History of Literature








French literature

 

CONTENTS:

The Middle Ages

The 16th century

The 17th century

The 18th century to the Revolution of 1789

From 1789 to the mid-19th century

19th-century thought

The 20th century. From 1900 to 1940

The mid-20th century. Approaching the 21st century




 


French literature
 



The Middle Ages

 

"Song of Roland"
Gottfried von Strassburg
Wace

Chretien De Troyes  FOUR ARTHURIAN ROMANCES: "EREC ET ENIDE", "CLIGES", "YVAIN", AND "LANCELOT"

Jean Froissart
Marie De France
Bernard de Ventadour
Jaufre Rudel
Bertran de Born
Arnaut Daniel
"Reynard The Fox"
Guillaume de Lorris
Jean de Meun
Christine de Pisan
Guillaume de Machaut
Eustache Deschamps
Alain Chartier

Francois Villon 
"Ballades"

Robert de Boron
Antoine de la Sale
Geoffroy of Villehardouin
Jean, sire de Joinville
Philippe de Commynes
Jehan Bodel
Adam de la Halle

Peter Abelard "The Love Letters of Abelard and Heloise"

Alexander of Hales
Levi ben Gershom (Gersonides)
John of Jandun
John of Mirecourt
Peter Lombard

Nicholas of Autrecourt
William of Auvergne
 

 

 


INTRODUCTION


The body of written works in the French language produced within the geographic and political boundaries of France. The French language was one of the five major Romance languages to develop from Vulgar Latin as a result of the Roman occupation of western Europe.

Since the Middle Ages, France has enjoyed an exceptional position in European intellectual life. Though its literary culture has no single figure whose influence can be compared to that of Italy’s Dante or England’s Shakespeare, successive periods have seen its writers and their language exercise an influence far beyond its borders. In medieval times, because of the far-reaching and complex system of feudal allegiances (not least the links of France and England), the networks of the monastic orders, the universality of Latin, and the similarities of the languages derived from Latin, there was a continual process of exchange, in form and content, among the literatures of western Europe. The evolution of the nation-states and the rise in prestige of vernacular languages gradually eroded the unifying force of these relationships. From the early modern period onward, France developed its own distinctive and many-stranded cultural tradition, which, while never losing sight of the riches of the medieval base and the Judeo-Christian biblical tradition, has come chiefly to be thought of as Mediterranean in its allegiance, rooted in the imitation of Classical models as these were mediated through the great writers and thinkers of Renaissance Italy.

The version of French tradition that began in the 17th century and has established itself in the cultural histories and the schoolbooks was given fresh force in the early 20th century by the philosopher-poet Paul Valéry and, especially, his English admirers in the context of the political and cultural struggle with Germany. In this version, French culture prizes reason, formal perfection, and purity of language and is to be admired for its thinkers as much as for its writers. By the end of the ancien régime, the logic of Descartes, the restraint of Racine, and the wit of Voltaire were seen as the hallmarks of French culture and were emulated throughout the courts and salons of the Continent. Other aspects of this legacy—the skepticism of Descartes, calling into question authoritarian axioms; the violent, self-seeking intensity of Racinian passion, fueled by repression and guilt; and the abrasive irony that Voltaire turned against established bigotry, prejudice, and injustice—were less well viewed in the circles of established order. Frequently forced underground, these and their inheritors nevertheless gave energy to the revolutionary ethos that constituted another, equally French, contribution to the radical traditions of western Europe.

The political and philosophical revolutions installed by the end of the 18th century, in the name of science and reason, were accompanied by transformations in the form and content of French writing. Over the turn of the 19th century and beyond, an emergent Romantic sensibility challenged the Neoclassical ideal, which had become a pale and timid imitation of its former self. The new orthodoxy asserted the claims of imagination and feeling against reason and of individual desire against social and moral convention. The 12-syllable alexandrine that had been used to such effect by Jean Racine remained the standard line in verse, but the form was relaxed and reinvigorated; and the thematic domain of poetry was extended successively by Victor Hugo, Alfred de Vigny, Charles Baudelaire, and Arthur Rimbaud. All poetic form was thrown into the melting pot by the Modernist revolutions at the turn of the 20th century.

As the novel overtook poetry and drama to become the dominant literary form in the 19th century, French writers explored the possibilities of the genre and, in some cases, reinvented it. The novel cycles of Honoré de Balzac and Émile Zola developed a new mode of social realism to celebrate and challenge the processes at work in a nation that was being transformed by industrial and economic revolution. In the work of other writers, such as Stendhal, Gustave Flaubert, and Marcel Proust, each following his own distinctive path, a different kind of realism emerged, focused on a preoccupation with the analysis of individual action, motivation, and desire as well as a fascination with form. Between them, the 19th-century French novelists traced the fate of the individualistic sensibilities born of aristocratic and high bourgeois culture as they engaged with the collectivizing forms of a nation moving toward mass culture and the threshold of democracy. Joris-Karl Huysmans’s aristocratic hero, Des Esseintes, in À rebours (1884; Against Nature or Against the Grain), offered a traditionalist, pessimistic version of the final outcome. Halfway through the next century, Jean-Paul Sartre’s trilogy Les Chemins de la liberté (1945; Roads to Freedom) responded to a world in which the balance of the argument had visibly shifted.

During the first half of the 20th century, Paris remained the hub of European intellectual and artistic life. Its position was challenged from the 1930s, and especially after World War II, by Anglo-American writers, many of whom honed their own skills within its culture and its borders; but it still continued to generate modes of thinking and writing that others followed. From the 1950s, proponents of the nouveau roman, or New Novel, mounted a radical attack on the conventions of the genre. At the same time, boulevard drama felt on its neck the breath of the avant-garde; and from the 1960s onward French writers began stimulating new approaches to almost every field of rational inquiry. The international status of the French language has declined steadily since World War II, with the rise of American market hegemony and, especially, with the rapid spread of decolonization. French is still, however, the preferred medium of creative expression for many in Switzerland, Belgium, Canada, France’s former colonies in Africa and Asia, and its Caribbean dependencies. The contribution of Francophone authors outside its borders to the renewal of French literary traditions has become increasingly significant.

Jennifer Birkett

 

 


The Middle Ages


The origins of the French language


By 50 bc, when the Roman occupation of Gaul under Julius Caesar was complete, the region’s population had been speaking Gaulish, a Celtic language, for some 500 years. Gaulish, however, gave way to the conquerors’ speech, Vulgar Latin, which was the spoken form of Latin as used by the soldiers and settlers throughout the Roman Empire. In different regions, local circumstances determined Vulgar Latin’s evolution into the separate tongues that today constitute the family of Romance languages, to which French belongs. This linguistic development was speeded by the empire’s collapse under the impact of the 5th-century-ad barbarian invasions and isolation from Rome. Gaul was overrun by Germanic tribes, in the north principally by the Franks (who gave France its name) and by the Visigoths and Merovingians in the south. But the Latin speech survived: not only was it the language of the majority of the population, but it was also backed by its associations with the old Roman culture and with the new Christian religion, which used Low Latin, its own form of the Roman tongue. While it retained relatively few Celtic words, the developing language had its vocabulary greatly enriched by Germanic borrowings, and its phonetic development was influenced by Germanic speech habits. The 9th-century Norse incursions and settlement of Normandy, by contrast, left few traces in the language.

The Romans had introduced written literature, and until the 12th century almost all documents and other texts were in Latin. The first text in the vernacular is the Serment de Strasbourg, the Romance version of the Oath of Strasbourg (842), an oath sworn by Louis the German (Louis II) and Charles the Bald (Charles II) against their brother Lothar in the partitioning of the empire of their grandfather Charlemagne. A German version also survives. Only a few other texts, all religious in content, survive from before about 1100.

Early texts show a broad division between the speech of northern Gaul, which had suffered most from the invasions, and that in the more stable, cultured south, where the Latin spoken was less subject to change. The tongue spoken to the north of an imaginary line running roughly from the Gironde River to the Alps was the langue d’oïl (the future French), and to the south it was the langue d’oc (Occitan), terms derived from the respective expressions for “yes.”

Vulgar Latin’s development had not been uniform throughout the area of the langue d’oïl; and, by the time a recognizable Old French had developed, various dialects had evolved, notably Francien (in the Île-de-France, the region around Paris), Picard, Champenois, and Norman. From the last one stemmed Anglo-Norman, the French used alongside English in Britain, especially among the upper classes, from even before the Norman Conquest (1066) until well into the 14th century. Each dialect had its own literature. But, for various reasons, the status of Francien increased until it achieved dominance in the Middle French period (after 1300), and from it Modern French developed. Old French was a fine literary medium, enlarging its vocabulary from other languages such as Arabic, Occitan, and Low Latin. It had a wide phonetic range and, until the decay of the two-case system it had inherited from Latin, syntactic flexibility.


 

The context and nature of French medieval literature

Whatever Classical literature survived the upheavals of the early Middle Ages was preserved, along with pious Latin works, in monastic libraries. By encouraging scholars and writers, Charlemagne had increased the Latin heritage available to educated vernacular authors of later centuries. He also left his image as a great warrior-emperor to stimulate the legend-making process that generated the Old French epic. There one finds exemplified the feudal ideal, evolved by the Franks, that was the means of establishing a hierarchy of dependency and, thereby, a cohesiveness that would lead to a national identity. The warrior’s code of morality, founded on loyalty to the monarch and on the bond between brother knights, bolstered the entire political system. As stability increased under the Capetians, windows opened onto other cultures and elements: that of the Arabs in Spain and, with the Crusades, the East; the advanced Occitan civilization; and the legends of Celtic Britain. The Roman Catholic church grew in wealth and power, and by the 12th century its schools were flourishing, training generations of clerks in the liberal arts. Society itself became less embattled, and the nobility became more leisured and sophisticated. The machismo of the epics was tempered by the social graces of courtoisie: generosity, modesty, and consideration for others, especially the weak and distressed, and by a concept of love that did not view it as a weakness in a knight but as an inspiration consistent with chivalry.

By the 13th century an additional source of patronage for writers and performers was the bourgeoisie of the developing towns. New genres emerged, and, as literacy increased, prose found favour alongside verse. Much of the literature of the time is enlivened by a rather irreverent spirit and a sometimes cynical realism, yet it also possesses a countercurrent of deep spirituality. In the 14th and 15th centuries France was ravaged by war, plague, and famine. Along with a preoccupation in literature with death and damnation, there appeared a contrasting refinement of expression and sentiment bred of nostalgia for the courtly, chivalric ideal. At the same time a new humanistic learning anticipated the coming Renaissance.

Before 1200 almost all French “literature” had been composed as verse and had been communicated orally to its public. The jongleurs, professional minstrels, traveled and performed their extensive repertoires, which ranged from epics to the lives of saints (the lengthy romances were not designed for memorization), sometimes using mime and musical accompaniment. Seeking an immediate impact, most poets made their poems strikingly visual in character, more dramatic than reflective, and revealed psychology and motives through action and gesture. Verbal formulas and clichés were used by the better poets as an effective narrative shorthand, especially in the epic. Such oral techniques left their mark throughout the period.



 

The chansons de geste


More than 80 chansons de geste (“songs of deeds”) are known, the earliest and finest being the Chanson de Roland
(c. 1100; The Song of Roland). Most are anonymous and are composed in lines of 10 or 12 syllables, grouped into laisses (strophes) based on assonance and, later, rhyme. Their length varies from about 1,500 to more than 18,000 lines. The genre prospered from the late 11th to the early 14th century, offering exemplary stories of warfare, often pitting Franks against Saracens, that fire the emotions with their insistent rhythms. Under the influence of the genre known as romance, however (see below The romance), the chansons de geste lost some of their early vigour. Their story lines became looser, their adventures more exotic, and their tone often amatory or even humorous. Many were eventually turned into prose.

Cycles formed as new songs were composed featuring heroes, families, or themes already familiar. The Chanson de Roland belongs to the cycle known as the Geste du Roi (“Deeds of the King”), the king being Charlemagne, Roland’s uncle, in whose service he perished with the rear guard at Roncevaux. Dominating the Geste de Garin de Monglane is Garin’s great-grandson, Guillaume d’Orange, whose historical prototype was the count of Toulouse and Charlemagne’s cousin. His dogged loyalty to an unworthy monarch (Charlemagne’s son Louis) is the subject of a group of poems that include the Chanson de Guillaume (“Song of William”). The epics in the Geste de Doon de Mayence deal with rebellious vassals, among them Raoul de Cambrai, in a gripping story of injustice and strained loyalties. The fanciful 13th-century Huon de Bordeaux (Huon of the Horn), which introduces the fairy king Auberon (Shakespeare’s Oberon), has been placed here and in the Geste du Roi. The First Crusade is handled, with legendary embellishment, in a minor cycle.

Controversy surrounds the origins of the genre and its development and transmission. It is not known how most of the poems came to contain elements, somewhat garbled, from Carolingian history some 300 years before their composition. Some scholars believe in a continuous process of oral transmission and elaboration. Others suppose the historical facts were retrieved much later by poets wishing to celebrate certain heroes, many of whom were associated with pilgrim routes that the jongleurs could then ply with profit. In fact, very few texts belong to the period before 1150.

 


Chansons de geste


"Song of Roland"



Roland pledges his fealty to Charlemagne;
from a manuscript of a chanson de geste.



(French: “song of deeds”)

any of the Old French epic poems forming the core of the Charlemagne legends. More than 80 chansons, most of them thousands of lines long, have survived in manuscripts dating from the 12th to the 15th century. They deal chiefly with events of the 8th and 9th centuries during the reigns of Charlemagne and his successors. In general, the poems contain a core of historical truth overlaid with legendary accretions. Whether they were composed under the inspiration of the events they narrate and survived for generations in oral tradition or were the independent compositions of professional poets of a later date is still disputed. A few poems have authors’ names, but most are anonymous.

Chansons de geste are composed in lines of 10 or 12 syllables grouped into laisses (irregular stanzas) based on assonance or, later, rhyme. The poems’ lengths range from approximately 1,500 to more than 18,000 lines. The fictional background of the chansons is the struggle of Christian France against a conventionalized polytheistic or idolatrous “Muslim” enemy. The emperor Charlemagne is portrayed as the champion of Christendom. He is surrounded by his court of Twelve Noble Peers, among whom are Roland, Oliver (Olivier), Ogier the Dane, and Archbishop Turpin.

Besides the stories grouped around Charlemagne, there is a subordinate cycle of 24 poems dealing with Guillaume d’Orange, a loyal and long-suffering supporter of Charlemagne’s weak son, Louis the Pious. Another cycle deals with the wars of such powerful barons as Doon de Mayence, Girart de Roussillon, Ogier the Dane, or Raoul de Cambrai against the crown or against each other.

