14.02.18, O'Sullivan and Shepard, eds., Shaping Courtliness

Main Article Content

William D. Paden

The Medieval Review 14.02.18

O' Sullivan, Daniel E. and Laurie Shepard. Shaping Courtliness in Medieval France: Essays in Honor of Matilda Tomaryn Bruckner. Gallica, 28. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2013. Pp. xii, 297. ISBN: 978-1-84384-335-1.

Reviewed by:
William D. Paden
Northwestern University

This rich collection of essays mirrors Matilda Bruckner's broad interests. Centered in medieval French literature, it extends to Occitan (see Poe and O'Sullivan, below) and Italian (Shepard). It focuses on romance and lyric, but extends to history (Haidu, Maddox, Bossy, Schenck), conduct books (Margolis, Burns), lais (Whalen, Doggett) and bestiaries (Regalado). It centers on the twelfth century but extends to the thirteenth (Maddox, Burr, Vitz, Shepard), fourteenth (Regalado), and fifteenth (Bossy, Grimbert). Authors whose works are examined include Thomas of England, Chrétien de Troyes, and Marie de France in the twelfth century; Raoul de Houdenc, Guillaume de Lorris, Na Lombarda, Guiraut Riquier, Guittone d'Arezzo, and Guido Guinizelli in the thirteenth; Richard de Fournival in the fourteenth; and Christine de Pizan in the fifteenth. Among anonymous works discussed are the twelfth-century Roman de Thèbes, thirteenth-century Marian lyrics in Occitan and the French Ordene de chevalerie, and from the fifteenth century the Conte du Papegau and the Burgundian prose Cligés. The editors have arranged the contributions in categories concerning courts, courtly narrative, women's voices, and the other.

Part I. "Shaping Real and Fictive Courts"

Peter Haidu ("A Perfume of Reality? Desublimating the Courtly," 25-45) lodges a robust objection to idealizing visions of the court and courtliness. His perspective is Althusserian, his tone militant. The court is "the body of the king's advisors" (31), a courtyard, a judicial process, the building that housed that process, and an occasion. What happened on such an occasion was talk, parlemen. Haidu reads the Roman de Thèbes as an analogue to the English civil war between Stephen and Matilda in 1135-1154, which resulted in the reign of Henry II, at whose court the poem was presumably composed. The episodes depicting courts range from private meetings to large assemblies; they produce collective decisions that vary in tone from peaceful agreement to severe criticism of the ruler. Turning to Champagne, Haidu examines a dispute over the fief of Possesse that was decided by a court in 1166. "Court concerned itself not only with table manners, social graces, the aesthetics of cultural production, or amorous refinements, but with the economic flow necessary to the elite life and power of the 'nobility,' maintaining legitimacy in its own eyes" (41). Finally, Haidu returns to England and the Domesday Book, interpreting its name as marking "hatred and fear of eternal punishment in endlessly increasing literate oppression," and as evidence of William the Conqueror's "insensate greed" (42). "Extraction of surplus-value constituted the class structure willfully created by the nobility, its self-reproductive violence producing resentment, resistance, sometimes revolt. Class antagonism was not an invention of the nineteenth century or Karl Marx" (42). For this reviewer, Haidu's Marxism seems anachronistic; if modernity is the "cultural pseudonym of capitalism," as Haidu says (29), do we not need a less doctrinaire analysis of the pre-modern? Nevertheless the stern reminder stands that the medieval court was founded in social, political, and economic reality.

Donald Maddox ("Shaping the Case: The Olim and the Parlement de Paris under King Louis IX," 47-59) applies the notion of case as an elementary narrative form (Jolles) to the acts of the Parlement de Paris. He finds parallels between those acts and literary works in several genres, expanding the range from the conte or nouvelle (Jolles) to literary narrative in general. Whereas the case in law carries punishment, the simple form in literature does not; a case from 1256, minus the punishment, would make a fabliau.

