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satire, Boaistuau, Théâtre du monde


Le Théâtre du monde [Theater of the World] (1558) of Pierre Boaistuau was an encyclopedic compilation in three books presenting a litany of vices and miseries in human life; the book proved to be an early modern “bestseller” and was reproduced in many editions and translations across Europe. Boaistuau, the first editor of the tales of Marguerite de Navarre, also edited other story collections, besides investigating religious matters, early modern science and medicine including prodigies and monsters, and other developing forms of knowledge. The Théâtre du monde manifested topoi including the theatrum mundi with its vast spectacle displayed for the reader, as well as the contemptus mundi in the portrayal of vices and miseries; the miseria hominis topos found its counterpart in Boaistuau’s Bref discours de l’excellence et la dignité de l’homme (1558) with its corresponding topos of the dignitas hominis. Rather than striving for originality, the compilator borrowed authority and legitimacy from patristic and humanist sources through imitatio, erudite sources that were evident or disguised. Drawing on a range of scholarly perspectives on satire including its early modern forms, we find that Boaistuau’s satire emerged through critiques of elements of society both religious and secular, through evocation of human corruption and wretchedness, and through the conventional invective and moral purpose being subverted by fascination for the spectacle, accompanied by subtle disillusionment emerging from a sense of the absurd.