Figuring melancholy: from Jean de Meun to Moliere, via Montaigne, Descartes, Rotrou and Corneille

by Mertz-Weigel, Dorothee

Abstract (Summary)
To examine how melancholy has been represented in French writing from the medieval period to the seventeenth century, this dissertation attempts to compare its depiction in literary works with contemporary original medical texts. The historical knowledge of the periods in question is used as a tool in order to seek to understand the literature, or literary discourse, in a fuller way, and to situate it more clearly in the evolving context of both medical and literary practices with respect to the concept of melancholy and its transformation. Melancholy appeared as an illness of the upper-class, and the writers of the thirteenth to the seventeenth century chosen for this study were writing primarily for this particular audience. In chapter one, the study of descriptions of melancholy and related states in the Roman de la rose, as well as fabliaux and nouvelles of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, suggests that humor and divertissement, or entertainment, are indispensable for the good health of human beings. Without them, people risk becoming melancholic. Chapter two explores how Montaigne, through his study of human nature and thanks to melancholy, discovers that mind and body need to be kept together at all times when portraying or studying man. If this is not respected, man can become a “fool,” which can lead to melancholy. Chapter three examines how for Descartes, melancholy is the illness which best represents man’s weakness, its seat being the very union of body and soul. In chapter four, I argue that the medical and literary knowledge about melancholy discovered in the first chapters is synthesized in the comedies chosen. The authors studied here use melancholy to understand, define, represent, in other words, to figure human nature, and examine human weaknesses at a deeper level than does any other disease. This illness can be countered by “entertaining” the mind, and consequently can be treated with laughter and entertainment, which prove to be the best remedy against it, according to many sources. Intrinsically, without being aware of it, the authors of melancholy produced a unique kind of literature, crossing over traditional literary genres.
Bibliographical Information:


School:The Ohio State University

School Location:USA - Ohio

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:melancholy and french literature from the medieval times to seventeenth century comparative studies of medical texts literary on as link a new genre


Date of Publication:01/01/2005

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