The earlier chansons are heroic in spirit and theme. They focus on great battles or feuds and on the legal and moral niceties of feudal allegiances. After the 13th century, elements of romance and courtly love came to be introduced, and the austere early poems were supplemented by enfances (youthful exploits) of the heroes and fictitious adventures of their ancestors and descendants. The masterpiece and probably the earliest of the chansons de geste is the 4,000-line La Chanson de Roland. Appearing at the threshold of French epic literature, Roland was the formative influence on the rest of the chansons de geste. The chansons, in turn, spread throughout Europe. They strongly influenced Spanish heroic poetry; the mid-12th-century Spanish epic Cantar de mío Cid (“Song of My Cid”), in particular, is indebted to them. In Italy stories about Orlando and Rinaldo (Roland and Oliver) were very popular and formed the basis for the Renaissance epics Orlando innamorato by Matteo Boiardo (1495) and Orlando furioso by Ludovico Ariosto (1532). In the 13th century the German poet Wolfram Von Eschenbach based his incomplete epic Willehalm on the life of William of Orange, and the chansons were recorded in prose in the Icelandic Karlamagnús saga. Charlemagne legends, referred to as “the matter of France,” were long staple subjects of romance. In the 20th century the chansons continued to enjoy a strange afterlife in folk ballads of the Brazilian backlands, called literatura de la corda (“literature on a string”) because, in pamphlet form, they were formerly hung from strings and sold in marketplaces. Frequently in these ballads, through a misunderstanding of a Portuguese homonym, Charlemagne is surrounded by a company of 24 knights—i.e., “Twelve Noble Pairs.”
 


"Song of Roland"




Old French epic poem that is probably the earliest (c. 1100) chanson de geste and is considered the masterpiece of the genre. The poem’s probable author was a Norman poet, Turold, whose name is introduced in its last line.

The poem takes the historical Battle of Roncesvalles (Roncevaux) in 778 as its subject. Though this encounter was actually an insignificant skirmish between Charlemagne’s army and Basque forces, the poem transforms Roncesvalles into a battle against Saracens and magnifies it to the heroic stature of the Greek defense of Thermopylae against the Persians in the 5th century bc.

The poem opens as Charlemagne, having conquered all of Spain except Saragossa, receives overtures from the Saracen king and sends the knight Ganelon, Roland’s stepfather, to negotiate peace terms. Angry because Roland proposed him for the dangerous task, Ganelon plots with the Saracens to achieve his stepson’s destruction and, on his return, ensures that Roland will command the rear guard of the army when it withdraws from Spain. As the army crosses the Pyrenees, the rear guard is surrounded at the pass of Roncesvalles by an overwhelming Saracen force. Trapped against crushing odds, the headstrong hero Roland is the paragon of the unyielding warrior victorious in defeat.

The composition of the poem is firm and coherent, the style direct, sober, and, on occasion, stark. Placed in the foreground is the personality clash between the recklessly courageous Roland and his more prudent friend Oliver (Olivier), which is also a conflict between divergent conceptions of feudal loyalty. Roland, whose judgment is clouded by his personal preoccupation with renown, rejects Oliver’s advice to blow his horn and summon help from Charlemagne. On Roland’s refusal, the hopeless battle is joined, and the flower of Frankish knighthood is reduced to a handful of men. The horn is finally sounded, too late to save Oliver, Turpin, or Roland, who has been struck in error by the blinded Oliver, but in time for Charlemagne to avenge his heroic vassals. Returning to France, the emperor breaks the news to Aude, Roland’s betrothed and the sister of Oliver, who falls dead at his feet. The poem ends with the trial and execution of Ganelon.

 


 

The romance

The romance, which came into being in the middle of the 12th century in France and flourished throughout the Middle Ages, was a creation of formally educated poets. The earliest romances took their subjects from antiquity: Alexander the Great, Thebes, Aeneas, and Troy were all treated at length, and shorter contes were derived from Ovid. Other romances, such as Floire et Blancheflor (adapted in Middle English as Flores and Blancheflur), exploited Greco-Byzantine sources; but by about 1150 the Celtic legends of Britain were capturing the public’s imagination.

The standard metre of verse romance is octosyllabic rhyming couplets. It differs from the chanson de geste in concentrating on individual rather than communal exploits and presenting them in a more detached fashion. It offers fuller descriptions, freer dialogue, and more authorial intervention. Christian miracles and fervour are replaced by Eastern or Celtic marvels and the cult of courtoisie and amour courtois (“courtly love”). There is more interest in psychology, especially in the love situations.

The universally popular legend of Tristan and Isolde had evolved by the mid-12th century, apparently from a fusion of Scottish, Irish, Cornish, and Breton elements, beginning in Scotland and moving south. The main French versions (both fragmentary) are by the Anglo-Norman poet Thomas (c. 1170) and the Norman Béroul (rather later and possibly composite). The legend was reworked in French prose and widely translated (Thomas’s version can be reconstructed from Gottfried von Strassburg’s German rendering and another in Old Norse). Chrétien de Troyes’s treatment, mentioned in his Cligès, has been lost.

The deep-rooted British tradition of King Arthur was firmly established on the Continent by Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Britanniae (1135–38; History of the Kings of Britain), translated and romanticized by the Jerseyman Wace as the Roman de Brut (1155; Arthurian Chronicles [containing Wace’s Roman de Brut and Lawamon’s Brut]). The Bretons and Anglo-Normans were likely intermediaries in the transmission of further Arthurian material to French writers such as Chrétien de Troyes, the virtual founder of Arthurian romance, who wrote between about 1160 and 1185. His first known romance, Erec et Enide (Erec and Enide), is a serious study of marital and social responsibilities and contains elements of Celtic enchantment. Cligès, a partly Greco-Byzantine tale of young love and an adulterous relationship, uses the motif of feigned death best known, later, from Romeo and Juliet. Lancelot; ou, le chevalier de la charrette (Lancelot; or, The Knight of the Cart) relates the infatuated hero’s rescue of the abducted queen Guinevere. Yvain; ou, le chevalier au lion (The Knight with the Lion) treats the converse of the situation depicted in Erec et Enide. Chrétien’s ironies and ambiguities invited divergent interpretations, of no work more than the incomplete Perceval; ou, le conte du Graal, which may be the conflation of two unfinished poems. The grail, first introduced here, was to become, as the Holy Grail, a remarkably potent symbol. The verse romance genre was diversely exploited well into the 14th century, but by then Jean Froissart’s contribution, Méliador (1383–88), was only a ponderous valediction to romance’s golden age, and prose was the principal form. On the genre’s periphery were short courtly tales and lais like those of Marie de France, treating Celtic themes and probably composed in England. The unique Aucassin et Nicolette (Aucassin and Nicolette), a charmingly comic idyll told in alternating sections of verse (to be sung) and prose (to be recited), pokes sly fun at the conventions of epic and romance alike.
 


Arthurian legend


"Sir Gawain and the Green Knight"

TENNYSON ALFRED "Idylls of the King"  (PART I, PART II)
Illustrations by G. Dore

TENNYSON ALFRED "Lady of Shalott"  "Sir Galahad"

KNOWLES JAMES "The Legends of King Arthur"  (PART I, PART II, PART III, PART IV)
Illustrations by Lancelot Speed


MALORY THOMAS  "King Arthur and of his Noble Knights"   (BOOKS 1, 2-3, 4-6, 7, 8-9, 10-11, 12-16, 17-21)
illustrations "Arturian Legend" (Pre-Raphaelite's and Beardsley's Vision)
: The Holy Grail - Round Table - Tristan and Iseult -
Lancelot and Guinevere - The Death of Arthur



The body of stories and medieval romances, known as the matter of Britain, centring on the legendary king Arthur. Medieval writers, especially the French, variously treated stories of Arthur’s birth, the adventures of his knights, and the adulterous love between his knight Sir Lancelot and his queen, Guinevere. This last situation and the quest for the Holy Grail (the vessel used by Christ at the Last Supper and given to Joseph of Arimathea) brought about the dissolution of the knightly fellowship, the death of Arthur, and the destruction of his kingdom.

Stories about Arthur and his court had been popular in Wales before the 11th century; European fame came through Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Britanniae (1135–38), celebrating a glorious and triumphant king who defeated a Roman army in eastern France but was mortally wounded in battle during a rebellion at home led by his nephew Mordred. Some features of Geoffrey’s story were marvelous fabrications, and certain features of the Celtic stories were adapted to suit feudal times. The concept of Arthur as a world conqueror was clearly inspired by legends surrounding great leaders such as Alexander the Great and Charlemagne. Later writers, notably Wace of Jersey and Lawamon, filled out certain details, especially in connection with Arthur’s knightly fellowship (the Knights of the Round Table).

Using Celtic sources, Chrétien de Troyes in the late 12th century made Arthur the ruler of a realm of marvels in five romances of adventure. He also introduced the themes of the Grail and the love of Lancelot and Guinevere into Arthurian legend. Prose romances of the 13th century explored these major themes further. An early prose romance centring on Lancelot seems to have become the kernel of a cyclic work known as the Prose Lancelot, or Vulgate cycle (c. 1225).

The Lancelot theme was connected with the Grail story through Lancelot’s son, the pure knight Sir Galahad, who achieved the vision of God through the Grail as fully as is possible in this life, whereas Sir Lancelot was impeded in his progress along the mystic way because of his adultery with Guinevere. Another branch of the Vulgate cycle was based on a very early 13th-century verse romance, the Merlin, by Robert de Boron, that had told of Arthur’s birth and childhood and his winning of the crown by drawing a magic sword (see Excalibur) from a stone. The writer of the Vulgate cycle turned this into prose, adding a pseudo-historical narrative dealing with Arthur’s military exploits. A final branch of the Vulgate cycle contained an account of Arthur’s Roman campaign and war with Mordred, to which was added a story of Lancelot’s renewed adultery with Guinevere and the disastrous war between Lancelot and Sir Gawain that ensued. A later prose romance, known as the post-Vulgate Grail romance (c. 1240), combined Arthurian legend with material from the Tristan romance.

The legend told in the Vulgate cycle and post-Vulgate romance was transmitted to English-speaking readers in Thomas Malory’s late 15th-century prose Le Morte Darthur. At the same time, there was renewed interest in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia, and the fictitious kings of Britain became more or less incorporated with official national mythology. The legend remained alive during the 17th century, though interest in it was by then confined to England. Of merely antiquarian interest during the 18th century, it again figured in literature during Victorian times, notably in Alfred Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. In the 20th century an American poet, Edwin Arlington Robinson, wrote an Arthurian trilogy, and the American novelist Thomas Berger wrote Arthur Rex (1978). In England T.H. White retold the stories in a series of novels collected as The Once and Future King (1958). His work was the basis for Camelot (1960), a musical by Alan Lerner and Frederick Loewe; a film, also called Camelot (1967), was derived from the musical. Numerous other films have been based on the Arthurian legend, notably John Boorman’s Excalibur (1981) and the satirical Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975).

 

 


Tristan and Isolde


“Tournament of the Knights of the Round Table,”
from manuscript of Tristan romance
 

Tristan also called Tristram or Tristrem, Isolde also called Iseult, Isolt, or Yseult

principal characters of a famous medieval love-romance, based on a Celtic legend (itself based on an actual Pictish king). Though the archetypal poem from which all extant forms of the legend are derived has not been preserved, a comparison of the early versions yields an idea of its content.

The central plot of the archetype must have been roughly as follows:

The young Tristan ventures to Ireland to ask the hand of the princess Isolde for his uncle, King Mark of Cornwall, and, having slain a dragon that is devastating the country, succeeds in his mission. On the homeward journey Tristan and Isolde, by misadventure, drink the love potion prepared by the queen for her daughter and King Mark. Henceforward, the two are bound to each other by an imperishable love that dares all dangers and makes light of hardships but does not destroy their loyalty to the king.

The greater part of the romance is occupied by plot and counterplot: Mark and the courtiers seeking to entrap the lovers, who escape the snares laid for them until finally Mark gets what seems proof of their guilt and resolves to punish them. Tristan, on his way to the stake, escapes by a miraculous leap from a chapel on the cliffs and rescues Isolde, whom Mark has given to a band of lepers. The lovers flee into the forest of Morrois and remain there until one day Mark discovers them asleep with a naked sword between them. Soon afterward they make peace with Mark, and Tristan agrees to restore Isolde to Mark and leave the country. Coming to Brittany, Tristan marries Isolde of the White Hands, daughter of the duke, “for her name and her beauty,” but makes her his wife only in name. Wounded by a poisoned weapon, he sends for the other Isolde, who alone can heal him. If she agrees to come, the ship on which she embarks is to have a white sail; if she refuses, a black. His jealous wife, who has discovered his secret, seeing the ship approach on which Isolde is hastening to her lover’s aid, tells him that it carries a black sail. Tristan, turning his face to the wall, dies, and Isolde, arriving too late to save her love, yields up her life in a final embrace. A miracle follows their deaths: two trees grow out of their graves and intertwine their branches so that they can not be parted by any means.

The archetypal poem, which has not survived, seems to have been a grim and violent work containing episodes of a coarse and even farcical character. Two adaptations, made in the late 12th century, preserved something of its barbarity. About 1170, however, the Anglo-Norman poet Thomas, who was probably associated with the court of Henry II of England, produced an adaptation in which the harshness of the archetype was considerably softened. A mellifluous German version of Thomas’ adaptation, by Gottfried von Strassburg, is considered the jewel of medieval German poetry. Short episodic poems telling of Tristan’s surreptitious visits to Isolde at King Mark’s court appeared in the late 12th century. Of these, the most important are two versions of the Folie Tristan, in which Tristan is disguised as a fool, and the Luite Tristan, in which he appears as a minstrel. During the 13th century the story—like Arthurian legend—was embodied in a voluminous prose romance. In this, Tristan figured as the noblest of knights, and King Mark as a base villain, the whole being grafted onto Arthurian legend and bringing Tristan and King Arthur’s knight Sir Lancelot into rivalry. This version, which recounts innumerable chivalric adventures of a conventional type, had superseded all other French versions by the end of the European Middle Ages, and it was in this form that Sir Thomas Malory knew the legend in the late 15th century, making it part of his Le Morte Darthur. A popular romance in English, Sir Tristrem, dates from approximately 1300 and is one of the first poems written in the vernacular.

Renewed interest in the legend during the 19th century followed upon discovery of the old poems. Richard Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde (first performed in 1865) was inspired by the German poem of Gottfried von Strassburg.
 

 

 


Gottfried von Strassburg


Portrait of Gottfried von Strassburg
from the Codex Manesse (Folio 364r).
 

died c. 1210

one of the greatest medieval German poets, whose courtly epic Tristan und Isolde is the classic version of this famous love story.

The dates of his birth and death are unknown, and the only information about him consists of references to him in the work of other poets and inferences from his own work. The breadth of learning displayed in Tristan und Isolde reveals that he must have enjoyed the fullest education offered by the cathedral and monastery schools of the Middle Ages. Together with the authoritative tone of his writing, this background indicates that, although not himself of noble birth, he spent his life in the society of the wellborn. Tristan was probably written about 1210. Gottfried is thus a literary contemporary of Hartmann von Aue, Walther von der Vogelweide, and Wolfram von Eschenbach.

The Celtic legend of Tristan and Iseult (German: Isolde) reached Germany through French sources. The first German version is that of Eilhart von Oberg (c. 1170), but Gottfried, although he probably knew Eilhart’s poem, based his own work on the Anglo-Norman version of Thomas of Brittany (1160–70).

Gottfried’s moral purpose, as he states it in the prologue, is to present to courtiers an ideal of love. The core of this ideal, which derives from the romantic cult of woman in medieval courtly society, is that love (minne) ennobles through the suffering with which it is inseparably linked. This ideal Gottfried enshrines in a story in which actions are motivated and justified not by a standard ethic but by the conventions of courtly love. Thus, the love potion, instead of being the direct cause of the tragedy as in primitive versions of the Tristan story, is sophisticatedly treated as a mere outward symbol of the nature of the lovers’ passion—tragic because adulterous but justified by the “courts of love” because of its spontaneity, its exclusiveness, and its completeness.

