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Love and its Critics

 | 
Michael Bryson
, 
Arpi Movsesian

6. The Albigensian Crusade and the Death of Fin’amor in Medieval French and English Poetry

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I. The Death of Fin’amor: The Albigensian Crusade and its Aftermath

  • 1 Briffault, 132.

1At the beginning of the thirteenth century, everything changed. In its earliest days, the mood in Provençe was ebullient and defiant. It radiates from the tale of Aucassin et Nicolette, which, though written in the northern dialect of Picardy, “gives a faithful picture”1 of the attitudes held in Occitania—sensual, anticlerical, and fiercely independent:

  • 2 En paradis qu’ai je a faire? Je n’i quier entrer, mais que j’aie Nicolete, ma tres douce amie que j (...)

In Paradise what would I do? I do not seek to enter there, but only wish for Nicolette, my sweet friend that I love so much. For no one goes to Paradise except the kinds of people I will tell you about now: there is where the old priests go, crippled and maimed old men, who cower all day and night in front of the altars, and in the crypts; and people wearing old tattered cloaks, naked and with no shoes, covered in sores, diseased and dying of hunger and thirst and cold. These are the people who go to Paradise; I want nothing to do with them. I would rather go to Hell, where there are fine clerks and knights, who have died in tournaments and noble wars, brave soldiers and noble men. These are who I would go with. And there, also, are the beautiful and courteous women who have two or three lovers in addition to their husbands. There is to be found all gold, silver, fine furs, musicians and poets, and the prince of this world. Let me go with these, as long as I have Nicolette, my sweet love, with me.2

  • 4 Briffault, 130.
  • 5 Ibid., 131.

2Better to love in hell, than serve in heaven. Such rhetorical bravery was still relatively easy in 1200, nine years before the opening of the Albigensian Crusade with the wholesale slaughter of the men, women, and children of the southern town of Béziers. Occitania was still cosmopolitan and tolerant, a place in which “the influence of the Church never went as deep […] as it did in the Kingdom of the Franks”.4 The people were characterized by a “political particularism” which “was intensified by their traditional opposition to the religion of the French”.5

  • 6 Nigel F. Palmer. “The High and later Middle Ages (1100–1450)”. In Hellen Watanabe-O’Kelly, ed. The (...)

3All seemed well, especially because Occitan culture was successful and growing. The poetic culture of the troubadours had spread beyond the borders of Occitania into Italy and Spain. One of the most powerful areas of troubadour influence was in Germany, where a group of poets known as the Minnesingers followed in the footsteps of the troubadours “with a time lag of some fifteen years”.6 The most famous of these, Walther von der Vogelweide (c. 1170–1230) illustrates the spread of the idea of fin’amor as passionate, embodied, and often forbidden love from the lands of the langue d’oc to the valley of the Rhine:

  • 7 Walther von der Vogelweide. “Under der linden”. In Karl Lachmann, ed. Die Gedichte Walthers von der (...)

Under der linden
an der heide,
dâ unser zweier bette was,
dâ mugent ir vinden
schône beide
gebrochen bluomen unde grass.
vor dem walde in einem tal,
tandaradei,
schône sane diu nahtegal.
Ich kam gegangen
zuo der ouwe:
dô was min friedel komen ê.
dâ wart ich enpfangen,
hêre frouwe,
daz ich bin sælic iemer mê.
kuster mich? wol tûsentstunt:
tandaradei,
seht wie rôt mir ist der munt.
Dô hât er gemachet
alsô riche
von bluomen eine bettestat.
des wirt noch gelachet
inneclîche,
kumt iemen an daz selbe pfat.
bî den rôsen er wol mac,
tandaradei,
merken wâ mirz houbet lac.
Daz er bî mir læge,
wessez iemen,
(nu enwelle got!), sô schamt ich mich.
wes er mit mir pflæge,
niemer niemen
bevinde daz, wan er unt ich,
und ein kleinez vogellîn,
tanderadei,
daz mac wol getriuwe sin.
7

Under the Linden
Out on the heath,
Where our bed for two was,
You may still find
Beauty both
In broken blooms and grass,
Where, in a field at the forests’ edge,
Tandaradei!
So sweetly sang the nightingale.
I came walking
Through the meadow:
My lover had come before.
And he greeted me,
Highest Lady!
So that my joy is always with me.
Did he kiss me? A thousand times:
Tandaradei!
See how red my mouth is.
He prepared for us a place
Of riches
A bed from flowers.
It made me laugh
With delight.
One who comes along the same path,
At the roses he may well
Tandaradei!
Mark where I lay my head.
That he lay with me,
If anyone knew,
God forbid—I would be shamed.
What there he did with me,
None must ever know,
Except for he and I,
And a little bird,
Tandaradei!
Who will probably be true.

  • 8 W. T. H. Jackson. “Faith Unfaithful—The German Reaction to Courtly Love”. In F. X. Newman, ed. The (...)
  • 9 Jackson, 74.
  • 10 Andreas Krass. “Saying It with Flowers: Post-Foucauldian Literary History and the Poetics of Taboo (...)
  • 11 Ibid.

4What the lovers of Under der linden enjoy, and what the notably female voice describes, is the freedom to love each other passionately, and physically, removed from the constraints of the world of law, authority, and religion. This poem has none of the “sterile”, and “exhausted” quality of poetry in which love “rested not on an emotion or even a noble heart but on a feudal concept of service”.8 It is, rather, a demonstration of Walther’s idea that “true love [is] mutual and natural”.9 We have not yet reached the stage at which love and desire are wholly sublimated into service and worship, the stage that most comfortably fits the term “courtly love”. Under der linden has nothing in common with the romances of Chrétien de Troyes, in which a figure like Lancelot can and will be punished by his lady for a failure of swift and cheerful obedience. “The song does not sing of spiritual frailty or squandered joy. Instead, it sings of the joys of consummated love”.10 Hovering over this poem’s delight is a powerful awareness “of the moral taboo that looms over extramarital love affairs”,11 a sense of the ever-present shadow of the oppressive and disapproving world, precisely the kind of place, in fact, in which love and desire will be turned into service and obedience. The lady would be shamed if anyone knew of the love she and her lover shared, if anyone but the (probably) discreet birds could ever tell of her love. Even here, it seems, joy must be stolen in small moments hidden from a society determined to grind its inhabitants into a dry and near-lifeless compliance.

5In Occitania, however, love, music, and passion were not yet lost. Located primarily between the Rhone and the Pyrenees, the world of the troubadours was a desirable one. The most powerful people of the time, including the lords of Montpellier, the viscounts of Narbonne, and the Trencavels, maintained tight political alliances, which along with strategic marriages between the powerful families of Poitiers and Toulouse, consolidated regional powers and rivalries that lasted until the Albigensian Crusade of the early thirteenth century:

  • 12 Frederic L. Cheyettee. Ermengard of Narbonne and the World of the Troubadours (Ithaca: Cornell Univ (...)

The counts of Poitiers arranged a marriage between Count William VII of Poitou (also known as William IX of Aquitaine, the first known troubadour) and Philippa, the daughter of Count William IV of Toulouse. Duke William X, Philippa’s son inherited all the titles, and passed on to his only child, Eleanor of Aquitaine.12

  • 13 David Boyle. Troubadour’s Song: The Capture, Imprisonment and Ransom of Richard the Lionheart (New (...)

6Eleanor of Aquitaine’s royal husbands, Louis VII of France and Henry II of England also had influence in the region. These men, along with Henry II’s sons, Geoffrey, Henry, Richard, and John, knew many of the troubadours of the time, and one is known to have composed his own lyrics. Richard, who would later become Richard I, loved music, and “would stand alongside the choir at the royal chapel, urging them with his hands to sing louder”.13

  • 14 “honneur, droiture, égalité, négation du droit du plus fort, respect de la personne humaine pour so (...)
  • 15 “Les seigneurs du Midi […] contre les Croises pour la defendre et non pour la spolier” (Charles Cam (...)

7The era that gleamed with poetic inspiration was also a period of cosmopolitan spirit. It was a culture characterized by a sophisticated ethic of tolerance regarding opinion and belief, whose ethos could be summed up in the word paratge, a word meaning: “honor, righteousness, equality, denial of the right of the strongest, respect for the human person for itself and for others. Paratge applies in all fields, political, religious, and emotional”.14 Such a concept led “the lords of the South […] against the Crusaders to defend and not to plunder”.15

  • 16 On the massacres of Jews in Cologne, Metz, Trier and anti-Jewish hostilities brought about by the F (...)
  • 17 Paratge, with its basic “respect for human beings was also applied to Jews”, a state of affairs whi (...)
  • 18 Cheyettee, 295.
  • 19 Approximately 45% of Cathar ministers were female (Richard Abels and Ellen Harrison. “The Participa (...)
  • 20 Boyle, 282.

8But in the background, under the bright surfaces of life in a relatively liberal and highly cultured Occitania, trouble was slowly coming to a boil. The First Crusade in 1099 brought turmoil to the region, including pogroms against the Jews16 (a group that had long been treated relatively well in Occitan culture17). This period also saw the rise of heretical sects, especially a religious group known to present-day historians as the Cathars, who established themselves in the south, with an openly-run diocese in the town of Albi (thus the name “Albigensians”). Cathars, literally, “the cleansed” or “the purged”, spread through Languedoc and into major cities of northern Italy. The religion of the Cathars—or “boni homines, ‘good men’, […] the popular Occitan name for the Cathar ‘Perfects’”18—allowed for something like gender equality,19 and became so influential by the mid-twelfth century that they could hold public debates with the bishops of Albi and Toulouse. For powerful churchmen, such independence was intolerable, as “this was also a period when the centralized Church was turning its back on women again and found the influence of the powerful women behind Cathar society particularly threatening”.20

9The widespread practice of a religion that so openly challenged social and political norms, while it rejected the orthodox claims of Rome, made the weak and indecisive Count Raymond V of Toulouse nervous enough that he wrote a letter in 1177 explaining the situation to Church authorities:

  • 21 Sean McGlynn. Kill Them All: Cathars and Carnage in the Albigensian Crusade (Stroud: The History Pr (...)

The disease of heresy has grown so strong in my lands that almost all those who follow it believe that they are serving God… The priesthood is corrupted with heresy; ancient churches, once held in reverence, are no longer used for divine worship but have fallen into ruins; baptism is denied; the Mass is hated; confession is derided… Worst of all, the doctrine of two principles is taught.21

  • 22 Ibid., 17.

10The “doctrine of two principles” refers to the dualist Cathar belief, familiar from various strands of Gnosticism, and Plato’s Timaeus, that the creator of this world was a demiurge, an inferior—and for the Cathars, evil—god who “kept the divine souls of humans imprisoned in their physical bodies (or other warm-blooded animals), condemning them to perpetual reincarnation. This cycle could only be broken by adherence to Cathar beliefs”.22 The Cathar belief system, in its skepticism and refusal of Catholic authority, represented just the latest in a long line of rebellious sentiments in the Languedoc:

  • 23 Briffault, 137.

Skeptical Provençe was the natural refuge of all heretics. From the ninth century, when the Adoptionist heresy spread from Toledo, where it originated, over Languedoc, down to the foretokenings of Protestantism, medieval heresies were primarily inspired by revolt against the spiritual and material tyranny of the Roman Church. […] The teachings of the Cathars [were] affiliated with similar kernels of resistance scattered throughout Christendom, and deriving in direct continuity from the earliest years of the Church.23

  • 24 McGlynn, 24.
  • 25 Ibid.
  • 26 Ibid., 24–25.
  • 27 Ibid., 25.

11This resistance was shared nearly across the board in Occitania, even by those who were not Cathar believers. The differences between the north and south were as much cultural and linguistic as they were religious: “for southerners, the langue d’oil of northern France was more of a foreign language”.24 The southerners, whose langue d’oc was closer to Catalan than to the language of Paris, regarded the northerners as uncultured barbarians: “crude, unrefined, brutish and bellicose, altogether lacking in manners and culture”,25 and the northerners regarded the residents of Languedoc as the twelfth-and thirteenth-century equivalents of Chardonnay-sipping elitists, “sybaritic, indulgent, indolent and effete”.26 Occitania was a rich land as well, and made a tempting prize for less wealthy northern nobles when the Church-sponsored invasion of the south began in 1209. The Cathar refusal of Catholic authority was certainly what rankled Pope Innocent III, who had attempted to rouse the northern nobles to a crusade against the south in 1205 and 1207 before his successful effort of 1209. But it was money, land, and power that motivated the warriors who besieged the towns of Béziers, Carcassone, and Albi (and others over the following decades). Occitania, as McGlynn notes, had a booming economy “boosted by trade across the Mediterranean, including with Egypt and Syria; they exported wine, dyed woollens, olive oil and grain while importing spices, silks and luxury items”.27

  • 28 Simon Pegg. A Most Holy War: The Albigensian Crusade and the Battle for Christian Freedom (Oxford: (...)
  • 29 Catherine Léglu, Rebecca Rist, and Claire Taylor, eds. The Cathars and The Albigensian Crusade: A S (...)
  • 30 Ibid., 65.

12In the leadup to the Crusade, Pope Innocent III demanded both the submission of Raymond VI, and the turning over of Cathar heretics to Catholic authorities. Northern nobles like Simon de Montfort, as orthodox as they may have been, were primarily interested in wealth, seeing the chance to enrich themselves by dispossessing the southern nobility. The pope had bigger concerns, since he saw himself as inhabiting a unique position of power and responsibility: “no pope had ever envisioned himself with so magnificent a mandate over the world”, and as he saw it, the heresy of the south had to be eliminated—“if it were not obliterated […] then all Christian existence would come to an end. […] The crusade against heresy in the lands of the count of Toulouse was a holy war for the very survival of Christendom”.28 But the pope was a practical man who knew how to win the princes and nobles of the north to his cause—money talks, then as now. In a letter of November 17, 1207, Innocent III appealed to King Philip II of France, complaining of what he called “[t]he age-old seduction of wicked heresy, which is constantly sprouting in the regions of Toulouse”,29 and promising both “remission of sins” for the crusaders and the confiscation “of all the goods of the heretics themselves”.30 The offer was clear: go to war in the south, clear out the heretics, and your reward will be their lands and possessions, with no need to worry about sin in the process. At Béziers, when the papal legate Arnaud Amaury was asked by the Crusaders how they would be able to tell heretics from the orthodox, he told them not to worry about it:

  • 31 Cognoscentes ex confessionibus illorum catholicos cum haereticis esse permixtos, dixerunt Abbati: Q (...)

Those who realized that Catholics and heretics were mixed together, said to the Abbot: “What shall we do, my lord? We can not discern between the good and the evil”. Both the Abbot and the rest feared the heretics would pretend to be Catholics, from fear of death, and afterwards return again to their perfidy; so he is reported to have said: “Kill them. For the Lord knows who are his”.31

13According to Guilhem de Tudela, one of two early thirteenth-century authors of the Cansó de la croisada, or Song of the Crusade, the slaughter was meant to terrorize the entire region into submission to both the Church and the French King in Paris:

  • 32 Guilhem de Tudela and Anonymous. Historie de la Croisade contre les Hérétiques Alibgeois, ed. by M. (...)

Le barnatges de Fransa e sels devas Paris
E li clerc e li laic li princeps els marchis
E li un e li autre an entre lor empris
Que a calque castel en que la o’st venguis
Que nos volguessan redre entro que lost les prezis
Quaneson a la espaza e quom les aucezis
E pois no trobarian qui vas lor se tenguis
Per paor que aurian e per so cauran vist
[…]
Perso son a Bezers destruit e a mal mis
Que trastotz los aucisdron no lor podo far pis
E totz sels aucizian quel mostier se son mis
Que nols pot gandir crotz autar ni cruzifis
E los clercs aucizian li fols ribautz mendics
E femnas e efans canc no cug us nichis
Dieus recepia las armas sil platz en paradis
Canc mais tan fera mort del temps Sarrazinis.
32

The lords of France and those of Paris
And the clerics and princes and marquises
And all others employed between them
Were of the same mind: a castle whose owner
Would not surrender to the gathered forces
Should be put to the sword, even the animals.
And then they would find no others to resist them,
For fear of what had already been seen.
[…]
This is why those of Béziers were destroyed,
For it was the most evil that could be done.
And they killed all who fled into the church,
No cross, nor altar, nor crucifix saved them,
And the madmen killed the clerks like beasts,
And women and children, I think none survived.
May God please to take them in his arms to heaven:
Such death has not been known since Saracen times.

  • 33 “hereticae, pravitatis infecta nec solú haeretici cives Biterrenses, sed erant raptores iniusti, ad (...)
  • 34 “Fuit autem capta civitas saepe dicta in festo S. Mariae Magdalenai” (ibid., 44, https://archive.or (...)
  • 35 “justissima divinae dispensationis mensura” (ibid.).

14Such slaughter often goes by the name of genocide today. The contemporary chronicler Peter of Vaux-de-Cernay defends and even celebrates the near-extermination by claiming that the population was consumed by “heretical depravity which infected the citizens of Béziers, who are not only heretics, but also robbers, lawbreakers, adulterers, and thieves, all of the worst sort, filled with every kind of sin”.33 After noting that nearly all of these “heretics” had been killed, Peter revels in the fact that “the city was captured on what is often called the feast day of Saint Mary Magdalene”,34 calling the timing of the mass murder of the men, women, and children of Béziers “a just measure of divine dispensation”.35

  • 36 McGlynn, 61.
  • 37 Stephen Pinker. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined (New York: Viking, 2011) (...)
  • 38 Michael C. Thomsett. Heresy in the Roman Catholic Church: A History (Jefferson: McFarland Publisher (...)

15Reports of the numbers of dead differ widely. “The Song does not give a number; William of Puylaurens simply and starkly says ‘many thousands’; Peter of Vaux de Cernay claims ‘7,000’ were killed in the church of St Mary Magdalene; in a letter to Rome the legates wrote that ‘none was spared’ and that ‘almost 20,000’ were put to the sword. William the Breton heard that 60,000 perished; others take it up to 100,000”.36 Estimates of the total number of dead in the years from 1209–1229 range from 200,00037 to 1,000,000 or more.38

  • 39 Laurence W. Marvin. The Occitan War: A Military and Political History of the Albigensian Crusade, 1 (...)
  • 40 Christopher Tyerman. God’s War: A New History of the Crusades (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harv (...)
  • 41 Ibid.

16Such a massacre changes a world, and the southern region of Occitania, the land of langue d’oc, would never again be the same: “Béziers introduced the people of Occitania to the high stakes they faced. These included inevitable punishment, if not execution, for recalcitrant Cathars, changes in religious practices for those afraid to die for their beliefs, and political domination from the outside even for those who had always remained faithful to the church”.39 Those who had participated—and continued to participate—in the ongoing slaughter were rewarded: “On 24 June 1213, in a field outside the walls of Castelnaudary, between Toulouse and Carcassonne, Amaury of Montfort was knighted by Bishop Manasses of Orléans”.40 The close relationship between the crusaders and the Church, the military and theological powers of the day, is made evident in this gesture. Under a cloak of sanctity, the Church had its way by force of bloody arms. Four years before the ceremony, Simon de Montfort, Amaury’s father, had been made the commander of the forces that would carry out the Albigensian Crusade. In order to be safe from any and all criticism for the slaughters, Simon urged the bishop to dub his son, Amaury, a knight of Christ. The father-son duo fully dedicated itself to Innocent III’s vision of “sacred” violence, using bloodshed to restore the power of the Church in Occitania: “The Castelnaudary ceremony […] represented […] the rededication of the Montfort clan to Pope Innocent III’s vision of holy violence by creating almost a fresh category of knight, dedicated to Christ’s war yet without the religious vows of the military orders”.41 It was as much a political as an economic move, and the sanctifying of the knights meant one thing in particular:

  • 42 Ibid., 566.

