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22.06.02 Golden/Kong (eds.), Gender and Voice in Medieval French Literature and Song

22.06.02 Golden/Kong (eds.), Gender and Voice in Medieval French Literature and Song

Gender and Voice in Medieval French Literature and Song is tightly structured around the intertwined cues of its title: as they collectively traverse a selection of French and Occitan works from the twelfth to the early sixteenth century, ten essays address issues of gender (masculine, feminine, nonbinary), expressed in the gamut of possibilities inscribed in voice through music and verbal texts. The editors’ introduction provides definitions and general concepts by briefly recording a variety of views that situate the complex, even enigmatic, character of voice: tied to the body yet intangible, a hinge “between human and its various others” (7). But Golden and Kong quickly assert their focus is not on definitions, rather on what voice does. And what voice does furnishes the route to discover “vital aspects of identity, subjectivity, and human experience in medieval France” (7). Their survey of theorizing on voice in contemporary scholarship includes suspect aspects of voice, voice and language (which implicates gender), voice’s relation to silence and power, voices in dialogue through polyphony. The essays that follow reveal the multiplicities included in the masculine and the feminine (13), as they delve into the way “voice is central to the formation and negotiation of power structures and relations” (12). The list of contributors--musicologists, literary scholars, and performers--suggests the wide range of perspectives and training brought together in this volume.

The essays are ordered chronologically, grouped by subject in pairs (with some exceptions): musico-poetic analyses of songs sandwiched between explorations of texts without music. In “Silence and Speech in Le Chevalier de la Charrette,” Kong has chosen useful parameters to reveal facets of character as well as romance structuring. She points out parallels in complex relationships between romancer and patron, Lancelot and Guenevere, and compares the prologues to the Charrette and the Conte du Graal to identify two distinct masculinities performed by Chrétien. She then focuses on the masculine voice of Lancelot’s varied speech acts and silence, his vocal performance demonstrating the limits of courtly submission. His is the exercise of masculine prerogative, the privilege of choice. Even when he adopts supposedly feminine behaviors, he is his own subject not Guenevere’s, which is also true of his relationships to the hospitable maiden and the seneschal’s wife. An extended comparison between Lancelot and Enide yields interesting views of how silence is gendered, although one might also make an argument for how Enide, like Lancelot, owns her submission as well as her speech acts, despite her unprivileged female status. I also wonder to what extent the speech acts and agreements Kong identifies as promises are all the same thing, but on the whole the essay convincingly argues that Lancelot “is most powerful when he is submitting to the will of another...most frequently a woman” (44), an observation that leads her to raise questions in a brief conclusion about court life and its constraints.

Tamara Bentley Caudill argues in “It Takes Two: Considerations of Voice and Performance of the Male-Female Tenso” for reconsideration of the female lyric persona in dual-voiced tensos. She shows how a put-down becomes playful when Cyndi Lauper sings Robert Hazard’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”: “when a woman sings, we listen differently” (51). So too we can speculate that women singing in the middle ages make a difference. Drawing on performance studies and Adriana Cavarero’s For More Than One Voice: Toward a Philosophy of Vocal Expression, Caudill bypasses the issue of authorship. Her close and sensitive analyses of Gui d’Ussel be.m pesa de vos, a debate initiated by Maria de Ventadorn, and Bona domna d’una re que-us deman, exchanged between Bertran de Pojet and an anonymous domna, show that tensos do not suppress woman’s voice but rather place women in the position of subject where they can express female desire, even reciprocal desire that fulfills masculine longing expressed in the canso. Particularly notable are Caudill’s awareness of how a performer can vary tone and her careful attention to the placement of Bertran’s name in the course of the dialogue.

Staying in the realm of Occitan song, Anne Adele Levitsky’s “‘Per vers o per chanso’: Grammar, Gender, and Song in Aimeric de Peguilhan’s Mangtas vetz sui enqueritz” offers “another way of conceiving of the embodiment of the voice” (73). Putting to good use Steven Connor’s concept of “vocalic body” (74) to separate the personified song from the troubadour poet or performer, she analyzes Aimeric’s song with the support of a detailed discussion of Occitan grammars and the troubadours’ use of midons and senhals, in order to show how Mangtas vetz produces a “vocalic excess” (75): the song itself becomes embodied in performance, creating its own metaphorical space unconstrained by genre and the gender of singer. Levitsky’s reading challenges gender binaries by distinguishing grammatical gender from socially constructed notions of song types, as witnessed in Aimeric’s collapse of masculine vers and feminine chanso into “mo vers-chanso” (l. 64), which she interprets as a “doubly-gendered noun...neither male-gendered nor female-gendered but both simultaneously” (79). I wonder if the atonal masculine possessive pronoun mois problematic in the move beyond the limits of a single gender, but without the neuter option in Occitan, Levitsky sees it as the necessary choice (83). Punctuation and translation in the second tornada need some further thought: might we understand lines 61-62 without the comma after platz as “it pleases me that your reputation is growing”? Is Aimeric’s vers-chanso gilded by her name rather than the reverse? But overall, this is a complex argument carefully constructed.

