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Photo of Professor Hugh Roberts

Professor Hugh Roberts

Professor of French Renaissance Literature


01392 724226

My interests span various unconventional areas of French literature and thought. I teach a wide range of French literature and philosophy, to explore how major figures through the ages broke out of the rut to challenge complacent ways of thinking. I do research on similar issues, focusing on the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.

Latest publication freely available through Open Access: 'An exiled poet adapts Plato: Théophile de Viau’s Traité de l’immortalité de l’âme and the Phaedo'International Journal of the Classical Tradition (2021) - I study how the notorious early seventeenth-century poet Théophile de Viau reinvented Plato's celebrated dialogue concerning the immortality of the soul to the consternation and confusion of those who sought to censor and prosecute him. 

Current projects include teaching-led research into altered states of consciousness, including Descartes's dreams in a stove-heated room in Bavaria one night in 1619, when he believed God gave him all philosophy. 

I have ongoing interests in nonsense writing. Emily Butterworth and I were co-editors of Gossip and Nonsense in Renaissance France and England, a special issue of Renaissance Studies, 30 (2016), including our co-authored introduction and my Comparative Nonsense: French Galimatias and English Fustian, all part of our AHRC grant, Gossip and Nonsense: Excessive Language in Renaissance France (2012-15)

Related projects include work on the reception of ancient Cynicism, on the works of the early seventeenth-century comic actor known as Bruscambille, and on obscenity - my review article Obscenity in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century France is available from French Studies for free download.

Research interests

Disreputable, rebellious and nonsensical aspects of sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century French literature and thought.

Research Projects

Poetry on Trial: French Libertine Verse

Early seventeenth-century France witnessed an outpouring of collections of lewd or outrageous verse, which gave rise to one of the earliest obscenity trials in modern history, of the notorious poet Théophile de Viau (1590-1626), in 1623-25.

I held a Society for French Studies Prize Fellowship in 2019 to produce a digital critical edition of incriminated verses and corresponding trial records.

My first publication for the fellowship is freely available through Open Access:  'An exiled poet adapts Plato: Théophile de Viau’s Traité de l’immortalité de l’âme and the Phaedo'International Journal of the Classical Tradition (2021)

‘Poetry on Trial’ builds on an earlier project, funded by a British Academy Research Development (2010-13) held in collaboration with Professor Guillaume Peureux (Université Paris Nanterre), to edit poetry collections known as the recueils satyriques. Our edition of one of the earliest of these, Les Muses incognues (1604), was published by Honoré Champion in 2020.

Gossip and Nonsense: Excessive Language in Renassaance France

I was Principal Investigator for an an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) grant, Gossip and Nonsense: Excessive Language in Renaissance France (2012-15), in collaboration with Dr Emily Butterworth (Co-Investigator, King’s College London).

In addition to Gossip and Nonsense in Renaissance France and England, co-edited with Emily Butterworth, the project involved an ongoing collaboration with the artist Dominic Hills documented on our Gossip and Nonsense blog. A chapter on versions of Rabelais's nonsense in Renaissance England is coming out in The Edinburgh Companion to Nonsense in spring 2021.


With Dr Annette Tomarken (Honorary Research Fellow, University of Kent at Canterbury), I edited the complete works of Bruscambile, an early seventeenth-century French comedian and bestseller of his day.

I was awarded a Research Fellowship by the Leverhulme Trust (2009-10) and two Small Research Grants by the British Academy (2008-09) to pursue work on the edition. 

I have published a number of single and co-authored articles and chapters on Bruscambille, including on his nonsense and obscenity.

Obscenity in Renaissance France

Between 2007-2009, I was Principal Investigator for an AHRC-funded international research network on the notion of obscenity in Renaissance France. The network, which included some thirty researchers from the UK, USA, France, Switzerland and the Netherlands, gave rise to two major publications: Obscénités renaissantes, ed. by Hugh Roberts, Guillaume Peureux and Lise Wajeman (Geneva: Droz, 2011) and ObscenityEMF: Studies in Early Modern France, 14 (2010), ed. by Russell J. Ganim and Hugh Roberts (as guest editor).

Ancient Cynicism in Renaissance France

My research and teaching interests in French literature and philosophy, and more specifically projects on Bruscambile, obscenity and the reception of ancient philosophy, derive from my PhD, revised for publication as Dogs' Tales Representations of Ancient Cynicism in French Renaissance Texts (2006).   

Research supervision

I am happy to discuss research proposals on any subject relating to my research and teaching interests.

Research students

2012-16: Dr Anna Blaen, 'The theory and practice of comic sexual euphemism: a comparative study of English and French texts, c.1532-1616' (PhD), AHRC funded.

2010-12: Dr Catrin Francis, ‘The Politics of Appropriation in French Revolutionary Theatre’ (PhD awarded 2012; supervision by Professor Thomas Wynn, 2009-10).

2005-06: Dr Alice King, '"More faces than Proteus": The Genesis and evolution of the French Court Ballet 1581-1669' (supervised final year of PhD, following supervision by Dr Elizabeth Woodrough).

2009-10: Zara Green, MRes (co-supervised with Dr Sara Smart).

External impact and engagement

As part of 'Gossip and Nonsense: Excessive Language in Renaissance France' I am working with the artist Dominic Hills, who is re-interpreting French Renaissance obscenity and nonsense in visual form. For examples of Dominic Hills's art, see the gallery of the 'Gossip and Nonsense' blog.


My cultural teaching options embrace French literature and philosophy, including an introduction to French thought at first year, a second-year course, 'Provoking Thoughts: French Literature and Philosophy from the Renaissance to the Twentieth Century' and an ultimate module for finalists, 'Philosophers, Prophets and Mystics in French Culture' .

I also teach translation from and into French and curate a Spotify playlist of French and English songs, translated one way or the other, for some creative perspectives on teaching language through translation.

Modules taught

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