Michel-André Bossy ("Charles d'Orléans and the Wars of the Roses: Yorkist and Tudor Implications of British Library MS Royal 16 F ii," 61-80) examines a series of six illuminations in their literary and historical contexts. The manuscript was illustrated in two campaigns: in the early 1480s, under the Yorkist Edward IV, and then the 1490s, after the accession of the Tudor Henry VIII. It was intended for the prince of Wales, Henry's son, among other readers both Tudor and Yorkist. It contains lyric poems written in 1415-1439 by Charles d'Orléans, two arts of love, and a mirror for princes. Bossy constructs a parallax crossing from one political side to the other in their views of historical and literary events throughout the century. The illuminations follow the prince from boyhood to adolescence and apprenticeship in love, and end with him exercising responsibility among his counselors and at prayer. The study sheds light on the reception of Charles d'Orléans' poetry as part of the evolution of political and literary interests over the fifteenth century.

Part II. "Shaping Courtly Narrative"

Kristin Burr ("Meraugis de Portlesguez and the Limits of Courtliness," 83-94) argues that the poem demonstrates the limits of courtliness. "A situation may call for force or a ruse rather than a noble attitude, and courtly words can be deceiving and without real power" (93).

Joan Tasker Grimbert ("The Art of 'Transmutation' in the Burgundian Prose Cligés (1454): Bringing the Siege of Windsor Castle to Life for the Court of Philip the Good," 95-106) argues that the Burgundian version adapts Chrétien's story to culture as it evolved over three centuries. She shows that the later version evinces greater interest in war through adaptation of epic formulae, shifts in point of view from one side to the other, and cinematic use of up-dated military particulars. The prose is more vivid and appealing than Chrétien's verse; the later writer emerges as "a terrific taller of war tales" (106).

David Hult ("Thomas's Raisun: Désir, Vouloir, Pouvoir," 107-121) studies the monologue in which Tristan persuades himself to marry Yseut aux Blanches Mains out of love for the other Yseut, Mark's queen. Undoing a key emendation of one letter (MS nen, not Bédier's ne[l], in v. 196 of the Sneyd fragment), Hult argues for a twist of perspective: Tristan decides to marry one lady in order to change his own feelings toward the other. The discussion of interrelated abstract terms is fine-grained, clear, and persuasive. "The communication by and through the heart, not according to certain knowledge but rather to a type of intuition, this perhaps was Thomas's impossible goal as he chose to realign the consummate legend of fatal passion to an uncommon yoking of amur and raisun" (121).

Virginie Greene ("Humanimals: The Future of Courtliness in the Conte du Papegau," 123-138) defends the text against Gaston Paris, who called it "un conte à dormir debout" (123), arguing that it is oniric, a collective dream revealing the "unconscious of medieval Arthurian literature, in its dotage" (123). Greene defines courtliness as "the imaginary space of social rituals for medieval culture." Ritual, in this argument, is the opposite of sincerity, and imposes residence in multiple worlds. "I claim that the Papegau links worlds in a Moebius-band fashion, operating deliberately at the superficies of things and beings" (126). (This reviewer cannot imagine an approach farther removed from that of Haidu.) Greene explores two motifs, the court as cage and the knight, caged in the court, as an animal. Men in this world are and are not animals, and a knight is and is not a fish. The Papegau "opens anew the question of courtliness: what sort of humans are humans who pretend to be so special?" (137).

Logan Whalen ("A Matter of Life and Death: Fecundity and Sterility in Marie de France's Guigemar," 139-149) extends Pickens' view of the Guigemar prologue as centered on courtliness vs uncourtliness, proposing that the lai as a whole, and indeed all Marie's lais, rotate around the poles of productive vs destructive behavior, fecundity versus sterility. Both elements, the positive and the negative, contribute to Marie's sense of courtliness, combining the oniric, ritualized, ludic vision with its opposite; as though, this reviewer observes, to combine the views of Haidu and Greene.

