Who was Rutebeuf?

We know very little about the poet named ‘Rutebeuf’ outside of his poetry. He is believed to be from the Champagne region in France and to have trained as cleric in Paris. He worked as a professional poet, often writing on commission, and the majority of his poetic output is dated between 1248 and 1272.

Rutebeuf was one of the earliest poets to write in the first-person voice and not on the subject of love. His strongly satirical and unique voice represents a personal and historical witness of his time. The abundant manuscript transmission of his texts is evidence of Rutebeuf’s contemporary popularity.  Like his contemporaries, Rutebeuf’s works were often transmitted in diverse text collections such as BNF fr. 837. Indeed, single-author manuscripts and autograph manuscripts (transcribed by the author) are not a common occurrence until the fourteenth century onwards.

The name Rutebeuf may not represent the poet’s real name, but could possibly represent a pseudonym for his poetic persona. Of the 56 texts attributed to him, he names himself in 15 of them. Whether the name ‘Rutebeuf’ is a creation or not, the author often exploited the pun embedded in the name and played with the false etymologies. You can see and hear an example of this here.

You can find out more about Rutebeuf’s author collection in BNF fr. 837 here.

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