Les Oeuvres. Guillaume COQUILLART.
Les Oeuvres.
Les Oeuvres.
Les Oeuvres.
Law clerks after hours

Les Oeuvres. Lyon: Benoist Rigaud, 1579.

16mo (118 x 72 mm). 256 pp. Roman type. Title woodcut of a convivial feast, woodcut initial. Tiny rust-hole in fol. E3, trifling foxing to title and second leaf. 19th-century red morocco gilt, sides panelled with triple fillet border and central gold-stamped arms of the Marquis de Coislin, spine gold-tooled and lettered, gilt edges (joints discreetly restored). Provenance: Pierre-Adolphe du Cambout (1801-1873), Marquis de Coislin, supra-libros; bookplate of Robert de Billy (1869-1953), friend of Proust; unidentified bookplate of 2 books. 

The last sixteenth-century edition of Coquillart’s satirical verse plays. Spoofing legalistic terminology, Coquillart’s monologues, dialogues and farces were written for performance by the associations of law clerks known as the Basoche, who mocked courtroom proceedings in comic plays that they performed for each other.

Included are seven plays, starting with Coquillart’s best known work, the Droictz nouveaulx, a monologue parodying a law book. A compilation of pseudo-legal cases, each presented under the title of a new law imposed by the royal court, it opens with a summoning of the audience, calling to all professions and walks of life to come watch the play  (Frisques mignons, bruyans enfans / Monde nouveau, gens triomphans / Peuple tout confit en images ... Touiours pensans, veiillans, songeans / A bastir quelque ouvrage ... Humains, courtoys, benins, sauvages / Dissimilateurs, inventeurs ... Laissez Bourgades & Villages / A fin d’estre noz auditeurs ...). Using Latin terms and juridical jargon, Coquillart drew on popular themes: the difficulties of conjugal life, mismatched marriages, randy priests, prostitutes and cheating merchants, making his plays accessible and funny even to the general public who may not have gotten all the in-jokes. In the Plaidoyer entre la Simple et la Rusée, and its sequel, the Enquete, two lawyers argue before a judge for the property rights of their respective clients, two women who claim the same man. The Blason des Armes et des dames debates the relative merits of princely devotion to war or to love, weapons and women arguing their cases in chorus. The final monologues relate seductions and mock fashionable Parisian nobs. Women and amorous intrigues provide a constant thread throughout Coquillart’s plays. Gay and Lemonnyer enthused that the sensitivity and breadth of his portrayal of the world of “les amoureux et les amoureuses” outranked that of any other poet.

“The Basoche of Paris was the professional community of law clerks attached to the Parlement of Paris, created in the fourteenth century. The law clerks had their own specific communal professional and cultural practices, among which literature and theatre took on a major role” (Bouhaik-Gironès, p. 159). The Basoche provided vocational training for its members, in part through mock trials, which were filled with wit and word play, while accurately reflecting judicial procedure and terminology, enabling participants to both improve their familiarity with court protocol and practice rhetorical skills. Thus “the literary and theatrical activity of the law clerks can be considered an extension of their didactic practices” (loc. cit., p. 178). Basochiens traditionally assembled for special festivals, such as at Mardi Gras, or the plantation of the May tree in the court of the Palais de Justice, and they also held regular performances of plays, wihich included music and dancing. “While professional entertainers, students and others also put on comic plays, the Basoche had a crucial influence on the development of satiric theater in medieval France” (Arden). Promoting a literary culture of carnivalesque political satire, the Basoche became, almost incidentally, one of the prime training grounds for playwrights and poets, and “many authors of the end of the fifteenth century and the beginning of the sixteenth century, and almost all the `men of the theatre,’ come from the social group of the lawyers” (Bouhaik-Gironès, p. 178). Their influence extended well beyond the medieval period, being the inspiration for a long tradition of French satirical dialogues couched as court cases and using mock-juridical language, often published in pamphlet form in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  

Coquillart was a lawyer in Paris before becoming a municipal official and canon in Reims. He is thought to have written his plays circa 1477-1480, soon after finishing his degree in canon law, when he presumably clerked in the Paris Parlement. Some of his plays may have been intended for the carnivals of 1478 and 1479. Coquillart wrote a vigorous and often bawdy French, inspired by Villon, characterized by colloquial turns of phrase and snappy dialogue, and by an overall gaiety that contrasted with the cynicism of some later poets associated with the Basoche, such as Pierre Gringore. 

Notwithstanding the significance of his oeuvre for the history of French theater, early editions of Coquillart’s plays are uncommon. Two fifteenth-century and a few early sixteenth-century editions of individual plays survive in one or two copies each. There were no doubt other editions, since lost, ephemeral publications used by performers and readers alike.  The earliest collected editions of Coquillart’s works were published under the title Droitz nouveaulx avec le debat des dames et des armes. An undated edition printed soon after 1512 by the widow Trepperel is the first recorded. The first edition to appear under the title Oeuvres was printed by Galliot du Pré in 1532; it was followed by at least 15 others, most published in Paris or Lyon in the 1530s and 1540s.  None survives in more than a handful of copies. The present edition is one of the better represented, with eight extant copies, including this one. Coquillart’s popularity dropped off precipitously after the 16th century, and he remained forgotten, with the exception of two eighteenth-century editions (one falsely dated 1597), before being rediscovered 100 years later.

According to OCLC, American libraries hold a total of five copies of any edition of his Oeuvres (including one copy of the present 1579 edition, at the Newberry), plus, at Harvard, an apparently unique 4-leaf Toulouse imprint from 1535, containing an excerpt from the Droicts nouveaux

Tchemerzine called this edition by Rigaud “bonne et rare,” speculating that it may have been copied directly from Galliot du Pré’s 1532 edition. Like all the editions based on Galliot du Pré’s it contains inconsistencies in the table of contents (on title verso): the last entry in the table is for Les petites oeuvres, not included; instead the last piece is the Monologue des Perrucques, which is incomplete, and which is listed in the table with the title Monologue du gendarme cassé.

USTC 11449; Tchemerzine II: 19 (citing this copy); Gay-Lemonnyer III: 488; Baudrier III: 351; Gültlingen XII: 946. Cf. Howard Graham Harvey, The Theatre of the Basoche (1941), 83-102; M. Bouhaik-Gironès, “The Basoche in the late Middle  Ages: a School of Technical Savoir-Faire,” in van Dixhoorn & Sutch, eds., The Reach of the Republic of Letters: Literary and Learned Societies in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe (2008), I:159-180; H. M. Arden, articles “Basoche” & “Coquillart,” in Medieval France: an Encyclopedia (1995), pp. 182 & 498; M. J. Freeman, “La Satire affectueuse dans les Droitz nouveaulx de Guillaume Coquillart,” Réforme, Humanisme, Renaissance 11(1980), 92-99; C. Pinet. “French Farce: Printing, Dissemination and Readership from 1500-1560,” Renaissance and Reformation, vol. 3, no. 2 (1979), 111–132.

Item #2910

Price: $7,500.00