Although unfinished, Gottfried’s is the finest of the medieval versions of the Tristan legend and one of the most perfect creations of the medieval courtly spirit, distinguished alike by the refinement and elevated tone of its content and by the elaborate skill of its poetic technique. It was the inspiration for Richard Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde (1859).
 

 

 


Wace


Jersey poet Wace presenting his Roman de Rou to Henry II of England
Illustration from Notice sur la vie et les écrits de Robert Wace by Frédéric Pluquet, 1824.
Engraving by C. E. Lambert.



born c. 1100, Jersey, Channel Islands
died after 1174

Anglo-Norman author of two verse chronicles, the Roman de Brut (1155) and the Roman de Rou (1160–74), named respectively after the reputed founders of the Britons and Normans.

The Rou was commissioned by Henry II of England, who sometime before 1169 secured for Wace a canonry at Bayeux in northwestern France. The Brut may have been dedicated to Henry’s queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Written in octosyllabic verse, it is a romanticized paraphrase of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Britanniae, tracing the history of Britain from its founding by the legendary Brutus the Trojan. Its many fanciful additions (including the story of King Arthur’s Round Table) helped increase the popularity of the Arthurian legends. The Rou, written in octosyllabic couplets and monorhyme stanzas of alexandrines, is a history of the Norman dukes from the time of Rollo the Viking (after 911) to that of Robert II Curthose (1106). In 1174, however, Henry II transferred his patronage to one Beneeit, who was writing a rival version, and Wace’s work remained unfinished.

Wace’s artistry in the Brut exerted a stylistic influence on later verse romances (notably on a version of the Tristan story by Thomas, the Anglo-Norman writer), whereas the English poem Brut (c. 1200) by Lawamon was the most notable of many direct imitations. Three devotional works by Wace also survive.

 

 

 


Chretien De Troyes 

FOUR ARTHURIAN ROMANCES: "EREC ET ENIDE", "CLIGES", "YVAIN", AND "LANCELOT"




 

flourished 1165–80

French poet who is known as the author of five Arthurian romances: Erec; Cligès; Lancelot, ou Le Chevalier à la charrette; Yvain, ou Le Chevalier au lion; and Perceval, ou Le Conte du Graal. The non-Arthurian tale Guillaume d’Angleterre, based on the legend of St. Eustace, may also have been written by Chrétien.

Little is known of Chrétien’s life. He apparently frequented the court of Marie, comtesse de Champagne, and he may have visited England. His tales, written in the vernacular, followed the appearance in France of Wace’s Roman de Brut (1155), a translation of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Britanniae, which introduced Britain and the Arthurian legend to continental Europe. Chrétien’s romances were imitated almost immediately by other French poets and were translated and adapted frequently during the next few centuries as the romance continued to develop as a narrative form. Erec, for example, supplied some of the material for the 14th-century poem Sir Gawayne and the Grene Knight.

Chrétien’s romances combine separate adventures into a well-knit story. Erec is the tale of the submissive wife who proves her love for her husband by disobeying his commands; Cligès, that of the victim of a marriage made under constraint who feigns death and wakens to a new and happy life with her lover; Lancelot, an exaggerated but perhaps parodic treatment of the lover who is servile to the god of love and to his imperious mistress Guinevere, wife of his overlord Arthur; Yvain, a brilliant extravaganza, combining the theme of a widow’s too hasty marriage to her husband’s slayer with that of the new husband’s fall from grace and final restoration to favour. Perceval, which Chrétien left unfinished, unites the religious theme of the Holy Grail with fantastic adventure.

Chrétien was the initiator of the sophisticated courtly romance. Deeply versed in contemporary rhetoric, he treated love casuistically and in a humorously detached fashion, bringing folklore themes and love situations together in an Arthurian world of adventure. Interest in his works, at first concentrated on their folklore sources, was diverted during the 20th century to their structure and narrative technique.
 

 

 


Jean Froissart


“Chronicles”: Charles VI receiving English envoys
 

born 1333?, Valenciennes, Brabant
died c. 1400, Chimay, Hainaut

medieval poet and court historian whose Chronicles of the 14th century remain the most important and detailed document of feudal times in Europe and the best contemporary exposition of chivalric and courtly ideals.

As a scholar, Froissart lived among the nobility of several European courts. In England he served Queen Philippa of Hainaut, King Edward III, and his sons the Black Prince and the Duke of Clarence. He became the chaplain of Guy II de Chatillon, comte de Blois, under whose auspices he was ordained canon of Chimay. He travelled to Scotland, Italy, France, and the Iberian Peninsula.

The main subject of Froissart’s Chronicles was the “honourable adventures and feats of arms” of the Hundred Years’ War. He used his privileged position to question central figures and observe key events. The firsthand narrative covers weddings, funerals, and great battles from 1325 to 1400. Book I was based on the work of the Flemish writer Jean le Bel and later rewritten. Book II concerns the events in Flanders and the Peace of Tournai. Book III concerns Spain and Portugal. Book IV is based on the Battle of Poitiers and a final visit to England, where he was shocked by the weakness of the royal government.

Froissart cites exact dialogues and all available facts, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions. The splendour and pageantry are emphasized, however, according to the courtly traditions of his patrons, while the victims and causes of suffering are overlooked. A didactic moral tone urges readers to aspire to the ideals of chivalry. While the Chronicles contain historical errors and lapses of judgment, they are the best information available to modern readers interested in the 14th century.

Froissart’s allegorical poetry celebrates courtly love. L’Horloge amoureux compares the heart to a clock, and Méliador is a chivalrous romance. His ballades and rondeaux expose the poet’s personal feelings. Despite his fame during his lifetime, Froissart apparently died in obscurity.

 

 


Marie De France



Marie de France presents her book to Henry II of England.
From the first edition of Marie de France's works.
Charles Chasselat (1782 - 1843)
 

flourished 12th century

earliest known French woman poet, creator of verse narratives on romantic and magical themes that perhaps inspired the musical lais of the later trouvères, and author of Aesopic and other fables, called Ysopets. Her works, of considerable charm and talent, were probably written in England. What little is known about her is taken or inferred from her writings and from a possible allusion or two in contemporary authors.

From a line in the epilogue to her fables, Claude Fauchet (1581) drew the name by which she has since been known. The same epilogue states that her fables were translated from, or based on, an English source for a Count William, usually identified as William Longsword, Earl of Salisbury, or sometimes as William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke. Her lais were dedicated to a “noble” king, presumably Henry II of England, though it is sometimes thought that this was Henry’s son, the Young King. Her version of L’Espurgatoire Seint Patriz (“St. Patrick’s Purgatory”) was based on the Latin text (c. 1185) of Henry of Saltrey. Every conjecture about her has been hotly debated.

Her lais varied in length from the 118 lines of Chevrefoil (“The Honeysuckle”), an episode in the Tristan story, to the 1,184 lines of Eliduc, a story of the devotion of a first wife whose husband brings a second wife from overseas.
 





Lyric poetry to the 13th century


The 12th century saw the revolution in sexual attitudes that has come to be known as amour courtois, or courtly love (the original term in Occitan is fin’amor). Its first exponents were the Occitan troubadours, poet-musicians of the 12th and 13th centuries, writing in medieval Occitan, of whom some 460 are known by name. Among them are clerics and both male and female nobles. The troubadours no longer considered women to be the disposable assets of men. On the contrary, the enjoyment of a woman’s love was a man’s aspiration, achievable, if at all, only after the suitor had served a period of amorous vassalage, modeled on the subject’s service to his lord and where spiritualization became an end in itself, based on the notion of an erotic, unsatisfied love. This is the main theme of the troubadours’ songs, whose origins have been sought in Arabic poetry, the writings of Ovid, Latin liturgical hymns, and other, less likely sources. The canso (French chanson), made of five or six stanzas with a summary envoi, was the favourite vehicle for their love poetry; but they used various other forms, from dawn songs to satiric, political, or debating poems, all usually highly crafted. Guilhelm IX, duke of Aquitaine, the first known poet in the Occitan language, mixed obscenity with his courtly sentiments. Among the finest troubadours are the graceful Bernard de Ventadour; Jaufre Rudel, who expressed an almost mystical longing for a distant love; the soldier and poet Bertran de Born; and the master of the hermetic tradition, Arnaut Daniel.

The langue d’oïl had a tradition of dance and spinning songs before the troubadours exerted by the mid-12th century an influence encouraged by, among others, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Guilhelm IX’s granddaughter and queen of France and later England (as the wife of Henry II). The troubadours’ verse inspired a number of northern trouvères, including Chrétien de Troyes (two of whose songs are extant), Guiot de Provins, Conon de Béthune, and some nobles such as Thibaut (Theobald I), count of Champagne and king of Navarre, and Richard Coeur de Lion (Richard I of England, the Lion Heart).

More interesting is the work of certain bourgeois poets, notably, in the 13th century, a group from Arras and especially Rutebeuf, a Parisian who perhaps came originally from Champagne and is often compared with François Villon. Rutebeuf wrote verse in personal, even autobiographical mode (though the personal details are probably fictional) on a variety of subjects: his own pitiful circumstances, the quarrel between the University of Paris and the religious orders, the need to support the Crusades, his reverence for the Virgin, and his disgust at clerical corruption.

 


Bernard de Ventadour


 

Bernart de Ventadorn (1130-1140 – 1190-1200), also known as Bernard de Ventadour or Bernat del Ventadorn, was a prominent troubador of the classical age of troubadour poetry. Now thought of as "the Master Singer" he developed the cansos into a more formalized style which allowed for sudden turns. He is remembered for his mastery as well as popularisation of the trobar leu style, and for his prolific cansos, which helped define the genre and establish the "classical" form of courtly love poetry, to be imitated and reproduced throughout the remaining century and a half of troubadour activity.

Bernart was known for being able to portray his woman as a divine agent in one moment and then in a sudden twist, portraying her as Eve, the cause of man's initial sin. This dichotomy in his work is portrayed in a "graceful, witty, and polished" medium.

According to the troubadour Uc de Saint Circ, Bernart was possibly the son of a baker at the castle of Ventadour (Ventadorn), in today's Corrèze. Yet another source, a satirical poem written by a younger contemporary, Peire d'Alvernha, indicates that he was the son of either a servant, a soldier, or a baker, and his mother was also either a servant or a baker. From evidence given in Bernart's early poem Lo temps vai e ven e vire, he most likely learned the art of singing and writing from his protector, viscount Eble III of Ventadorn. He composed his first poems to his patron's wife, Marguerite de Turenne.

Forced to leave Ventadour after falling in love with Marguerite, he traveled to Montluçon and Toulouse, and eventually followed Eleanor of Aquitaine to England and the Plantagenet court;evidence for this association and these travels comes mainly from his poems themselves. Later Bernart returned to Toulouse, where he was employed by Raimon V, Count of Toulouse; later still he went to Dordogne, where he entered a monastery. Most likely he died there. About 45 of his works survive.

Bernart is unique among secular composers of the twelfth century in the amount of music which has survived: of his forty-five poems, eighteen have music intact, an unusual circumstance for a troubador composer (music of the trouvères has a higher survival rate, usually attributed to them surviving the Albigensian Crusade, which scattered the troubadours and destroyed many sources). His work probably dates between 1147 and 1180. Bernart is often credited with being the most important influence on the development of the trouvère tradition in northern France, since he was well known there, his melodies were widely circulated, and the early composers of trouvère music seem to have imitated him. Bernart's influence also extended to Latin literature. In 1215 the Bolognese professor Boncompagno wrote in his Antiqua rhetorica that "How much fame attaches to the name of Bernard de Ventadorn, and how gloriously he made cansos and sweetly invented melodies, the world of Provence very much recognises."
 

 

 


Jaufre Rudel


A Romantic portrayal of Jaufre singing to his love
 

Jaufre Rudel (Jaufré in modern Occitan) was the Prince of Blaye (Princes de Blaia) and a troubadour of the early–mid 12th century, who probably died during the Second Crusade, in or after 1147. He is noted for developing the theme of "love from afar" (amor de lonh or amour de loin) in his songs.

Very little is known about his life, but a reference to him in a contemporary song by Marcabru describes him as being oltra mar—across the sea, probably on the Second Crusade in 1147. Probably he was the son of Girard, also castellan of Blaye, and who was titled "prince" in an 1106 charter. Girard's father was the first to carry the title, being called princeps Blaviensis as early as 1090. During his father's lifetime the suzerainty of Blaye was disputed between the Counts of Poitou and the Counts of Angoulême. Shortly after the succession of William VIII of Poitou, who had inherited it from his father, Blaye was taken by Wulgrin II of Angoulême, who probably vested Jaufre with it. According to one hypothesis, based on flimsy evidence, Wulgrin was Jaufre's father.

According to his legendary vida, or fictionalised biography, he was inspired to go on Crusade upon hearing from returning pilgrims of the beauty of Countess Hodierna of Tripoli, and that she was his amor de lonh, his far-off love. The legend claims that he fell sick on the journey and was brought ashore in Tripoli a dying man. Countess Hodierna is said to have come down from her castle on hearing the news, and Rudel died in her arms. This romantic but unlikely story seems to have been derived from the enigmatic nature of Rudel's verse and his presumed death on the Crusade.

Seven of Rudel's poems have survived to the present day, four of them with music. His composition Lanquan li jorn is thought to be the model for the Minnesinger Walther von der Vogelweide's crusade song Allerest lebe ich mir werde (Palästinalied).

Nineteenth-century Romanticism found his legend irresistible. It was the subject of poems by Ludwig Uhland, Heinrich Heine, Robert Browning (Rudel to the Lady of Tripoli) and Giosué Carducci (Jaufré Rudel). Algernon Charles Swinburne returned several times to the story in his poetry, in The Triumph of Time, The Death of Rudel and the now-lost Rudel in Paradise (also titled The Golden House). In The Triumph of Time, he summarises the legend thus:

There lived a singer in France of old
By the tideless dolorous midland sea.
In a land of sand and ruin and gold
There shone one woman, and none but she.
And finding life for her love’s sake fail,
Being fain to see her, he bade set sail,
Touched land, and saw her as life grew cold,
And praised God, seeing; and so died he.
Died, praising God for his gift and grace:
For she bowed down to him weeping, and said
“Live”; and her tears were shed on his face
Or ever the life in his face was shed.
The sharp tears fell through her hair, and stung
Once, and her close lips touched him and clung
Once, and grew one with his lips for a space;
And so drew back, and the man was dead.

Sir Nizamat Jung Bahadur, of Hyderabad, also wrote an epic poem on the subject, Rudel of Blaye, in 1926.

The French dramatist Edmond Rostand took the legend of Rudel and Hodierna as the basis for his 1895 verse drama La Princesse lointaine, but reassigned the female lead from Hodierna to her jilted daughter Melisende, played by Sarah Bernhardt.

More recently, Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho has written an opera about Rudel called L'amour de loin, with a libretto by Amin Maalouf, which was given its world premiere at the Salzburg Festival in 2000 and its US premiere at the Santa Fe Opera in 2002.
 

 

 


Bertran de Born



Bertran de Born (1140s – by 1215) was a baron from the Limousin in France, and one of the major Occitan troubadours of the twelfth century

Bertran de Born was the eldest son of Bertran de Born, lord of Autafort (Occitan: Autafòrt, French: Hautefort), and his wife Ermengardis. He had two younger brothers, Constantine and Itier. His father died in 1178, and Bertran succeeded him as lord of Autafort. By this time, he was already married to his first wife, Raimonda, and had two sons.

Autafort lies at the border between the Limousin and Périgord. As a result, Bertran became involved in the conflicts of the sons of Henry II Plantagenet. He was also fighting for control of Autafort.

