Journal Article

‘I speak like John about the Apocalypse’: Rabelais, Prophecy, and Fiction

Kathryn Banks

in Literature and Theology

Volume 26, issue 4, pages 417-438
Published in print December 2012 | ISSN: 0269-1205
Published online November 2012 | e-ISSN: 1477-4623 | DOI:
‘I speak like John about the Apocalypse’: Rabelais, Prophecy, and Fiction

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Can fictions ‘prophesy’? What relationship might they have to apocalypse, in the sense of both the end of the world and also revelation? These questions took on particular weight in the period of the Renaissance and Reformation, since both apocalyptic and prophetic discourses in general and also specifically poetic prophecy acquired renewed vigour. This essay, which is part of a larger project addressing these questions, explores them in relation to the comic fictions of François Rabelais. Rabelais's writing offers an insight into what could be done with ‘poetic’ prophecy in an apocalyptic age. At the same time, the essay seeks to show that analysing Rabelais from the angle of apocalypse and prophecy provides a useful approach to the perennial concerns in Rabelais studies with hermeneutics and epistemology. In particular it casts new light on the relationships between letter and spirit, and body and revelation. Rabelais's fictions point to the need for both writer and reader of fiction to move creatively between letter and spirit. They also indicate the intertwining of the body with truth-seeking, not only insofar as they co-exist at the banquet but also insofar as ‘revelation', such as it exists in the here and now of history, appears to be embodied. Finally, the essay provides fresh readings of the frozen words episode (Fourth Book, chapters 55–56) and of the prologue to Pantagruel.

Journal Article.  10645 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Religion and Art, Literature, and Music

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