for many verse tales and stories during this time. A popular poet of the time, and a master at these verse tales was Chrétien de Troyes, who lived in the 12th century.

When the 12th century came to a close and made way for the new century, the fabliau, another kind of verse tale became increasingly popular. Consisting of shorter, simpler, realistic and sometimes coarse and ironic works, some of these tales were adapted and included by Geoffrey Chaucer, an English author, in his well-known work "The Canterbury Tales". Another popular collection of tales, rather more sophisticated, was the collection of tales known as "Le Roman de Renart" ("Reynard the Fox"). They were written by different authors, many of them unidentified.

In the 13th century the work that attained popularity was a verse allegory known as "Le Roman de la Rose" ("The Romance of the Rose"). The poem was written in parts, the first part having been created by Guillaume de Lorris while Jean de Meun completed the second part. This poem was so significant in that it provided very influential for later writers such as 14th century Guillaume de Machaut.

The popularity of poetry continued increasing and by the 15th century poetry contests with awards were held frequently. The most prominent lyric poet of the time was François Villon.

Theatre in medieval times was also mostly in verse and until the 13th century, performed only by clerics and main themes that were focused on were of a biblical nature. Secular theatre began emerging in that same century and continued throughout the subsequent centuries. By this time, plays were being acted out by laymen such as jongleurs and tradesmen.

Prose was used very little in these times. Literature consisted mainly of verse; however, historians would record events using accounts written in prose. These included accounts of the Crusades, the monarchy of the times and other events of the period.