According to the feudal custom of his region, he was not the only lord of Autafort, but held it jointly with his brothers. Other cases of co-seigneuries were known among the troubadours, the most famous being that of the "four troubadours of Ussel", three brothers and a cousin, and that of Raimon de Miraval and his brothers. A typical strategy employed by the major territorial principalities (such as the duchy of Aquitaine or the county of Toulouse) to decrease the influence of the local lords of the manor was to encourage feudal conflicts within their families. Bertran's struggle, especially with his brother Constantine, is at the heart of his poetry, which is dominated by political topics.

His first datable work is a sirventes (political or satirical song) of 1181, but it is clear from this he already had a reputation as a poet. In 1182, he was present at his overlord Henry II of England's court at Argentan. That same year, he had joined in Henry the Young King's revolt against his younger brother, Richard, Count of Poitou and Duke of Aquitaine. He wrote songs encouraging Aimar V of Limoges and others to rebel, and took the oath against Richard at Limoges. His brother Constantine took the opposing side, and Bertran drove him out of the castle in July.

Henry the Young King, whom Bertran had praised and criticised in his poems, died on campaign in June 1183 in Martel. Bertran wrote a planh (lament), in his memory, Mon chan fenisc ab dol et ab maltraire. (Another planh for Henry, Si tuit li dol e.l plor e.l marrimen, formerly attributed to Bertran, is now thought to be the work of Rigaut de Berbezill). In his punitive campaign against the rebels, Richard, aided by Alfonso II of Aragon, besieged Autafort and gave it to Constantine de Born. Henry II, however, is reported to have been moved by Bertran's lament for his son, and returned the castle to the poet. Constantine seems to have become a mercenary.

Bertran was reconciled also with Richard, whom he supported in turn against Philip II of France. At various times, he sought to exploit the dissensions among the Angevins in order to keep his independence. He gave them senhals (nicknames): Henry the Young King was Mariniers (Sailor), Geoffrey of Brittany was Rassa, and Richard, Oc-e-Non (Yes-and-No). He commemorated Geoffrey's death in the planh, A totz dic que ja mais non voil. He had contact with a number of other troubadours and also with the Northern French trouvère, Conon de Béthune, whom he addressed as Mon Ysombart.

Although he composed a few cansos (love songs), Bertran de Born was predominantly a master of the sirventes. Be.m platz lo gais temps de pascor, which revels in warfare, was translated by Ezra Pound:

“ ...We shall see battle axes and swords, a-battering colored haumes and a-hacking through shields at entering melee; and many vassals smiting together, whence there run free the horses of the dead and wrecked. And when each man of prowess shall be come into the fray he thinks no more of (merely) breaking heads and arms, for a dead man is worth more than one taken alive.
I tell you that I find no such savor in eating butter and sleeping, as when I hear cried "On them!" and from both sides hear horses neighing through their head-guards, and hear shouted "To aid! To aid!" and see the dead with lance truncheons, the pennants still on them, piercing their sides.

Barons! put in pawn castles, and towns, and cities before anyone makes war on us.

Papiol, be glad to go speedily to "Yea and Nay", and tell him there's too much peace about.”

When Richard (by then King) and Philip delayed setting out on the Third Crusade, he chided them in songs praising the heroic defence of Tyre by Conrad of Montferrat (Folheta, vos mi prejatz que eu chan and Ara sai eu de pretz quals l'a plus gran). When Richard was released from captivity after being suspected of Conrad's murder, Bertran welcomed his return with Ar ven la coindeta sazos. Ironically, one of Bertran's sources of income was from the market of Châlus-Cabrol, where Richard was fatally wounded in 1199.

Widowed for the second time c. 1196, Bertran became a monk and entered the Cistercian abbey of Dalon at Sainte-Trie in the Dordogne region. He had made numerous grants to the abbey over the years. His last datable song was written in 1198. He ceases to appear in charters after 1202, and was certainly dead by 1215, when there is a record of a payment for a candle for his tomb.

His œuvre consists of about forty-seven works, thirty-six unanimously attributed to him in the manuscripts, and eleven uncertain attributions. Several melodies survive, and some of his songs have been recorded by Sequentia, Gérard Zuchetto and his Troubadours Art Ensemble, and the Martin Best Mediæval Consort, who released an album of songs by "Dante Troubadours".

 

Youth and Age

I love to see the previous order turning,

when the old leave all their property to youth:

it's this, not buzz of bee or flowers returning,

that makes me feel the world has found its truth;

and if a man produces sons enough,

the chances are at least one will be tough;

and a younger loyalty in love or war

will make the heart and sword arm young once more.

A woman is old who sets no warrior yearning;

she's old, if she keeps faithful to her spouse;

old, if she uses black and sorcerous learning,

or lets more than one lover in her house.

She's old, if her hair's a mess of ragged stuff,

or if she takes a lover who is rough.

She's old, if she thinks that music is a chore,

and she's old when all her talk becomes a bore.

Women are young, whose hearts remain discerning,

whose actions show the values they espouse,

who do not look with scorn on merit's earning,

whose virtues are a light no scandals douse.

A woman is young, whose manner is not gruff,

yet gives impetuous youths a wise rebuff.

She's young, if her figure's nothing to ignore,

and she doesn't pry and listen at every door.

I call a man young who's passionate concerning

jousts and courts, considering thrift uncouth.

He's young, when he thinks that money is for burning;

when, ruined, he smiles without a trace of ruth.

He's young, when he stakes his fortune on a bluff,

and feels that no extravagance is enough.

He's young, if he is skilled in lovers' lore,

and he's young, if he judges risk what life is for.

Though a man be rich, I say that he's old, if, spurning

pillage and war, he wastes away his youth

piling up bread and beef and wine, then turning

monkish, serves eggs, as if we'd nary a tooth.

He's old, if he muffles himself in woven stuff,

and can't command a horse and ride him rough.

He's old, if he rests in peace when battles roar;

old, if he shirks the field and bars the door.

Poet Arnaut, go take this song of youth

and age to Richard, that he may feel its truth

and never wish to heap up worldly store,

since youthful daring enriches honor more.

Translated by Jon Corelis

 

 


Arnaut Daniel

flourished 1180–1200

Provençal poet, troubadour, and master of the trobar clus, a poetic style composed of complex metrics, intricate rhymes, and words chosen more for their sound than for their meaning.

Thought to have been born in Ribérac (now in France), Arnaut was a nobleman and a highly regarded traveling troubadour. He is credited with inventing the sestina, a lyrical form of six six-line stanzas, unrhymed, with an elaborate scheme of word repetition. His skill with language was admired by Petrarch and in the 20th century by Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot. His greatest influence, however, was on Dante, who imitated him and gave him a prominent place in Purgatory as a model for the vernacular poet. Arnaut’s speech in Provençal is the only passage in the Divine Comedy not in Italian.
 





Satire, the fabliaux, and the Roman de Renart


Medieval literature in both Latin and the vernacular is full of sharp, often bitter criticism of the world’s evils: the injustice of rulers, churchmen’s avarice and hypocrisy, corruption among lawyers, doctors’ quackery, and the wiles and deceits of women. It appears in pious and didactic literature and, as authorial comment, in other genres but more usually in general terms than as particular, corrective satire. Human vice and folly also serve purely comic ends, as in the fabliaux. These fairly short verse tales composed between the late 12th and the 14th centuries—most of which are anonymous, though some are by leading poets—generate laughter from situations extending from the obscene to the mock-religious, built sometimes around simple wordplay and frequently elaborate deceptions and counterdeceptions. They are played out in all classes of society but predominantly among the bourgeoisie. Many fabliaux carry mock morals, inviting comparison with the didactic fables. Realistic in tone, they paint instructive pictures of everyday life in medieval France. They ultimately yielded in importance to the farces, bequeathing a fund of anecdotes to later writers such as Geoffrey Chaucer and Giovanni Boccaccio.

Inspired partly by the popular animal fable, partly by the Latin satire of monastic life Ysengrimus (1152; Eng. trans. Ysengrimus), the collection of ribald comic tales known as the Roman de Renart (Renard the Fox) began to circulate in the late 12th century, chronicling the rivalry of Renart the Fox and the wolf Isengrin, and the lively and largely scandalous goings-on in the animal kingdom ruled by Noble the Lion. By the 14th century about 30 branches existed, forming a veritable beast epic. Full of close social observation, they exude the earthy humour of the fabliaux; but, particularly in some of the later branches, this is sharpened into true satire directed against abuses in church and state, with the friars and rapacious nobility as prime targets.
 


Reynard The Fox




literary character
Main
hero of several medieval European cycles of versified animal tales that satirize contemporary human society. Though Reynard is sly, amoral, cowardly, and self-seeking, he is still a sympathetic hero, whose cunning is a necessity for survival. He symbolizes the triumph of craft over brute strength, usually personified by Isengrim, the greedy and dull-witted wolf. Some of the cyclic stories collected around him, such as the wolf or bear fishing with his tail through a hole in the ice, are found all over the world; others, like the sick lion cured by the wolf’s skin, derive by oral transmission from Greco-Roman sources. The cycle arose in the area between Flanders and Germany in the 10th and 11th centuries, when clerks began to forge Latin beast epics out of popular tales. The name “Ysengrimus” was first used as the title of a poem in Latin elegiac couplets by Nivard of Ghent in 1152, and some of the stories were soon recounted in French octosyllabic couplets. The Middle High German poem “Fuchs Reinhard” (c. 1180) by Heinrich (der Glîchesaere?), a masterpiece of 2,000 lines, freely adapted from a lost French original, is another early version of the cycle.

The main literary tradition of Reynard the Fox, however, descends from the extant French “branches” of the Roman de Renart (about 30 in number, totaling nearly 40,000 lines of verse). These French branches are probably elaborations of the same kernel poem that was used by Heinrich in the earlier German version. The facetious portrayal of rustic life, the camel as a papal legate speaking broken French, the animals riding on horses and recounting elaborate dreams, suggest the atmosphere of 13th-century France and foreshadow the more sophisticated “Nun’s Priest’s Tale” of Geoffrey Chaucer. Because of the popularity of these tales the nickname renard has replaced the old word goupil (“fox”) throughout France. The Flemish adaptations of these French tales by Aenout and Willem (c. 1250) were the sources of the Dutch and Low German prose manuscripts and chapbooks, which in turn were used by the English printer William Caxton and subsequent imitators down to J.W. von Goethe’s Reineke Fuchs (1794).
 


 

Allegory

Allegory, popular from early times, was employed in Latin literature by such authorities as Augustine, Prudentius, Martianus Capella, and, in the late 12th century, Alain de Lille. It was used widely in religious and moralizing works, as in the long Pèlerinage de la vie humaine (“The Pilgrimage of Human Life”) by Guillaume de Deguileville, Dante’s contemporary and a precursor of John Bunyan. But the most influential allegorical work in French was the Roman de la rose (The Romance of the Rose), where courtly love is first celebrated, then undermined. The first 4,058 lines were written about 1225–30 by Guillaume de Lorris, a sensitive, elegant poet who, through a play of allegorical figures, analyzed the psychology of a young couple’s venture into love. The affair is presented as a dream, in which the plucking of a crimson rose by the dreamer/lover would represent his conquest of the lady. Guillaume, however, left the poem unfinished, with the dreamer frustrated and his chief ally imprisoned. Forty or more years later, a poet of very different temperament, Jean de Meun (or de Meung), added more than 17,700 lines to complete it, submerging Guillaume’s delicate allegory with debates and disquisitions by the characters, laden with medieval and ancient learning. Courtly idealism is shunned for a practical, often critical or cynical view of the world. Love, only one of many topics treated in the completed version, is synonymous with procreation; and a misogynistic tone pervades the writing. Embodying these two characteristically medieval but diametrically opposed attitudes to love, The Romance of the Rose was immensely popular until well into the Renaissance and gave rise to one of the earliest and most important instances of the Querelle des Femmes (“Debate on Women”; a literary disputation over the alleged inferiority or superiority of women.) Christine de Pisan’s attack on the misogyny and obscenity of The Romance of the Rose, in the Épistre au Dieu d’Amours (1399; “Epistle to the God of Love”), foreshadows her later extended allegory in defense of women, the vigorous, scholarly, and immensely readable Livre de la cité des dames (composed 1404–05; The Book of the City of Ladies). Le Livre des trois vertus (1405; “The Book of Three Virtues”; Eng. trans. A Medieval Woman’s Mirror of Honor: The Treasure of the City of Ladies) sets out in detail the important social roles of women of all classes.

 


Guillaume de Lorris



Miniature from a manuscript of the Roman de la Rose
(Oxford, Bodleian Library, Douce 195), folio 1r,
portrait of Guillaume de Lorris.



flourished 13th century

French author of the first and more poetic part of the medieval verse allegory the Roman de la rose, started by him c. 1225–30 but continued only some 40–50 years later by Jean de Meun.

Little is known of Guillaume de Lorris except that he was clearly an aristocrat and that he was born in the village of Lorris, just east of Orléans. Guillaume’s section of the work—the first 4,058 lines—reveals him as a courtly poet of great perceptiveness who has mastered the revelation of character through allegorical symbols. It draws on the conventions of courtly love descended from the troubadours, although that code of behaviour appears to have been waning in popularity already in the 13th century
 

 

 


Jean de Meun



Mirth and Gladness lead a Dance in this miniature
from a manuscript of the Roman de la Rose in the
Bodleian Library (MS Douce 364, folio 8r).

born c. 1240, Meung-sur-Loire, France
died before 1305

French poet famous for his continuation of the Roman de la rose, an allegorical poem in the courtly love tradition begun by Guillaume de Lorris about 1225.

Jean de Meun’s original name was Clopinel, or Chopinel, but he became known by the name of his birthplace. He probably owned a home in Paris and may have been archdeacon of the Beauce, a region between Paris and Orléans. Little is known of his life.

His poems are satiric, coarse, at times immoral, but fearless and outspoken in attacking the abuses of the age. His strong antifeminism and censures on the vices of the church were bitterly resented.

Jean used the plot of the Roman de la rose (c. 1280) as a means of conveying a mass of encyclopaedic information and opinions on every topic likely to interest his contemporaries, especially the increasingly important bourgeois class. At various times he relates the history of classical heroes, attacks the hoarding of money, and theorizes about astronomy and about the human duty to increase and multiply. Many of his views were hotly contested, but they held the attention of the age. The allegory itself was of little importance to him; the famous “Confession” of Nature (one of the characters in the poem) digressed from the narrative for some 3,500 verses, yet it was such digressions that secured the poem’s reputation. Nearly a century later Geoffrey Chaucer translated a segment of the poem, and some scholars hold that it influenced his work more than any other vernacular French or Italian poetry.
 

 

 


Christine de Pisan



born 1364, Venice [Italy]
died c. 1430

prolific and versatile French poet and author whose diverse writings include numerous poems of courtly love, a biography of Charles V of France, and several works championing women.

Christine’s Italian father was astrologer to Charles V, and she spent a pleasant, studious childhood at the French court. At 15 she married Estienne de Castel, who became court secretary. Widowed after 10 years of marriage, she took up writing in order to support herself and her three young children. Her first poems were ballades of lost love written to the memory of her husband. These verses met with success, and she continued writing ballads, rondeaux, lays, and complaints in which she expressed her feelings with grace and sincerity. Among her patrons were Louis I, duke d’Orléans, the Duke de Berry, Philip II the Bold of Burgundy, Queen Isabella of Bavaria, and, in England, the 4th Earl of Salisbury. In all, she wrote 10 volumes in verse, including L’Épistre au Dieu d’amours (1399; “Letter to the God of Loves”), in which she defended women against the satire of Jean de Meun in the Roman de la rose.

