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Evocations of Eloquence

Rhetoric, Literature and Religion in Early Modern France - Essays in Honour of Peter Bayley

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Edited By Nicholas Hammond and Michael Moriarty

This collection of essays by leading scholars from France, Great Britain and North America is published in honour of Peter Bayley, former Drapers Professor of French at the University of Cambridge and a leading scholar of early modern France. The volume reflects his scholarly interest in the interface between religion, rhetoric and literature in the period 1500–1800. The first three sections of the book are concerned with the early modern period. The contributors consider subjects including the eloquence of oration from the pulpit, the relationship between religion, culture and belief, and the role of theatre and ceremony during the seventeenth century. They engage with individuals such as the theologian Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet, the dramatists Molière, Racine and Corneille, and the philosophers Bayle and Pascal. The volume concludes with a section that is concerned with critical influences and contexts from the sixteenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Throughout, the authors offer stimulating new perspectives on an age that never ceases to intrigue and fascinate.

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Part I Eloquence of the Pulpit

Extract

John D. Lyons Bossuet and the Tragic Peter Bayley’s pioneering study, French Pulpit Oratory, brought renewed attention to one of the most popular and inf luential forms of literary crea- tion of the seventeenth century. Bayley asks, among other pertinent and rewarding questions, about the ‘imaginative and conceptual universe’ and the ‘dominant obsessions’ of these texts which were delivered viva voce to large congregations but also were printed, reprinted, and read in the fol- lowing centuries. Peter Bayley’s study directs our attention towards the passions of a public that appreciated ecclesiastical orators as Michel Le Faucheur, Jean Bertaut, and Jean Macé and later Fléchier, Massillon, and Bossuet. In their day, these and other preachers provided aesthetic experiences, as well as spiritual and social ones, to the great and the less great of Paris.1 It is an interesting coincidence that the most celebrated of these preachers, Jacques- Bénigne Bossuet, campaigned vehemently against another literary genre that of fered rival occasions for social and aesthetic encounters: tragedy. Like theatrical tragedy, ecclesiastical sermons gathered crowds at appointed times to witness the latest performance of renowned artists, as they gave voice to powerful texts that dealt with themes of considerable weight, such as the death of heroes, the power of kings, the snares of illusion and vanity, and the dangers of human presumption. For Bossuet the comparison of his sacred orations with the specious and corrupting spectacles of mere comédiens would surely not have been 1 Madame de Sévigné’s...

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