[It] emphasized the sanction of orthodox religion in the exercise of political authority, a crude identification of church and secular power that disconcerted the bishop of Orléans. Castelnaudary showed how Simon specifically identified his and his family’s mission as holy. The primacy of the anti-heretical message that had inspired Innocent III to call for a crusade in 1208–9 was increasingly drowned out by the secular implications of Simon’s conquests: the political reorganization of Languedoc.42

17The brutal massacres of the Albigensian Crusade destroyed the once-optimistic and humanistic culture of Occitania, and “[r]epression now was the spirit of the age”.43 The Crusade granted new lands and wealth to the northern French nobility, who along with the Church, made sure that much of what remained of a vibrant culture in the south was rooted out over the next century. The Inquisition was established in 1229 precisely in order to ensure that heresy would be found wherever it was hiding, with confessions extracted and “heretics” burned, an effort to enforce theological and political conformity that began with the slaughter at Béziers which Innocent III blandly referred to as negotium pacis et fidei,44 a “business of peace and the faith” that looks like genocide:

  • 45 “Le pape soutint que tous les efforts pacifiques de l’Église avaient échoué à cause de la pertinaci (...)

The pope argued that all peaceful efforts of the Church had failed because of the obstinacy of the heretics, and that only armed action could help to resolve the situation. This official “reconstruction” […] aimed to impose the idea of the crusade as a final solution.45

18It is difficult to pinpoint one cause of the atrocities that began in 1209, as there is no single factor that can be isolated. The troubadours and the Cathars, each in their different ways, contributed to what might be called a twelfth-century Renaissance, the ideals of which did not necessarily serve the interests of numerous powerful players in the region. Territorial greed, the ambitions of the northern French nobility, the blossoming of the Cathars and their independence, all played a role in triggering the Albigensian Crusade. Even the Cansó de la croisada takes two different points of view. The poem has two authors, one anonymous and one Guilhem de Tudela, and consists of two parts. Guilhem is eager to condemn heresy, and his verse energetically denounces the heretical sects in the south of France. In his accounts of Simon de Montfort’s pillaging of the town of Lavaur, Guilhem often tries to depict de Montfort as a courteous and gentle knight, perfoming the most praiseworthy of deeds:

  • 46 Guilhem de Tudela and Anonymous. Historie de la Croisade contre les Hérétiques Alibgeois, ll. 1499– (...)

Oi Dieus dizon trastuil dama santa Maria
Co a fait gran proeza e granda cortezia!
46

“Oh God, and our holy lady Mary,
What a deed of great prowess and grand courtesy!”

19But what underlines Guilhem’s support for de Montfort and the crusaders is a powerfully authoritarian ideal:

Lai doncas fo laor faita aitant grans mortaldat
Quentro la fm del mon cug quen sia parlat
Senhor be sen devrian ilh estre castiat
Que so vi e auzi e son trop malaurat
Car no fan so quels mando li clerc e li Crozad.
47

Then there was so great a mortal slaughter
I believe it will be talked of to the world’s end.
My lords, it is right they should be chastised,
For, unfortunately, as I have seen and heard,
They refuse obedience to the clerks and crusaders.

20The anonymous author, however, deplores the bloodthirsty attitudes of the crusaders and sides with the southerners. This author provides more dialogue and information from the other side, but most importantly, a certain sympathy for those who have chosen to live how their hearts desired, combined with a caustic cynicism toward the crusaders and the Church, whom he describes as having “shamed and disgraced Christianity”.48 One cleric, Folquet de Marselha—himself a former troubadour49—comes in for especially sharp criticism:

E dic vos de lavesque que tant nes afortitz
Quen la sua semblansa es Dieus e nos trazitz
Quab cansos messongeiras e ab motz coladitz
Dont totz hom es perdutz quels canta ni os ditz
Ez ab sos reproverbis afdatz e forbitz
Ez ab los nostres dos don fo enjotglaritz
Ez ab mala doctrina es tant fort enriquitz
Com non auza ren diire a so quel contraditz.
50

And of this bishop, so full of his own righteousness,
He with his false-seeming betrayed God and us,
With his chants and his smoothly-polished lies,
And his songs, the damnation of any who sing them.
And by his powerfully sharp and slick reproofs,
And by our gifts whereby he lived like a celebrity,
And by his evil doctrines, he has risen so high,
That no one dares say anything to contradict him.

21The author depicts the crusaders’ opponent, Raymond VI, the count of Toulouse, in a notably positive light:

Que sieu ai enemics ni mals ni orgulhos
Si degus mes laupart eu li serei leos.
51

I defy the strongest and most wicked enemies,
and I will be like a lion or a leopard unto them.

22But the same author has withering contempt for the crusaders’leader, Simon de Monfort:

Si per homes aucirre ni per sanc espandir,
Ni per esperitz perdre ni per mortz cosentir,
E per mals cosselhs creire, e per focs abrandir,
E per baros destruire, e per Paratge aunir,
E per Las terras toldre, e per Orgilh suffrir,
E per los mals escendre, e pel[s] bes escantir,
E per donas aucirre e per efans delire,
Pot hom en aquest segle Jhesu Crist comquerir,
El deu porta corona e el cel resplandir!
52

If by killing men and spilling their blood,
Or by wasting their souls and preaching murder,
And by following evil counsel, and setting fires,
And by destroying barons, and dishonoring
Paratge,
And by stealing lands and exalting pride,
And by praising evil and scanting good,
And by massacring women and their children,
A man can win Jesus Christ in this world,
Then he surely wears a splendid crown in heaven.

  • 53 Boyle, 288.
  • 54 Briffault, 148.
  • 55 Ibid.
  • 56 Ibid., 149.
  • 57 Ibid.

23The decades-long crusade altered the course of the European world. But for our purposes, the most dramatic change brought about by Béziers and all the massacres that followed affected the poetry of the thirteenth century. No longer were poets free to flout the morality of the Church without trepidation. Fear now dominated the land, and in turn, the minds and hearts of those who would write of love. Decades after the Albigensian Crusade, poetry had lost its sensual edge, and repression had triumphed: “A manuscript of trouvère music in the British Library, dating from the middle of the thirteenth century, includes the songs of Blondel and his contemporaries, but some of the words have been scrubbed out and replaced with religious ones”.53 As the Church moved against heresy, poetry was immediately put under tighter controls: “The Papal Legate made noble knights swear never again to compose verses”.54 From now on, verse was to conform to the demands of Church orthodoxy, as evidenced by the example of the prior of Villemeir, “a zealous Dominican” who “published a theological poem addressed to recalcitrant poets, in which the truths of each article of faith [were] reinforced”55 by the use of an ominous and repeated formula: “If you refuse to believe this, turn your eyes to the flames in which your companions are roasting. Answer forthwith, in one word or two; either you will burn in that fire or you will join us”.56 Given the sudden and violent changes brought by the crusaders, “[t]hese forcible arguments did not fail in their appeal. In the minds of the poets, inspired by holy terror, they speeded with marvelous effect the transformation in their ‘conception of love’”.57

  • 58 Pegg, 191.
  • 59 Briffault, 104.
  • 60 Ibid., 128.

24The slaughter at Béziers changed everything: “Corpses fouled rivers. […] Skulls were crushed. Murder was a path to redemption. Vines and fields were devastated. […] Good men became heretics. […] Heretics dangled from walnut trees. Very few who began the war lasted to the end. The world was changed forever”.58 As the world changed, so did poetry: “the activity of a few poets of Languedoc continued for a while on a much reduced scale, and in a form almost unrecognizable […]. Prior to that date, nothing is to be found in the poetry of the troubadours that suggests a platonic idealization of passion”.59 After the violent destruction of Occitanian culture, troubadour poetry—what little was left of it—became a tool of Church-mandated morality. In so doing, the poetry all but died: “[t]he change took place in the corruption and dissolution of the grave”.60

25The effects of this change can be seen in the work of Guilhem Montanhagol, who worked sometime between 1233 and 1268, during the time in which the Inquisition was established to finish the job the Albigensian Crusade had started. Montanhagol’s poetry is a kind of adaptation-as-appeasement, reacting to the Inquisition’s condemnation of fin’amor by recasting love in more “acceptable” terms:

  • 61 Ce n’est donc pas seulement l’amour, mais la vie courtoise tout entière que les poésies de Montanha (...)

It is not only love, but the entirety of courtly life that Montanhagol’s poems show us being transformed. The new doctrine of love is indeed a form of change in the spirit of the times. We cannot explain one without the other. They are the consequence of the domination of religious power. The theory of chaste love, as the new ideal of life, was born of a moral and religious idea. […] This Provençal poetry, which is soon to succumb to the enmity of the clergy, first seems to have tried to disarm its opponent. Accused of immorality and prosecuted as an accomplice of heresy, it tries to comply with the moral orthodoxy of Christianity in order to survive. This is an interesting attempt and one of the most curious periods in the history of Provençal poetry.61

26Perhaps Montanhagol’s most famous line is from his canso entitled Ar ab lo coinde pascor.62 In this work, his claim is that “chastity comes from love”, “d’amor mou castitatz” (l. 18). This is a far cry from the earlier Guilhem IX, for whom amor led to anything but castitatz. But times have changed for Montanhagol, and the idea of love portrayed in the poetry of the thirteenth century has changed with them. This was a necessary transformation, if poetry was to survive:

  • 63 En réalité, cette transformation […] était avant tout une nécessité j pour que la chanson d’amour p (...)

In reality, this transformation […] was primarily from necessity; in order that love songs could survive, they had to accommodate themselves to the requirements of religious power. The troubadours now had to sing of a love consistent with Christian morality, rejecting evil desires for the essence of virtue and chastity.63

  • 64 Briffault, 151.
  • 65 Sarah Kay. Parrots and Nightingales: Troubadour Quotations and the Development of European Poetry ( (...)
  • 66 Sarah Kay. The Place of Thought: The Complexity of One in Late Medieval French Didactic Poetry (Phi (...)

27With poetry no longer free to celebrate fin’amor, Platonic love became the refuge to which new and conformist poets quickly learned to fly: “[t]he principles governing this remarkable reform are set forth in […] the Brevaries of Love, by Master Matfré Ermengaud. The excellence of platonic love is therein demonstrated [and] supported with quotations drawn from the troubadours”.64 So old is the tradition of making the troubadours say what they do not say, and so old are the clearly identifiable and repressive purposes for doing so. Matfré’s late-thirteenth-century work is an “encyclopedia describing the universe as emanating from God’s love”,65 a nearly thirty-five-thousand-verse poem which “surveys the natural and moral orders and concludes with an exhortation to human marital love”,66 precisely the opposite of that fin’amor celebrated by the troubadours. Even more interesting, however, is the critical impulse behind Matfré’s writing:

  • 67 Ibid., 24.

He claims to be writing at the request of his fellow troubadours in order to expound what is worthwhile (and what reprehensible) in the poetry of fin’amors. […] Sexuality, we are taught, has its place in human behavior so long as it is morally vitruous and oriented toward reproduction.67

28Matfré makes this emphasis clear, arguing that the highest forms of amor must be redirected from earth to the heavens:

  • 68 Matfré Ermengaud. Le Breviari d’Amor, ed. by Gabriel Azaïs (Béziers: Secrétariat de la Société arch (...)

Si tôt nol connoisson lh’enfan,
Mas ges en quascun home gran,
Quez a de Dieu conoissensa,
Non habita, ses falhensa,
Si non l’ama d’ aquel amor
Qu’om deu amar son creator,
Quar non habita mas els bos.
68

An infant does not understand everything,
But not so the noble man
Who knows God:
It is not life, but disloyalty,
Nor is it true love, this love of women,
For a man owes love to his creator,
If he would live, not in evil, but in goodness.

29For Matfré, fin’amor must be “chaste”, and “prefer wisdom to the folly of the world”, and “defend and praise ladies”.69 But, as must be painfully evident at this point, Matfré’s notion of fin’amor is radically different from, even directly opposed to those of Guilhem IX, or Bernart de Ventadorn, or the Comtessa de Dia. For Matfré, the Holy Spirit “is the source and root of love”.70 Here we see the origins of the sublimated (and un-troubadour-like) version of love that Gaston Paris will come to define as “courtly” in the nineteenth century. When William Reddy describes the troubadours’ “dissent against the Gregorian Reform doctrine that all sexual behavior […] longing, [and] pleasure was bound up with the realm of sin”71 he is right about the erotic dissent, but wrong to describe it as “courtly love”. Especially as defined and used since Paris, that deliberately misleading term has been part of a rearguard action meant to declaw and domesticate the love the troubadours called fin’amor by deemphasizing its physical and illicit aspects, in order to “channel, reformulate, and control” desire.72 This imperative can already be seen in the work of a thirteenth-century cleric who was determined, at the behest of a demonstrably violent and authoritarian Church, to rewrite troubadour poetry into a demure and acceptably Christian form, reflecting the belief that “only God is, and nothing else is”,73 that all things have their existence through God, and that all love is love of God. Matfré even claims authority for this rewriting of the troubadours by describing himself as a truer lover than any who have written, or been written about, before:

[Doncx] pueis la natura d’amor
Sabon li veray amador,
Ne dey hien saber tot quan n’es,
Quar plus fis aymans non veg ges,
Ni fo anc plus fis en amor
De me Floris am Blanca flor
Ni Tisbes anc ni Piramus
Ni Serena ni Elidus,
Alion ni Filomena
Ni Paris ni Elena
Ni l bel’[Ise]uts ni Tristans.74

Therefore, since the nature of love
is known by true lovers,
None should know everything better than me,
For there is no lover alive,
Who was ever truer in love
Than me, neither Floris nor Blancheflor,
Neither Thisbe nor Piramus,
Neither Serena nor Elidus,
Not even Filomena
Or Paris, or Helen,
Or beautiful Isolde, or Tristan.

30Just in case there is any doubt about the extent and intensity of the priestly attitudes toward love and the status of women in the new world, in which the troubadours have been turned into the mouthpieces of Catholic orthodoxy, Matfré explains:

Cert es qu’a luy la port naelhor;
E qui Dieu per bes temporals
Ama, l’amor non es corals
Ni veraia ni certana,
Ans es amors de putana.75

Certain it is that he whose end is women;
Who for God has but a temporal
Love, whose love is not of the heart,
Neither true nor certain,
Follows after the love of whores.

31From Bernart de Ventadorn, even from Guilhem IX, this is a fall from the heights of joy and sensuality into the depths of pious wickedness. Though he is writing decades after the violence of the Albigensian Crusade, the shadow of orthodoxy’s war on heresy further darkens Matfré’s verse beyond his frequent expressions of misogyny, increasing the disdain with which he regards those who would cling too tightly to the “sins” of life, love, and independently-chosen faith that the Crusade had attempted to destroy in the south:

  • 76 Michelle Bolduc. “The Breviari d’Amor: Rhetoric and Preaching in Thirteenth-Century Languedoc”. Rhe (...)

Writing in the third quarter of the thirteenth century in Languedoc, Matfre is surrounded by the continuing battles with heterodoxy and in particular with Cathar heresy. Matfre himself is a native of Béziers, which was the first city taken during the Albigensian crusade. […] As a result, the Breviari reflects the contemporary anxiety of the thirteenth-century Church concerning widespread heterodoxy, particularly in southern France.76

  • 77 Briffault, 151.
  • 78 The tendency in northern French poetry to portray women as idealized saints is traceable all the wa (...)

32Matfré regarded the troubadours as having been all too often the unwitting servants of the devil himself: “Satan […] in his desire to make men suffer, inspires them with an idolatrous love for women. Instead of adoring their Creator […] they entertain guilty passions for women, whom they transform into divinities”.77 Ironically, however, the latter part of Matfré’s pious accusation can serve as a nearly-perfect description of exactly the path that love poetry will follow as it moves into its later French, Italian, and English incarnations, as women are removed from their bodies, denied their sexuality, idolized, dehumanized, and turned into goddesses of light and air.78

II. Post-Fin’amor French Poetry: The Roman de la Rose

  • 79 Christine McWebb. “Hermeneutics of Irony: Lady Reason and the Romance of the Rose”. Dalhousie Frenc (...)

33This process, as well as hints of resistance to the process, can be seen in the thirteenth-century French poem Roman de la Rose. The Roman is the work of two authors, Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, whose writing styles are radically different, but whose attitudes towards love and its sublimation into worship have more in common than might initially appear. Their collaboration, although they were separated by decades and by death, produced the dream vision of a young man, Lover (Amant), who falls in love with a rosebud, Rose. In the dream, Lover wanders into a garden where he meets the God of Love (Li dex d’Amors), who shoots Lover with an arrow, subjecting him to great pain and suffering. At the same time, Lover sees and falls hopelessly in love with Rose, though he is kept at a distance from her by various characters, Resistance (Dangier), Shame (Honte), Jealousy (Jalousie), Fair Welcoming (Bel Acueil), and Chastity (Chasteé), among others. Lover does not want to give up on Rose, and as he pursues his desire, many other characters, including Venus and Reason (Reson) try to help, giving him different, and often contradictory advice. After much suffering, persuasion, and confusion, Lover finally possesses Rose. Much more than telling a simple story of desire, however, the poem creates a space within which both authors argue for love and condemn the Church and its violence to tell the story of fin’amor, its forceful sublimation, and the nostalgic urge to return to the days of “pure love”. Ultimately, the goal of the poem is for “Lover to be successful in [his] defeat of Christian and courtly morality”.79

  • 80 Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun. The Romance of the Rose. Trans. and ed. by Charles Dahlberg. (...)
  • 81 “Amicitiae vero locus ubi esse potest aut quis amicus esse cuiquam, quem non ipsum amet propter ips (...)

34A more conservative view of the Roman and its depictions of love suggests that “Lover’s desire for the rose is the classic form of cupidity, a love of an earthly object for its own sake rather than for the sake of God”.80 Here, Charles Dahlberg expresses the doctrine of the thirteenth-century Church, which insisted that all love, properly channeled, was love of God. However, this is precisely the position we have already seen rejected by Héloïse d’Argenteuil, who references Cicero, not the Bible or any Christian thinker, in support of her view that love is both of and for the beloved, without reference to God: “How can friendship be possible, or who can be a friend to anyone, who does not love him for himself?”81 The Roman hinges principally on these opposing views of love: love for the sake of God, or love for the sake of the beloved. This opposition controls the poem’s development, and the way the poem shows love manifesting in different forms is its way of dealing with the transition from the fin’amor ethos present in the work of the troubadours to the Christianized form of love that comes to dominate post-Albigensian-Crusade poetry.

  • 82 “ne tine pas songes a lobes” (Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun. Le Roman de la Rose. 3 vols, ed (...)
  • 83 “li plusors songent de nuitz / Maintes choses couvertement / Que l’en voit puis apertement” (ibid.,(...)

35Guillaume de Lorris begins the poem with a cautionary statement about dreams seeming deceitful at first, solely because of the fact that they are dreams. However, Lover, who tells the story, asserts that dreams should be taken seriously, because Macrobius, a Roman philosopher from the fifth century, “did not think dreams at all deceitful”.82 Despite the disbelief of others, Lover maintains that “most men dream at night / many hidden things / which later may be seen openly”.83

  • 84 “qu’en may estoie, ce sonjoie, / el tens enmoreus, plain de joie” (ibid., ll. 47–48).
  • 85 “Li bois recueverent lor vedure” (ibid., l. 53).

36Similar to the famous opening of the Canterbury Tales, the dream vision of the Roman begins with the description of spring when Lover, “in joyful May, so I dreamed,/the amorous time, full of joy”,84 wanders alone and enjoys the delights of nature. In poetry, such images of springtime have long been associated with rebirth, sex, and a time when “the trees recover their green”.85 Similarly, there are certain words that have become “code” for recognizing certain authors and their themes. We associate the word “pandemonium” with Milton, “prick” with Shakespeare, and so on. The word that appears frequently in both sections of the Roman is the word “joy”. The relation to the work of the troubadours is immediately evident—if one opens a book of troubadour poetry to nearly any page, the word joy will appear. Sensual like the lyrics of the troubadours, the Roman has the perfume of fin’amor, disguised within a dream vision. Heather M. Arden, in her explication of the Roman, notes the connection between the poem and the troubadours, though with some diffidence:

  • 86 Heather M. Arden. The Romance of the Rose (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1987), 22.