Christine’s prose works include Le Livre de la cité des dames (1405; The Book of the City of Ladies), in which she wrote of women known for their heroism and virtue, and Le Livre des trois vertus (1405; “Book of Three Virtues”), a sequel comprising a classification of women’s roles in medieval society and a collection of moral instructions for women in the various social spheres. The story of her life, L’Avision de Christine (1405), told in an allegorical manner, was a reply to her detractors. At the request of the regent, Philip the Bold of Burgundy, Christine wrote the life of the deceased king, Charles—Le Livre des fais et bonnes meurs du sage roy Charles V (1404; “Book of the Deeds and Good Morals of the Wise King Charles V”), a firsthand picture of Charles V and his court. Her eight additional prose works reveal her remarkable breadth of knowledge.

After the disastrous Battle of Agincourt in 1415, she retired to a convent. Her last work, Le Ditié de Jehanne d’Arc (written in 1429), is a lyrical, joyous outburst inspired by the early victories of Joan of Arc; it is the only such French-language work written during Joan’s lifetime.
 




Lyric poetry in the 14th century


Allegory and similar conceits abound in much late medieval poetry, as with Guillaume de Machaut, the outstanding musician of his day, who composed for noble patronage a number of narrative dits amoureux (short pieces on the subject of love) and a quantity of lyric verse. A talented technician, Machaut did much to popularize and develop the relatively new fixed forms: ballade, rondeau, and virelai (a short poem with a refrain). Eustache Deschamps, Machaut’s great admirer and perhaps also his nephew, struck in his own verse a more personal note than many of his contemporaries. A prolific writer, he dealt with public and private affairs, sometimes satirically; but he composed little love poetry, and his work was not set to music. Jean Froissart, the chronicler, also wrote pleasantly in a variety of lyric forms, as did Christine de Pisan, whose poetry had a greater individuality. Most court verse of this period has an unreal air, as if, amid the political and social agonies of the Hundred Years’ War, the poets were voicing a yearning for humane and gracious living founded on the ideals of courtoisie. Thus Alain Chartier, a political polemicist in both French and Latin, was most admired for his poem La Belle Dame sans mercy (1424; “The Beautiful Woman Without Mercy”), which tells of the death of a lover rejected by his lady.

 


Guillaume de Machaut



Machaut (at right) receiving Nature and three of her children,
from an illuminated Parisian manuscript of the 1350s

 

born c. 1300, Machault, Fr.
died 1377, Reims

French poet and musician, greatly admired by contemporaries as a master of French versification and regarded as one of the leading French composers of the Ars Nova musical style of the 14th century. It is on his shorter poems and his musical compositions that his reputation rests. He was the last great poet in France to think of the lyric and its musical setting as a single entity.

He took holy orders and in 1323 entered the service of John of Luxembourg, king of Bohemia, whom he accompanied on his wars as chaplain and secretary. He was rewarded for this service by his appointment in 1337 as canon of Reims cathedral. After the King’s death, he found another protector in the King’s daughter, Bonne of Luxembourg, wife of the future king John II of France, and in 1349 in Charles II, king of Navarre. Honours and patronage continued to be lavished by kings and princes on Machaut at Reims until his death.

In his longer poems Machaut did not go beyond the themes and genres already widely employed in his time. Mostly didactic and allegorical exercises in the well-worked courtly love tradition, they are of scant interest to the modern reader. An exception among the longer works is Voir-Dit, which relates how a young girl of high rank falls in love with the poet because of his fame and creative accomplishments. The difference in age is too great, however, and the idyll ends in disappointment. Machaut’s lyric poems also are based on the courtly love theme but reworked into a deft form with a verbal music that is often perfectly achieved. His influence—most significantly his technical innovations—spread beyond the borders of France. In England, Geoffrey Chaucer drew heavily upon Machaut’s poetry for elements of The Book of the Duchesse.

All of Machaut’s music has been preserved in 32 manuscripts, representing a large part of the surviving music from his period. He was the first composer to write single-handedly a polyphonic setting of the mass ordinary, a work that has been recorded in modern performance. In most of this four-part setting he employs the characteristic Ars Nova technique of isorhythm (repeated overlapping of a rhythmic pattern in varying melodic forms).

Machaut’s secular compositions make up the larger part of his music. His three- and four-part motets (polyphonic songs in which each voice has a different text) number 23. Of these, 17 are in French, 2 are Latin mixed with French, and 4, like the religious motets of the early 13th century, are in Latin. Love is often the subject of their texts, and all but 3 employ isorhythm. Machaut’s 19 lais (see lai) are usually for unaccompanied voice, although two are for three parts, and one is for two parts. They employ a great variety of musical material, frequently from the popular song and dance. Of his 33 virelais (see virelai), 25 consist solely of a melody, and they, along with the bulk of his lais, represent the last of such unaccompanied songs composed in the tradition of the trouvères. The rest of his virelais have one or two additional parts for instrumental accompaniment, and these are typical of the accompanied solo song that became popular in the 14th century. The polyphonic songs he wrote, in addition to his motets, consist of 21 rondeaux and 41 of his 42 ballades. The wide distribution of his music in contemporary manuscripts reveals that he was esteemed not only in France but also in Italy, Spain, and much of the rest of Europe.
 

 

 


Eustache Deschamps


born c. 1346, Vertus, Fr.
died c. 1406

poet and author of L’Art de dictier (1392), the first treatise on French versification.

The son of middle-class parents, Deschamps was educated in Reims by the poet Guillaume de Machaut, who had a lasting influence on him. After law studies in Orléans, he held administrative and diplomatic posts under the kings Charles V and VI. His leisure was devoted to poetry, and he was immensely prolific, producing farces, traditional love poetry, and satires—notably a satire on women.

By his own description, Deschamps was jovial and good-humoured. The Hundred Years’ War embittered him, however, and his later poetry is a realistic reflection of his times, showing sympathy for the sufferings of the people and affection for his country. He influenced the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer, to whom he addressed a ballade.
 

Ballade

Sus! Alarme! Ce dist le Mardi Gras
Au Charnage : nous serons assaillis!
Caresme vient. Que ferons nous, helas?
Ce mercredi sera sur le pays,
Dont je voy ja moult de gens esbahis
Et qui delaissent beufs, vaiches et moutons,
Veaulx et aigneaulx, connins, perdriz, chapons,
Cerfs et chevreaulx, pors, bieurre, oeufs et frommaige,
Oes, malars, faisans, grues et paons.
Maudit soit il, et benoit soit Charnage.
Caresme met les povres gens au bas,
Jeuner les fait et estre mal servis,
Et les contraint par griefs labours de bras.
Aux et oingnons, huile de chenevis,
Noix moysies, pommes et pain faitis,
Leur met devant, herbes, choulz et porgons,
Tourteaulx en pot d'orge et de secourgons,
Matin lever pour aler en l'ouvraige.
Merveille n'est se tel tirant doubtons.
Maudit soit il, et benoit soit Charnaige.
Artillerie a dedenz ses cabas,
Harens puanz, poissons de mer pourris,
Puree et poys et feves en un tas,
Pommes cuites, orge mondé et ris.
Dieux! Qu'il a fait de mal aux moines gris,
Et aux Chartreux, maintes religions!
Toudis leur fait june et afflictions,
Et a pluseurs tenir povre mesnaige,
Le ventre emfler souvent par ses poissons.
Maudit soit il, et benoit soit Charnaige.
Aux bien peuz fait avoir ventre plas,
Il vuide ceuls que j'avoie raemplis,
Souppe a huile leur donne et l'avenas,
Corde leur çaint, trop leur est ennemis.
VI sepmaines sera ses sieges mis.
Ainsis le fait : en Mars est sa saisons
Une foiz l'an. Contre lui nous tenons
Vigueureusement. May le mettra en caige,
Pasques aussi ; nous trois le destruirons.
Maudiz soit il, et benoit soit Charnaige.
Dieux! Qu'il sera le grant sabmedi mas,
Povres, tristes, honteus et desconfis,
Huez com leux, car le dimenche es plas
Yert Charnaige avec ses bons amis.
Harens seront, figues et raisins, honnis.
Porree au lart, pastez, la ne faillons,
Connins, cabriz, oes, tartres et flaons.
Caresme prins tendrons en no servaige ;
Eschac et mat a ce jour lui dirons :
Maudis soit il, et benois soit Charnaige.

Envoy
Princes, ce temps paciamment souffrons ;
Prenons en gré pois, harens, courtillaige.
Caresme est brief, nous le desconfirons.
Maudis soit il, et benoit soit Charnaige.

 

 


Alain Chartier


Alain Chartier by Edmund Blair Leighton

 

born c. 1385, Bayeux, Normandy, France
died c. 1433, Avignon, Provence?

French poet and political writer whose didactic, elegant, and Latinate style was regarded as a model by succeeding generations of poets and prose writers.

Educated at the University of Paris, Chartier entered the royal service, acting as secretary and notary to both Charles VI and the dauphin, later Charles VII. He carried out various diplomatic missions for Charles VII, and in 1428 he was sent to Scotland to negotiate the marriage of Margaret of Scotland with the future Louis XI.

His work, written mainly from 1415 to 1430, is distinguished by its variety of subject matter and form. Chartier was a poet, orator, historian, moralist, and pamphleteer who wrote in Latin and French. His earliest-known poem, the Livre des quatre dames (1415 or 1416; “Book of the Four Ladies”), is a discussion between four ladies who have lost their lovers at the Battle of Agincourt. The same technique is used in the prose Quadrilogue invectif, written in 1422, the dialogue being between France and the three estates of the realm (clergy, nobility, and commoners). This work exposes the sufferings of the peasantry, the misdeeds of the church, and the abuses of the feudal army but maintains that France could yet be saved if the kingdom’s contending factions would lay aside their differences in the face of the common enemy.

Chartier’s poems are mostly allegories in the courtly tradition but show the influence of his classical learning in their frequent Latinisms. They include La Belle Dame sans merci, Le Lay de paix (“The Lay of Peace”), and Le Bréviaire des nobles, the first of which, a tale of unrequited love, is the best known and was translated into English in the 15th century.
 




Villon and his contemporaries


One distinguished victim of the Hundred Years’ War was Charles, duc d’Orléans, who was captured at Agincourt at the age of 21 and was held prisoner in England for 25 years. There is an elegiac tone to much of his graceful courtly verse. On his return to France, his court at Blois became a literary centre, where he encouraged the work of artists and poets such as François Villon.



 

Born in Paris about 1431 as François de Montcorbier, Villon adopted the name of his uncle, a priest, who saw to his upbringing. At the University of Paris, where he became Master of Arts in 1452, he acquired some learning but also became involved in rioting, robbery, and manslaughter. His forced departure from Paris was the occasion for his Le Lais, or Le Petit Testament (1456; The Legacy: The Testament and Other Poems). This mock legacy in eight-line octosyllabic stanzas is conversational and often facetious in tone, full of allusions to people and events sometimes made cryptic by Villon’s taste for antiphrasis. His main work, the Testament (or Le Grand Testament), was written five or six years later after a spell in the bishop of Orléans’s dungeons. It uses the octets of the Lais interspersed with ballades and rondeaux and is similarly packed with personal gossip, often tongue-in-cheek but leaving a bitter aftertaste. Following more brushes with justice, Villon disappeared for good, narrowly escaping hanging. Commonly considered to have been the first modern French poet, he brings a personal note to the familiar lyric themes of age, death, and loss and mixes elegy with irony, satire, and burlesque humour. His verse shows great technical skill, a keen command of rhythmic effects, and an economy of expression that not only enhances his lively wit but produces moments of intensely focused vision and, in individual poems, moving statements of human experience.

None of his contemporaries or immediate successors was able to match the vigour of his verse. Often obsessed by metrical ingenuity, extravagant rhymes, and other conceits, they favoured Italian as well as Classical models, thus heralding the Renaissance. It is unfair, however, to judge them by their words alone, since music was, for most, a vital ingredient of their art.
 


Francois Villon



"Ballades"


born 1431, Paris
died after 1463

one of the greatest French lyric poets. He was known for his life of criminal excess, spending much time in prison or in banishment from medieval Paris. His chief works include Le Lais (Le Petit Testament), Le Grand Testament, and various ballades, chansons, and rondeaux.

Life
Villon’s father died while he was still a child, and he was brought up by the canon Guillaume de Villon, chaplain of Saint-Benoît-le-Bétourné. The register of the faculty of arts of the University of Paris records that in March 1449 Villon received the degree of bachelor, and in May–August 1452, that of master. On June 5, 1455, a violent quarrel broke out in the cloisters of Saint-Benoît among himself, some drinking companions, and a priest, Philippe Sermoise, whom Villon killed with a sword thrust. He was banished from the city but, in January 1456, won a royal pardon. Just before Christmas of the same year, however, he was implicated in a theft from the Collège de Navarre and was again obliged to leave Paris.

At about this time he composed the poem his editors have called Le Petit Testament, which he himself entitled Le Lais (The Legacy). It takes the form of a list of “bequests,” ironically conceived, made to friends and acquaintances before leaving them and the city. To his barber he leaves the clippings from his hair; to three well-known local usurers, some small change; to the clerk of criminal justice, his sword (which was in pawn).

After leaving Paris, he probably went for a while to Angers. He certainly went to Blois and stayed on the estates of Charles, duc d’Orléans, who was himself a poet. Here, further excesses brought him another prison sentence, this time remitted because of a general amnesty declared at the birth of Charles’s daughter, Marie d’Orléans, on December 19, 1457. Villon entered his ballade “Je meurs de soif auprès de la fontaine” (“I die of thirst beside the fountain”) in a poetry contest organized by the prince, who is said to have had some of Villon’s poems (including the “letter” dedicated to the young child, “Épître à Marie d’Orléans”) transcribed into a manuscript of his own work.

At some later time, Villon is known to have been in Bourges and in the Bourbonnais, where he possibly stayed at Moulins. But throughout the summer of 1461 he was once more in prison. He was not released until October 2, when the prisons were emptied because King Louis XI was passing through.

Free once more, Villon wrote his longest work, Le Testament (or Le Grand Testament, as it has since been known). It contains 2,023 octosyllabic lines in 185 huitains (eight-line stanzas). These huitains are interspersed with a number of fixed-form poems, chiefly ballades (usually poems of three 10-line stanzas, plus an envoi of between 4 and 7 lines) and chansons (songs written in a variety of metres and with varied verse patterns), some of which he had composed earlier.

In Le Testament Villon reviews his life and expresses his horror of sickness, prison, old age, and his fear of death. It is from this work especially that his poignant regret for his wasted youth and squandered talent is known. He re-creates the taverns and brothels of the Paris underworld, recalling many of his old friends in drunkenness and dissipation, to whom he had made various “bequests” in Le Lais. But Villon’s tone is here much more scathing than in his earlier work, and he writes with greater ironic detachment.

Shortly after his release from the prison at Meung-sur-Loire he was arrested, in 1462, for robbery and detained at the Châtelet in Paris. He was freed on November 7 but was in prison the following year for his part in a brawl in the rue de la Parcheminerie. This time he was condemned to be pendu et etranglé (“hanged and strangled”). While under the sentence of death he wrote his superb “Ballade des pendus,” or “L’Épitaphe Villon” , in which he imagines himself hanging on the scaffold, his body rotting, and he makes a plea to God against the “justice” of men. At this time, too, he wrote his famous wry quatrain “Je suis Françoys, dont il me poise” (“I am François, they have caught me”). He also made an appeal to the Parlement, however, and on January 5, 1463, his sentence was commuted to banishment from Paris for 10 years. He was never heard from again.


