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‘I speak like John about the Apocalypse’: Rabelais, Prophecy, and Fiction

Banks, Kathryn

‘I speak like John about the Apocalypse’: Rabelais, Prophecy, and Fiction Thumbnail



Can fictions ‘prophesy’? What relationship might they have to apocalypse, in the sense of both the end of the world and also revelation? These questions took on particular weight in the period of the Renaissance and Reformation, since both apocalyptic and prophetic discourses in general and also specifically poetic prophecy acquired renewed vigour. This essay, which is part of a larger project addressing these questions, explores them in relation to the comic fictions of François Rabelais. Rabelais's writing offers an insight into what could be done with ‘poetic’ prophecy in an apocalyptic age. At the same time, the essay seeks to show that analysing Rabelais from the angle of apocalypse and prophecy provides a useful approach to the perennial concerns in Rabelais studies with hermeneutics and epistemology. In particular it casts new light on the relationships between letter and spirit, and body and revelation. Rabelais's fictions point to the need for both writer and reader of fiction to move creatively between letter and spirit. They also indicate the intertwining of the body with truth-seeking, not only insofar as they co-exist at the banquet but also insofar as ‘revelation', such as it exists in the here and now of history, appears to be embodied. Finally, the essay provides fresh readings of the frozen words episode (Fourth Book, chapters 55–56) and of the prologue to Pantagruel.


Banks, K. (2012). ‘I speak like John about the Apocalypse’: Rabelais, Prophecy, and Fiction. Literature and Theology, 26(4), 417-438.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Dec 4, 2012
Deposit Date Feb 28, 2012
Publicly Available Date May 7, 2014
Journal Literature and Theology
Print ISSN 0269-1205
Electronic ISSN 1477-4623
Publisher Oxford University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 26
Issue 4
Pages 417-438


Accepted Journal Article (576 Kb)

Copyright Statement
This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in Literature and Theology following peer review. The definitive publisher-authenticated version Kathryn Banks (2012) ‘I speak like John about the Apocalypse’: Rabelais, Prophecy, and Fiction, Literature and Theology, 26 (4): 417-438 is available online at:

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