The late 15th and early 16th cent. saw the flowering of the Renaissance in France. Three giants of world literature—François Rabelais, Pierre de Ronsard, and Michel Eyquem de Montaigne—towered over a host of brilliant but lesser figures in the 16th cent. Italian influence was strong in the poetry of Clément Marot and the dramas of Éstienne Jodelle and Robert Garnier. The poet Ronsard and the six poets known collectively as the Pléiade (see Pleiad) reacted against Italian influence to produce a body of French poetry to rival Italian achievement. The early 17th-century critic François de Malherbe attacked the excesses of the Pléiade ; his zeal for the correct choice of words has marked French literature ever since.
The civil and religious strife of the later 16th cent. was reflected clearly in the works of the period, particularly in the poetry of Théodore d'Aubigné, Guillaume de Bartas, and Jean de Sponde. The greatest prose of the period was produced in the fiction of the ebullient Rabelais and in the magnificent essays of Montaigne. Under the stable and prosperous Bourbon monarchy Paris became the glittering cultural center of Western civilization.
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