Poetry
The criminal history of Villon’s life can all too easily obscure the scholar, trained in the rigorous intellectual disciplines of the medieval schools. While it is true that his poetry makes a direct unsentimental appeal to our emotions, it is also true that it displays a remarkable control of rhyme and reveals a disciplined composition that suggests a deep concern with form, and not just random inspiration. For example, the ballade “Fausse beauté, qui tant me couste chier” (“False beauty, for which I pay so dear a price”), addressed to his friend, a prostitute, not only supports a double rhyme pattern but is also an acrostic, with the first letter of each line of the first two stanzas spelling out the names Françoys and Marthe. Even the arrangement of stanzas in the poem seems to follow a determined order, difficult to determine, but certainly not the result of happy accident. An even higher estimate of Villon’s technical ability would probably be reached if more were known about the manner and rules of composition of the time.

A romantic notion of Villon’s life as some sort of medieval vie de bohème—a conception reinforced by the 19th-century Symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud, who saw him as the “accursed poet”—has been challenged by modern critical studies. David Kuhn has examined the way most texts were made to yield literal, allegorical, moral, and spiritual meanings, following a type of biblical exegesis prevalent in that theocentric age. He has discovered in Le Testament a numerical pattern according to which Villon distributed the stanzas. If his analysis is correct, then it would seem Le Testament is a poem of cosmic significance, to be interpreted on many levels. Kuhn believes, for example, that the stanza numbered 33—the number of years Jesus Christ lived—refers directly to Jesus, which, if true, could hardly be regarded as the random inspiration of a “lost child.” The critic Pierre Guiraud sees the poems as codes that, when broken, reveal the satire of a Burgundian cleric against a corps of judges and attorneys in Paris.

That Villon was a man of culture familiar with the traditional forms of poetry and possessing an acute sense of the past is evident from the poems themselves. There is the ballade composed in Old French, parodying the language of the 13th century; Le Testament, which stands directly in the tradition of Jehan Bodel’s Congés (“Leave-takings”), poetry that poets such as Adam de la Halle and Bodel before him had composed when setting out on a journey; best of all, perhaps, there is his “Ballade des dames du temps jadis” (“Ballade of the Ladies of Bygone Times,” included in Le Testament), with its famous, incantatory refrain “Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?” (“But where are the snows of yesteryear?”).

However farfetched some of these insights into Villon may appear to be, it is not surprising that the poet—given the historical context of learning—should inform his own work with depth of thought, meaning, and significance. But an “intellectual” approach to Villon’s work should not distract from its burning sincerity nor contradict the accepted belief that fidelity to genuine, often painful, personal experience was the source of the harsh inspiration whereby he illuminated his largely traditional subject matter—the cortège of shattered illusions, the regrets for a lost past, the bitterness of love betrayed, and, above all, the hideous fear of death so often found in literature and art at that time of pestilence and plague, massacre and war.

The little knowledge of Villon’s life that has come down to the present is chiefly the result of the patient research of the 19th-century French scholar Auguste Longnon, who brought to light a number of historical documents—most of them judicial records—relating to the poet. But after Villon’s banishment by the Parlement in 1463 all trace of him vanishes. Still, it is a wonder that any of his poetry should have survived, and there exist about 3,000 lines, the greater part published as early as 1489 by the Parisian bookseller Pierre Levet, whose edition served as the basis for some 20 more in the next century. Apart from the works mentioned, there are also 12 single ballades and rondeaux (basically 13-line poems with a sophisticated double rhyme pattern), another 4 of doubtful authenticity, and 7 ballades in jargon and jobelin—the slang of the day. Two stories about the poet were later recounted by François Rabelais: one told of his being in England, the other of his seeking refuge at the monastery of Saint-Maixent in Poitou. Neither is credible, nor is it known when or where Villon died.


Assessment
Perhaps the most deeply moving of French lyric poets, Villon ranges in his verse from themes of drunkenness and prostitution to the unsentimental humility of a ballade-prayer to “Our Lady,” “Pour prier Nostre-Dame,” written at the request of his mother. He speaks, with marvelous directness, of love and death, reveals a deep compassion for all suffering humanity, and tells unforgettably of regret for the wasted past.

His work marks the end of an epoch, the waning of the Middle Ages, and it has commonly been read as the inspiration of a “lost child.” But as more becomes known about the poetic traditions and disciplines of his day, this interpretation seems inadequate. It is probably either too early or too late fully to understand Villon’s work, as one critic has suggested; but although the scholar must still face a variety of critical problems, enough is known about Villon’s life and times to mark him as a poet of genius, whose work is charged with meaning and great emotional force.

Régine Pernoud
Ed.
 



 

Prose literature

Prose flourished as a literary medium from roughly 1200. A few years earlier Robert de Boron had used verse for his Joseph d’Arimathie (associating the Holy Grail with the Crucifixion) and his Merlin; but both were soon turned into prose. Other Arthurian romances adopted it, notably the great Vulgate cycle written between 1215 and 1235, with its five branches by various hands. These included the immensely popular Lancelot, the Queste del Saint Graal (whose Cistercian author used Galahad’s Grail quest to evoke the mystic pursuit of Christian truth and ecstasy), and La Mort le Roi Artu (The Death of King Arthur), powerfully describing the collapse of the Arthurian world. The Tristan legend was reworked and extended in prose. To spin out their romances while maintaining their public’s interest, authors wove in many characters and adventures, producing complex interlacing patterns, which Sir Thomas Malory simplified when he drew on them for his Le Morte Darthur ("King Arthur and of his Noble Knights" ), c. 1470.

As well as traditional material, new fictions appeared in prose, taking a very different view of love, and often in the form of short comic tales. Early in the 15th century, the ironically titled Les Quinze Joies de mariage (The Batchelars Banquet, or The Fifteen Comforts of Matrimony) continued the tradition of misogynist satire. In his Histoire du petit Jehan de Saintré (1456; Little John of Saintre), Antoine de la Sale drew an ill-starred relationship in which hero and heroine both sought to exploit the social game of courtly love for their own ends; the work’s realism and psychological interest have made it for some the first French novel. The bawdy tales of the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles (c. 1465; The One Hundred New Tales), loosely modeled on the work of Giovanni Boccaccio, are more in the spirit of the fabliaux, though written for the Burgundian court.

Pious and instructional works abound. More interesting are the chronicles, which avoid the romantic extravagances of their verse predecessors. Geoffroy of Villehardouin’s Conquête de Constantinople (“Conquest of Constantinople”) is a sober, if biased, eyewitness account of the Fourth Crusade (1199–1204). Jean, sire de Joinville, was 84 when, in 1309, he completed his Histoire de Saint Louis, a flattering biographical portrait of his intimate friend Louis IX, whom he had accompanied on the Seventh Crusade. (Both Villehardouin’s account and Joinville’s biography are to be found in a 20th-century English translation as Joinville and Villehardouin: Chronicles of the Crusades. Jean Froissart, who traveled extensively in England and Scotland and on the Continent, projected his admiration of chivalry into his four books of chronicles. Covering the years 1325 to 1400, they contain much picturesque detail, largely from personal observation. A far more cynical view of people, politics, and feudal values is found in the Mémoires of Philippe de Commynes, composed over the period 1489 to 1498 and published posthumously in 1524–28; these are the texts with which modern French historiography may be said to begin.

 


Robert de Boron

Robert de Boron (also spelled in the manuscripts "Bouron", "Beron") was a French poet of the late 12th and early 13th centuries who is most notable as the author of the poems Joseph d'Arimathe and Merlin.

Robert de Boron was the author of two surviving poems in octosyllabic verse, the Grail story Joseph d'Arimathe and Merlin. The latter work survives only in fragments and in later versions rendered in prose. The two poems are thought to have formed either a trilogy - with a verse Perceval forming the third part - or a tetralogy - with Perceval a Mort Artu (Death of Arthur). The "Didot Perceval", a retelling of the Percival story similar in style and content to Robert's other works, may be a prosification of the lost sections.

Robert de Boron is the first author to give the Holy Grail myth an explicitly Christian dimension. According to him, Joseph of Arimathea used the Grail (the Last Supper vessel) to catch the last drops of blood from Jesus's body as he hung on the cross. Joseph's family brought the Grail to the vaus d'Avaron, the valleys of Avaron in the west, which later poets changed to Avalon, identified with Glastonbury, where they guarded it until the rise of King Arthur and the coming of Perceval. Robert also introduced a "Rich Fisher" variation on the Fisher King.

Robert originated from the village of Boron, now in the arrondissement of Montbéliard. What is known of his life come from brief mentions in his poems. At one point in Joseph d'Arimathe, he applies to himself the title of meisters (medieval French for "clerk"); later he uses the title messires (medieval French for "knight"). At the end of the same poem, he mentions being in the service of Gautier of "Mont Belyal", whom Pierre Le Gentil identifies with one Gautier de Montbéliard (the Lord of Montfaucon), who in 1202 left for the Fourth Crusade, and died in the Holy Land in 1212. Le Gentil also argues that the mention of Avalon shows that he wrote Joseph d'Arimathe after 1191, when the monks at Glastonbury claimed to have discovered the coffins of King Arthur and Guinevere. His family is unknown, though the second author of the Prose Tristan claimed to be Robert's nephew, calling himself "Helie de Boron". This is taken more as an attempt to drop a famous name than a genuine accreditation, however. Although Le Gentil describes him as a "poet endowed with boldness and piety but with mediocre talent", his version of the Grail myth was adopted by almost all of the later writers of the Matter of Britain.
 

 

 


Antoine de la Sale


Frontispiece from 1830 edition of Le Petit Jehan de Saintré
(1456) by Antoine de la Salle
 

born c. 1386, near Arles, Provence [France]
died c. 1460

French writer chiefly remembered for his Petit Jehan de Saintré, a romance marked by a great gift for the observation of court manners and a keen sense of comic situation and dialogue.

From 1400 to 1448 La Sale served the dukes of Anjou, Louis II, Louis III, and René, as squire, soldier, administrator and, ultimately, governor of René’s son and heir, Jean (John of Calabria). The Angevin claims to the kingdom of Sicily brought him repeatedly into Italy, and his didactic works contain several accounts of his unusual and picturesque experiences there. He was in Italy for Louis II’s 1409–11 campaign against Ladislas of Durazzo. In 1415 he took part in a Portuguese expedition against the Moors of Ceuta. La Sale visited the Sibyl’s mountain near Norcia, seat of the legend later transported to Germany and attached to the name of Tannhäuser; he relates the legend in great detail in his Paradis de la reine Sibylle.

He became governor of the sons of Louis of Luxembourg, count of St. Pol in 1448. There he wrote La Salle (1451), a collection of moral anecdotes; Le Petit Jehan de Saintré (1456; Little John of Saintré, 1931); Du Réconfort à Madame de Fresne (1457; “For the Consolation of Madame de Fresne,” on the death of her young son); and a Lettre sur les tournois (1459; “A Letter on the Tournaments”).

Jehan de Saintré is a pseudobiographical romance of a knight at the court of Anjou who, in real life, achieved great fame in the mid-14th century. Modern criticism ascribes an important place to Saintré in the development of French prose fiction and also extols the grace, wit, sensibility, and realism of the writer.
 

 

 


Geoffroy of Villehardouin



Conquest of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade

born c. 1150, near Bar-sur-Aube, Burgundy [France]
died c. 1213, Greece?

French soldier, chronicler, marshal of Champagne, and one of the leaders of the Fourth Crusade (1201–04), which he described in his Conquest of Constantinople. He was the first serious writer of an original prose history in Old French.

Although he was only one of the lesser nobility, Villehardouin was from the start accepted as one of the leaders of the Fourth Crusade. In 1205 his consummate generalship saved the Frankish army from destruction at the hands of the Bulgars outside Adrianople (modern Edirne, Turkey) and led them without loss through hostile country to safety in Constantinople.

Villehardouin’s work, usually known as the Conquête de Constantinople (Conquest of Constantinople), initiated the great series of histories that so distinguishes medieval French literature. His achievement is remarkable because neither in style nor form did he have any models on which to base his work; his Latin predecessors were probably unknown to him firsthand. He probably started writing his chronicle about 1209. In it, he describes the “crusade,” a war in which French knights and their Venetian allies invaded the Byzantine Empire and captured its capital Constantinople (1204). It was after the city’s fall that Villehardouin distinguished himself in the conflict with the Bulgars.
 

 

 


Jean, sire de Joinville


born c. 1224, Joinville, Champagne
died Dec. 24, 1317, Joinville

author of the famous Histoire de Saint-Louis, a chronicle in French prose, providing a supreme account of the Seventh Crusade (1248–54).

A member of the lesser nobility of Champagne, Joinville first attended the court of Louis IX at Saumur (1241), probably as a squire. The young Joinville took the crusader’s cross at the same time as the King (1244) and set out with him (August 1248) on his expedition to Egypt, from where the crusaders planned to attack Syria. Captured with the entire army, Louis and Joinville were ransomed, and Joinville became friends with Louis during the King’s subsequent stay at Acre. They returned to France in 1254. While in Syria, Joinville wrote the first draft of a minor work, his Credo, a rather naive statement of belief that was probably revised later. Made seneschal of Champagne on his return, he became an expert in court procedures and seems to have divided his time between the royal court and his fief of Joinville. He refused to accompany the King on his fatal crusade to Tunis (1270), having previously told him that it was folly. Joinville lived to testify for the canonization of the King (1282) and to see it enacted (1298); he controlled his domain until his death at 93.

Preliminary drafts of Joinville’s major work, the Histoire de Saint-Louis (The History of St. Louis, or The Life of St. Louis), may have been begun as early as the 1270s, but the final form was commissioned by Jeanne of Champagne and Navarre, wife of King Philip IV the Fair. It was not completed at the time of her death (1305) and so was presented in 1309 to her son Louis X. The Histoire is a personal account, which, in the course of setting forth the exploits of his idol, King Louis IX, reveals Joinville himself as a deeply moving man: simple, honest, straightforward, affectionate. He makes no attempt to conceal his occasional cowardice, his lack of piety, his tactlessness, or his garrulity. Although the short narratives of Louis’s early life and of his later reign, death, and canonization are valuable because of the author’s proximity to them, the heart of the book lies in its lengthy central section, the account of the Crusade. Besides telling the financial hardships, the dangers of sea voyages, and the ravages of disease, he vividly describes the confusion and lack of discipline in the crusading army. A blunt adviser, Joinville paints his king’s sublime unworldliness against his own frank humanity. In addition, the book describes Muslim customs.

The original manuscript of the work disappeared from all records shortly after its composition. The Histoire was first printed and modernized from an inferior manuscript in 1547.
 

 

 


Philippe de Commynes


born c. 1447, Comines, Flanders [now on the Belgian-French border]
died October 18, 1511, Argenton-Château, France

statesman and chronicler whose Mémoires establish him as one of the greatest historians of the Middle Ages.