This new view of love had gone through three stages by the time it reached Guillaume de Lorris. It began at the end of the eleventh century in southern France and was expressed in the songs of the troubadours. […] Several important themes in courtly songs recur in the first part of the Rose. The main theme of the songs is the lover’s simultaneous feelings of great joy and great suffering.86

  • 87 This censored quality can be seen even in the love-making scene in Chrétien’s La Chevalier de la Ch (...)

37Arden’s move is one often made in criticism of the troubadours. To assume that the troubadour poems were “courtly” is to assume that their songs had the characteristics of the later invention called “courtly love”. But this is a typical, and, one begins to suspect, deliberate confusion, for fin’amor is highly sexual and earthly, while “courtly love” is spiritualized, sublimated, and censored.87

Meister des Rosenromans, Dancing before the genius of love, in Roman de la Rose (ca. 1420–1430).88

38Writers often use their villains to assert certain inconvenient truths. Milton does this with his Satan; Shakespeare does this with his Edmund, and Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun do this with a number of their characters. What can be confusing about the the Roman, however, is the fact that criticisms about a wide variety of things come from every character and even from the narration; the reader is left to decide what is “trifling” and what is truth. One common thread is hypocrisy, which is underscored in both sections of the poem, and often revisited directly or indirectly. Lover walks through the garden and sees a wall covered with images. He describes each one carefully, and when he gets to the image of Hypocrisy (Papelardie), he gives a particularly cutting description:

  • 89 Lorris and de Meun (1965), Vol. 1, ll. 408–13.

C’est cele qui en reclee,
quant nus ne s’en puet peure garde,
de nul man fere n’est coarde;
et fet dehors le marmiteus,
s’a ele vis simple et pietus
et semble seinte creature.89

It is she who, in private,
when no one can see her,
of no evil-doing is afraid;
In public faith she is an apostle,
her face is simple and pious
and she resembles a saintly creature.

  • 90 One also catches a whiff here of pius Aeneas, who can go toe-to-toe with anyone where hypocrisy is (...)
  • 91 Ibid., l. 493.
  • 92 “une pucele, / qui estoit assez gente et bele” (ibid., ll. 523–24).
  • 93 “char plus tender que poucins” (ibid., l. 526).
  • 94 “en un reduit / m’en entrai ou Deduiz estoit” (ibid., ll. 716–17).
  • 95 “voiz clere et saine” (ibid., l. 733).
  • 96 “fleüteors / et menestreus et jugleors” (ibid., ll. 745–46).
  • 97 “[m]out i avoit tableteresses / ilec entor et timberesses” (ibid., ll. 751–52).

39This is an obvious criticism of the Church and its hypocritical repression of love and sexuality, clothed with terms like “pietus” and “semble”,90 and in this section of the Roman, it is not difficult to see a number of pointedly pro-fin’amor allusions being made. The songbirds that Lover admires during his walk sings of “les dances d’amors”.91 The description of “a girl / who was both gentle and beautiful”92 whom Lover meets is not a “courtly” account; her “flesh more tender than a chick’s”93 is depicted in great detail. Lover tells his readers, “into a small gap / I entered where Delight [or Diversion] was”,94 where he meets another lady, named Joy, who has a “voice clear and pure”.95 Not only is the entire troubadour frame of reference in place here, but Lover even seems to see the troubadours, as he views the part of the garden where there are “flutists / and minstrels and jongleurs”.96 The perfect or “pure” garden of these loving singers, as the story shows, goes through a major change. Not only does the poem allude to the troubadours (in the references to “minstrels and jongleurs”), but also to the trobairitz, as “many ladies in the middle danced / and played on tambourines”.97

  • 98 Ibid., 1. 760.
  • 99 “ert en totes corz bien dine / d’estre empereriz ou roïne” (ibid., ll. 1241–42).

40However, in the middle of the festivities is a character named Diversion (Deduiz) who appears “with great nobility” (“par grant noblece”),98 and the “courtly” sublimation and spiritualized redirection of fin’amor is clearly referenced as the “Diversion” that it really is. The moment another character, Courtesy (Cortoisie), who “was worthy in any court / to be an empress or queen”,99 enters the garden, the language shifts, and the scene changes from pleasant songbirds and joy to the “highly ornamented” description of Diversion. The earlier instances of the “flesh” and desire are sublimated to a “dance” and a mere “kiss” where Diversion courts Joy.

  • 100 Arden, 22–23.
  • 101 Ibid., 25.

41After the appearance of the God of Love, love in the Roman becomes about suffering. The grief comes from different obstacles, but Arden emphasizes two in particular: “social barriers due to the status of the beloved which is higher than the lover’s, or barriers set up by the aloofness or coldness of the lady”.100 As a result, the experience of the lover is one of suffering until he receives the pity of his lady. In the Roman, pity becomes the key that will open the prison in which Lover finds himself, just as the character Pity softens up Resistance who guides and protects the Rose. Arden notes that the “rules guide the lover in his relations with others and with the beloved in particular, they condemn certain vices […] and urge certain virtues”.101 The “courtly lover” is imprisoned by a set of clearly-defined and rigidly-enforced codes, while “love” is a matter of regulated and controlled behaviors prescribed for anyone in the scripted role of “the lover” to follow. In the Roman, the God of Love commands Lover as just such a prisoner:

  • 102 Lorris and de Meun (1965), Vol. 1, ll. 1882–89.

Vasaus, pris estes, rien n’i a
de destorner ne de desfendre,
ne fai pas dangier de toi render.
Quant plus volentiers te rendras,
et plus tost a meri vendras.
Il est fox qui moine dangier
vers celui que doit losengier
et qu’il covient a souplier.102

Vassal, you are taken, do not hope
for escape or defense,
now faithfully surrender to my power.
The more willingly you surrender
the sooner you will have mercy.
He is a fool who resists my power
when he should flatter
and desire to make supplication.

42In the Roman, the description of the arrows used by the God of Love illustrate authority, but they also invoke images from the Albigensian Crusade and its horrific slaughter, as well as the Church’s frequent use of “Bel Samblant” or “Fair Seeming” to achieve its goals:

  • 103 Lorris and de Meun (1965), Vol. 1, ll. 935–69.

La meillor et la plus isnele
de ces floiches, et la plus bele,
et cele ou li melor penon
furent ante, Biautez ot non.
Une de cles qui plus bleice
rot non, ce m’est avis, Simpleice.
Una autre en i ot, apelee
Franchise: cele iert empanee
de valor et de cortoisie.
La quarte avoit non Compaignie:
en cele ot mout pesant saiete,
el n’iere pas d’aler loig preste;
mes qui de pres en vosist traire,
il em peust assez mal feire.
La cinquieme ot non Bel Samblant:
ce fu toute la mains grevant;
ne por quant el fet mout grant plaie;
[…].
.v. floiches i ot d’autre guise,
qui furent laides a devise;
li fust estoient et li fer
plus noir que deables d’ enfer.
La premiere avoit non Orguelz;
l’autre, qui ne valoit pas melz,
fu apelee Vilennie:
cele si fu de felonnie tote tainte et envenimee;
la tierce fu Honte clamee,
et la quarte Desesperance;
Noviaus Pensers fu sanz doutance
Pelee la derreniere.103

The best and most swift
of these arrows, the most beautiful,
and the one with the best feathers
affixed to its tail, was called Beauty.
The one that gave the deepest wounds
was, in my view, Simplicity.
Another one there was, called
Freedom: this one was feathered
with valor and courtesy.
The fourth was called Company:
this arrow had a very heavy point,
it was not ready to fly far;
but if fired from close range,
could cause a terrible wound.
The fifth was named Fair Seeming:
and though of all, his was the least grievous,
nonetheless, it could leave a serious hurt;
[…]
Five arrows of another sort there were,
as ugly as you can imagine;
whose shafts and points were by far
blacker than all the devils of hell.
The first was known as Pride;
the other, which had no more value,
was named Villany:
that one was filled with crimes,
wholly tainted and venomous;
the third called Disgrace,
and the fourth Despair;
New Thought was without doubt
the name of the last.

  • 104 “nu tenez ore pas a lobe” (ibid., l. 1052).

43What the Albigensian Crusade accomplished was to divorce passion from the obedient minds of the faithful, and what was brought forth by the Crusade’s horrific violence, was, as Lover says, a “New Thought”. Despite Innocent III’s hand-wringing about Cathar heresy, the lands and wealth of Occitania were major motivators of the Crusade, and Guillaume de Lorris does not disregard that kind of venality in his verse. In the passages on wealth and its rich purple robe, Lover uses a revealing phrase that alerts a reader to look carefully for a trick: “do not take this as a trick of flattery or deceit”.104 The trick, of course, is a reference to Diversion—the favored technique of a Church that would have its flock believe that human love is sinful, and that slaughter is negotium pacis et fidei, “the business of peace and faith”.

44Even though already well into the time of love’s sublimation into piety, Guillaume de Lorris, through the character of Lover, includes vestiges of troubadour sensuality. Referring to Saracens and paganism, Lover describes a lady named Generosity, and finds it delightful that

  • 105 Ibid., ll. 1169–72.

la cheveçaille ert overte,
s’avoit sa gorge descoverte
si que par outre la chemise
li blancheoit la char alise”105

her hood and collar were open,
and her neck revealed
so that beyond her blouse
her soft flesh showed its whiteness.

45Before being struck by an arrow and “poisoned” with sublimation, for a moment Lover describes couples who sang and danced together. Of them he speaks:

  • 106 Ibid., ll. 1293–98.

Dex! Com menoient bone vie!
Fox est qui n’a de tel envie!
Qui autel vie avoir porroit,
de meillor bien se soufreoit, qu’il n’est nus graindres paradis
d’avoir amie a son devis.106

God knows what a wonderful life they led!
Only fools do not envy them!
He who might live this way,
can do without any greater good,
since there is no grander paradise
than to be with the love of one’s choice.

46It almost sounds nostalgic, as if the author is speaking here of something that has been lost, something precious that may already be unrecoverable. In the same yearning tone, the author alludes to the the topography of the south of France:

  • 107 Ibid., ll. 1397–1401.

Mes mout rembelissoit l’afaire
li leus, qui ere de tel aire
qu’il i avoit de flore planté
tot jorz et iver et esté:
violete i avoit trop bele.107

But the best thing about the state of things
was that the land would always
have flowers and plants
all through the winter and the summer:
the violets were especially beautiful.

47Even now, summer visitors to Provençe will see lavender fields full of the violet flowers the author speaks of—similar to those that perhaps inspired troubadour lyrics.

  • 108 “qui me mostroient / mil choses qui entor estoinet” (ibid., ll. 1603–04).
  • 109 “la mort ne me greveroit mie, / se ge moroie es braz m’amie. /Mout me grieve Amors et tormente” (ib (...)
  • 110 “sanz grant contenz” (ibid., l. 1745).
  • 111 “la saiete remaint enz” (ibid., l. 1746).
  • 112 “foibles et vains” (ibid., l. 1792).

48By this point of the Roman, Lover has lost touch with the fin’amor ethos of the troubadours, and is fully infected by “courtly love”. By the fountain “which revealed to [Lover] the thousand things that appeared there”,108 a multitude of things Lover is no longer able to experience, he sits and sighs. Pierced by an arrow shot by the God of Love, Lover gives in to suffering, later claiming that “Death would not grieve me, / if I might die in the arms of my lover. / I am much grieved and tormented by Love”.109 Far from the joi spoken of by the troubadours, suffering consumes the courtly lover, since for him there is no greater pain (and perversely, no greater pleasure) than the desire for the unattainable beloved. Lover realizes that he can remove Love’s arrow shaft “without great effort”,110 but no matter how hard he tries, he cannot remove the point or head of the arrow, for “the point remains within”.111 Lover is now “weak and defeated”,112 and in passage after passage, the descriptions of his condition mine the poet’s vocabulary for words synonymous with “sad”.

49After the demise of fin’amor, love becomes sacrificial; this is one crucial aspect of diverted pure love (a diversion we can already see at work in Ermengaud). In later poetry, lovers are often portrayed as martyrs. In fact, the similarity between the treatments of love and sacrifice becomes so strong that some later English romances resemble another genre, saints’ lives (vita). While every genre has its own vocabulary, “courtly love” romances are replete with such terms as suffering, pain, pity, mercy, angelic, courtesy, noble, and gentle. The language leaves no doubt that “courtly love”, unlike fin’amor, is a Christianized and sublimated form of love. But scholars continue to blur the lines between the two ideas:

  • 113 Bernard V. Brady. Christian Love (Washington: Georgetown University Press, 2003), 152.

In place of the theologian, courtly love has the troubadour. Instead of God (or in some instances Mary), courtly love posits the lady. In place of the monastery, monks, and contemplation, courtly love speaks of the courts, knights, and battle.113

50The idea that “[i]n place of the theologian, courtly love has the troubadour” is risible when one thinks of actual troubadours like Guilhem IX. Such an interpretation does violence to the poetry, as can be seen when looking at Arnaut Daniel’s Lo ferm voler qu’el cor m’intra (The firm will that enters my heart), which has precisely nothing to do with either Christianity or Platonic thought:

  • 114 Daniel, 112, ll. 13–18.

Del cors li fos, non de l’arma,
e cossentis m’a celat dinz sa cambra!
Que plus mi nafra∙ l cor que colps de verga
car lo sieus sers lai on il es non intra;
totz temps serai ab lieis cum carns et ongla,
e non creirai chastic d’amic ni d’oncle.114

I would be of her body, not of her soul,
if she would consent to hide me in her chamber!
Since it wounds my heart more than blows of the rod
that her servant is not entering there:
with her I will be as flesh and nail
and believe no chastisement of friend or of uncle.

51The change from fin’amor to spiritualized and sublimated “courtly love” is not particularly subtle, and it involves an inordinate amount of violence—physical violence in the Crusade, physical, “moral”, and psychological violence in the subsequent Inquisition, and intellectual violence in the long tradition of allegorically-inspired literary criticism dedicated to rewriting the poetry of love in its own passionless image. Such a change is not obscured in the Roman. The God of Love’s commandments are just one aspect of this alteration, which Lover points out:

  • 115 Lorris and de Meun (1965), Vol. 1, ll. 2055–58.

Li diex d’Amors lors m’encharja,
tot issi com vos oroiz ja,
mot a mot ses copmmandemenz.
Bien les devise cist romanz.115

The God of Love then charged me,
as you shall hear them now,
word for word, with his commandments;
this romance is an excellent device.

52Before Lover was wounded with the arrow of (courtly) love, he referred to this poem as a “songes” or dream that was not to be considered a mere fable. Now, however, this has changed, as his story has become more serious, taking on a spiritual vocabulary and theme. When Love speaks to Lover, he says:

  • 116 Ibid., ll. 2073e-f, i-j.

Si maudi et escommenie
touz ceus qui aiment Vilenie.
[…]
vilains est fel et sanz pitié
sanz servise et sanz amitié.116

I curse and excommunicate
all those who love wickedness.
[…]
A wicked man is cruel and without pity;
without service and without friendship.

  • 117 “Aprés gardes que tu ne dies / ces orz moz ne ces ribaudies: / ja por nomer vilainne chose / ne doi (...)
  • 118 “Adés aime, mes que tu soies / loing de mes roses totes voies” (ibid., ll. 3183–84).

53Many things are forbidden to Lover, including obscene language: “Next, be on your guard that you never use / any filthy words or ribaldry. / Do not name base things, / and never open your mouth to disclose them”.117 Baseness does not only refer to language here, but also to passions, which are animalistic, and thus not highly regarded in the new, post-crusade and post-fin’amor world (the poems of Guilhem IX, would doubtless be regarded as “base” in this context—that, as much as anything else, illustrates the extent and nature of the change we are dealing with). The God of Love urges Lover, on many occasions, to serve well and be courteous, for decorum is expected (and in this case demanded). Resistance, who guards the Rose, gives similar advice: “You are free to love, as long as you keep / always far away from my roses”.118

Look, he says, but do not touch.

54Passionate love is viewed negatively by many of the characters in this section of the Roman. Religious language becomes steadily more prominent toward the end of Guillaume de Lorris’ portion, but in the midst of the poem’s increasingly powerful air of sublimation, a burst of erotic passion shines through in this speech by Lover:

  • 119 Ibid., ll. 3339–60.

Si con j’oi la rose apressie,
un poi la trovai engroisie
et vi qu’ele estoit puis creüe
que quant je l’oi premiers veüe.
La rose auques s’eslargissoit
par amont, si m’abellissoit
ce qu’el n’iere pas si overte
que la graine fust descovierte;
ençois estoit encor enclose
entre les fueilles de la rose
qui amont droites se levoient
et la place dedenz emploient,
si ne pooit paroir la graine
por la rose qui estoit pleine.
Ele fu, Diex la beneïe!
asez plus bele espanie
qu’el n’iere avant, et plus vermeille,
dont m’esbahis de la mervoille;
et Amors plus et plus me lie
de tant come ele est embelie,
et tot adés estraint ses laz
tant con je voi plus de solaz.119

When I approached the rose,
I found it had grown
and was larger than it had been
the first time I had seen it.
The rosebud was a little bigger
at the top, but I was happy
to see that it was not so open
as to reveal its seed within,
but was still enclosed
by the leaves of the rose
which made it stand upright and fill the place within
so that the seed could not appear
though the rose was full.
And thanks be to God’s blessing!
it was even more beautiful,
more open, and redder than before.
I was amazed at the marvel;
and Love more and more bound me,
to the extent its beauty grew,
the cords tightened to restrain me
and my pleasure grew all the more.

  • 120 “un besier douz et savoré / pris de la rose erraument” (ibid., ll. 3460–61).
  • 121 “Tote l’estoire veil parsuivre, / ja ne m’est parece d’escrivre” (ibid., ll. 3487–88).
  • 122 “qui me donront, ce croi, la mort” (ibid., l. 4014).

55Torn between his passions and courtesy, Lover still desires to possess the Rose. He meets Venus, the mother of the God of Love. Interestingly, mother and son differ in their principles, and with the mother’s help, Lover “a kiss sweet and delicious / took from the rose immediately”.120 If Lover had strictly followed the “courtly” rules, then he would have been satisfied with the kiss; however, this is not the case, as he desires the Rose in more ways than permitted. Guillaume de Lorris, speaking through Lover, informs the reader that “[he] will pursue the whole history, / and never be lazy in writing it down”.121 This is exactly what he does: he writes about the love he and his forefathers knew, and what has become of it. It is a cautious portrait, replete with complexity and subtlety, and it ends with Lover’s sorrow over his apparent frustration at not being able to love fully. He is in despair, but more than anything, he fears: “for my fear and pain, I think, means death”.122

  • 123 McWebb, 10.
  • 124 “Et si l’ai je perdue, espoir, / a poi que ne m’en desespoir. / Desespoir! Las!” (Lorris and de Meu (...)

56More satirical than Guillaume de Lorris, Jean de Meun continues the Roman from this point by pursuing the love theme that unifies the poem. De Meun’s portion of the Roman is “a promotional treatise of procreative love versus […] chaste, regulated courtly love”,123 and his satire of courtly love is apparent from the opening lines which show Lover in great sorrow: “And if I have lost hope, / then I am at the point of despair. / Despair! Alas!”124 Such exclamation recalls Shakespeare’s treatment of the disingenuous hysteria in the Capulet household as they mourn over Juliet’s (seeming) death on the day of her arranged marriage to the County Paris:

CAPULET’S WIFE
Alack the day, she’s dead, she’s dead, she’s dead!

CAPULET
Ha! let me see her. Out alas!
[…]

  • 125 Romeo and Juliet, 4.5.24–25, 30.

NURSE
O lamentable day!
125

  • 126 Ibid. 4.5.96.

