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Viau, Théophile de (1590-1626)  

The homosexuality of the French libertine Théophile de Viau must largely be inferred from his highly personal poetry.

De Viau was born in 1590 in Clairac into a Huguenot family that had recently been promoted to the ranks of the lesser nobility. During his youth, he studied medicine in Bordeaux and Holland; he also joined a troupe of traveling actors for whom he wrote plays.

During Théophile's short life, he suffered attacks--often politically motivated--for his libertine morals and scandalous poetry. Banished from Paris in 1619, he retreated to his family estate at Boussères where he wrote a free verse and prose translation of Plato's Treatise on the immortality of the soul or the death of Socrates, considered at the time to be a libertine text.

Accused by the Jesuit priest Father Garasse and various judges of filling his work with impious and dangerous libertine ideas, Théophile should nonetheless be understood not as a philosopher, but as a remarkable, albeit free thinking, poet.

Brought back to Paris by the King at the request of his favorite, the Duke de Luynes, he gained fame as a major court poet. In 1621, he published the first volume of his Works, which established him as the leading poet of his day.

Although Théophile converted to Catholicism in 1622 for political reasons, Father Garasse accused him of leading a band of atheists and called him the king of libertines. Convicted in August 1623 of the crime of lèse-majesté divine, Théophile was condemned to the stake but burned only in effigy.

Then in September 1623, he was arrested and imprisoned in the Conciergerie where he would remain for almost two years until finally cleared of the charges against him. Théophile was nonetheless banished forever from the kingdom of France, as was the Jesuit father Voisin, one of his chief adversaries. This judgment, while almost constituting an absolution for the poet, nevertheless marks the end of the flamboyant libertine movement.

On his release, Théophile went into hiding, staying with one friend and then another; in December, he left Paris with the Duke of Montmorency, who was rejoining his regiment near La Rochelle. Then, on September 25, 1626, at the age of thirty-six, Théophile died in Paris at the home of his influential protector, the Duke of Montmorency.

Although his penchant for male lovers is generally acknowledged, Théophile's homosexuality and indeed all of his intimate relationships remain largely a matter of inference drawn from his highly personal poetry. His contemporary Tallement des Réaux refers to Jacques la Vallée des Barreaux as Théophile's widow, thus indicating that their physical relationship was common knowledge at the time.

Father Garasse labels the group of writers, young noblemen, and bourgeois gathered around Théophile "beaux esprits," to suggest their free sexual mores as well as their free thinking.

Théophile's verse is a poetry of ideas, inspired by Montaigne, Epicurus, Lucretius, Giulio Vanini, Horace, Pliny, and Seneca, all of whom were considered libertine thinkers. His credo, "follow Nature's law," takes on added resonance when natural inclination leads the lover outside relationships condoned by the Church.

Advocating "the total enjoyment of one's limited time on earth in a spirit of generosity," Théophile gives full rein to sexual passion, seeing it as a major source of pleasure. Equally important is his conviction that poetry should be the sincere, personal expression of the poet's own experience and feelings, a belief that informs all of his work.

Théophile's poetry is noted for its rich imagery, vivid representation of nature, mythological allusions, and powerful evocations of sensuality. His verse frequently celebrates physical beauty and pleasure in ways that transgress gender boundaries.

Among his cabaret poems, for example, "Par ce doux appétit des vices," addressed to the Duke of Buckingham, and "Marquis, comment te portes tu?" posit sexual contact between men with a spirit of camaraderie and urbanity. Homosexual love is also occasionally the subject of witty and intense epigrams, such as "Philandre sur la maladie de Thyrsis."

With some eighty-eight editions of his work appearing between 1621 and 1696, he was the most frequently published poet in seventeenth-century France. At once conscious of both his common humanity and his own distinct individuality, Théophile is a major seventeenth-century French poet. The critical role he played in the libertine movement, the surprisingly modern esthetic of his work, and its vast generic range mark him as a particularly rich figure in the patrimony of gay writers.

Kathleen Collins-Clark


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Adam, Antoine. Théophile de Viau et la libre pensée française en 1620. Paris: Droz, 1935.

Collins-Clark, Kathleen. "Théophile de Viau and the Echo of Distant Voices." Les Actes de Las Vegas. Tuebingen: Biblio 17, 1991. 109-114.

Duchêne, Roger, ed. Théophile de Viau, Actes du Colloque du CMR 17: Papers on French Seventeenth Century Literature. Tuebingen: Biblio 17, 1991.

Gaudiani, Claire. The Cabaret Poetry of Théophile de Viau. Tuebingen: Gunter Narr Verlag, 1981.

Gautier, Théophile. Les Grotesques. Paris: Desessatt, 1844.

Lachèvre, Frédéric. Le libertinage au XVIIe siècle, vol 1. Paris: Champion, 1909.

_____. Le Procès du poète Théophile de Viau. Publication intégrale des pièces inédites des Archives natinales. 2 vols. Geneva: Slatkine, 1968.

Rizza, Cecilia. "Place et fonction de la mythologie dans l'univers poétique de Théophile de Viau." La Métamorphose dans la poésie baroque française et anglaise: Variations et resurgences. Tuebingen: Gunter Narr, 1980. 255-264.

Saba, Guido. Fortunes et infortunes de Théophile de Viau: historie de la critique suivie d'une bibliographie. Paris: Klincksieck, 1997.

Viau, Théophile de. Oeuvres Complètes. Guido Saba, ed. 4 vols. Paris: Librairie A.G. Nizet, 1979-1987.


    Citation Information
    Author: Collins-Clark, Kathleen  
    Entry Title: Viau, Théophile de  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated July 24, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
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    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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