Chapters 4 and 5 concentrate on thirteenth-century trouvère songs in the context of politics and crusades, while Chapter 6 extends the issues of voice and crusade into the arena of preaching. “When Courtly Song Invades History: Lyricizing Blanche de Castille” brings women’s resistance to paradigms back into play when Meghan Quinlan analyzes two songs linked by contrafacture: RS700, Je chantaisse volentiers (attributed to Chastelain de Couci) and RS699, a serventois by Hue de la Ferté a generation later (ca. 1230), share the same first two lines as well as the melody and versification structure. Quinlan’s approach encompasses not only how the model sets up the contrafact but also the reverse: how the later song denouncing Blanche’s politics invites a rereading of the Chastelain’s complaints about his lady. In the first stage, Quinlan considers the correspondences and interplay between music and text in RS700 to uncover its ambivalence or open-endedness. This is a finely detailed musico-poetic analysis (though a dismissive tone surprisingly appears when she describes Chastelain’s “cloying attempts to win” (103) his lady). The courtly lady’s deception prepares Hue’s contrafactual play in criticizing Blanche of Castille’s rulership as a foreign-born queen asserting her authority. His views of Blanche’s efforts and character are reflected in contemporary writing. Just as the barons need to reduce the queen to “woman,” using the term with its animalistic alterity (107), so the ironic tone in the serventois expresses an underlying anxiety over Blanche’s power. Finally, the contrafact’s move from lyric paradigms to historical criticism leads back to its model, as Quinlan offers a powerful reading through RS699 that reinterprets RS700, accentuating the negative view of the lady.

In “Gendered Grief, Temporality, and Reinvention in Two Northern French Crusade Songs,” Rachel May Golden finds useful tools in Megan Cassidy-Welsh’s work in crusade trauma and Carolyn Dinshaw’s concept of queer time (“a sense of time out of sync,” desire creating its own time, 123). Indeed, the final paragraph extends Dinshaw’s notion to the affective link created between medieval and modern peoples “through the voicing of song” (146). Golden first offers a long introduction on lament traditions and queer time to prepare her examination of two anonymous lament songs, one female voiced, Chanterai por mon corage, the other male voiced, Le chastelains de Couci ama tant (a contrafact of A vous amant). She emphasizes their disruptive quality for both gendered speakers, although the tradition of the planh by male poets suggests that expressing grief is well within their repertoire, while the expression of female desire is no less typical in chansons de femme. Here too there is some finger-wagging (“wallows in emotion,” 144; “failure” of melodic modes rather than “difference,” 143), but the analyses yield interesting demonstrations of parallels between melodic compression and the play with linear temporality (136), as Golden highlights the songs’ “affective non-conforming subjectivities” transcending the gender binary and crossing the limits of genre (18).

With Lydia M. Walker we learn how “Real Men Preach,” as her subtitle explains: “Constructions of Clerical Masculinity in the Context of Thirteenth-Century Crusade Preaching.” In his efforts to recruit participants and supporters for the Fifth Crusade, Jacques de Vitry constructs a preaching voice that taps into the tropes of masculinity usually associated with warriors. Through preaching and letters designed for oral delivery, the bishop uses his voice as “a tool in expanding the powers of pastoral martial and masculinizing effect” (153). In public performance enhanced with all the effects of theatricality, the preacher participates in the masculine virtus usually reserved for warriors. With useful examples to illustrate her themes (somewhat repetitively stated), Walker particularly attends to the marital and sexual metaphors of Jacques’s preaching as he proclaims its maternal and paternal aspects, and aligns the pastor’s duty to the Church with the husband’s to his wife. As attested by his preaching tours (e.g., in Genoa and Acre), Jacques secures women’s devotion and support to influence their husbands.