Evelyn Birge Vitz ("Le Roman de la Rose, Performed in Court," 151-161) proposes that the first part of the romance, by Guillaume de Lorris, "was performed in court" in "strongly auditory and visual ways," that it was "recited from memory by minstrels...with appropriate gestures, possibly props and...musical accompaniment" (152). The evidence is not direct but ambient; Vitz refers to what we know about mimes, about performance of allegorical figures, about dance, even about the use of smell in the Jeu d'Adam, where floral props were used to suggest Eden. "It is true," Vitz concedes, "that I cannot prove what I am saying--any more than others can demonstrate that the Romance was 'typically' read silently, or even read aloud; none of this, on either side, is provable" (158). The claim is for "a highly variegated and sensorial, indeed synesthetic spectacle" (160), which, Vitz adds, may have continued with the second part of the romance by Jean de Meun.

Part III. "Shaping Women's Voices in Medieval France"

Elizabeth W. Poe ("Lombarda's Mirrors: Reflections on PC 288,1 as a Response to PC 54,1," 165-182) disentangles intertextual threads in the exchange of coblas by Bernart Arnaut and this trobairitz. Poe identifies Alamanda as a reference to the same name in Giraut de Bornelh and Bertran de Born, and Giscarda as a reference to several troubadours who also use it; Bel Veser, as a senhal out of Bernart de Ventadorn; and Lombarda's acord as reference to an infrequent genre, the opposite of a descort, the one a song of harmony and the other of disharmony. She takes the name Lombarda not as a reference to a Lombard merchant (which would be masculine), but to a stereotype of northern Italian women as large or tall, quoting other troubadours who complained of the difficulty of fitting a large woman into one's heart. One emerges with an enhanced sense of intertextuality as wit.

Daniel E. O'Sullivan ("Na Maria: Courtliness and Marian Devotion in Old Occitan Lyric," 183-199) follows up his book, Marian Devotion in Thirteenth-Century French Lyric (2005), with a study of the same figure in Occitan, finding her in forty-odd texts from the thirteenth century and one from the eleventh. Unlike Diehl, who treats Occitan religious verse as sincere (cf. Greene on sincerity vs ritual), O'Sullivan reads it as a social and literary game, which seems unexceptionable to this reviewer except when it becomes an excuse for repetitiveness or monotony. The Marian songs, O'Sullivan finds, are as complicated in form as secular songs. His outstanding troubadour is Guiraut Riquier, who set the Virgin in a universe of political satire where she becomes a "medieval Marianne, leading the charge [as in Delacroix?] against worldly hypocrisy, vice, and evil" (191). Less persuasively, O'Sullivan searches for traces of Mary in the celebrated song by Bietris de Roman, whose passion, Lesbian for other readers, becomes for him devotion to the Virgin; but the suggestion is more plausible that the umbra de ghirenza ("shadow of salvation") in the dialogue between Carenza, Alais, and Iselda might refer to the Virgin's protection. O'Sullivan is right to observe ambiguity in a number of songs that play on the relation between the beloved domna and the Virgin.

William Schenck ("From Convent to Court: Ermengarde d'Anjou's Decision to Reenter the World," 201-212) studies the life of the countess of Brittany, who died in 1146, against the background of the life of Saint Radegund of Poitiers (sixth century). We know Ermengarde from charters, many of which she signed, and from her correspondence with several major churchmen, and we know Radegund from her vitae. Both women married but entered religion while their husbands were alive; Ermengarde entered a convent, left it to visit her brother, the king of Jerusalem, and later entered religion again. She had more power and freedom to move than Radegund. Against the suspicion of inconstancy, ecclesiastics acknowledged the potential value of the world to support the church. Ermengarde shows that an aristocratic woman in the twelfth century "could make real choices and chart [her] own path in life, even if it was severely constrained" (212).

Nadia Margolis ("From Chrétien to Christine: Translating Twelfth-Century Literature to Reform the French Court during the Hundred Years War," 213-225) likens Christine de Pizan to Ygerne, Perceval's mother, who educates her son in courtliness in Chrétien's Conte du Graal, although she acknowledges that we have no evidence Christine knew Chrétien's text. She shows that Christine alluded to Arthur, Lancelot, and Tristan, but not to Perceval, Gawain, Galahad, or the Grail. The resemblance operates on the macro level: as Chrétien's Graal was the "fountainhead of chivalric courtesy manuals," so Christine attempted "to shape courtly ideals...as part of her larger program to enlighten her adoptive country of France" (213).