57This nearly comical grief goes on for another page, replete with exclamations that underscore the hysterics of the characters in the scene. Even the musicians who are there to play wedding music recognize the histrionics of the Capulet family: “Faith, we may put up our pipes and be gone”.126Jean de Meun makes fun of such behavior throughout his portion of the Roman:

  • 127 Lorris and de Meun (1965), Vol. 1, ll. 7433–40.

Et se vos ne poez plorer,
covertement sanz demorer
de vostre salive pregniez,
ou jus d’oignons, et l’esprengniez,
ou d’auz ou d’autres liqueurs meintes,
don voz palperes soient teintes;
s’ainsinc le fetez, si plorrez
toutes les foiz que vos vorrez.127

And if you cannot cry,
fake it without delay,
mix your saliva
with the juice of onions, and squeeze it out
into your eyes (many other liquors will do),
anoint your eyelids with these stains;
if you make this preparation, you may cry
as often as you like.

  • 128 Noah Guynn. Allegory and Sexual Ethics in the High Middle Ages (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) (...)

58The difference that is apparent between the authors of the Roman is not only the treatment of the theme of love, but the writing style as well. When Guillaume de Lorris’ Lover spoke of despair and sorrow, he did not use overwrought exclamations; Jean de Meun uses them to mock courtliness and decorum and the artificiality of the love they underscore. Jean de Meun’s satirical verse opposes “the inhibitions of courtly and ecclesiastical moralism, and [seeks] to exempt vernacular poetry from euphemistic censorship and rigid rules of literary decorum”.128

59Intially, Jean de Meun maintains Guillaume de Lorris’ take on sublimated, sacrificial love by portraying love as salvation, and Lover as a saint:

  • 129 Lorris and de Meun (1965), Vol. 1, ll. 4145–49.

Donc n’i a mes fors du soffrir
et mon cors a martire offrir
et d’atendre en bone esperance
tant qu’Amors m’envoit alejance.
Atendre merci me couvient.129

So there is nothing for me to do but suffer
and offer my heart and body to martyrdom
and wait in good hope
until Love sends me relief.
I will wait for mercy to come to me.

60Here, love is not for another person on Earth, but it is aimed toward martydom and Heaven. However, Jean de Meun, through his character Reason, defines for Lover a rather different kind of love. Reason’s explication of love describes it as an emotion that cannot be easily explained:

  • 130 Ibid., ll. 4247–54.

Par mon chief, je la t’en veill prendre,
puis que tes queurs i veust entendre.
Or te demonstreré sanz fable
chose qui n’est pas demonstrable,
si savras tantost sanz sciance
et connoistras sanz connoissance
ce qui ne peut estre seü
ne demonstré ne conneü.130

By my head, I want to teach you,
if your heart is ready to understand,
I will give to you without falsehood
things that are in no other way demonstrable,
and you will know without science
and understand without understanding
What can in no other way be shown
Demonstrated or understood.

61Reason then goes on to describe love in the most negative terms she can muster as an irrational meeting of opposites:

  • 131 Ibid., ll. 4263–64, 4269–70, 4279–80.

Amors, ce est pez haïneuse,
Amors, c’est haïne amoureuse;
[…]
c’est reson toute forsenable,
c’est forcenerie resnable;
[…]
c’est la soif qui toujors est ivre,
ivrece qui de soif s’enivre.131

Love is a peaceful hate,
Love is a hateful affection;
[…]
It is a reason gone insane;
It is insanity in reason;
[…]
It is the thirst that is always drunk,
A drunkenness that always thirsts.

  • 132 “car ausint bien sunt amoretes / souz bureaus conme souz brunets” (ibid., ll. 4303–04).

62Replete with oxymorons, Reason’s description conveys the essentially irrational truth—love is undefinable and unrestrainable. This assertion by Reason is in clear opposition to the commandments of the God of Love that dictate how Lover should feel, as if it were a rationally codifiable and controllable activity, a game that can and should be played by following prescribed rules. Such “courtly love” is a sanctified and sanctimonious fraud, but as Reason indicates, love does not wish to follow rules or play games, and realizes that “good lovers are found / in both coarse clothes and rich fabrics”.132 Lover patiently listens to Reason until she begins trying to dissuade him from the path he has chosen. Then Lover objects strongly:

  • 133 Ibid., ll. 4615–20.

Dame, bien me voulez traïr.
Doi je donques les genz haïr?
Donc harré je toutes persones?
Puis qu’amors ne sunt mie bones,
ja mes n’ameré d’amors fines,
ainz vivrai toujorz en haïnes?133

Lady, your good to me is treason.
Should I hate everyone?
Must I despise all people?
If Love is not favorable to me,
Then must I not love purely,
But live in hatred of all?

  • 134 “ne peut autre ester” (ibid., l. 6871).
  • 135 “Ceste amor, […] / n’a los ne blame ne merite, / n’en font n’a blamer n’a loer” (ibid., ll. 5747–48 (...)

63As Lover later says, “I cannot be other than I am”.134 What Lover desires is not the highly-codified and stylized artifice of “courtly love”, but the reality—messy and irrational as it can be—of fin’amor, a love purged of religion, whose gaze is brought from the heavens back down to Earth. It is the human, and humane, version of the “natural love” of which Reason speaks, when she says “This love, […] / deserves neither praise nor blame nor merit”.135 Reason then takes Lover on a journey through history, demonstrating how love underwent the process of sublimation, losing its passion along the way. Speaking of “pure love”, Reason notes that

  • 136 Ibid., ll. 5375–80.

Neïs Tulles, qui mist grant cure
en cerchier secrez d’escripture,
n’i pot tant son engin debatre
qu’onc plus de. iii. pere ou de. iiii.,
de touz les siecles trespassez
puis que cist mond fu conpassez.136

Even Cicero, who took great care
in searching the secrets of ancient texts,
could not find, no matter his ingenuity,
more than three or four pairs of such loves
in all the centuries that have passed
since the world was composed.

64Then Reason encourages Lover to pursue his desires:

  • 137 Ibid., ll. 5425–28.

et s’ainsinc voloies amer,
l’en t’en devroit quite clamer;
et ceste iés tu tenuz a sivre,
sanz ceste ne doit nus hom vivre.137

And if you want to love in this way,
men should not exclaim against you;
for this is the love you must follow,
and no man should suffer without it.

65The reference to “men” instead of the “God of Love” or any other character standing in Lover’s way, brings this dream vision back to reality. It is men using religion and violence who have created barriers for love. Reason then condemns Justice, for Justice has all too often been unjust, especially where love is concerned:

  • 138 Ibid., ll. 5532–33, 5537–43, 5549–52, 5554–55.

[…] Amor
simplement que ne fet Joutice,
[…]
car se ne fust maus et pechiez,
dom li mondes est entechiez,
l’en n’eüst onques roi veü
ne juige en terre conneü.
Si s’i preuvent il malement,
qu’il deüssent premierement
els meïsme justifier,
[…]
Mes or vendent les juigemanz
et bestornent les erremanz
et taillent et content et raient,
et les povres genz trestout paient:
[…]
Tels juiges fet le larron pendre,
qui mieuz deüst estre penduz.138

[…] Love
alone is better than Justice,
[…]
because without evil or sin,
with which everyone is tainted,
we would have never seen kings
or judges on this Earth.
Such men judge with malice
where their first obligation
is to judge and justify themselves,
[…]
But they sell the judgments,
and reverse the mistakes,
and tally, and count, and erase,
and the poor people pay for everything.
[…]
Such judges condemn thieves,
when they ought to be hanged themselves.

  • 139 “Or me dites donques ainceis, / non en latin, mes en françois, / de quoi volez vos que je serve?” ((...)

66Justice and judges are a none-too-subtle reference to the power and corruption of the Church, and in this obvious criticism of its workings, Jean de Meun does not hold back. According to Innocent III, “justice” was served by the Albigensian Crusade, which “tallied”, “counted”, and evidently, “erased”, what it willed of the material and cultural wealth of the south, while the poor paid in blood. The criticism of the Church continues throughout the poem, though often in less direct form: “Now tell me, not in Latin, but in French, how you wish me to serve you?”139 Latin, the language of the Church (and of scholarship), is here figured as the language of dishonesty and manipulation, in contrast to the truthful and straightforward vernacular.

67Jean de Meun is most severely critical in his portrayal of the character False Seeming, equating the character and the Church:

  • 140 Lorris and de Meun (1965), Vol. 2, ll. 12052–66.

Faus Semblant, qui bien se ratorne,
ot, ausinc con por essaier,
vestuz les dras frere Saier.
La chiere ot mout simple et piteuse,
ne regardeüre orgueilleuse
n’ot il pas, mes douce et pesible.
A son col portoit une bible.
Emprés s’en va sanz esquier,
et por ses menbres apuier
ot ausinc con par impotance
de traïson une potance,
et fist en sa manche glacier
un bien trainchant rasoer d’acier
qu’il fist forgier en une forge
que l’en apele Coupe Gorge.140

False Seeming, who arrayed himself well,
had, as if to give it a try,
dressed himself as a faithful friar.
His features were simple, even piteous;
nor was his gaze proud,
but rather sweet and peaceful.
And he had a Bible hanging from his neck.
He went without a squire,
but to support his members as he walked,
he carried, against his weakness,
a crutch of treason,
and he slipped his into his sleeve
a razor-sharp blade
which he had made in a forge
and named Cut-Throat.

68The heavy censorship exercised by the Church and its ongoing Inquisition is here personified in the figure of the single most untrustworthy character of the Roman. Innocent III’s “sharp steel razor” was the military force of northern French nobleman led by Simon de Montfort. This razor cut through Occitania, slicing through the land of fin’amor and its poetic expression. The violence inflicted on the citizens of Béziers is reenacted when the innocent-looking False Seeming commits a sudden atrocity against Foul Mouth as he

  • 141 Ibid., ll. 12334–37.

par la gorge l’ahert,
a .ii. poinz l’estraint, si l’estrangle,
si li a tolue la jangle:
la langue a son rasoer li oste.141

grabbed [him] by the throat,
and with two hands held and strangled him,
then silenced his foolish talk
by cutting his tongue out with a razor.

  • 142 “un mauves acointement” (Lorris and de Meun [1965], Vol. 1, l. 3507).

69In this scene, Foul Mouth—who accuses Lover of “a corrupt liason”142—is more than the malicious gossip of Guillaume’s portion of the Roman as here he personifies those voices and ideas the Church would suppress, such as the troubadours and their free expression of love, whether of the mind or the body. Foul Mouth also recalls the religious liberty of the Cathars, and their free expression of a faith that fell afoul of the requirements of the Church for obedience in all matters of heart, mind, body, and conscience. The strangling and the cutting of the tongue are intentional and meaningful choices of attack. Like the troubadours, Foul Mouth is silenced in horrific circumstances by a corrupt authority. The troubadours before the Albigensian Crusade did not censor their lyrics, and through this incident, Lover is taught that such a free way of speaking will not be tolerated. A “courteous” society does not express itself in bawdy terms and phrases like those of Guilhem IX, Bernart de Ventadorn, or Bertran de Born, and it most certainly does not insist on liberty of conscience, as did the Cathars. The effect of all this can be seen in Lover in the Roman, who, manipulated by various authority figures in his dream, has been so addled by the process of attitude-shaping that he censures Reason for using the terms for genitalia:

  • 143 Ibid., ll. 6898–6906.

Si ne vos tiegn pas a cortaise
quant ci m’avez coilles nomees,
qui ne sunt pas bien renomees
en bouche a cortaise pucele.
Vos, qui tant estes sage et bele,
ne sai con nomer les osastes,
au mains quant le mot ne glosastes
par quelque cortaise parole,
si con preude fame en parole.143

But I do not think of you as courteous
when you have named the testicles to me,
they are not well thought of
in the mouth of a courteous girl.
How can you, who are so wise and beautiful,
name such things aloud
without giving the word a euphemistic gloss,
some courteous word instead,
to fit the honest speech of a woman.

70The apparent criticism here of the phenomenon of glossing and definition is important, and one we will later see in Chaucer. The sublimation of passionate love after the Albigensian Crusade was made possible not only through erasure, but also through the substitution of original words with a more “proper” language. This has been done to the songs of the troubadours, both through the imposition of the “courtly love” concept and, in some cases, through translations and interpretations that hide more than they reveal. Translations of the Roman have suffered likewise. The first modern English translation of the “entire” poem, done by Frederick Startridge Ellis, leaves its ending untranslated for reasons of “decency”:

  • 144 F. S. Ellis, trans. The Romance of the Rose. 3 Vols (London: J. M. Dent, 1900), 3, xii.

With a view to justify the plan adopted of giving a summary conclusion to the story in place of following the author’s text to the end, the original is here printed of the lines which the translator of the rest has forborne to put into English. He believes that those who read them will allow that he is justified in leaving them in the obscurity of the original.144

71But Ellis does not merely refuse to translate the ending. He actually rewrites it:

  • 145 Ibid.

The remainder of the poem, in which the story of Pygmalion and the image is introduced, is mixed with a symbolism which certainly could not be put into English without giving reasonable offence, and the translator has therefore had the hardihood to bring the story to a conclusion by an invention of his own. Whether he is to be pardoned for so doing, apart from any defect in his work, those will be the most competent judges who take the trouble to read the original, which is given by way of appendix.145

72Apparently, those “who take the trouble to read the original” in the Old French, are mature enough to be entrusted with the erotic secrets of Jean de Meun’s conclusion, while those readers who have only English will have Ellis to protect their delicate moral state for them. The paternalistic arrogance is overwhelming (and it should be noted that the era that gave us Ellis’ morally improved version of the Roman, is the same Victorian era that gave us the concept of “courtly love”).

73The irony, of course is that the Roman anticipates such priggish bowdlerizing, by having Reason suggest that euphemistic and allegorical readings of texts, far from illuminating meaning, serve as a deliberate disguise behind which meaning is hidden:

  • 146 Lorris and de Meun (1965), Vol. 1, ll. 7132–34.

et qui bien entendroit la letre,
le sen verroit en l’escriture,
qui esclarcist la fable occure.146

he that understands the letter well,
can see the truth in the writing
which clarifies the obscurity of the fable.

  • 147 Joanna Luft. “The Play of Repetition and Resemblance in The Romance of the Rose”. The Romanic Revie (...)

74Jean de Meun censures this kind of hypocrisy frequently, often approaching it through criticisms of ecclesiastical dishonesty. The characters Hypocrisy and False Seeming frequently represent such views, since the Roman “suggests the continuity of love in order to highlight the corrupting effect that False Seeming has on it”.147 Nature’s speech on mirrors brings the theme of hypocrisy into the visual realm of deception and illusion:

Si font bien diverses distances,
sanz mirouers, granz decevances:
[…]
Neïs d’un si tres petit home
que chascuns a nain le renome
font eus parair aus euz veanz
qu’il soit plus granz que .x. geanz,
[…]
et li geant nain i resamblent
par les euz qui si les desvoient
quant si diversement les voient.

  • 148 Lorris and de Meun (1965), Vol. 3, ll. 18179–80, 18191–94, 18198–18200, 18204–07.

[…]
qui leur ont fet tex demontrances,
si vont puis au peuple et se vantent,
et ne dient pas voir, ainz mantent,
qu’il ont les deables veüz.148

The great differences between distances,
with mirrors, can greatly deceive us:
[…]
One born a very small man
who is called a dwarf by everyone
can be made to watching eyes
seem higher than ten giants,
[…]
and yet, Giants might resemble the dwarves
because the eyes are deceived
by the differences in appearances.
[…]
Those who have seen such things
will go to the people and boast,
and do not speak truths, but many lies,
saying they have seen the devils.

75Such mirrors and deceptions abound, not only in the poem, but in critical readings. A common critical move is to posit an endless multiplicity of possible readings and meanings; while this may be true in some cases, it is an argument that can be made to insist there is no particular value to any one reading: thus, troubadour poetry may just as well be about rivalry between different classes of Occitanian nobility as about love, and the Song of Songs may just as well be about the love of a god who plays no role in the text at all as about the love of human beings. Thus, for a critic like Joanna Luft, it is impossible to know just what the Roman shows us when Lover plucks his Rose:

  • 149 Luft, 60–61.

the account of the plucking cannot be fixed as either one type of sexual activity or another—as either heterosexual, homosexual, or autoerotic. All are possible readings of what the Narrator describes. While the allegorical meaning of the Lover’s picking the rosebud cannot be reduced to one reading, this does not mean that no reading is valid. Rather, a number are. The indeterminacies that permeate the Rose create tensions that are irresolvable and force the reader to acknowledge that any one reading of the rosebud, and the allegory itself, is partial. […] In its evasion of fixed meaning, the rosebud is a synecdoche of the poem itself. Like the rosebud, the poem cannot be pinned down to one reading.149

  • 150 Alan Sinfield. Shakespeare, Authority, Sexuality: Unfinished Business in Cultural Materialism (Lond (...)
  • 151 Longxi, 215.

76Those who argue for indeterminacy in readings of poetry which might otherwise be interpreted as challenges to power, serve the interests of that power by insisting that no such (defiant) reading can be established: if a critic is determined enough, “a text may be demonstrated to mean ever more fully, comprising even that which it is not, and affording no resistance”.150 To return for a moment to Longxi’s observations about why there is such a thing as a better or worse reading of a text, it serves no reader well to be inculcated with the idea of the endless multiplicity of equally “valid” readings, any more than it serves a reader well to be hammered with the notion that there is always only one. When used well, interpretation contributes to a reader’s experience and understanding of a text a basis for making choices between readings: “To put it simply, one reading is better than another if it accounts for more details of the text, bringing the letter into harmony with the spirit, rather than into opposition to it”.151 It is only through the ability to choose that we have any hope of resisting the blandishments of False Seeming and the threatenings of those who would demand our obedience as readers, and as citizens, in things both small and great.

77Curiously, however, one thing critics have not been shy about fixing beyond notions of indeterminacy or multiplicity have been accusations of misogyny and immorality in Jean de Meun’s portion of the Roman. The poet has been on the receiving end of such criticism ever since the fourteenth-and fifteenth-century author Christine de Pizan objected to his treatment of women and equality in the Roman:

  • 152 David F. Hult. “The Roman de la Rose, Christine de Pizan, and the querelle des femmes”. In Carolyn (...)

Christine took issue with essentially three interrelated aspects of the work: its verbal obscenity and the indecency of the concluding allegorical description of sexual intercourse; the negative portrayals of women, which tended to treat them as a group and not as individuals, thereby making their “vices” natural and universal; the work’s ambiguity, the absence of a clear authorial voice and intention which would serve as a moral guide to susceptible or ignorant readers.152

78For Pizan, the issue is one of decency and of the attitudes of some of the characters toward women (while she conflates the author and his characters):

  • 153 Mais en accordant a l’oppinion a laquelle contrediséz, sans faille a mon avis, trop traicte deshonn (...)

In my opinion, which seems to be accordant with facts not to be contradicted, he speaks most dishonestly in certain parts, and especially through the person he calls Reason, who names the secret members plainly by name. […] Since he blames all women generally, for that reason, I am constrained to believe that he never had the acquaintance of any honorable or virtuous women, but having haunted the paths of dissolute and evil women (as is common with lustful men) he believes that all women are like this, for he has had no knowledge of others. And if only he had blamed dishonest women alone, advising others to flee from them, this would have been a good and just lesson. But no, he accuses all without exception. But having gone so far past the limits of reason, the author’s charges and accusations and false judgments of women should not be imputed to them, but to the one who tells such lies (so incredible and wildly off the mark), since the opposite is plainly manifest.153

  • 154 “scripta, verba et picturas provacatrices libidinose lascivie penitus excecrandas esse et a re publ (...)

79For Pizan’s contemporary, the theologian Jean Gerson, de Meun’s work was of a kind with the “writings, words, and pictures that are provocative, libidinous, and lacivious that should be utterly abhorred and excluded from a Christian republic”.154

  • 155 Guynn, 138.
  • 156 Ibid., 140. This X-is-actually-Y move has been made even by defenders of the poem. In a strategy th (...)

