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The politics and poetics of down-and-outs

Politique et poétique du gueux

Rogues and picaros in medieval and renaissance Spain and England

Rogues et pícaros dans l’Espagne et l’Angleterre médiévales et renaissantes

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Published on Wednesday, June 23, 2021


Within Western literature, the picaresque was quickly perceived as a “historically and geographically delimited tradition” specific to Spain during the Golden Age, a genre apart from the rest, almost without precedent. Going against this common misconception, recent studies have reminded us of the importance of the Apuleian and Lucian origins of this ‘new’ narrative formula. The wily beggar thus seems the prodigal son of the Ancients. Shouldn't we therefore extend the reflection and, at the very least, reconsider the scientific cliché that sees in this character the perfect (dissident) example of the Renaissance hero? Didn't the Middle Ages also contribute to the creation of the cunning rogue?


International Conference in Poitiers (France), 13-14 October 2022


Moreover, on the Iberian peninsula, where Lazarillo was born on the banks of the Tormès River, it would not be surprising to find some precursors of this early modern antihero. What about the influential character of the insubordinate, who, whether  against the monarch or his various institutional arms, found an interesting echo? The Cid Campeador, on whom Corneille drew inspiration in France, is certainly one of the most striking figures of the South European Middle Ages, in the continuity of Achilles against Agamemnon and, closer to him, of Renaud de Montauban against Charlemagne.

In England, the academic debate invites us to question the plurality of picaresque metamorphoses. At the turn of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Robert Greene's conny-catching pamphlets, which detailed the fraudulent activities of cozeners, were a great success. Thomas Nashe’s The Unfortunate Traveller was considered as a picaresque novel. With the characters of Falstaff in King Henry IV and Autolycus in The Winter's  Tale, Shakespeare portrayed a number of endearing rogues whose notion of honour was reminiscent of the paradoxical ethos of the pícaro, “the exemplary embodiment of anti- honour”. Many of these fictional figures are heirs to the Greek mètis, to the ruses of the Baron de Maupertuis, translated by William Caxton in 1481 as The History of Reynard the Fox, and to early Spanish picaresque novels. The question is how the picaresque novel “grafted itself in England on the national tradition (that of the beggar books and Thomas Nashe's Jack Wilton), which it inflected in the direction of anathema against vice”.

The marginal characters known respectively as rogues and pícaros have already been the subjects of various academic studies, yet separately. The perspective envisaged here proposes to compare them and place them in dialogue, in order to question the creation, circulation and evolution of literary models from one period to another (Middle Ages and Renaissance) and from one country to another (Spain and England). One may thus wonder what these fictional representations tell us about the society in which they acted, about its socio-political choices on the one hand, and about the expectations and answers of readers and spectators on the other. One may wonder whether (and/or how) rogues find their places in society or how they stand out from it, and where the author stand especially in a socio-political context in which conformism and utopianism often intersect.

When do these specific terms, ‘rogues’ and ‘pícaros’, appear and why precisely at this point? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first occurrence of ‘rogue’ dates back to 1489, meaning “idle vagrant, vagabond”, but the meaning changes in 1568, when it begins to designate “a dishonest, unprincipled person; a rascal, a scoundrel”; the English language appropriated the term ‘pícaro’ in 1622, as a synonym of ‘rogue, scoundrel”. However, these two terms, which are not exactly synonymous, do not cover a similar reality. Do borrowings exist from one country to another, thus  preserving the specificity of each term? When were the various works (popular pamphlets, prose ballads, stories, plays) that represent them translated from English to Spanish or from Spanish to English? What did these translations target? For example, why is there a gap of about twenty-four years between the publication of Mateo Alemán's Guzmán de Alfarache and its translation by James Mabbe? How did the representation of the notion of anti-honour evolve? Why did Richard Head take up the picaresque vein at the time of the Restoration with The English Rogue and not earlier? These are some of the questions this conference aims at answering.

Submission guidelines

Proposals (300 words maximum for the abstract + a written bio-biblio of 200 words maximum + please specify if you are interested in having your paper published) should be sent

before late August 2021

to pierre.darnis@u-bordeaux-montaigne.fr and pascale.drouet@univ-poitiers.fr


13-14 October 2022

University of Poitiers, Centre for Advanced Studies in Medieval Civilisation - UMR 7302 (Hôtel Berthelot, 24 rue de la Chaîne, Poitiers, France – https://cescm.labo.univ-poitiers.fr)

Conference Organizers

  • Pierre DARNIS (University of Bordeaux 3, AMERIBER – EA 3656)
  • Pascale DROUET (University of Poitiers, CESCM - UMR 7302)

Scientific committee

  • William C. CARROLL (Boston University, USA)
  • Michel CAVILLAC (University of Bordeaux Montaigne)
  • Pierre DARNIS (University of Bordeaux Montaigne)
  • Pascale DROUET (University of Poitiers)
  • Gordon MCMULLAN (King's College London, England)
  • Valentín NUÑEZ RIVERA (Université de Huelva, Espagne)
  • Fabrice QUERO (University of Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3)


  • Poitiers, France (86)


  • Tuesday, August 31, 2021


  • littérature occidentale, marginalité, Espagne, Angleterre, Moyen Âge, Renaissance


  • Pierre Darnis
    courriel : pierre [dot] darnis [at] u-bordeaux-montaigne [dot] com
  • Pascale Drouet
    courriel : pascale [dot] drouet [at] univ-poitiers [dot] fr

Information source

  • Vanessa Ernst-Maillet
    courriel : vanessa [dot] ernst [dot] maillet [at] univ-poitiers [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« The politics and poetics of down-and-outs », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, June 23, 2021, https://calenda.org/888835

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