Commynes was the son of a knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece and was the godson of Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy. He was brought up at the Burgundian court and in 1464 became squire to Philip’s son Charles of Charolais (Charles the Bold). He took part in a war against Louis XI of France in 1465 and accompanied Charles the Bold on his first expedition against Liège (1466–67). When Charles succeeded to the duchy of Burgundy in 1467, he appointed Commynes his counselor and sent him as ambassador on missions to England, Brittany, and Spain. In 1468 he was present at the famous meeting at Péronne, when Charles virtually held Louis XI as prisoner, and was able to negotiate an agreement between them.

Recognizing Commynes’s abilities as a diplomat, Louis persuaded him in 1472 to desert Charles the Bold and enter his service as a chamberlain and confidential adviser; Commynes was rewarded handsomely for his move. After Louis’s death in 1483, Commynes was at first one of the counselors of the regent, Anne of Beaujeu, but he intrigued against the government with the duke d’Orléans (the future Louis XII of France) and was implicated in the “Mad War” between the two. As a consequence, he was imprisoned for several months but was eventually restored to favour at the end of 1489 by Charles VIII, who used him as a negotiator and later as ambassador to Venice at the beginning of the expedition to Italy (1494–95). He was not in the government during the early years of Louis XII’s reign but later helped formulate Louis’s Italian policy.

Commynes’s Mémoires, composed 1489–98, were posthumously published in three segments (1524–28). The memoirs reveal him as a writer of considerable talent, remarkable for his psychological perceptiveness, his sense of the picturesque, and his vivid narrative. Despite his sympathy for Louis XI, he succeeded in achieving impartiality, but his work contains many errors of fact and omission.
 



 

Religious drama

Serious drama in Europe was reborn in the Middle Ages within the Roman Catholic church. There, from early times, musical and dramatic elements (tropes) were introduced into certain offices, particularly at Easter and Christmas. From this practice sprang liturgical drama. Performances took place inside churches, with the cast of clergy moving from place to place in the sanctuary. At first only Latin was used, though occasionally snatches of vernacular verse were included, as in the early 12th-century Sponsus (“The Bridegroom”; Eng. trans. Sponsus), which uses the Poitevin dialect. Stories from the Bible and lives of the saints were dramatized; and, as the scope of the dramas broadened, more plays were performed outside the church and used only the vernacular. The all-male casts employed multiple settings (décor simultané) and moved from one setting, or mansion, to another as the action demanded.

The first extant mystère, or mystery play, with entirely French dialogue (but elaborate stage directions in Latin) is the Jeu d’Adam (Adam: A Play). It is known from a copy in an Anglo-Norman manuscript, and it may have originated in England in the mid-12th century. With lively dialogue and the varied metres characteristic of the later mystères (all of which were based on biblical stories), it presents the Creation and Fall, the story of Cain and Abel, and an incomplete procession of prophets. Neither it nor the Seinte Resurreccion (c. 1200; “Resurrection of the Saviour”), certainly Anglo-Norman, shows the events preceding the Crucifixion, the matter of the Passion plays; these first appeared in the early 14th century in the Passion du Palatinus (“Passion of Palatinus”). Of relatively modest proportions, this contains diversified dialogue with excellent dramatic potential and probably drew on earlier plays now lost.

The oldest extant miracle, or miracle play (a real or fictitious account of the life, miracles, and martyrdom of a saint), is the remarkable 13th-century Jeu de Saint Nicolas (“Play of Saint Nicholas”), by Jehan Bodel of Arras, in which exotic Crusading and boisterous tavern scenes alternate. Rutebeuf’s Miracle de Théophile is an early version of the Faust theme, in which the Virgin Mary secures Théophile’s salvation. From the 14th century comes the Miracles de Notre-Dame par personnages (“Miracles of Our Lady with Dramatic Characters”), a collection of 40 miracles, partly based on a nondramatic compilation by Gautier de Coincy. These miracles probably were performed by the Paris goldsmiths’ guild.

By the 15th century, societies had been formed in various towns for the performance of the increasingly elaborate mystery plays. In Paris the Confraternity of the Passion survived until 1676, though its production of sacred plays was banned in 1548. Notable authors of mystères are Eustache Marcadé; Arnoul Gréban, organist and choirmaster at Notre-Dame, and his brother Simon; and Jehan Michel. Arnoul Gréban’s monumental Mystère de la Passion (c. 1450, reworked by Michel in 1486; The True Mistery of the Passion) took four days to perform. Other plays took up to eight days. Biblical material was supplemented with legend, theology, and elements of lyricism and slapstick, and spectacular stage effects were employed.
 


Jehan Bodel

born c. 1167, Arras, Artois [France]
died 1210, Arras

jongleur, epic poet, author of fabliaux, and dramatist, whose Le Jeu de Saint Nicolas (“Play of St. Nicholas”) is the first miracle play in French.

Bodel probably held public office in Arras and certainly belonged to one of its puys, or literary confraternities. He planned to go on the Fourth Crusade but, stricken with leprosy, was admitted to a lazar house, where he died. He wrote five pastourelles (four in 1190–94; one in 1199), nine fabliaux (1190–97), La Chanson des Saisnes (before 1200; “Song of the Saxons”), Le Jeu de Saint Nicolas (performed c. 1200), and Les Congés (1202; “Leave-Takings”), his poignant farewell to his friends, a lyrical poem of 42 stanzas.

Le Jeu de Saint Nicolas treats a theme presented in Latin, notably by Hilarius (flourished 1125), giving it new form and dimensions by relating it to the Crusades. In Bodel’s play the saint’s image, to which the sole survivor of a Christian army is found praying, becomes the agent of a miracle. The image is found by the victorious Saracens, but when placed upon the Saracen king’s treasure it does not prevent the treasure’s removal by thieves, who interrupt their dicing, drinking, and brawling (in tavern scenes given local colour by their portrayal of the people and manners of Arras) to carry it away. The saint himself appears, however, and compels the rogues to return the treasure, and as a result the Saracen king and his people are converted to Christianity.

In its crusading fervour, piety, and satirical wit, Bodel’s Le Jeu is outstanding. It is also of importance because of the introduction of comic scenes based on contemporary life and for being possibly the first of the Latin college plays to be translated into vernacular verse. La Chanson des Saisnes, a successful late epic, adds roman d’aventure episodes to a historical narrative of Charlemagne’s Saxon wars.
 




 

Secular drama

A crucial factor in the emergence of the comic theatre was the oral presentation of much medieval literature. A natural consequence was complete dramatization and collaborative performances by jongleurs and later by guilds or confréries (confraternities) formed for the purpose.

The earliest comic plays extant date from the second half of the 13th century. Le Garçon et l’aveugle (“The Boy and the Blind Man”), a simple tale of trickster tricked, could have been played by a jongleur and his boy and ranks for some scholars as the first farce. At the end of the century, the Arras poet Adam de la Halle composed two unique pieces: Le Jeu de la feuillée (“The Play of the Bower”), a kind of topical revue for his friends, and Le Jeu de Robin et de Marion (The Play of Robin and Marion), a dramatized pastourelle (a knight’s encounter with a shepherdess and her friends) spiced with song and dance. The first serious nonreligious play was L’Estoire de Griseldis (1395), the story of a constant wife.

The profane theatre eventually had its own societies of actors, such as the Basoches (associations of lawyers and clerks) and the Enfants sans Souci (probably a special group of Basochiens) in Paris. The societies frequently presented plays in triple bills: first a sotie, a slight, sometimes satiric, sketch; next a moralité (morality play), a didactic and often allegorical piece; and finally a farce. Some 150 farces have survived from the 15th and 16th centuries. Most are of fewer than 500 lines and involve a handful of characters acting out plots similar to those of the fabliaux. They use the octosyllabic rhyming couplet and may include songs, commonly in rondeau form. By far the best is the unusually long La Farce de maistre Pierre Pathelin (c. 1465; Master Peter Patelan, a Fifteenth-Century French Farce), a tale of trickery involving a sly lawyer, a dull-witted draper, and a crafty shepherd.

D.D.R. Owen
Jennifer Birkett
 


Adam de la Halle

born c. 1250, Arras, France
died c. 1306, Naples [now in Italy]


Adam de la Halle, also known as Adam le Bossu  was a French-born trouvère, poet and musician, whose literary and musical works include chansons and jeux-partis (poetic debates)in the style of the trouveres, polyphonic rondel and motets in the style of early liturgical polyphony, and a musical play, "The Play of Robin and Marion", which is considered the earliest surviving secular French play with music. He was a member of the Confrérie des jongleurs et bourgeois d'Arras.

Adam's other nicknames, "le Bossu d'Arras" and "Adam d'Arras", suggest that he came from Arras, France. The sobriquet "the Hunchback" was probably a family name; Adam himself points out that he was not one. His father, Henri de le Hale, was a well-known Citizen of Arras, and Adam studied grammar, theology, and music at the Cistercian abbey of Vaucelles, near Cambrai. Father and son had their share in the civil discords in Arras, and for a short time took refuge in Douai. Adam had been destined for the church, but renounced this intention, and married a certain Marie, who figures in many of his songs, rondeaux, motets and jeux-partis. Afterwards he joined the household of Robert II, Count of Artois; and then was attached to Charles of Anjou, brother of Charles IX, whose fortunes he followed in Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and Italy.

At the court of Charles, after Charles became king of Naples, Adam wrote his Jeu de Robin et Marion, the most famous of his works. Adam's shorter pieces are accompanied by music, of which a transcript in modern notation, with the original score, is given in Coussemaker's edition. His Jeu de Robin et Marion is cited as the earliest French play with music on a secular subject. The pastoral, which tells how Marion resisted the knight, and remained faithful to Robert the shepherd, is based on an old chanson, Robin m'aime, Robin m'a. It consists of dialogue varied by refrains already current in popular song. The melodies to which these are set have the character of folk music, and are more spontaneous and melodious than the more elaborate music of his songs and motets. Fétis considered Le Jeu de Robin et Marion and Le Jeu de la feuillée forerunners of the comic opera. An adaptation of Le Jeu Robin et Marion, by Julien Tiersot, was played at Arras by a company from the Paris Opéra-Comique on the occasion of a festival in 1896 in honour of Adam de le Hale.

His other play, Le jeu Adan or Le jeu de la Feuillee (ca. 1262), is a satirical drama in which he introduces himself, his father and the citizens of Arras with their peculiarities. His works include a conge, or satirical farewell to the city of Arras, and an unfinished chanson de geste in honour of Charles of Anjou, Le roi de Sicile, begun in 1282; another short piece, Le jeu du pelerin, is sometimes attributed to him.

His known works include thirty-six chansons (literally, "songs"), forty-six rondets de carole, eighteen jeux-partis, fourteen rondeaux, five motets, one rondeau-virelai, one ballette, one dit d'amour, and one congé.

 

 


APPENDIX

 


Peter Abelard

"The Love Letters of Abelard and Heloise"





French theologian and poet
French Pierre Abélard, or Abailard, Latin Petrus Abaelardus, or Abeilardus

born 1079, Le Pallet, near Nantes, Brittany [now in France]
died April 21, 1142, Priory of Saint-Marcel, near Chalon-sur-Saône, Burgundy [now in France]

Main
French theologian and philosopher best known for his solution of the problem of universals and for his original use of dialectics. He is also known for his poetry and for his celebrated love affair with Héloïse.

Early life
The outline of Abelard’s career is well known, largely because he described so much of it in his famous Historia calamitatum (“History of My Troubles”). He was born the son of a knight in Brittany south of the Loire River. He sacrificed his inheritance and the prospect of a military career in order to study philosophy, particularly logic, in France. He provoked bitter quarrels with two of his masters, Roscelin of Compiègne and Guillaume de Champeaux, who represented opposite poles of philosophy in regard to the question of the existence of universals. (A universal is a quality or property that each individual member of a class of things must possess if the same general word is to apply to all the things in that class. Redness, for example, is a universal possessed by all red objects.) Roscelin was a nominalist who asserted that universals are nothing more than mere words; Guillaume in Paris upheld a form of Platonic realism according to which universals exist. Abelard in his own logical writings brilliantly elaborated an independent philosophy of language. While showing how words could be used significantly, he stressed that language itself is not able to demonstrate the truth of things (res) that lie in the domain of physics.

Abelard was a peripatetic both in the manner in which he wandered from school to school at Paris, Melun, Corbeil, and elsewhere and as one of the exponents of Aristotelian logic who were called the Peripatetics. In 1113 or 1114 he went north to Laon to study theology under Anselm of Laon, the leading biblical scholar of the day. He quickly developed a strong contempt for Anselm’s teaching, which he found vacuous, and returned to Paris. There he taught openly but was also given as a private pupil the young Héloïse, niece of one of the clergy of the cathedral of Paris, Canon Fulbert. Abelard and Héloïse fell in love and had a son whom they called Astrolabe. They then married secretly. To escape her uncle’s wrath Héloïse withdrew into the convent of Argenteuil outside Paris. Abelard suffered castration at Fulbert’s instigation. In shame he embraced the monastic life at the royal abbey of Saint-Denis near Paris and made the unwilling Héloïse become a nun at Argenteuil.


Career as a monk
At Saint-Denis Abelard extended his reading in theology and tirelessly criticized the way of life followed by his fellow monks. His reading of the Bible and of the Fathers of the Church led him to make a collection of quotations that seemed to represent inconsistencies of teaching by the Christian church. He arranged his findings in a compilation entitled Sic et non (“Yes and No”); and for it he wrote a preface in which, as a logician and as a keen student of language, he formulated basic rules with which students might reconcile apparent contradictions of meaning and distinguish the various senses in which words had been used over the course of many centuries. He also wrote the first version of his book called Theologia, which was formally condemned as heretical and burned by a council held at Soissons in 1121. Abelard’s dialectical analysis of the mystery of God and the Trinity was held to be erroneous, and he himself was placed for a while in the abbey of Saint-Médard under house arrest. When he returned to Saint-Denis he applied his dialectical methods to the subject of the abbey’s patron saint; he argued that St. Denis of Paris, the martyred apostle of Gaul, was not identical with Denis of Athens (also known as Dionysius the Areopagite), the convert of St. Paul. The monastic community of Saint-Denis regarded this criticism of their traditional claims as derogatory to the kingdom; and, in order to avoid being brought for trial before the king of France, Abelard fled from the abbey and sought asylum in the territory of Count Theobald of Champagne. There he sought the solitude of a hermit’s life but was pursued by students who pressed him to resume his teaching in philosophy. His combination of the teaching of secular arts with his profession as a monk was heavily criticized by other men of religion, and Abelard contemplated flight outside Christendom altogether. In 1125, however, he accepted election as abbot of the remote Breton monastery of Saint-Gildas-de-Rhuys. There, too, his relations with the community deteriorated, and, after attempts had been made upon his life, he returned to France.

Héloïse had meanwhile become the head of a new foundation of nuns called the Paraclete. Abelard became the abbot of the new community and provided it with a rule and with a justification of the nun’s way of life; in this he emphasized the virtue of literary study. He also provided books of hymns he had composed, and in the early 1130s he and Héloïse composed a collection of their own love letters and religious correspondence.


Final years
About 1135 Abelard went to the Mont-Sainte-Geneviève outside Paris to teach, and he wrote in a blaze of energy and of celebrity. He produced further drafts of his Theologia in which he analyzed the sources of belief in the Trinity and praised the pagan philosophers of classical antiquity for their virtues and for their discovery by the use of reason of many fundamental aspects of Christian revelation. He also wrote a book called Ethica or Scito te ipsum (“Know Thyself”), a short masterpiece in which he analyzed the notion of sin and reached the drastic conclusion that human actions do not make a man better or worse in the sight of God, for deeds are in themselves neither good nor bad. What counts with God is a man’s intention; sin is not something done (it is not res); it is uniquely the consent of a human mind to what it knows to be wrong. Abelard also wrote Dialogus inter philosophum, Judaeum et Christianum (“Dialogue Between a Philosopher, a Jew, and a Christian”) and a commentary on St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, the Expositio in Epistolam ad Romanos, in which he outlined an explanation of the purpose of Christ’s life, which was to inspire men to love him by example alone.

