|French literary history|
His name is not mentioned by his contemporaries. He frequently plays in his verse on the word Rutebeuf, which was a nom de plume, and is variously explained by him as derived from rude boeuf and rude oeuvre ("coarse ox" or "rustic piece of work").
Paulin Paris thought that he began life in the lowest rank of the minstrel profession as a jongleur (juggler and musician). Some of his poems have autobiographical value. In Le Mariage de Rutebeuf ("The Marriage of Rutebeuf") he writes that on 2 January 1261 he married a woman old and ugly, with neither dowry nor amiability. In the Complainte de Rutebeuf he details a series of misfortunes that had reduced him to abject destitution. In these circumstances he seeks relief from Alphonse, comte de Poitiers, brother of Louis IX.
Other poems in the same vein reveal that his miserable circumstances were chiefly due to a love of play, particularly a game played with dice; which was known as griesche. It would seem that his distress could not be due to lack of patrons; for his metrical Life of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary was written by request of Erard de Valery, who wished to present it to Isabel, queen of Navarre; and he wrote elegies on the deaths of Anceau de l'Isle Adam, the third of the name, who died about 1251, Eudes, comte de Nevers (died 1267), Theobald II of Navarre (died 1270), and Alphonse, comte de Poitiers (d. 1271), which were probably paid for by their families. In the Pauvreté de Rutebeuf ("The Poverty of Rutebeuf"), he directly addresses Louis IX.
The piece that is most obviously intended for popular recitation is the Dû de L'Herberie ("Debt of the Herb Garden"), a dramatic monologue in prose and verse supposed to be delivered by a quack doctor. Rutebeuf was also a master in the verse conte (narrative verse), and the five of his fabliaux (fables) that have come down to us are light and amusing. The matter, it may be added, is coarse. The adventures of Frere Denyse le cordelier (Brother Dennis of the Order of the Cordeliers—Franciscans, who wore a rope belt, were nicknamed Cordeliers in France), and of "la dame qui alla trois fois autour du moutier" ("the lady who went around the monastery three times") find a place in the Cent Nouvelles nouvelles ("One Hundred Short Stories").
Rutebeuf's best work is his satires and verse contes. Rutebeuf's work as a satirist probably dates from about 1260. His chief topics are the iniquities of the friars, and the defence of the secular clergy of the University of Paris against their encroachments. He delivered a series of eloquent and insistent poems (1262, 1263, 1268, 1274) exhorting princes and people to take part in the Crusades. He was a champion of the University of Paris in its quarrel with the religious orders who were supported by Pope Alexander IV. He defended Guillaume de Saint-Amour when he was driven into exile.
The libels, indecent songs and rhymes condemned by the Pope to be burnt together with the Perils des derniers temps attributed to Saint-Amour, were probably the work of Rutebeuf. The satire of Renart le Bestourné, which borrows from the Reynard cycle little but the names under which the characters are disguised, was directed, according to Paulin Paris, against Philip the Bold. His religious poems, and also the Voie de Paradis ("The Way to Heaven"), the description of a dream, in the manner of the Roman de la Rose came in his later years.
La Miracle de Théophile
A miracle play of his, Le Miracle de Théophile, is one of the earliest dramatic pieces extant in French. The subject of Theophilus of Adana was a familiar one to the storytellers of the Middle Ages. It described the Cilician monk who made a pact with the devil and was saved by the intervention of the Virgin. This subject had been treated dramatically in the Latin piece ascribed to the nun Hroswitha of Gandersheim, but his piece has importance in dramatic history.
- Rustebuefs Gedichte; Wolfenbüttel, 1885
- Hist. lit. de la France (1842), vol. xx. pp. 71–83
- Rutebeuf (1891) in the Grands Ecrivains français Series