Claudine Jomphe, Les théories de la dispositio et le Grand Oeuvre de Ronsard. Paris: Honoré Champion, 2000. Pp. 410, incl. 3 appendices. ISBN 2- 7453-0262-0. Price not indicated.
Betine van Zyl Smit
University of the Western Cape
This book will be of interest especially to two categories of reader: those who are scholars of the 16th century French poet Ronsard, and those who are interested in the aspect of rhetoric known as dispositio.
The 'Grand Oeuvre' in the title of the work under review refers to Ronsard's epic poem La Franciade, of which the first four books appeared in 1572. In spite of Ronsard's avowed intention of creating a national epic for France, the work was never completed. The main theme of the poem, dedicated to king Charles IX, would be the foundation of the French nation, after many wanderings and warlike exploits, by Francus (also known as Francion, Astyanax or Scamander), son of the Trojan hero Hector. The parallels with the Aeneid are obvious. As in Book 6 of the Aeneid, the fourth book of the Franciade contains a revelation of future greatness, the names and deeds of great kings of France. But the forecast comes to an end with the rule of Pépin the Short. In the concluding quatrain the poet asserts that he cannot continue as Charles IX has died. The remaining books were never written and the grand design of the epic, like its hero, remained far from its goal.
Jomphe ascribes the summary and hostile attention of critics to the Franciade to its incompleteness. She nevertheless feels that it is worthwhile to analyse the structure of the four completed books as scholars have not devoted sufficient attention to Ronsard's epic design in the poem.
The first chapter of Jomphe's book deals with the theories of dispositio in ancient works on rhetoric. Dispositio (p. 27) is defined as the Latin term for the second of the five parts of rhetoric, namely the one that deals with the organization of discourse. The second chapter examines the works on poetics of Horace and writers of the Italian and French Renaissance, including Ronsard's own theoretical writings. The views of these writers on dispositio in epic and heroic poetry are analysed. Three aspects are highlighted: the opening of such a poem in medias res, the creation of suspense in the epic, and thirdly, unity and variety in the poem as a result of its structure.
After these two chapters devoted to theory, Jomphe in the third chapter undertakes an analysis of the Ronsardian epic structure. She investigates how the theory of dispositio revealed in the previous chapters is applied in the Franciade and to what degree the difficulties Ronsard experienced with his epic can be traced back to his lack of managing the dispositio of the epic as a whole. In particular she relates his failure to continue and conclude the epic (despite attempts at revision until the end of his life) to Ronsard's negligence in planning the integration of the distant, Trojan epic past of the poem with its historical elements (i.e. those concerning French history, past and contemporary). This hiatus between Francus and his future made the realization of the political purpose of the epic, to celebrate the glory of France, impossible.
In the concluding section Jomphe points out (p. 364) that this failure occurred in spite of the fact that Ronsard had sketched out a plan for his poem before he started writing it. However, he deviated from his plan. The subject matter of the first four books, Francus' dallying on Crete, is barely mentioned in the outline. Thus Ronsard's deviation from his planned dispositio may be a significant factor in the ultimate stagnation of the project.
Of the three appendices the first contains a summary of the Franciade, the second a comparison of the structure of the Franciade and Apollonius' Argonautica and the third sums up Ronsard's opinion of poems based on fantasy, such as Ariosto's Orlando Furioso and Deimer's reaction to this opinion. In addition the book contains two indices and a bibliography.
With this book, which was originally her doctoral dissertation, Jomphe makes a noteworthy contribution to the scholarship on the theory and practice of epic poetry.