80A modern critic like Noah Guynn aligns himself with this morally condemnatory tradition of reading Jean de Meun’s poetry by rejecting the idea that the “attacks on women in the Rose are neutralized by the poem’s dialectical structure, its relativist, ironic critique of opinion, or its avoidance of an overarching, sovereign authorial voice”.155 Despite the “dialectical structure” of the poem, its “relativist, ironic critique”, and its deliberate “avoidance” of a “sovereign authorial voice”, for Guynn, the entire poem is to be accused and convicted of misogyny because of the attitudes of individual characters (like the jealous husband). This should probably come as no surprise from a critic who also argues that the poem appears to do one thing, while it really does another: “the poem appears to celebrate unfettered, procreative desire and offers a formidable critique of celibacy”, but it actually “seeks a shelter for male power in the apparent disruption and demystification, but also the subtle affirmation and perpetuation, of a variety of patriarchal cultural codes”.156

  • 157 Felski, The Limits of Critique, 128.
  • 158 David F. Hult argues that
    the most outrageous (and most frequently criticized) instance of antifemin
    (...)

81The poem, according to the critic, apparently disrupts and demystifies, but actually affirms and perpetuates. As Rita Felski remarks, “we are regularly apprised”, by critics inclined to this maneuver, “that what looks like difference is yet another form of sameness, that what appears to be subversion is a more discreet form of containment, that any attempt [s] at inclusion spawn yet more exclusions”.157 By such logic, the speech Shakespeare will give Shylock (“Hath not a Jew eyes?”) subtly supports, rather than vigorously contests, anti-Semitism—and for anyone, poet or otherwise, to write or say “X” is really to mean “not-X”.158

82In the case of the Roman, however, the jealous husband’s “misogynistic” point of view is rejected, even mocked, by the character Friend in his “equality” speech about husbands and wives:

  • 159 Lorris and de Meun (1965), Vol. 2, ll. 9703–10.

Ja ses vices ne li reproche
ne ne la bate ne ne toche,
car cil qui veust sa fame batre
por soi mieuz en s’amour enbatre,
quant la veust aprés rapesier,
c’est cil qui por aprivesier
bat son chat et puis le rapele
por le lier en sa cordele.159

He must not reproach her with her vices
Nor must he ever beat or touch her.
For he who beats a women
To make her love him better,
When he wants to soothe her later,
Is like one who tries to tame
His cat by beating it, and calls it back
To try to get it to wear a collar.

83Love, additionally, should be about equality of regard, not one-sided worship. In fact, Friend warns quite specifically against the danger of “courtly love” based on service and obedience, warning that it is little more than an illusion that will quickly spoil:

  • 160 Ibid., ll. 9427–43.

li conmandast: “Amis, sailliez!”
ou: “Ceste chose me bailliez”,
tantost li baillast sanz faillir,
et saillist s’el mandast saillir.
Voire neïs, que qu’el deïst,
saillet il por qu’el le veïst,
car tout avoit mis son desir
en fere li tout son plesir.
Mes quant sunt puis entrespousé,
si con ci raconté vous é,
lors est tornee la roële,
si que cil qui seut servir cele
conmande que cele le serve
ausinc con s’ele fust sa serve,
et la tient courte et li conmande
que de ses fez conte li rande,
et sa dame ainceis l’apela!160

If she commanded: “Lover, Jump!”
Or: “Give that thing to me’”,
He would give it to her immediately,
and jump whenever she ordered him.
In fact, whatever she might demand,
he would jump for her sight,
because he had invested all his desires
in doing her pleasure in everything.
But after they get married,
as I have told you before,
the wheel turns,
so that he who was used to serving her
commands her to serve him,
treating her exactly like his slave,
holding her with a short leash,
demanding that she account for her doings.
She whom he used to call his lady!

  • 161 “Amor […] en queur franc et delivre” (ibid., ll. 9411–12).
  • 162 “Mes je ne croi mie, par m’ame, / c’onques puis fust nule tel fame” (ibid., ll. 8795–96).

84Friend preaches against the dangers of “courtly love”, and explains how it can turn into (and may very well start out as) misogyny. However, Friend expresses great admiration for true lovers, for whom “love […] is honest and free in the heart”.161 Referring to the passionate lovers, Abelard and Heloise, and speaking particularly of Heloise’s boldness and passion, Friend says, “I can hardly credit, by my soul, / that there ever lived another such woman”.162

85After that note of homage to Heloise, Friend finishes his speech on a liberating and optimistic note:

  • 163 Ibid., ll. 9961–69.

uant vos en serez en sesine,
si conme esperance devine,
et vostre joie avrez pleniere,
si la gardez en tel maniere
con l’en doit garder tel florete.
Lors si jorrez de l’amorete
a cui nul autre ne comper;
vos ne troveriez son per
espoir en .xiiii. citez.163

When at last you are in possession,
As your hope divines,
And your joys are plentiful,
Guard it in the manner
In which one should guard such a flower.
Then will you enjoy a little love
With which no other can compare;
You will not find its like,
Perhaps, in fourteen cities.

86The passage echoes Shakespeare in one of his most outstanding manifestations of earthly love, the closing couplet of his sonnet 130: “And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare / As any she belied with false compare”. What Friend refers to as “a little love / With which no other can compare” is akin to Shakespeare’s declaration that the quite ordinary “she” of his sonnet is, in fact, anything but ordinary at all. She is beyond compare, not a symbol of higher love, not a gateway to God, and not to be loved for the sake of God. She is her own argument for love, and her equal will not be found “in fourteen cities” or fourteen thousand.

  • 164 “des geus d’amors” (ibid., l. 12733).

87In that speech by Friend, Jean de Meun gives away the game. No longer is he writing about the love that must be directed toward the heavens, offered to a jealous God who cannot stand the idea that any affection in the universe might be directed anywhere other than him. This “little love” is the kind that topples such gods, and changes worlds. But in the thirteenth century, it is still something that must be carefully hidden, kept safe from the prying eyes and savage hands, arms, and armories of the post-Albigensian-Crusade world. To keep love safe will require wisdom, and the advice and strategies of those old enough to remember how different the past had been—here, the somewhat cynical Old Woman fits the bill nicely. La Vielle, whose later equivalent will be found in Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, speaks of” the games of Love”,164 passing on what she has learned:

  • 165 Ibid., ll. 12771–74

Bele iere, et jenne et nice et fole,
N’onc ne fui d’Amors a escole
ou l’en leüst la theorique,
mes je sai tout par la practique.165

I was beautiful, and young, wild and foolish,
And never went to any school of Love
Or read in its theory,
But I know it all through practical experience.

  • 166 “Mes Nature ne peut mentir, / qui franchise li fet sentir, / […] / Trop est fort chose que Nature, (...)

88She emphasizes the same point throughout her speech in which she underscores the importance of nature. Loving is a natural act, and as Old Woman says, “Nature cannot lie, / who makes a man feel freedom, / […] / A most powerful thing is Nature; / she surpasses even nurture”.166

89Finally, despite all obstacles of obedience, violence, and outright dishonesty, Lover reaches the Rose, and he is in ecstasy. Once again, the description of spring returns, and Lover advises young people who seek its pleasures:

  • 167 Ibid., ll. 21647–50.

quant la douce seson vandra,
seigneur vallet, qu’ il convandra
que vos ailliez cueillir les roses,
ou les ouvertes ou les closes.167

When the sweet season comes again,
You will find it necessary
To go plucking roses yourselves,
Whether they be opened or closed.

90There is no more insistence here on “courtly” codes and mannerisms. In an openly erotic speech reminiscent of Guilhem IX, Lover describes his initial misadventures:

  • 168 Ibid., ll. 21607–16.

Par la santele que j’ai dite,
qui tant iert estroite et petite,
par ou le passaige quis ai,
le paliz au bourdon brisai,
sui moi dedanz l’archiere mis,
mes je n’i antrai pas demis.
Pesoit moi que plus n’i antraie,
mes outre poair ne poaie.
Mes por riens nule ne lessasse
que le bourdon tout n’i passasse.168

But this passage I have told you of,
which was both narrow and small,
through which I sought to pass,
I broke down the barrier with my staff,
placed myself inside the opening,
but I could not enter more than halfway.
I was peeved at being unable to enter further,
but I did not have the power to go on.
I would slacken for nothing
though, till I had pushed my staff in all the way.

91And after that brief comic interlude, Lover relates his final success:

  • 169 Ibid., ll. 21765–88.

Par les rains saisi le rosier,
qui plus sunt franc que nul osier;
et quant a .ii. mains m’i poi joindre,
tretout soavet, san moi poindre,
le bouton pris a elloichier,
qu’anviz l’eüsse san hoichier.
Toutes an fis par estovoir
les branches croller et mouvoir,
san ja nul des rains depecier,
car n’i vouloie riens blecier;
et si m’an convint il a force
entamer un po de l’escorce,
qu’autrement avoir ne savoie
ce don si grant desir avoie.169

By its branches I seized the rosebush,
fresher and more noble than any willow;
and when I could grasp it with both hands,
I began, gently, and without pricking myself,
to slowly shake the bud,
for I wanted to disturb it as little as possible.
Though I could not help but cause
the branches to shake and move,
I did not destroy any of them,
for I did not wish to wound anything;
and yet, I had to force my way a little,
but did little damage to the bark,
for I did not know how else to enjoy
the beauty which I so much desired.

92Within a dream filled with images of “courtly love” and all the cultural, clerical, and even military authority behind it, glimpses of fin’amor shine through, telling readers that the love celebrated by the troubadours has not completely disappeared, though it is now well-hidden and to be found only by the few. The Roman carefully, but compellingly, condemns love’s sublimation and those responsible for it. In a dream vision created for a courtly and controlled world, the authors hold out hope for love’s return in and through future generations (and ongoing generation):

  • 170 Lorris and de Meun (1965), Vol. 2, ll. 15975–82.

Mes nature, douce et piteuse,
quant el voit que Mort l’envieuse,
antre lui et Corrupcion,
vienent metre a destrucion
quan qu’el treuvent, dedanz sa forge
torjorz martele, torjorz forge,
tourjorz ses pieces renovele
par generacion novele.170

When Nature, sweet and piteous,
through her vision sees envious Death
join together with Corruption,
to measure out destruction
to whatever the find within her forge,
she continues to hammer and forge,
always renewing the pieces of life
through new generation.

III. Post-Fin’amor English Romance: Love of God and Country in Havelok the Dane and King Horn

93In the Roman de la Rose, something of the old spirit of the troubadours can still be felt. Across the water to the west, however, in early English romances, we find the sublimated and spiritualized forms of love so enthusiastically approved by the Akibas, Origens, and Ermengauds of the world, the authoritative glossators and critics for whom poetry and passion must be turned to higher purposes.

  • 171 All quotations are from “Havelok the Dane”. In Ronald B. Herzman, Graham Drake, and Eve Salisbury, (...)
  • 172 All quotations are from “King Horn”. In Four Romances of England, 11–57.
  • 173 See Kimberly K. Bell and Julie Nelson Couch. The Texts and Context of Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS (...)

94Laud Misc. 108 (a late thirteenth-century manuscript referred to hereafter as L) contains a collection of saints’ lives—the South English Legendary (SEL), the two Middle English romances Havelok the Dane171 and King Horn,172 the poems Somer Soneday and Sayings of St. Bernard, the dream narrative Vision of St. Paul, and the Dispute Between the Body and the Soul.173 The sanctification of love is a common element found among the various tales and protagonists of the manuscript, and the possible differences between saints and lovers do not seem to have preoccupied the authors of the texts. Although seemingly very distinct genres, the presence in L of both the saints’ lives and the romances suggests that there was more in common between the two than might be supposed, and together they further explain how human love had been transformed into worship and earthly gazes redirected toward the heavens.

  • 174 For a detailed explanation on medieval manuscript culture, text, and audience, see Chapter 6 of Pet (...)

95A common misconception about England after the Norman Conquest is that English was the silenced language, at least when it came to legal, political, religious, and literary use. This is only partially true, even in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and the evidence of a thirteenth-century manuscript such as L, written entirely in English, demonstrates that the use of English was significant, not only in oral practice, but also as a written medium. The preparation of such a manuscript in terms of its copying and ornamentation, and the assembling of texts of different genres therein, reflect a clear sense of purpose, and suggest that it was intended for a wide audience and not merely for private use.174 These works seem to have served a pedagogical function, and though originally such collections were for clerical reading in the context of the church, by the thirteenth century, manuscripts of saints’ lives were made available to the laity.

  • 175 Carl Horstmann, ed. “St. Austyn”. The Early South English Legendary or Lives of Saints (London: N. (...)
  • 176 Ibid., ll. 3–4.
  • 177 As Innocent III tried to do in 1213, taking control of England from King John only to restore it, o (...)
  • 178 Carl Horstman, ed. “St. Austyn”, l. 15.

96This period in England saw great efforts by the Church to dominate, order, and unify the English people. This was necessary for the Church to implement its agenda in a more peaceful fashion than it had used in the chaotic environment of early-thirteenth century Occitania. If, during the Albigensian Crusade, the motto was “for the love of God, get rid of heresy”, in England it was “for the love of the nation, get rid of heresy”. Thus, in the lives of these saints, their connection with England is strongly emphasized; in this way, the agenda of the Church is wrapped in the flag of nationalism, and human passions are directed away from love and toward Nation and Deity. St. Augustine, for example, begins with “SEint Augustin, þat cristendom: brouhte in-to Engelonde”,175 stating this connection outright. A few lines down, the vita introduces St. Gregory, who “pope was of Rome, / Engelond he louede muche”.176 References to England are many, and the focus on everything English is quite consistent. It is not surprising that the Roman pope’s love for England abounds, as does his eagerness to “love” it even more by Christianizing it and subordinating it to his will.177 Upon his arrival in England, Augustine is rather saddened, “for he ne couþe: þe speche of Engelonde”.178 This line points out the fact that Augustine was initially an outsider, sent by Pope Gregory the Great to undertake the mission of Christianizing England. Augustine’s non-Englishness is indicated by the author’s choice of not giving Augustine any direct lines. In order to create an atmosphere in which the English king and his people appear to be fully self-determining, the king has more lines than the saint. This is a subtle technique to make readers feel that the king is one of them, and as he receives the Christian faith, they receive it through him.

  • 179 Bell and Couch, 250.
  • 180 Ibid., 9.

97In L, one might think that the romances would be different from the saints’ lives, that their distinguishing feature would be love; however, that is the subject with which the romances are least concerned. As a whole, L suggests a sacralizing and nationalist agenda. The most important subjects are England, the sanctifying of a newly-formed nation, and God: “The writers and audience of L acknowledge their own innate, inherited, God-given power of identity and defining that identity in terms of Englishness”.179 Some scholars have even suggested that the two romances of L can be seen as continuations of the saints’lives: “the rubricator who titled many of the lives in red ink titled Havelok as a vita: [Incipit] Vita Hauelok quondam Rex Anglie. Et Denmarchie”.180 This is not accidental, for Havelok acts as a saint and a martyr, building monasteries and going through suffering in order to restore the two nations England and Denmark. Havelok is also often portrayed as a Christ figure who has a special destiny, indicated by the “kynmerk” on his right shoulder and the fiery light that shines from his mouth while he is sleeping; these traits are common romance devices, emphasizing the special destiny of the person to whom they are attributed, despite any outward changes of state the character may have to endure due to villainy, usury, or other aspects of fortune or malice. This distinctiveness is also seen through the poet’s constant use of the adjectives “fair” and “bold” when describing Havelok. These features are also used to describe the saints, who are martyrs, endowed with celestial identity, who sacrifice themselves for a specific cause.

  • 181 See Peter Hunter Blair, Ango-Saxon England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1959), Chapter 2 (...)
  • 182 On the reworkings of Havelok and its speculative history, see Scott Kleinman, “Animal Imagery and O (...)
  • 183 Herzman, “Havelok”, ll. 2984–85.
  • 184 Ibid., ll. 1–2.

98There is, in fact, some ambiguity about the genre of Havelok. Many editors have treated it as an English equivalent of the Anglo-Norman Lai d’Haveloc. That poem is in fact called a “lai” in its opening lines, and there might be reasons for composing a Breton lay about a Danish prince, considering the fact that after the death of Edmund Ironside in 1016, England was ruled by Danish kings for about thirty years,181 though Havelok could also be derived from Geoffrey Gaimar’s Estoire des Engleis (c. 1136–1140).182 Toward the end of the poem, Havelok calls itself a gest: “Nu have ye heard the gest al thoru / Of Havelok and of Goldeboru”;183 it is the gesta, the doings, the history of these two that bring about religious order. But while there is ambiguity here about genre, there is none about purpose. Although the poem opens in a leisurely fashion, a firmly didactic tone is consistently maintained throughout, making it clear that the poem and its lessons will concern virtues and villains, law and disorder. Havelok is not intended only for a noble audience, but for all types of people; in the beginning, the narrator addresses “gode men— / wives, maydnes, and alle men”,184 solidly planting the poem in an everyman’s England where religious order and peace are the predominant factors upon which a nation is founded. Ordinary life is described in great detail, and the poem extols Havelok’s humble nature. Havelok possesses Christ-like features, and lives in a similarly simple way, despite his royal origins. Havelok grows up with the people, and it is the people who nourish and care for him, which enables Havelok’s eventual defeat of his enemies, and the restoration of England as a Christian nation.

  • 185 Herzman, “King Horn”, ll. 95, 97–98.
  • 186 Ibid., ll. 545–46, 548–49.
  • 187 Theresa D. Kemp. Women in the Age of Shakespeare (Santa Barbara: Greenwood Press, 2010), 12.

99The narrative of King Horn is quite similar, as the heroes in both romances appear first as vulnerable children who are in danger of being killed, but grow to be bold and strong men who defeat their enemies. Horn and Havelok take their thrones as rightful heirs, and each restores order. At first, King Horn appears to be about the love of Horn and Rymenhild, but soon it becomes clear that Horn is more saint than lover: he is “well kene”, “gret and strong, / Fair and evene long”, and his fairness reflects the goodness of God.185 Horn’s Christian piety is reflected in his defeat of the Saracens, and in the fact that England and Christianity always come first for him, whereas his love for the lady Rymenhild is never more than a secondary concern. The lovers do finally get married and rule the realm of Suddene together in happiness, but their marriage takes place only after all other pressing matters are resolved. Before departing to regain his father’s lands from the pagans, Horn tells Rymenhild, “beo stille! / Ich wulle don al thi wille”, but “I schal furst ride, / And mi knighthod prove”.186 Rymenhild must wait for seven years, until Horn restores the stability that Suddene had enjoyed during his father Athulf’s reign. Any love Horn has for Rymenhild is completely sublimated here into the “higher” concerns of Christianity and the English nation, while Rymenhild must wait patiently with religion as her solace, an increasingly common situation in the period: “[f]rom the Anglo-Saxon period through the Middle Ages, […] Christian religion was increasingly central to the routines of women’s daily lives and to the ways in which their culture viewed women as a group”.187

  • 188 Ibid.

100Christianity has contributed to a very long tradition of seeing women as inferior beings, and though a prominent thinker like Augustine argues “that women are created human and in the image of God, […] ultimately sexual difference stands at the foundation of his theology”.188 It is that sexual difference which is thrown into sharp focus in post fin’amor poetry and prose, as no longer do women have the voice given them by the trobairitz poets, nor even the sympathetic portrayals of them as desiring and desirable human beings created by the troubadours. The status of women may well mirror the status of love (and poetry) itself, and in the time of Havelok and King Horn women are supporting players at best, existing at a time in which the love written of in poetry is not directed from person to person, but to the Nation, the Church, and God.

IV. Post-Fin’amor English Poetry: Mocking “Courtly Love” in Chaucer—the Knight and the Miller

  • 189 Geoffrey Chaucer. The Canterbury Tales: Complete, ed. by Larry D. Benson (Boston: Wadsworth, 2000), (...)