On the Mont-Sainte-Geneviève Abelard drew crowds of pupils, many of them men of future fame, such as the English humanist John of Salisbury. He also, however, aroused deep hostility in many by his criticism of other masters and by his apparent revisions of the traditional teachings of Christian theology. Within Paris the influential abbey of Saint-Victor was studiously critical of his doctrines, while elsewhere William of Saint-Thierry, a former admirer of Abelard, recruited the support of Bernard of Clairvaux, perhaps the most influential figure in Western Christendom at that time. At a council held at Sens in 1140, Abelard underwent a resounding condemnation, which was soon confirmed by Pope Innocent II. He withdrew to the great monastery of Cluny in Burgundy. There, under the skillful mediation of the abbot, Peter the Venerable, he made peace with Bernard of Clairvaux and retired from teaching. Now both sick and old, he lived the life of a Cluniac monk. After his death, his body was first sent to the Paraclete; it now lies alongside that of Héloïse in the cemetery of Père-Lachaise in Paris. Epitaphs composed in his honour suggest that Abelard impressed some of his contemporaries as one of the greatest thinkers and teachers of all time.

David Edward Luscombe

 

 

 


Alexander of Hales


French theologian and philosopher

born c. 1170/85, Hales, Gloucestershire, Eng.
died 1245, Paris

Main
theologian and philosopher whose doctrines influenced the teachings of such thinkers as St. Bonaventure and John of La Rochelle. The Summa theologica, for centuries ascribed to him, is largely the work of followers.

Alexander studied and taught in Paris, receiving the degrees of master of arts (before 1210) and theology (1220). He was archdeacon of Coventry in 1235 and became a Franciscan (c. 1236). In Paris he founded the Schola Fratrum Minorum, where he was the first holder, possibly until his death, of the Franciscan chair.

Only the most general features of Alexander’s theology and philosophy have been made clear: basically an Augustinian, he had to some extent taken into account the psychological, physical, and metaphysical doctrines of Aristotle, while discarding popular Avicennian tenets of emanations from a Godhead. The “Franciscan” theories of matter and form in spiritual creatures, of the multiplicity of forms, and of illumination combined with experience are probably Alexander’s adaptations of similar theories of the Augustinian and other traditions. His original works, apart from sections of the Summa and of an Expositio regulae (“Exposition of the Rule”), include a commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard—the first to treat the Sentences, rather than the Bible, as the basic text in theology; Quaestiones disputatae antequam esset frater (“Questions Before Becoming a Brother . . .”); Quodlibeta; sermons; and a treatise on difficult words entitled Exoticon. Alexander was known to the Scholastics by the title Doctor Irrefragabilis (Impossible to Refute).

 

 

 


Levi ben Gershom (Gersonides)
 

also called Gersonides, Leo De Bagnols, Leo Hebraeus, or (by acronym) Ralbag

born 1288, Bagnols-sur-Cèze, Fr.
died 1344

French Jewish mathematician, philosopher, astronomer, and Talmudic scholar.

In 1321 Levi wrote his first work, Sefer ha-mispar (“Book of the Number”), dealing with arithmetical operations, including extraction of roots. In De sinibus, chordis et arcubus (1342; “On Sines, Chords, and Arcs”) he presented an original derivation of the sine theorem for plane triangles and tables of sines calculated to five decimal places. On the request of Philip of Vitry, bishop of Meaux, he composed a book on geometry, preserved only in Latin translation, De numeris harmonicis (1343; “The Harmony of Numbers”), containing commentaries on the first five books of Euclid and original axioms.

Influenced by the works of Aristotle and the 12th-century Islāmic philosopher Averroës, Levi wrote Sefer ha-hekkesh ha-yashar (1319; Latin Liber syllogismi recti; “Book of Proper Analogy”), criticizing several arguments of Aristotle; he also wrote commentaries on the works of both philosophers.

Although Levi’s biblical commentaries are complex, he presupposed an audience familiar with these commentaries, medieval astronomical literature, and the works of Averroës when he wrote (1317–29) his major work, Sefer milḥamot Adonai (“The Book of the Wars of the Lord”; partial trans. Die Kämpfe Gottes, 2 vol.). Divided into six parts, the work treats exhaustively of the immortality of the soul; dreams, divination, and prophecy; divine knowledge; providence; celestial spheres and separate intellects and their relationship with God; and the creation of the world, miracles, and the criteria by which one recognizes the true prophet. In the fifth part, he describes “Jacob’s staff,” an instrument that he used to measure the angular distance between celestial bodies.

Levi’s work has often been criticized because of his bold expression and the unconventionality of his thought, which continued to exercise wide influence into the 19th century.

 

 

 


John of Jandun

French philosopher
French Jean De Jandun
born c. 1286, Jandun, Champagne, Fr.
died 1328, Todi, Papal States

Main
foremost 14th-century interpreter of Averroës’ rendering of Aristotle.

After study at the University of Paris, John became master of arts at the Collège de Navarre in Paris, where he lectured on Aristotle. He associated with Marsilius of Padua, writer of the Defensor Pacis, which asserted the superiority of civil authority over that of the pope. Because of controversy over this work, John and Marsilius sought the protection of Louis IV of Bavaria. After a series of condemnatory papal bulls, they were excommunicated as heretics by Pope John XXII in 1327.

John of Jandun’s most influential writings are commentaries on Aristotle; his major concern was the division between faith and reason. Some critics think that he held a “double-truth” theory, believing that contradictory statements of faith and reason may be simultaneously true; others call him anti-Christian, and still others judge him to be a thinker of the Augustinian tradition.

 

 

 


John of Mirecourt

French philosopher
French Jean De Méricour, Latin Johannes De Mercuria

flourished 14th century

Main
French Cistercian monk, philosopher, and theologian whose skepticism about certitude in human knowledge and whose limitation of the use of reason in theological statements established him as a leading exponent of medieval Christian nominalism (the doctrine that universals are only names with no basis in reality) and voluntarism (the doctrine that will and not reason is the dominant factor in experience and in the constitution of the world).

Originally from the Vosges Mountains in Lorraine, John, also called “the White Monk” because of his religious clothing, obtained his bachelor’s degree in theology at Paris in 1345 and wrote a commentary on the Sentences, or theological theses, of Peter Lombard. In 1347 the university faculty censured 63 propositions from this commentary for their divergence from Roman Catholic orthodoxy. Later that year, however, following the counsel of Pope Clement VI that church authority should not involve itself in philosophical matters not immediately related to matters of faith, the faculty granted John’s request to submit an accompanying “apology,” or clarification, with his theological commentary and then reduced the censure to 41 propositions. John’s basic proposals were that rational certitude is largely unattainable because of the fallibility of the senses, and, even granting the possibility of the human mind’s forming correct ideas, truth escapes it because God, in his absolute power, can alter reality. Accordingly, John denied the possibility of rationally proving the existence of God as the most perfect of all beings or as the first cause of all that exists, indeed, even that any created thing requires a cause. He submitted that it is more meritorious for man to believe in God’s existence by faith informed with love than to reach certainty by deductive reasoning.

John, however, admitted the certainty of self-existence, the doubting of which served only to prove the existence of a doubting self. His difficulties with church authorities arose principally from his attributing to God a role in the existence of evil and suffering, citing that, even if God is said only to permit evil, he in effect causes it. John’s extreme views derived from his concern to safeguard at least a limited area of cognitional certitude, while acknowledging God’s absolute freedom to effect anything, even the possibility that man might hate him.

 

 

 


Peter Lombard

French Pierre Lombard, Latin Petrus Lombardus

born c. 1100, Novara, Lombardy
died Aug. 21/22, 1160, Paris

bishop of Paris whose Four Books of Sentences (Sententiarum libri IV) was the standard theological text of the Middle Ages.

After early schooling at Bologna, he went to France to study at Reims and then at Paris. From 1136 to 1150 he taught theology in the school of Notre Dame, Paris, where in 1144–45 he became a canon—i.e., staff clergyman. Lombard was present at the Council of Reims (1148) that assembled to examine the writings of the French theologian Gilbert de La Porrée. In June 1159 he was consecrated bishop of Paris and died the following year.

Although he wrote sermons, letters, and commentaries on Holy Scripture, Lombard’s Four Books of Sentences (1148–51) established his reputation and subsequent fame, earning him the title of magister sententiarum (“master of the sentences”). The Sentences, a collection of teachings of the Church Fathers and opinions of medieval masters arranged as a systematic treatise, marked the culmination of a long tradition of theological pedagogy, and until the 16th century it was the official textbook in the universities. Hundreds of scholars wrote commentaries on it, including the celebrated philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas.

Book I of the Sentences discusses God, the Trinity, divine guidance, evil, predestination; Book II, angels, demons, the Fall of man, grace, sin; Book III, the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the redemption of sins, virtues, the Ten Commandments; Book IV, the sacraments and the four last things—death, judgment, hell, and heaven. While Lombard showed originality in choosing and arranging his texts, in utilizing different currents of thought, and in avoiding extremes, of special importance to medieval theologians was his clarification of the theology of the sacraments. He asserted that there are seven sacraments and that a sacrament is not merely a “visible sign of invisible grace” (after Augustine of Hippo) but also the “cause of the grace it signifies.” In ethical matters, he decreed that a man’s actions are judged good or bad according to their cause and intention, except those acts that are evil by nature.

Lombard’s teachings were opposed during his lifetime and after his death. Later theologians rejected a number of his views, but he was never regarded as unorthodox, and efforts to have his works condemned were unsuccessful. The fourth Lateran Council (1215) approved his teaching on the Trinity and prefaced a profession of faith with the words “We believe with Peter Lombard.” His collected works are in J.-P. Migne, Patrologia Latina, vol. 191–192. The best edition of the Four Books of Sentences (no English translation) is considered to be that of the Franciscans of the College of St. Bonaventura (near Florence), Libri quattuor sententiarum (2 vol., 1916).
 

 

 


Nicholas of Autrecourt

French philosopher and theologian
French Nicolas D’autrecourt
born c. 1300, Autrecourt, near Verdun, Fr.
died after 1350, Metz, Lorrain

Main
French philosopher and theologian known principally for developing medieval Skepticism to its extreme logical conclusions, which were condemned as heretical.

Nicholas was an advanced student in liberal arts and philosophy at the Sorbonne faculty of the University of Paris from 1320 to 1327. He became one of the most notable adherents of nominalism, a school of thought holding that only individual objects are real and that universal concepts simply express things as names. Nicholas’ chief writings are commentaries on the 12th-century Sentences of Peter Lombard, the basic medieval compendium of philosophical theology, and on the Politics of Aristotle; nine letters to the Franciscan monk-philosopher Bernard of Arezzo; and an important treatise usually designated by the opening words Exigit ordo executionis (“The order of completion requires”). This last contains the 60 theses controverted at Nicholas’ heresy trial, convened by Pope Benedict XII at Avignon, in 1340.

Nicholas rejected the traditional Aristotelian objectivism, with its allusions to a single intellect for all men, and proposed that there are only two bases for intellectual certitude: the logical principle of identity, with its correlative principle of contradiction, which states that a thing cannot simultaneously be itself and another; and the immediate evidence of sense data. Consistent with his nominalist doctrine, he denied that any causal relation could be known experientially and taught that the very principle of causality could be reduced to the empirical declaration of the succession of two facts. The consequence of such a concept of causality, he averred, was to reject the possibility of any rational proof for the existence of God and to deny any divine cause in creation. Indeed, he held as more probable that the world had existed from eternity.

Nicholas’ nominalism precluded the possibility of knowing anything as a permanent concept and allowed only the conscious experience of an object’s sensible qualities. Rejecting Scholastic–Aristotelian philosophy and physics, Nicholas believed that the physical and mental universe is ultimately composed of simple, indivisible particles or atoms. He maintained, however, that his innovative thought did not affect his fidelity to Christian religious tradition, including the moral commandments and belief in a future life. Faith and reason, he taught, operate independently from each other, and one could assent to a religious doctrine that reason might contradict. Because of the fallibility of the senses and the human inclination—even in Aristotle—toward erroneous judgment, evidence and truth are not always identical, and philosophy at best is simply the prevalence of the more probable over the less probable.

The ecclesiastical judges at Nicholas’ heresy trial labeled his avowals of Christian belief as mere subterfuge and denounced him. Condemned in 1346 by Pope Clement VI, Nicholas finally was ordered in 1347 to resign his professorship, recant his error, and publicly burn his writings. That he took refuge with Emperor Louis IV the Bavarian is a legend created to form a parallel with the life of William of Ockham, his nominalist precursor. Nicholas became dean of the cathedral at Metz in 1350, after which nothing more is heard of him. His Exigit manuscript was discovered by A. Birkenmayer at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and was published in 1939 by J.R. O’Donnell in Medieval Studies.

 

 

 


William of Auvergne

French philosopher

born after 1180, Aurillac, Aquitaine
died 1249, Paris

Main
also called William Of Paris, or William Of Alvernia, French Guillaume D’auvergne, or De Paris the most prominent French philosopher-theologian of the early 13th century and one of the first Western scholars to attempt to integrate classical Greek and Arabic philosophy with Christian doctrine.

William became a master of theology at the University of Paris in 1223 and a professor by 1225. He was named bishop of the city in 1228. As such he defended the rising mendicant orders against attacks by the secular clergy, which impugned the mendicants’ orthodoxy and reason for existence. As a reformer he limited the clergy to one benefice (church office) at a time if it provided them sufficient means.

William’s principal work, written between 1223 and 1240, is the monumental Magisterium divinale (“The Divine Teaching”), a seven-part compendium of philosophy and theology: De primo principio, or De Trinitate (“On the First Principle,” or “On the Trinity”); De universo creaturarum (“On the Universe of Created Things”); De anima (“On the Soul”); Cur Deus homo (“Why God Became Man”); De sacramentis (“On the Sacraments”); De fide et legibus (“On Faith and Laws”); De virtutibus et moribus (“On Virtues and Customs”).

After the condemnation of Aristotle’s Physics and Metaphysics in 1210 by church authorities fearful of their negative effect on the Christian faith, William initiated the attempt to delete those Aristotelian theses that he saw as incompatible with Christian beliefs. On the other hand, he strove to assimilate into Christianity whatever in Aristotle’s thought is consistent with it.

Influenced by the Aristotelianism of Avicenna (Ibn Sīnā), an 11th-century Islāmic philosopher, and by the Neoplatonism of Augustine and the school of Chartres, William, nevertheless, was sharply critical of those elements in classical Greek philosophy that contradicted Christian theology, specifically on the questions of human freedom, Divine Providence, and the individuality of the soul. Against Avicenna’s determinism, he held that God “voluntarily” created the world, and he opposed those proponents of Aristotelianism who taught that man’s conceptual powers are one with the single, universal intellect. William argued that the soul is an individualized, immortal “form,” or principle, of intelligent activity; man’s sentient life, however, requires another activating “form.”

The complete works of William of Auvergne, edited in 1674 by B. Leferon, were reprinted in 1963. A critical text of De bono et malo by J.R. O’Donnell appeared in 1954.

 

 

 
 
 
 
 

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