Part IV. "Shaping the Courtly Other"

Laine Doggett ("The Favorable Reception of Outsiders at Court: Medieval Versions of Cultural Exchange," 229-239) argues that in the Old Norse Tristan, Chrétien's Cligés, and Marie de France's Lanval, "a stranger contributes to the court in ways that increase its courtliness and thus prestige" (229). This reviewer would point out, however, that in Lanval Arthur's court rejects Lanval, who flees to the fairy world of Avalon, and that the utopian view of the court in the first two texts studied by Doggett alternates, in medieval sources, with the dystopian view in the third and in other works such as Walter Map, De nugis curialium, with its "hell of a court" (Greene, 128; Walter Map is mentioned also by Haidu and Margolis).

E. Jane Burns ("Shaping Saladin: Courtly Men Dressed in Silk," 241-253) discusses the role of clothing in the creation of the knight's masculinity. In the thirteenth-century Ordene de chevalerie, a Christian knight taken prisoner by Saladin instructs him in chivalry; the tale appropriates silken garments to the Christian knight, who is then free to return them to his Islamic double, even though silk originally came to the West from Muslim territories. The Ordene de chevalerie shatters the categories of Christian vs non-Christian, as the iconic Christian knight dresses his legendary arch-rival in the same chivalric clothing he wears. "Silk provides a porous material border between cultures" (253).

Nancy Freeman Regalado ("Force de parole: Shaping Courtliness in Richard de Fournival's Bestiaire d'amours, Copied in Metz about 1312 (Oxford, Bodl. MS Douce 308)," 255-270) defines courtliness (following Burns) as "a style defined initially in the latter part of the twelfth and first half of the thirteenth century by literary works and associated social practices and performances" (255), initially at the court of England (Walter Map?) but then elsewhere. The courtly and clerkly traditions come together in Guillaume de Lorris and in Richard de Fournival's Bestiaire d'amours, ca. 1250. Richard adapts the bestiary to courtly dress, infusing it with the lyric "I" out of the salut d'amour. The fourteenth-century Metz manuscript of the Bestiaire strives to shape the reader to its courtly dialogues; its owner's signature marks it as a status symbol for an upwardly mobile bourgeois family. It was "a hallmark of the courtliness that shaped the aspirations and values of a new generation of urban readers in the city of Metz" (270).

Laurie Shepard ("The Poetic Legacy of Charles d'Anjou in Italy: The Poetics of Nobility in the Comune," 271-283) concedes that Charles's court in Naples had little or no direct influence on Italian poetry, but argues that his political actions influenced their views of nobility. Poets discussed include Sordello (writing in Occitan), Brunetto Latini (writing in French), and, in Italian, Guittone d'Arezzo and Guido Guinizelli. The notion of nobility evolved from courtliness, among the troubadours, to a more complex idea involving personal virtue by the mid-thirteenth century, when it became applicable to merchants, bankers, and lawyers. Guittone left profane poetry when he joined the Frati Gaudenti, with their ideology of nobility by birth; Guinizelli returned to the notion of nobility by love in the tradition from Bernart de Ventadorn.

Sarah White ("Envoi," 285) makes a presentation of the volume, in witty verse, to the contributors' good friend.

The editors provide an introduction (1-14), defining courtliness as "a civilizing concept" (1); a bibliography of publications by Matilda Bruckner (15-21); a list of contributors (287-289); and an index (291-295). A tabula gratulatoria (297) rounds out the volume, which is introduced by a fetching portrait of the honoree.

This bountiful harvest does not include everything in medieval French literature--there is only passing mention of the Chanson de Roland, little of other chansons de geste or theatre, and none of Villon, texts that are less marked by the book's organizing theme. The broad field of courtly works is cultivated by many readers, to whom the book offers a seminar in the meanings of courtliness with stimulating views of many texts, both more and less familiar. It will prove invaluable to any reader interested in the courtly literature of medieval France.

Article Details

Author Biography

William D. Paden

Northwestern University