101By the late fourteenth century in England, things are beginning to change. Geoffrey Chaucer was by that time certainly aware of the approach to love that would later be described by scholars as “courtly”. His works often parody this attitude, and in the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer provides rich soil for just such a parody in the “Knight’s Tale” a long and highly stylized romance that is reworked by the bawdy Miller. The tension between mind and matter, soul and body, is at the root of much of the poetry written after the decline of finamor, until the ideas of the troubadour ethos slowly begin to reappear in Chaucer’s works. Chaucer satirizes the sublimated, desexualized, and “courtly” love of the “Knight’s Tale” through the raucous and unapologetic celebration of sexuality and the senses in the “Miller’s Tale”. The Knight recounts a medieval romance with “courtly” lovers, daring battles, and a beautiful and worship-inspiring lady named Emily. After hearing the tale, Chaucer’s pilgrims all agree that they regard it as a “noble storie”.189

Canterbury Tales mural by Ezra Winter (1939). North Reading Room, west wall, Library of Congress John Adams Building, Washington.190

  • 191 William George Dodd. Courtly Love in Chaucer and Gower (Gloucester: Peter Smith, 1959), 9.
  • 192 Chaucer, I. 1231–33.
  • 193 Ibid., I. 3077–79.
  • 194 Susan Crane. Gender and Romance in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (Princeton: Princeton University Pres (...)
  • 195 Chaucer, I. 2396–97.

102The beloved in such “noble storie[s]” is a perfect, or near-perfect being, and “in character, she is distinguished for her courtesy, kindness, refinement, and good sense”.191 Arcite cannot go anywhere in the world that would require him to leave behind the sight of Emily: “Oonly the sighte of hire whom that I serve, / Though that I nevere hir grace may deserve, / Wolde han suffised right ynough for me”.192 Similarly, Palamon is a hapless and helpless worshiper of Emily. Both are madly in love with her, or with the idea of her. As Theseus describes Palamon to Emily, he is her servant: “That gentil Palamon, youre owene knyght, / That serveth yow with wille, herte, and might / And ever hath doon syn ye first hym knewe”.193 This dynamic is common in “courtly” tales: “[a]mong the most familiar devices taken into romance is the address to an absent and uncaring object of love”.194 In the “Knight’s Tale”, Chaucer parodies the extreme sublimation of love in romances of his time, and sets up both Palamon and Arcite for further suffering and heartache, ensuring that readers will not miss the ridiculousness of the many situations in which the two “courtly” lovers find themselves. Arcite, when praying to Mars, complains that Emily does not seem to care whether he lives or dies: “For she that dooth me al this wo endure, / Ne reccheth nevere wher I synke or fleete”.195

  • 196 Chaucer, I. 1055.
  • 197 Ibid., I. 1157.
  • 198 Margaret Hallissy. A Companion to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1995), 59.

103Emily’s portrayal, as the female object of courtly adoration, is replete with religious symbolism; she appears in the garden on a May morning, singing “as an aungel hevenysshly”,196 embodying purity, beauty, and inaccessibility. Here, springtime is not about eroticism and the awakening of sensual desires, but about the transcendence of such things with heaven as the ultimate goal. It is unclear to Palamon and Arcite “wheither she be a woman or goddesse!”197 For the courtly lover, “[the beloved] can never be reduced to a mere object of physical gratification”,198 nor, it seems, even be thought of in terms of anything like human love and desire.

  • 199 Hallissy, 75.

104Courtly love, as depicted in the “Knight’s Tale”, is a Neoplatonized and Christianized caricature of fin’amor. Unlike the lovers in troubadour poetry, the lovers in the “Knight’s Tale” relegate the object (not subject) of their love to a position of near-irrelevance. Palamon and Arcite are so eager to find out whether Emily is “my lady” or “thy lady” that they are willing to die without any response from her. In contrast, the “Miller’s Tale” tells a story in which a response is definitely expected from the lady, and physical fulfillment is not denied, though the common critical reaction is tellingly reductive: “Love [in the “Miller’s Tale”] is a matter not of the heart, mind, and spirit as it is in the romance, but of the body only”.199 By pairing the Knight’s and Miller’s tales, Chaucer strongly suggests that love must be a matter of heart, mind, spirit, and body all at once—a combination of elements that is much closer to the spirit of fin’amor than to that of “courtly love”.

  • 200 Reddy suggests that Guilhem IX was “the author of the first fabliau” (101–02).

105Generally categorized as an example of the fabliaux, a genre whose inventor may have been Guilhem IX, the first troubadour,200 the “Miller’s Tale” satirizes the courtly attitudes of the “Knight’s Tale”. In contrast with romances, such tales:

  • 201 Joseph R. Strayer. Western Europe in the Middle Ages: A Short History (New York: Appleton-Century-C (...)

exaggerate the real as much as allegory exaggerates the ideal. Their heroes are clever tricksters; their victims are the naïve and the stupid. All women in the fabliaux are lustful; all priests are gluttons or lechers; most representatives of public authority are corrupt. The peasant who makes a fool of his priest, the woman who makes a fool of her husband, and the priest who makes a fool of his bishop are glorified.201

  • 202 Chaucer, I. 3167–69.
  • 203 Ibid., I. 3179–80.
  • 204 Derek Pearsall. The Canterbury Tales (New York: Routledge, 2002), 178.
  • 205 Strayer, 183.

106The reader is comically warned about the Miller and his less-than-courtly sensibilities in advance of the tale: “What sholde I moore seyn, but this Millere / He nolde his wordes for no man forbere, / But tolde his cherles tale in his manere”.202 The reader is also encouraged to “turne over the leef and chese another tale” if he prefers “storial thyng that toucheth gentillesse, / And eek moralitee and hoolynesse”,203 a rhetorical move designed to increase the transgressive appeal of the tale that follows. What a reader who does not “chese another tale” will find, however, is that the “courtly idealism of love, initially a theme picked up from the Knight’s Tale, is present throughout the Miller’s Tale as an implied and ludicrously inappropriate standard of conduct”,204 which enables the laugh-out-loud humor of the story. What had been initially elevated almost to the heavens in the language and content of the “Knight’s Tale” topples to the ground in the “Miller’s Tale”, and is brought back to more recognizably earthly matters. Elements of courtly love are taken out of the context of romance and put into a frame where the celebration of “divine” ideals and figures seem like the ridiculous obsessions of the “naïve and the stupid”.205 A look at the main characters of the “Miller’s Tale” offers ample evidence for this conclusion.

  • 206 Chaucer, I. 3441.
  • 207 Bernard F. Huppé. A Reading of the Canterbury Tales (Albany: SUNY Press, 1964), 76.

107After the Knight’s long story, the Miller will tell a “legend and a lyf”,206 not of a saint-like figure or a Platonic lover, but “of a down-to-earth, here-and-now lover, who wins a real flesh-and-blood woman”.207 The female character of the “Miller’s Tale”, Alison, is not an Emily, and the younger men showing interest in her do not act like Arcite or Palamon. The Miller tells of two lovers, just like the Knight does, but with a difference: the Miller portrays one of his tale’s lovers, Nicholas, as a realist who knows what he wants and goes after it without illusions. The other lover, Absolon, is afflicted with self-delusion and pretensions to grand manners and high style, and is both tricked, and foiled in his planned revenge for the trick. In all this, we can see a small victory for fin’amor over “courtly love”.

  • 208 Chaucer, I. 3287.
  • 209 Pearsall, 176.
  • 210 Chaucer, I. 3233–70.

108In dramatic contrast to the goddess-like, yet absent Emily, Alison has a mind of her own: she is an unmistakably human creature. In her genteel protestations and appeals to Nicholas’s “curteisye”,208 she embodies a deliberate parody of a courtly lady. While the introduction of Alison is “modeled after the descriptio feminae which would traditionally introduce the heroine of a romance”,209 one should not miss the description of Alison in terms of animal imagery at the beginning of the tale,210 comparisons which illustrate the physical passions highlighted by the fabliau. Alison knows the rules of that world, and lives her life in accordance with nature, without pretense and affectation. She does what she wants, chooses and refuses whom she pleases.

  • 211 Ibid., I. 3308, I. 3307.

109Alison is most definitely not the courtly lady who is described in religious terms, and although this “goode wyf” attends church to “Cristes owene werkes for to wirche”, church is not the setting of an episode of courtly love here as it might have been in a traditional romance.211 She is not the heroine of such a romance, nor is the absurd and preening Absolon, whom she meets at the church, its hero. Religious allusions in this story are placed in an entirely different context from that of the “Knight’s Tale”; they are not celebrations of courtly love, but devices indicating the distance of the fabliau characters from the world of the “sacred” and “spiritual”, where physical desires are objectionable, since these characters live in an unabashedly fleshly world in which such body-denying ideals are viewed as comical.

110The humour of the treatment of courtly ideals in the “Miller’s Tale” increases when one remembers the extreme length and artificiality of the wooing of Emily by Palamon and Arcite; thousands of lines pass during which no thoughts of sexual desire ever cross either of the two knights’ minds. In the “Miller’s Tale”, sexual thoughts are present right from the beginning, starting with the way Chaucer plays with the knowledge and established expectations of his audience in the case of Absolon. His biblical namesake, Absolom the rebellious son of King David, is described as incomparably fair:

  • 212 II Sam. 14: 25.

וּכְאַבְשָׁל֗וֹם לאֹ־ הָיָ֧ה אִישׁ־ יָפֶ֛ה בְּכָל־ יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל לְהַלֵּ֣ל מְאֹ֑ד מִכַּ֤ף רַגְלוֹ֙ וְעַ֣ד קָדְקֳד֔וֹ לאֹ־ הָ֥יָה ב֖וֹ מֽוּם׃212

And as for Absolom, there was no man for beauty in all Israel so much to be praised; from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head, there was no defect in him.

111Absolom is also described as someone more than willing to use his nearly-uncontrollable lust as a weapon:

  • 213 Ibid., 16: 22.

וַיַּטּ֧וּ לְאַבְשָׁל֛וֹם הָאֹ֖הֶל עַל־ הַגָּ֑ג וַיָּב֤אֹ אַבְשָׁלוֹם֙ אֶל־ פִּֽלַגְשֵׁ֣י אָבִ֔יו לְעֵינֵ֖י כָּל־ יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃213

They spread for Absolom a tent on the roof, and Absolom went in to his father’s concubines before the eyes of all Israel.

  • 214 Hallissy, 78.
  • 215 Ibid., 81.
  • 216 Winthrop Wetherbee. Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales. 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, (...)

112Chaucer’s Absolon is not nearly so ambitious as the son of Israel’s king, though he is quite nearly as lustful and deceptive. Although Absolon “assume[s] all the poses of the courtly lover (more music, sleepless nights, gifts)”,214 and uses “high style language […] right out of the courtly love tradition”,215 he is not quite what anyone would expect a courtly lover to be. It is through Absolon that Chaucer satirizes the pain and suffering involved in the concept of courtly love by displaying the young man’s wooing of Alison in all its comic absurdity. Absolon’s “unfortunate kiss [of Alison’s unwashed rear] is preceded by a love-song”, which is “charged with the echoes of the Song of Songs”.216 Absolon’s singing and ass-kissing bring the parody of courtly love to an absurdly comic climax.

  • 217 Chaucer, I. 3215.
  • 218 Ibid., I. 3276. For those unfamiliar with the meaning of “queynte” (kānt), simply change the first (...)
  • 219 Ibid., I. 3202.

113The “song” element can also be seen with Nicholas, whose initial wooing of Alison includes an angel’s song that salutes the Virgin: “And Angelus ad virginem he song”.217 Nonetheless, what might seem like courtliness is deflated when “prively he caughte hire by the queynte”.218 Once more, a religious and sacred image is taken out of its context, and put in the realm of its non-spiritual, fleshly opposite. Although described “lyk a mayden meke for to see”,219 Nicholas is anything but maiden-like or meek, as far as his behavior toward Alison is concerned. He is attracted to her, and with no signs of hesitation, he makes his attraction known.

114The “Miller’s Tale” certainly stands as a work on its own; however, its context in the Canterbury Tales gives it greater satirical power than it might otherwise have, by serving as a direct contrast with the “Knight’s Tale”. The description of Alison establishes her as the sensuous contrast to the remote and saint-like Emily. The Neoplatonized and Christianized love of the “Knight’s Tale” is parodied in the “Miller’s Tale”, where the “courtly” ideals are treated as a joke and the pointless, and seemingly-endless suffering of Palamon and Arcite is implicitly mocked. Romance entertains the illusion that humans are more angel than animal, all mind and heart and soul, while the fabliau declares that humans are animals, bodies whose passions and sensual desires are not to be restrained. Chaucer’s attitude toward the “courtly” idealizing of love, on the whole, is a critical one, and the pairing of the Knight’s and Miller’s tales strongly suggests an ideal that is to be found in the real, a combination of mind, heart, soul, and body. In this respect, Chaucer’s treatment of love is closer to the spirit of fin’amor than to that of “courtly love”.

V. Post-Fin’amor English Poetry: Mocking “Auctoritee” in Chaucer—the Wife of Bath

  • 220 Helen M. Jewell. Women in Medieval England (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996), 16.

115The sublimation and spiritualization of love that took place between the times of the troubadours and Chaucer was not only accomplished through the Inquisition and the Albigensian Crusade’s wholesale slaughter. It was also effected in a subtler fashion, through the glossing and alteration of what had once been an openly sensual literature (a practice that continues in too much modern criticism). Many authors no longer wrote in the fashion of Guilhem IX or Bernart de Ventadorn, but told tales of miracles, citing Christian authority figures in order to add weight to their lines. Chaucer’s pilgrims, for example, often quote Christian figures. The Middle English word “auctoritee” is often used in the Canterbury Tales, and is a key term in the “Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale”. The word comes from the Latin auctōritās, meaning authority, reputation, credibility. To medieval readers, this word signified the important thoughts of the past as recorded and glossed in texts. However, the education required to become familiar with the ideas of previous auctōrēs was the privilege of a small minority. The majority of texts were in Latin, and illiteracy rates in medieval England were extremely high, running to about 90 per cent of males and 99 per cent of females.220 Even among that ten per cent of literate men, however, only the clergy were educated in the languages of scholarship; thus, the books of the great authority figures were mainly read by clerics. However, these clerics did more than just read and study; they aimed to interpret and gloss, which in many cases amounts to a revision and rewriting of the texts in question (as we have seen with the Song of Songs).

Opening page of the “Prologue of the Wife of Bath’s Tale”, from the Ellesmere manuscript of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (early fifteenth century).221

  • 222 James Edward Geoffrey De Montmorency. The Progress of Education in England: A Sketch of the Develop (...)
  • 223 Ibid., 28.
  • 224 The word “gloss” today has a few different meanings: “luster”, “sheen”, or “to give false a false a (...)
  • 225 Early Greek grammarians and Christian writers, who commented on Scripture, adopted the word “gloss” (...)
  • 226 On this point, see C. S. Lewis, who in A Preface to Paradise Lost (Oxford: Oxford University Press, (...)
  • 227 Chaucer, III. 1793–94.
  • 228 Alastair Minnis. Fallible Authors: Chaucer’s Pardoner and Wife of Bath (Philadelphia: University of (...)
  • 229 Jill Mann. Life in Words: Essays on Chaucer, the Gawain-Poet, and Malory (Toronto: University of To (...)

116To medieval readers, this pool of writing, which the Wife of Bath calls “auctoritee”, was not to be questioned lightly, though the challenging spirit of Wycliffe and the so-called Lollards can already be seen in Richard II’s rejection of the petition of the Commons in 1391 which sought to restrict education to the nobility, “that no neif or villein shall henceforth put his children to school in order to advance them”.222 This was part of a movement that by 1406 resulted in the Statute of Education in which “Parliament declared that ‘every man or woman, of what state or condition that he be, shall be free to set their son or daughter to take learning at any school that pleaseth them within the realm’ […] a triumph for Wycklifism”.223 Though formal education had formerly been considered strictly a matter of men teaching authoritative men’s thoughts and glosses to other men, things were slowly changing. Chaucer illustrates some of this change by having the Wife seize “auctoritee”, and as a result, appropriate the interpretive authority of the masculine, clerical glossators (the academics and critics of Chaucer’s day).224 The post-Albigensian period gave rise to an energetic proliferation of such glosses, in which the marginal commentary often undermined the primary text.225 What is notable about glossing in this period is that Scripture is not the only work that is being glossed; secular writing is also undergoing heavy glossing. “To give a false appearance”, one of today’s definitions of the term gloss, conveys the self-interestedness that is potentially expressed in the act of glossing, which can be understood as a form of appropriation. The glosser speaks the text, asserts authority over it, provides an explanation, and consequently, limits (and even seeks to prevent) the possibility of other meanings.226 As the friar from the “Summoner’s Tale” testifies, “Glosynge is a glorious thyng, certeyn, / For lettre sleeth, so as we clerkes seyn”,227 describing a process in which he “twists the text of Scripture to serve his own material needs and those of his brother friars”.228 “Glosynge” subordinates the text to the desires of the critic: “it is all too easy for this act of interpretation to become a matter of reading something into the text […]. The text then becomes no more than a tool to serve the interests of the interpreter, meaning whatever he or she wishes it to”.229

117The Wife rebels against all of this, but especially against the idea that other people (notably men) are entitled to tell her how she should read and understand the texts of her day, which in turn influence how she lives (and understands) her life. The Wife is an earth-bound woman who wants to control her own existence and her own loves, rather than submit to another’s pre-scripted role, courtly or otherwise. In pursuit of this control, the Wife of Bath defies the walls built by “auctoritee” and its attempts to rewrite poetry.

  • 230 Catherine S. Cox. Gender and Language in Chaucer (Tampa: University Press of Florida, 1997), 19.

118However, though the Wife’s prologue and tale can be understood as her attempts to address the misogynistic assumptions, and the misrepresentations of women found in “courtly love”, some critics view her narrative as ambiguous, regarding it as both feminist and antifeminist. Other arguments insist that in her prologue, the Wife is merely enacting an anti-feminist stereotype of the rapacious and imperious wife, and rather than being the embodiment of what misogynistic discourse can’t say, she is embodying precisely what it does say. According to Catherine Cox, for example, the Wife of Bath does not, in any sense, produce what can be described as feminine discourse: “This sense of the narrative becomes clearer when we consider the Wife to be a textual ‘feminine’ representation, one constructed within the parameters of ‘masculine’ discourse and articulated in masculine terms”.230 From this point of view, the Wife’s arguments are not essentially different from those of her cleric husband, Jankyn, who often quotes “auctoritee” in his anti-feminist literature in order to justify his actions toward the Wife, reading to her from his book of “wicked wives” that contains passages from Adversus Jovinianum, Dissuasio Ad Rufinum, the Golden Book on Marriage, Tertulan, and other misogynistic works.

  • 231 Susan Crane. Gender and Romance in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (Princeton: Princeton, University Pre (...)
  • 232 Ibid.

119But far from being confined to the thralldom of an anti-feminist discourse, the Wife speaks as the dismissed “other”, explicitly mimicking the operations of patriarchal (and explicitly anti-fin’amor) discourse in order to mock it, defuse it, and deny it any power over her. When she delivers her tirade against her three previous husbands, she repeats the very words anti-feminist writers have used about domineering wives: “When [Alison] accuses her old husbands […] she cites the stereotype within her performance of it, establishing a link but also a distinction between the proverbial ‘chidying wyves’ and her own chiding objection to the proverb”.231 The Wife’s performance is an instance of imitation designed to defuse the rhetorical attacks made against her, “a strategic repetition of sanctioned positions on gender from the crucially different position of a feminine voice”.232 The Wife refuses to play the roles assigned to her by the “courtly” and other misogynistic discourses of her era, and so she becomes, through imitation and appropriation, her own “auctour”, her own “auctoritee”.

