Who provided the relatively rare sustained literary representations of peasants in the sixteenth century? And how if at all did the social position of the writer affect the representation? The question will be explored through the collection of imaginary ‘rustic dialogues’ written by Noël Du Fail. Sometimes valued, including by historians, as a witness to peasant life and even experience, the collection looks different if interpreted in the light of the author’s position as a minor noble. Key dimensions of the work—festivity, humour, rhetoric, language, morality—will be examined in this light. To test the conclusions, writings by lower-born authors will be briefly considered too. Overall, the case of Du Fail will be used to raise the wider question of who speaks for whom in Renaissance cultural representations, and why that matters.
Neil Kenny is Professor of French at the University of Oxford and Senior Research Fellow at All Souls College, Oxford. (Faculty profile.)