The Return of Martin Guerre

by

Natalie Zemon Davis

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Jean de Coras was a lawyer and university professor who served as a judge when the case of Martin Guerre was tried at the Parlement of Toulouse, the most powerful court near the village of Artigat. He later wrote one of the best-known accounts of the case, the Arrest Memorable (1561), which Davis describes as an “innovative” book that encompasses multiple genres. Coras was well-positioned to write a book like this. He was not only a law professor whose lectures drew large crowds, but he also had personal experience with the law himself: after his mother died, she left him her property, and Coras sued his father for access to the inheritance. He was very fond of his wife, to whom he wrote long love letters, and became increasingly interested in the Protestant cause. Davis suggests that all this might have meant that Coras had reason to be sympathetic to Arnaud du Tilh, who was probably Protestant, had appeal as a romantic hero, and tried to use the law to assert his rights. And indeed, Coras does write the story of the case in a way that sometimes casts Arnaud in a positive light: he describes the story as “a tragedy for this fine peasant” that “makes it hard to tell the difference between tragedy and comedy.” Davis points out that it is very unusual for someone at that time to conceive of a case involving peasants as a “tragedy,” suggesting that Coras could see a tragic narrative even among people of low social status. Coras died in the St Bartholomew Day’s Massacre of 1572, in which many French Protestants were killed.

Jean de Coras Quotes in The Return of Martin Guerre

The The Return of Martin Guerre quotes below are all either spoken by Jean de Coras or refer to Jean de Coras. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Identity and Property Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Harvard University Press edition of The Return of Martin Guerre published in 1983.
Chapter 10 Quotes

Lawyers, royal officers, and would-be courtiers knew all about self-fashioning—to use Stephen Greenblatt’s term—about the molding of speech, manners, gesture, and conversation that helped them to advance, as did any newcomer to high position in the sixteenth century. Where does self-fashioning stop and lying begin?

Related Characters: Arnaud du Tilh, Jean de Coras
Related Symbols: The Carnival Mask
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

The originality of Coras’s vision of this peasant story should be stressed. The French tragicomedy ended happily and used aristocratic figures for its leading personages. […] That Coras could conceive of “a play of tragedy between persons of low estate” depended on his being able to identify himself somewhat with the rustic who had remade himself.

Related Characters: Arnaud du Tilh, Jean de Coras
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:

In Coras’s “comitragic” version…one can approve the cuckolding of the once impotent and now faraway husband. Here Arnaud du Tilh becomes a kind of hero, a more real Martin Guerre than the hard-hearted man with the wooden leg. The tragedy is more in his unmasking than in his imposture.

Page Number: 113
Explanation and Analysis:
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Jean de Coras Character Timeline in The Return of Martin Guerre

The timeline below shows where the character Jean de Coras appears in The Return of Martin Guerre. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 8
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
...Toulouse, the most powerful court in the region. One of the judges was Jean de Coras, a lawyer who would later write the definitive account of the case. The judges were... (full context)
The Nature of Evidence Theme Icon
...aged. What increasingly counted was not the quantity of witnesses, but their quality and credibility. Coras undertook a systematic investigation of the witnesses, but found himself “perplexed” by the lack of... (full context)
Women, Honor, and Power Theme Icon
The Nature of Evidence Theme Icon
Coras increasingly leaned towards ruling in favor of the defendant. Bertrande had a reputation as an... (full context)
Chapter 10
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
After the trial, both Coras and another Toulouse lawyer, Guillaume Le Sueur, began writing their version of events. Le Sueur... (full context)
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
Coras had personal experience with the law. After his mother died, she left him her property,... (full context)
Identity and Property Theme Icon
Although Coras was initially sympathetic to Arnaud, he eventually realized his mistake. Even so, he remained fascinated... (full context)
Chapter 11
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
...suggesting that there was significant appetite for news about the case. By contrast, Davis describes Coras’s Arrest Memorable, published in the same year, as an “innovative” book. Although the book resembles... (full context)
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
This “new use of a traditional form” allowed Coras to play with the relationship between “text” and “annotation.” Unlike a conventional legal commentary, which... (full context)
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
Davis suggests that Coras used the case to comment on ideas and issues that mattered to him, such as... (full context)
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
Coras’s Arrest Memorable mounts arguments for and against the accused. For example, he calls Arnaud the... (full context)
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
In the 1565 edition, Coras adds a description of Arnaud’s confession at Artigat. His annotation describes the story as “a... (full context)
Chapter 12
The Nature of Evidence Theme Icon
...of a news pamphlet—it became more legendary, and the facts got increasingly muddled. By contrast, Coras’s book proved immensely popular, and was re-printed frequently throughout the sixteenth century and translated into... (full context)
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
...read it as a “marvelous” and “prodigious” popular legend. Davis notes that people frequently bound Coras’s book with other books about the case, and that it sometimes appeared alongside accounts of... (full context)
Epilogue
Narrative and Authority Theme Icon
...villagers would retell the story for many generations to come. They almost certainly heard about Coras’s famous book, and the story became local legend. Even in the late twentieth century, when... (full context)