  • 233 Hallissy, 103.
  • 234 Ibid.
  • 235 Chaucer, General Prologue, 453, 456–57.
  • 236 Ibid., III. 44–46.

120The Wife’s defiance goes beyond language, expressing itself also through her clothing and outward presentation. At the time of the pilgrimage that frames the Canterbury Tales, she is a widow. As such, she is expected “to wear widow’s garb [and] modest attire in a somber hue”,233 and even more importantly, “her demeanor should match her clothing”.234 And yet, the Wife’s exterior defies those expectations: “Hir coverchiefs ful fyne weren of ground; / […] Hir hosen weren of fyn scarlet reed, / Ful streite yteyd, and shoes ful moyste and newe”.235 The Wife is not about to accept anyone else’s terms, and by being flamboyant in demeanor and assertive in speech, the Wife defies auctoritee, while at the same time claiming her own, and reveling in her seductive and vibrant appearance. She is not afraid of sensuality, nor is she willing to have it “glossed” for her by any dry-as-dust and cloistered clerics (like Ermengaud, for example) who presume to counsel men and women of the world about human sexuality. She is the “other” that the gloss, written by clerical, anti-body and anti-pleasure men, opposes—the gloss that runs on the notion that all women are functionally interchangeable. The Wife, though her opposition to and appropriation of this patriarchal hermeneutic, turns the tables and puts men in the same position: “Yblessed be God that I have wedded five! / Welcome the sixte, whan that evere he shal”.236 The Wife of Bath, through her imitation and appropriation, makes it abundantly clear what “auctoritee” refuses to acknowledge, or reluctantly acknowledges only by seeing it as “other”.

  • 237 Carolyn Dinshaw. Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), 124.

121The beginning of the Wife’s prologue repeats the points of the unorthodox theologian Jovinian (a fourth-century-CE opponent of Christian asceticism), but it also mimics the rather drearily orthodox, anti-feminist (and ascetic) Jerome. If the Wife’s reasoning is inconsistent, a point that provokes a number of critics to reprove her, it is because there is inconsistency and disagreement in the texts from which she quotes, especially, perhaps, in the anti-feminist texts: “Commenting on Saint Paul’s statement that it is good for a man to be unmarried […] Jerome contends, ‘If it is good for a man to be so, then it is bad for a man not to be so’”.237 Impeccable logic, to be sure. It is thus unsurprising that the Wife revamps biblical passages to fit her arguments; she is but imitating the techniques of the male glossators who adjust and alter texts to fit their ideology.

  • 238 “amor et seigneurie / ne s’entrefirent compaignie” (Lorris, Guillaume and Jean de Meun, ll. 8421–22 (...)
  • 239 Chaucer, III. 787.
  • 240 Ibid., III. 516. The potential double meaning here of “queynte’ also presents difficulties.

122Toward the end of her prologue, in her descriptions of her last marriage, the Wife not only speaks of joys and woes in a marriage, but also depicts a relationship between women and (male) glossators. The conclusion of her prologue suggests that despite her appropriation of “auctoritee” and talk of “maistrie”, and “soveraynetee”, what the Wife most wants is mutuality and satisfaction of desires, much like the ideal expressed by Marcabru as “dos desirs d’un enveia”—“two desires in a single longing” and by Bernart de Ventadorn when he writes that love requires mutuality between the lovers: “Nothing in it can be good / If the will is not mutual” (“Nula res no i pot pro tener, / Si∙lh voluntatz non es egaus”). She is yearning for the equality written of by Jean de Meun, for whom “love and lordship/do not keep each other company”.238 But the Wife of Bath lives in a different time, a post Albigensian-Crusade era dominated by religious dogma, and so such equality is hard, perhaps even impossible, to find. However, once Jankyn apologizes and burns the misogynistic book with which he has has caused her so much “wo” and “pyne”,239 she becomes loving and kind to him, and she gains “soveraynetee” (the key term of her tale). But the question of whether or not she actually has attained her desire, despite her positive declaration of the fact, is made difficult to answer because of the very language in which she makes her declaration: it is the language of a fairy tale; as the Wife says, it is “in this matere a queynte fantasye”.240 There is no equality; there is no fin’amor. These are (yet) things of the past. And yet, in her words, there is a return of at least the imagined possibility for full understanding between husband and wife.

  • 241 Jean Hagstrum argues that “[t]he raped solitary country girl of the Arthurian landscape in the tale (...)
  • 242 Chaucer, III. 905.
  • 243 Ibid., III. 1038–40.

123When the Wife of Bath manipulates authoritative texts, she suggests something about glossing and its misogynistic strategy: it deprives the female of her significance and therefore completely undermines both female and male sexuality. In this light, her tale of the knight and the Loathly Lady is a tale of resistance, an instance of the interpreted siezing control of the act of interpretation. The domestic sphere of the tale has as its main participants a married couple—King Arthur and his queen—and a knight who, overcome with lust and his own sense of entitlement, has raped a young maiden, and is to be executed for his crime.241 But after intercession on his behalf by the queen and other ladies of the court, the knight is given one chance to save his life. If he is to do so, he must find the answer to the question, “what thyng is it that women moost desiren”.242 As the tale goes on, the answer is revealed: “Wommen desiren to have sovereynetee / As wel over hir housbound as hir love, / And for to been in maistrie hym above”.243 By the tale’s end, the rapist knight, who both embodies and enacts the patriarchal power structure of female oppression (and the glossator’s/critic’s structure of poetic oppression), must learn his lesson and act in deference to feminine desire.

  • 244 Crane, 131.
  • 245 Chaucer, III. 1–3.

124For the Wife, “Auctoritee involves not only being an author, but also a master or a teacher”.244 This state, seldom achieved by females in the medieval period, is the one to which both the Wife of Bath and the Loathly Lady aspire. The Wife has been a student of marriage through five unions, and though she claims, “Experience, though noon auctoritee / Were in this world, is right ynogh for me / To speke of wo that is in marriage”,245 she still quotes authority, realizing that experience alone is not enough to adopt “auctoritee”. The Loathly Lady lectures her husband by quoting great “auctours”, such as Dante, Seneca, Boethius, and others. Her monologue, also known as the “pillow lecture”, argues that women should be valued not only for their beauty and youth, but also for their intelligence. The knight does not learn his lesson from authoritative texts, or from “courtly” tales that strip the flesh-and-blood humanity from women, but by listening to his wife’s lecture. He learns from the real woman who is right there in front of him.

  • 246 Ibid., III. 1257–58.
  • 247 Ibid., III. 1255–56.

125However, the tale ends with a contradiction. Despite the tale’s declaration, “And thus they lyve unto hir lyves ende / In parfit joye”,246 the lines before it contend that “she obeyed hym in every thing / That myghte doon hym plesance or liking”.247 This ending seems to bring the reader back to the realm of romance and “courtly love” literature, where the beloved is only exalted in the wooing period. But the Wife ends her tale with a hint of the mutuality of which Marcabru and Bernart wrote, a relationship in which each renders to each “every thing / That myghte doon hym [and her] plesance or likyng”, and in which love is, as Jean de Meun described it, “en queur franc et delivre”, honest and free in the heart.

126By Chaucer’s time, the troubadours had been gone for well over a century. Since that time, passionate, embodied, and erotic love had often been treated as a dangerous element, one which Christian “auctors” had laboriously identified as a sin. In Chaucer’s world, book learning conveyed “auctoritee”, and in his portrayal of the Wife, the Loathly Lady of her tale, and the anti-feminist discourse the Wife rails against, Chaucer imagines patriarchy from the “other’s” perspective, carefully reckoning the costs of misogynistic clerical and “courtly” discourse. Chaucer, through the Wife of Bath, maintains that women’s desire, and desire in general, cannot be denied.

Notes

1 Briffault, 132.

2 En paradis qu’ai je a faire? Je n’i quier entrer, mais que j’aie Nicolete, ma tres douce amie que j’aim tant. C’en paradis ne vont fors tex gens con je vous dirai. Il i vont ci viel prestre et cil viel clop et cil manke, qui tote jor et tote nuit cropent devant ces autex et en ces viés creutes, et cil a ces viés capes eraéses et a ces viés tateceles vestues, qui sont nu et decauç et estrumelé, qui moeurent de faim et de soi et de froit et de mesaises. Icil vont en paradis; avec ciax n’ai jou que faire; mais en infer voil jou aler. Car en infer vont li bel clerc, et li bel cevalier, qui sont mort as tornois et as rices gueres, et li boin sergant, et li franc home. Aveuc ciax voil jou aler. Et s’i vont les beles dames cortoises, que eles ont. ii. amis ou. iii. avoc leur barons. Et s’i va li ors et li argens, et li vairs et li gris; et si i vont harpeor et jogleor et li roi del siecle. Avoc ciax voil jou aler, mais quĕ j’aie Nicolete, ma tres douce amie, aveuc mi.
Aucassin et Nicolette, ed. by Francis William Bourdillon (London: Kegan Paul, Trench & Co., 1887), 14–17, https://archive.org/stream/AucassinEtNicoletteALoveStory/Aucassin_et_Nicolette_Bourdillon_1887#page/n102

3 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Marianne_Stokes05.jpg

4 Briffault, 130.

5 Ibid., 131.

6 Nigel F. Palmer. “The High and later Middle Ages (1100–1450)”. In Hellen Watanabe-O’Kelly, ed. The Cambridge History of German Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 47–48.

7 Walther von der Vogelweide. “Under der linden”. In Karl Lachmann, ed. Die Gedichte Walthers von der Vogelweide (Berlin: George Reimer, 1891), 39–40, https://archive.org/stream/diegedichtewalt00lachgoog#page/n62

8 W. T. H. Jackson. “Faith Unfaithful—The German Reaction to Courtly Love”. In F. X. Newman, ed. The Meaning of Courtly Love (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1968), 74.

9 Jackson, 74.

10 Andreas Krass. “Saying It with Flowers: Post-Foucauldian Literary History and the Poetics of Taboo in a Premodern German Love Song”. In Scott Spector, Helmut Puff, and Dagmar Herzog, eds. After the History of Sexuality: German Genealogies with and Beyond Foucault (New York: Berghahn Books, 2012), 64.

11 Ibid.

12 Frederic L. Cheyettee. Ermengard of Narbonne and the World of the Troubadours (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001), 4.

13 David Boyle. Troubadour’s Song: The Capture, Imprisonment and Ransom of Richard the Lionheart (New York: Walker & Co., 2005), 5.

14 “honneur, droiture, égalité, négation du droit du plus fort, respect de la personne humaine pour soi et pour les autres. Le paratge s’applique dans tous les domaines, politique, religieux, sentimental” (Ferdinand Niel, Albigeois et Cathares [Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1974], 67).

15 “Les seigneurs du Midi […] contre les Croises pour la defendre et non pour la spolier” (Charles Camproux. Lejoy d’amor des troubadours. Jeu et joie d’amour [Montpellier: Causse et Castelnau, 1965], 95).

16 On the massacres of Jews in Cologne, Metz, Trier and anti-Jewish hostilities brought about by the First Crusade toward the end of the eleventh century see Norman Golb, The Jews in Medieval Normandy: A Social and Intellectual History (NY: Cambridge, University Press, 1998).

17 Paratge, with its basic “respect for human beings was also applied to Jews”, a state of affairs which did not sit well with the Catholic authorities under Innocent III, so “at the Council of Saint Gilles, Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse, and twelve of his major vassals had to swear they would stop giving official positions to Jews” (Henri Jeanjean. “Flamenca: A Wake for a Dying Civilization?”, Parergon, 16: 1 [July 1998], 21, http://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2958&context=artspapers).

18 Cheyettee, 295.

19 Approximately 45% of Cathar ministers were female (Richard Abels and Ellen Harrison. “The Participation of Women in Languedocian Catharism”. Mediaeval Studies, 41 [1979], 225, https://doi.org/10.1484/J.MS.2.306245).

20 Boyle, 282.

21 Sean McGlynn. Kill Them All: Cathars and Carnage in the Albigensian Crusade (Stroud: The History Press, 2015), 16.

22 Ibid., 17.

23 Briffault, 137.

24 McGlynn, 24.

25 Ibid.

26 Ibid., 24–25.

27 Ibid., 25.

28 Simon Pegg. A Most Holy War: The Albigensian Crusade and the Battle for Christian Freedom (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 60–61.

29 Catherine Léglu, Rebecca Rist, and Claire Taylor, eds. The Cathars and The Albigensian Crusade: A Sourcebook (New York: Routledge, 2014), 64.

30 Ibid., 65.

31 Cognoscentes ex confessionibus illorum catholicos cum haereticis esse permixtos, dixerunt Abbati: Quid faciemus, domine? Non possumus discenere inter bonos et malos. Timens tam Abbas quam reliqui, ne tantum timore mortis se catholicos simularent, et post ipsorum abcessum iterum ad perfidiam redirent, fertur dixisse: Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.
(Caesarii Heisterbacences.
Dialogus Miraculorum, ed. by Josephus Strange, 2 Vols. [Cologne: H. Lempertz & Co., 1851], 1, 302), https://archive.org/stream/caesariiheister00stragoog#page/n318

32 Guilhem de Tudela and Anonymous. Historie de la Croisade contre les Hérétiques Alibgeois, ed. by M. C. Fauriel (Paris: Imprimerie Royale, 1837), ll. 481–88, 492–99, https://archive.org/stream/histoiredelacroi00guil#page/36

33 “hereticae, pravitatis infecta nec solú haeretici cives Biterrenses, sed erant raptores iniusti, adulteri, latrones pessimi, pleni omni genere peccatorum” (Pierre de Vaux-Cernay. Historia Albigensium et sacri belli in eos anno MCCIX [Trecis: Venundantur Parisiis, Apud N. Rousset, 1617], 42). One detects the faintest hint of the fin’amor ethos of the troubadours in the reference to “adulterers”, https://archive.org/stream/historiaalbigens00pier#page/n73

34 “Fuit autem capta civitas saepe dicta in festo S. Mariae Magdalenai” (ibid., 44, https://archive.org/stream/historiaalbigens00pier#page/n75).

35 “justissima divinae dispensationis mensura” (ibid.).

36 McGlynn, 61.

37 Stephen Pinker. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined (New York: Viking, 2011), 141.

38 Michael C. Thomsett. Heresy in the Roman Catholic Church: A History (Jefferson: McFarland Publishers, 2011), 3.

39 Laurence W. Marvin. The Occitan War: A Military and Political History of the Albigensian Crusade, 1209–1218 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 45.

40 Christopher Tyerman. God’s War: A New History of the Crusades (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006), 563.

41 Ibid.

42 Ibid., 566.

43 Boyle, 284.

44 Pierre de Vaux-Cernay, 296, https://archive.org/stream/historiaalbigens00pier#page/n327

45 “Le pape soutint que tous les efforts pacifiques de l’Église avaient échoué à cause de la pertinacia des hérétiques, et que seule une action armée pouvait permettre de résoudre la situation. Cette reconstruction officielle […] visait à imposer l’idée de la croisade comme extrema ratio” (Marco Meschini. “‘Smoking sword’: le meurtre du legat Pierre de Castelnau et la premiere croisade albigeoise”. In Michel Balard, ed. La Papauté et les Croisades [Farnham: Ashgate, 2011], 72).

46 Guilhem de Tudela and Anonymous. Historie de la Croisade contre les Hérétiques Alibgeois, ll. 1499–1500, https://archive.org/stream/histoiredelacroi00guil#page/108

47 Ibid., ll. 1566–70, https://archive.org/stream/histoiredelacroi00guil#page/112

48 “totz crestianesmes aonitz abassatz” (ibid., l. 2933, https://archive.org/stream/histoiredelacroi00guil#page/210).

49 This former troubadour understood the non-spiritual nature of fin’amor: he “displayed his awareness of the distinction between the kind of love he portrayed as fin’amor, and the spiritual love appropriate to religious sentiments, by doing penance whenever he heard the love songs he had written” (Nicole M. Schulman. Where Troubadours Were Bishops [London: Routledge, 2001], 18).

50 Guilhem de Tudela and Anonymous, ll. 3309–16, https://archive.org/stream/histoiredelacroi00guil#page/234

51 Ibid., ll. 3809–10, https://archive.org/stream/histoiredelacroi00guil#page/268

52 Ibid., ll. 8685–96, https://archive.org/stream/histoiredelacroi00guil#page/586

53 Boyle, 288.

54 Briffault, 148.

55 Ibid.

56 Ibid., 149.

57 Ibid.

58 Pegg, 191.

59 Briffault, 104.

60 Ibid., 128.

61 Ce n’est donc pas seulement l’amour, mais la vie courtoise tout entière que les poésies de Montanhagol nous montrent transformée. La nouvelle doctrine de l’amour n’est à vrai dire qu’une forme du changement survenu dans l’esprit du temps. On ne peut l’expliquer l’une sans l’autre. Elles sont la conséquence de la domination du pouvoir religieux. La théorie de l’amour chaste, comme le nouvel idéal de la vie, est née d’une idée morale et religieuse. […] Cette poésie provençale, qui doit bientôt succomber sous l’inimitié du clergé, semble d’abord s’être efforcée de désarmer son adversaire. Accusée d’immoralité & poursuivie comme complice de l’hérésie, elle veut se conformer à l’orthodoxie & à la morale chrétiennes afin de conserver le droit de vivre. C’est une tentative intéressante & une des périodes les plus curieuses de l’histoire de la poésie provençale.
Jules Coulet, in Guilhem Montanhagol, Le troubadour Guilhem Montanhagol, ed. by Jules Coulet [Toulouse: Imprimerie et Librairie Édouard Privat, 1898], 54–55, 57, https://archive.org/stream/letroubadourguil00guil#page/54

62 Ibid., 69–75, https://archive.org/stream/letroubadourguil00guil#page/70

63 En réalité, cette transformation […] était avant tout une nécessité j pour que la chanson d’amour pût vivre, il fallait qu’elle s’accommodât aux exigences du pouvoir religieux. Les troubadours ne pouvaient désormais chanter qu’un amour conforme à la morale chrétienne, ignorant des désirs mauvais & par essence vertueux chaste.
Ibid., 52, https://archive.org/stream/letroubadourguil00guil#page/52

64 Briffault, 151.

65 Sarah Kay. Parrots and Nightingales: Troubadour Quotations and the Development of European Poetry (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), 5.

66 Sarah Kay. The Place of Thought: The Complexity of One in Late Medieval French Didactic Poetry (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007), 23.

67 Ibid., 24.

68 Matfré Ermengaud. Le Breviari d’Amor, ed. by Gabriel Azaïs (Béziers: Secrétariat de la Société archéologique, scientifigue et littéraire de Béziers, 1862), ll. 1657–63, https://archive.org/stream/lebreviaridamor01ermeuoft#page/63

69 Sarah Kay, The Place of Thought, 33.

70 “es d’amor fons e razitz” (Matfré Ermengaud, ll. 659–60, https://archive.org/stream/lebreviaridamor01ermeuoft#page/28).

71 Reddy, 106.

72 The effects of this can be seen in Reddy’s insistence on reading fin’amor as something that somehow transcends “mere” desire: “Fin’amors, in its most developed form, combined […] sublimity, patience, and loyalty […] and the satisfactions it offered were a “hundredfold” greater than the satisfaction of mere desire” (162). With “sublimity”, and its superiority to “mere desire”, we enter the territory of Matfré Ermengaud and Gaston Paris, an over seven-century-long tradition of rewriting the troubadours.

73 “Sol Dieus es e non es res als” (Matfré Ermengaud, l. 1373, https://archive.org/stream/lebreviaridamor01ermeuoft#page/53).

74 Ibid., ll. 27833–43, https://archive.org/stream/lebreviaridamor02ermeuoft#page/431

75 Ibid., ll. 9330–34, https://archive.org/stream/lebreviaridamor01ermeuoft#page/318

76 Michelle Bolduc. “The Breviari d’Amor: Rhetoric and Preaching in Thirteenth-Century Languedoc”. Rhetorica: A Journal of the History of Rhetoric, 24: 4 (Autumn 2006), 419.

