Professor Hugh Roberts

Research interests

Sixteenth and early seventeenth-century French literature and culture, including: obscenity, nonsense, comic texts, especially Bruscambille, the recueils satyriques, the reception of ancient Cynicism.

Research Projects

Gossip and Nonsense: Excessive Language in Renaissance France

In collaboration with Dr Emily Butterworth (Co-Investigator, King’s College London), I am Principal Investigator for an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) grant, ‘Gossip and Nonsense: Excessive Language in Renaissance France’ (2012-15).

The project will explore the uses of gossip and nonsense in French Renaissance texts. Investigating Renaissance gossip and nonsense in both well-known and less famous works, we aim to provide a unique perspective onto the past, an insight into part of our cultural heritage which would otherwise remain hidden. We shall also shed light on concerns of the present day as gossip and nonsense of course still play a part in everday life, ranging from the tabloids to incomprehensible official jargon.

Among my contributions to the project will be a monograph on French Renaissance nonsense writing and its functions, including social criticism, concealing dangerous political satire, the parodying of official discourses, especially law and medicine, and exploring absurd ideas for comic purposes. The grant also involves a monograph on gossip by Dr Butterworth, a PhD studentship, an international symposium and workshop which have led to a special issue of Renaissance Studies, 30 (2016), Gossip and Nonsense in Renaissance France and England, co-edited by Emily Butterworth and me, projects with the artists Dominic Hills and Clare Qualmann, a project website and a blog.

French Libertine Verse

With Professor Guillaume Peureux (Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense), I am running a British Academy Research Development Award, 'French Libertine Verse (c.1600-1622): A Pilot Project for Editing the "Recueils satyriques"' (2010-13).

Early seventeenth-century France witnessed an outpouring of collections of libertine verse, involving outrageous and pornographic poetry that gave rise to one of the earliest obscenity trials in modern history in 1623-25. Despite their manifold interest, access to these collections remains difficult. This project seeks to return these collections to prominence, by establishing a critical bibliography of the collections, by planning for a series of editions with Dr Julien Gœury (Université de Nantes) and Professor Jean Leclerc (University of Western Ontario), and by editing the first of our proposed series, Les Muses incognues (1604). 

Critical edition of Bruscambille

With Dr Annette Tomarken (Miami University of Ohio, retired), I am co-editor of the first critical edition of the works of the early seventeenth-century comedian known as Bruscambille.

The essence of these works consists in 115 printed speeches or ‘prologues' performed before the main event, to get the audience in the right mood. Ranging from nonsense to mock encomia - i.e. speeches in praise of typically under-valued things, including cuckolds, nothing, matches, farts, the numbers three and four, etc. - they are delivered with a rhetorical verve and encyclopedic frame of reference that are strongly reminiscent of Rabelais. A bestseller of their day, the prologues provide an unparalleled insight into what made French people laugh four hundred years ago and thereby into the underlying attitudes that made such humour possible.

I was awarded a Research Fellowship by the Leverhulme Trust (2009-10) and and two Small Research Grants by the British Academy (2008-09) to pursue work on the edition. Our edition has recently been published by Honoré Champion.

Obscenity in Renaissance France

Between 2007-2009, I co-ordinated an international research network funded by the AHRC on the notion of obscenity in Renaissance France. The network, which included some thirty researchers from the UK, USA, France, Switzerland and the Netherlands, has given rise to two major publications: Obscénités renaissantes, ed. by Hugh Roberts, Guillaume Peureux and Lise Wajeman (Geneva: Droz, 2011) [28 articles, 496 pp.] and 'Obscenity', EMF: Studies in Early Modern France, 14 (2010), ed. by Russell J. Ganim and Hugh Roberts (as guest editor) [12 articles, 219 pp.].


Research collaborations

I am also a participant in: 'La haine du théâtre', run by Professor François Lecercle and Dr Clotilde Thouret at the Sorbonne, and in FACEF (Fortunes et avatars de l'esprit facétieux entre France et Italie de la fin du Moyen Age à l'Age Classique), run by Professor Dominique Bertrand (Université Blaise Pascal, Clermont-Ferrand).