Chapters 7 and 8 remain in the thirteenth century but shift to the polyphonic motet. Setting aside the issue of what we can actually hear when listening to motets in performance, Lisa Colton examines three motets chosen for their expressive charge in “Chansons polis? Expressing Gendered Identity and Experience in the Ars antiqua Motet”. She selects them from the La Clayette manuscript (a miscellany with 55 motets) in order to redress the balance of scholarly attention and consider different possible users (including laity and female religious in addition to the usual masculine, clerical culture). A series of subheadings identify and encapsulate her analyses of music and texts: “Weeping, Despair, and Changes of Fortune in Cl 50,” “Control over Time, Action, and Voice in Cl 55,” “Battered Lovers in Cl 35.” Together they demonstrate how the motet ca. 1260-1300 creates multiple registers, overlapping and superimposing voices, playing with texture and silence. They allow us to hear differently conventions of older romance lyric, explore questions of power and gender in ways not available in monophonic songs of troubadours and trouvères. Thus Colten can argue that the motet is not as conservative as it has been characterized. The community of voices represented in dialogue allow composers to interact with and comment on past conventions and so upset normative gender binaries, particularly affecting the masculine lyric voice.

Anna Kathryn Grau points out that there is no clear hierarchy among the mostly male voices of the motet, but she chooses to study female voices in “Jonete et Jolie: Polyphony and Gendered Voices in the Old French Motet,” without worrying about the issue of male or female authorship. Her focus on musical settings shows how female voices engage in self-praise, an aspect also found in a variety of other lyric types (chansons de mal mariée, chanson d’ami, chanson de nonne, etc.), but used in motets with the added advantage that voice types can vary. The mixed-voice examples she includes all play on motifs of her title and demonstrate how the shape and character of the texts and music in ars antiqua motets allows a kind of play with the conventional character of the female persona not available in monophonic songs: gendered slippage that assumes the role of the male gaze, takes the desiring subject position, and resists objectification.

The last two essays skip to women’s voices in French courtly contexts related to power, class, and authority in the early fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In “‘Et encore ne me puis taire’: Voice, Gender, and Class in Christine de Pizan’s Political Writings, 1405-1413,” Emily J. Hutchison offers a reevaluation to counter the ways previous scholars have played down Christine’s classism. While she advises women to mainly hold their tongue since women’s voices are perceived as threatening, Christine does not take her own advice. Making her voice heard indirectly, at a distance, lest it be perceived as disruptive or irrational, she uses her status as a professional writer to effectively intervene within political discourse. Across her repertoire, “she changed her demeanor and approach as needed” (237), performed acts of gendered and political resistance but reserved them for herself. For women in general, she recommends traditional soft-spoken submissiveness, reinforcing hierarchy in the Livre des trois vertus and demeaning lower-class women and men with negative views. As Hutchinson sums up: Christine was “a woman from a place of privilege..her textual speech reflected her autonomy” (245), but she “reified traditional gendered and classist values” (246).

Starting with the illumination in the Arsenal manuscript where Anne de Graville presents her work to Claude de France (François I’s wife and queen), Daisy Delogu demonstrates in “Voiceover: Anne de Graville’s Beau Romant, Boccaccio’s Teseida, and Alain Chartier’s Belle Dame sans mercy” how Anne rewrites established male authors for her female patron and female audience. The essay is clearly and persuasively ordered in three parts: (1) Anne claims authority for herself and her Romant by creating a kind of “textual acoustic palimpsest” (256): she speaks over Boccaccio and Chartier while allowing traces of their voices to remain. Her poetic performance is thus a kind of “cinematic voiceover” (in Delogu’s wonderfully inventive coinage). (2) Anne shows how the transformation of Emilia’s character in the Romant (her great pity in accord with honor and honnêteté, her self-control and caritas) makes a strategic intervention in the Quarrel of the Belle Dame by making that figure a model for female courtiers. (3) Delogu traces the Romant’s connections with literary traditions springing from Boccaccio’s misogynistic catalog of famous women and his reflections on Fortune. In Anne’s voiceover, virtuous conduct allows women to withstand the vicissitudes of Fortune. As Delogu sums up, her “authorial interventions position Anne de Graville as a voice of moral authority for her readers--male and female alike” (266).

This is a volume that speaks as much for our current time and preoccupations as for the medieval works examined: it leans as heavily on the notion of disruption as the prevailing culture in the business world and the arts. Though each essay remains separate, there is a good deal of implicit dialogue among them which readers are invited to tease out by their common focus on voice and gender. Having written myself on Lancelot’s contradictions, trobairitz and the fictions of female voice, the displacements and complaints of crusade songsin Marcabru and Chanterai por mon corage, illuminations and text in Christine’s Livre des trois vertus, I found myself particularly engaged by those chapters; other readers will follow their own interests, as new perspectives raise different questions and shifting interpretations.