77 Briffault, 151.

78 The tendency in northern French poetry to portray women as idealized saints is traceable all the way back to the ninth century, though it comes to full flower in the thirteenth century. The ninth-century poem Séquence de sainte Eulalie tells the story of “a young Spanish maiden who was tortured and burned to death in Merida around the year 304”, while it “exalts death by martyrdom as the ultimate Christian achievement” (Brigitte Cazelles. The Lady as Saint [University Park: University of Pennsylvannia Press, 1991], 27). There is something more than faintly pornographic about the narrative, as Eulalia’s death puts her in the role of “a powerless victim whose death engenders life” for others (29), even as the poem makes note of her budding sexuality:
Buona pulcella fut eulalia.
Bel auret corps bellezour anima
Voldrent la ueintre li deo Inimi.
Voldrent la faire diaule seruir
[…]
Melz sostendreiet les empedementz
Qu’elle perdesse sa virginitét.
Eulalia was a good girl.
She had a beautiful body, a more beautiful soul.
They would force her will, the enemies of God.
They would force her will to serve the devil.
[…]
But she would rather endure prison and torture
Than lose her virginity.
Léopold Eugène Constans. “Séquence de Sainte Eulalie”. In
Chrestomathie de l’ancien français (IXe-XVe siécles) (Paris and Leipzig: H. Welter, 1906), 28–29, ll. 1–4, 16–17), https://archive.org/stream/chrestomathiede00cons#page/28
The poem treats Eulalia’s subsequent burning and beheading as a substitute for sexuality, as an even more intense version of le petit mort, subjecting the girl’s “beautiful body” to the sensations of burning flames rather than burning passion, with le gran mort as the climax, emphasizing what Cazelles refers to as “an ultimate exposure of the female body” (81), in service of “the traditionally sacrificial interpretation of female holiness” (83).

79 Christine McWebb. “Hermeneutics of Irony: Lady Reason and the Romance of the Rose”. Dalhousie French Studies, 69 (Winter 2004), 3–13, 411.

80 Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun. The Romance of the Rose. Trans. and ed. by Charles Dahlberg. 3rd ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971), 15.

81 “Amicitiae vero locus ubi esse potest aut quis amicus esse cuiquam, quem non ipsum amet propter ipsum?” Cicero. De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum. In Cicero, On Ends, ed. by H. Rackham (Loeb Classical Library, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1914), 2.78, 168.

82 “ne tine pas songes a lobes” (Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun. Le Roman de la Rose. 3 vols, ed. by Felix Lecoy [Paris: Honoré Champion, 1965], Vol. 1, l. 8).

83 “li plusors songent de nuitz / Maintes choses couvertement / Que l’en voit puis apertement” (ibid., ll. 18–20).

84 “qu’en may estoie, ce sonjoie, / el tens enmoreus, plain de joie” (ibid., ll. 47–48).

85 “Li bois recueverent lor vedure” (ibid., l. 53).

86 Heather M. Arden. The Romance of the Rose (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1987), 22.

87 This censored quality can be seen even in the love-making scene in Chrétien’s La Chevalier de la Charrette (the romance upon which Gaston Paris constructed his idea of amor courtois), where Chrétien slyly suggests, but will not speak of, the joys of Lancelot and Guinevere.

88 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Meister_des_Rosenromans_001.jpg

89 Lorris and de Meun (1965), Vol. 1, ll. 408–13.

90 One also catches a whiff here of pius Aeneas, who can go toe-to-toe with anyone where hypocrisy is concerned.

91 Ibid., l. 493.

92 “une pucele, / qui estoit assez gente et bele” (ibid., ll. 523–24).

93 “char plus tender que poucins” (ibid., l. 526).

94 “en un reduit / m’en entrai ou Deduiz estoit” (ibid., ll. 716–17).

95 “voiz clere et saine” (ibid., l. 733).

96 “fleüteors / et menestreus et jugleors” (ibid., ll. 745–46).

97 “[m]out i avoit tableteresses / ilec entor et timberesses” (ibid., ll. 751–52).

98 Ibid., 1. 760.

99 “ert en totes corz bien dine / d’estre empereriz ou roïne” (ibid., ll. 1241–42).

100 Arden, 22–23.

101 Ibid., 25.

102 Lorris and de Meun (1965), Vol. 1, ll. 1882–89.

103 Lorris and de Meun (1965), Vol. 1, ll. 935–69.

104 “nu tenez ore pas a lobe” (ibid., l. 1052).

105 Ibid., ll. 1169–72.

106 Ibid., ll. 1293–98.

107 Ibid., ll. 1397–1401.

108 “qui me mostroient / mil choses qui entor estoinet” (ibid., ll. 1603–04).

109 “la mort ne me greveroit mie, / se ge moroie es braz m’amie. /Mout me grieve Amors et tormente” (ibid., ll. 2449–51).

110 “sanz grant contenz” (ibid., l. 1745).

111 “la saiete remaint enz” (ibid., l. 1746).

112 “foibles et vains” (ibid., l. 1792).

113 Bernard V. Brady. Christian Love (Washington: Georgetown University Press, 2003), 152.

114 Daniel, 112, ll. 13–18.

115 Lorris and de Meun (1965), Vol. 1, ll. 2055–58.

116 Ibid., ll. 2073e-f, i-j.

117 “Aprés gardes que tu ne dies / ces orz moz ne ces ribaudies: / ja por nomer vilainne chose / ne doit ta bouche ester desclouse” (ibid., ll. 2097–2100).

118 “Adés aime, mes que tu soies / loing de mes roses totes voies” (ibid., ll. 3183–84).

119 Ibid., ll. 3339–60.

120 “un besier douz et savoré / pris de la rose erraument” (ibid., ll. 3460–61).

121 “Tote l’estoire veil parsuivre, / ja ne m’est parece d’escrivre” (ibid., ll. 3487–88).

122 “qui me donront, ce croi, la mort” (ibid., l. 4014).

123 McWebb, 10.

124 “Et si l’ai je perdue, espoir, / a poi que ne m’en desespoir. / Desespoir! Las!” (Lorris and de Meun [1965], Vol. 1, ll. 4029–31).

125 Romeo and Juliet, 4.5.24–25, 30.

126 Ibid. 4.5.96.

127 Lorris and de Meun (1965), Vol. 1, ll. 7433–40.

128 Noah Guynn. Allegory and Sexual Ethics in the High Middle Ages (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 138.

129 Lorris and de Meun (1965), Vol. 1, ll. 4145–49.

130 Ibid., ll. 4247–54.

131 Ibid., ll. 4263–64, 4269–70, 4279–80.

132 “car ausint bien sunt amoretes / souz bureaus conme souz brunets” (ibid., ll. 4303–04).

133 Ibid., ll. 4615–20.

134 “ne peut autre ester” (ibid., l. 6871).

135 “Ceste amor, […] / n’a los ne blame ne merite, / n’en font n’a blamer n’a loer” (ibid., ll. 5747–48).

136 Ibid., ll. 5375–80.

137 Ibid., ll. 5425–28.

138 Ibid., ll. 5532–33, 5537–43, 5549–52, 5554–55.

139 “Or me dites donques ainceis, / non en latin, mes en françois, / de quoi volez vos que je serve?” (ibid., ll. 5809–11).

140 Lorris and de Meun (1965), Vol. 2, ll. 12052–66.

141 Ibid., ll. 12334–37.

142 “un mauves acointement” (Lorris and de Meun [1965], Vol. 1, l. 3507).

143 Ibid., ll. 6898–6906.

144 F. S. Ellis, trans. The Romance of the Rose. 3 Vols (London: J. M. Dent, 1900), 3, xii.

145 Ibid.

146 Lorris and de Meun (1965), Vol. 1, ll. 7132–34.

147 Joanna Luft. “The Play of Repetition and Resemblance in The Romance of the Rose”. The Romanic Review, 102: 1–2 (2011), 50.

148 Lorris and de Meun (1965), Vol. 3, ll. 18179–80, 18191–94, 18198–18200, 18204–07.

149 Luft, 60–61.

150 Alan Sinfield. Shakespeare, Authority, Sexuality: Unfinished Business in Cultural Materialism (London: Routledge, 2006), 92. Emphasis added.

151 Longxi, 215.

152 David F. Hult. “The Roman de la Rose, Christine de Pizan, and the querelle des femmes”. In Carolyn Dinshaw and David Wallace, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Women’s Writing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 186.

153 Mais en accordant a l’oppinion a laquelle contrediséz, sans faille a mon avis, trop traicte deshonnestment en aucunes pars—et mesmement ou personnage que il claime Raison, laquelle nommes les secréz membres plainement par nom. […] Mais vrayement puis que en general ainsi toutes blasma, de croire par ceste raison suis contrainte que oneques n’ot accoinctance ne hantise de femme honnourable ne vertueuse, mais par pluseurs femmes dissolues et de male vie hanter—comme font communement les luxurieux—, cuida ou faingny savoir que toutes telles feussent, car d’autres n’avoit congnoissance. Et se seullement eust blasmé les deshonnestes et conseillié elles fuir, bon enseignement et juste seroit. Mais non! ains sans exception toutes les accuse. Mais se tant oultre les mettes de raison se charga l’aucteur de elles accuser ou jugier nonveritablement, blasme aucun n’en doit estre imputé a elles, mais a cellui qui si loing de verité dit la mençonge qui n’est mie сrеablе, comme le contraire appere manifestement.
Christine de Pizan. Le Débat sur le Roman de la Rose, ed. by Eric Hicks (Paris: Honoré Champion, 1977), 13, 18.

154 “scripta, verba et picturas provacatrices libidinose lascivie penitus excecrandas esse et a re publica christiane religionis exulandas” (Christine McWebb, ed. Debating the Roman de la Rose: A Critical Anthology [London: Routledge, 2007], 352).

155 Guynn, 138.

156 Ibid., 140. This X-is-actually-Y move has been made even by defenders of the poem. In a strategy that goes all the way back to the original guardians of Homer, Jean Molinet, the late-fifteenth century author, “accuses Gerson of having misread” the work, whose “actual meaning […] is sweet, savory, and moral” (Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski. “Jean Gerson and the Debate on the Romance of the Rose”. In Brian Patrick McGuire, eds. A Companion to Jean Gerson [Leiden: Brill, 2006], 355). “For Molinet” the “text means whatever Molinet wants it to mean” (366).

157 Felski, The Limits of Critique, 128.

158 David F. Hult argues that
the most outrageous (and most frequently criticized) instance of antifeminist haranguing occurs in the speech of the “jealous husband” that is used as an illustrative example by the allegorical character Friend (Ami), who is, in turn, interacting with the Lover inside the allegorical dream construct. No fewer than three distinct fictional frames separate him from the voice of the narrator. What justification, then, do we have for deeming Jean de Meun a misogynist?
David F. Hult. “Jean de Meun’s Continuation of Le Roman de la Rose”. In Denis Hollier, ed. A New History of French Literaure [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989], 101). The answer to Hult’s question is that there is no justification, other than the desire of the critics to put the text on trial and find it guilty. As previously noted, Rita Felski traces this desire back to “the medieval heresy trial”, a practice that emerged from the Inquisition, which was itself established shortly after the Albigensian Crusade to deal with heresy in southern France (“Suspicious Minds”. Poetics Today, 32: 2 [Summer 2011], 219). Where earlier inquisitors tortured bodies, our modern variety torture texts, https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-1261208

159 Lorris and de Meun (1965), Vol. 2, ll. 9703–10.

160 Ibid., ll. 9427–43.

161 “Amor […] en queur franc et delivre” (ibid., ll. 9411–12).

162 “Mes je ne croi mie, par m’ame, / c’onques puis fust nule tel fame” (ibid., ll. 8795–96).

163 Ibid., ll. 9961–69.

164 “des geus d’amors” (ibid., l. 12733).

165 Ibid., ll. 12771–74

166 “Mes Nature ne peut mentir, / qui franchise li fet sentir, / […] / Trop est fort chose que Nature, / el passe neïs nourreture” (ibid., ll. 13987–88, 14007–08).

167 Ibid., ll. 21647–50.

168 Ibid., ll. 21607–16.

169 Ibid., ll. 21765–88.

170 Lorris and de Meun (1965), Vol. 2, ll. 15975–82.

171 All quotations are from “Havelok the Dane”. In Ronald B. Herzman, Graham Drake, and Eve Salisbury, eds. Four Romances of England (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1999), 73–160.

172 All quotations are from “King Horn”. In Four Romances of England, 11–57.

173 See Kimberly K. Bell and Julie Nelson Couch. The Texts and Context of Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Laud Misc. 108 (Boston: Brill, 2011), especially the Introduction and Part One, for an insightful analysis on the manuscript, its compilation and provenance.

174 For a detailed explanation on medieval manuscript culture, text, and audience, see Chapter 6 of Peter Brown, ed. A Companion to Medieval English Literature and Culture: c. 1350–1500 (Malden: Blackwell, 2007). Such purposes can be seen in a text’s physical form: “a text acquires new meanings within the physical context of the codex. The manuscript’s illustrations, rubrics, and other paratextual features, as well as any other texts that are transmitted along with it, influence the reception of a text by its readers” (Lori J. Walters. “‘The Foot on Which He Limps’: Jean Gerson and the Rehabilitation of Jean de Meun in Arsenal 3339”. Digital Philology, 1: 1 [Spring 2012], 112, https://doi.org/10.1353/dph.2012.0006).

175 Carl Horstmann, ed. “St. Austyn”. The Early South English Legendary or Lives of Saints (London: N. Trubner, 1887), 24, l. 1, https://archive.org/stream/earlysouthenglis00hors#page/24

176 Ibid., ll. 3–4.

177 As Innocent III tried to do in 1213, taking control of England from King John only to restore it, on John’s submission, as a papal fiefdom—a humilating agreement John promptly broke in 1214.

178 Carl Horstman, ed. “St. Austyn”, l. 15.

179 Bell and Couch, 250.

180 Ibid., 9.

181 See Peter Hunter Blair, Ango-Saxon England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1959), Chapter 2, “England and the Vikings”, for more on the Danish rule and Danish presence in English life.

182 On the reworkings of Havelok and its speculative history, see Scott Kleinman, “Animal Imagery and Oral Discourse in Havelok’s First Fight”, Viator: Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 35 (2004), 311–27, https://doi.org/10.1484/J.VIATOR.2.300201

183 Herzman, “Havelok”, ll. 2984–85.

184 Ibid., ll. 1–2.

185 Herzman, “King Horn”, ll. 95, 97–98.

186 Ibid., ll. 545–46, 548–49.

187 Theresa D. Kemp. Women in the Age of Shakespeare (Santa Barbara: Greenwood Press, 2010), 12.

188 Ibid.

189 Geoffrey Chaucer. The Canterbury Tales: Complete, ed. by Larry D. Benson (Boston: Wadsworth, 2000), I. 3111.

190 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Canterbury-west-Winter-Highsmith.jpeg?uselang=en-gb

191 William George Dodd. Courtly Love in Chaucer and Gower (Gloucester: Peter Smith, 1959), 9.

192 Chaucer, I. 1231–33.

193 Ibid., I. 3077–79.

194 Susan Crane. Gender and Romance in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), 51.

195 Chaucer, I. 2396–97.

196 Chaucer, I. 1055.

197 Ibid., I. 1157.

198 Margaret Hallissy. A Companion to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1995), 59.

199 Hallissy, 75.

200 Reddy suggests that Guilhem IX was “the author of the first fabliau” (101–02).

201 Joseph R. Strayer. Western Europe in the Middle Ages: A Short History (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1955), 183.

202 Chaucer, I. 3167–69.

203 Ibid., I. 3179–80.

204 Derek Pearsall. The Canterbury Tales (New York: Routledge, 2002), 178.

205 Strayer, 183.

206 Chaucer, I. 3441.

207 Bernard F. Huppé. A Reading of the Canterbury Tales (Albany: SUNY Press, 1964), 76.

208 Chaucer, I. 3287.

209 Pearsall, 176.

210 Chaucer, I. 3233–70.

211 Ibid., I. 3308, I. 3307.

212 II Sam. 14: 25.

213 Ibid., 16: 22.

214 Hallissy, 78.

215 Ibid., 81.

216 Winthrop Wetherbee. Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales. 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 58.

217 Chaucer, I. 3215.

218 Ibid., I. 3276. For those unfamiliar with the meaning of “queynte” (kānt), simply change the first vowel sound. The meaning will become clear.

219 Ibid., I. 3202.

220 Helen M. Jewell. Women in Medieval England (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996), 16.

221 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wife-of-Bath-ms.jpg

222 James Edward Geoffrey De Montmorency. The Progress of Education in England: A Sketch of the Development of English Educational Organization from Early Times to the Year 1904 (London: Knight & Co., 1904), 27.

223 Ibid., 28.

224 The word “gloss” today has a few different meanings: “luster”, “sheen”, or “to give false a false appearance of acceptableness”. The Greek word for gloss, γλώσσα, and the Latin word, glossa both mean “tongue, speech” (Francis E. Gigot. “Glosses, Scriptural—I. Etymology and Principal Meanings”. In The Catholic Encyclopedia: An International Work of Reference on the Constitution, Doctrine, Discipline, and History of the Catholic Church: Father to Gregory, ed. by Charles G. Herbermann, et. al. [New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907], Vol. 6, 588, https://archive.org/stream/07470918.6.emory.edu/07470918_6#page/n665). More broadly, the term means an “interpretation or explanation of isolated words. […] A glossary is therefore a collection of words about which observations and notes have been gathered, and a glossarist is one who thus explains and illustrates given texts” (Gigot, 588). In its early usage, the term was assigned to “words of Greek texts that required some exposition” (Gigot, 588). It was only later that “gloss” came to refer to the interpretation itself.

225 Early Greek grammarians and Christian writers, who commented on Scripture, adopted the word “gloss” to indicate ambiguous verbal usage, whether foreign or obsolete, as opposed to an interpretation of difficult doctrinal or theological passages. Such glosses were mainly written on the margins of manuscripts. However, as glossing became more popular, the word “gloss” referred to more elaborate explication of Scripture, ranging from interpretative sentences to large commentaries on entire books that would either be marginal or interlinear. The exemplum of glossing, Glossa Ordinaria, or The Gloss, was a compilation of all glosses on the Bible, which itself consisted of layers of glosses (Gigot, 587).

226 On this point, see C. S. Lewis, who in A Preface to Paradise Lost (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1942), openly states that his aim is to “prevent the reader from ever raising certain questions” (69).

227 Chaucer, III. 1793–94.

228 Alastair Minnis. Fallible Authors: Chaucer’s Pardoner and Wife of Bath (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), 261.

229 Jill Mann. Life in Words: Essays on Chaucer, the Gawain-Poet, and Malory (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014), 82.

230 Catherine S. Cox. Gender and Language in Chaucer (Tampa: University Press of Florida, 1997), 19.

231 Susan Crane. Gender and Romance in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (Princeton: Princeton, University Press, 1994), 116.

232 Ibid.

233 Hallissy, 103.

234 Ibid.

235 Chaucer, General Prologue, 453, 456–57.

236 Ibid., III. 44–46.

237 Carolyn Dinshaw. Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), 124.

238 “amor et seigneurie / ne s’entrefirent compaignie” (Lorris, Guillaume and Jean de Meun, ll. 8421–22).

239 Chaucer, III. 787.

240 Ibid., III. 516. The potential double meaning here of “queynte’ also presents difficulties.

241 Jean Hagstrum argues that “[t]he raped solitary country girl of the Arthurian landscape in the tale surely symbolizes what society had done to Alisoun in her loveless marriages” (271).

242 Chaucer, III. 905.

243 Ibid., III. 1038–40.

244 Crane, 131.

245 Chaucer, III. 1–3.

246 Ibid., III. 1257–58.

247 Ibid., III. 1255–56.

Table des illustrations

Légende Marianne Stokes, Aucassin and Nicolette (1898).3
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Légende Meister des Rosenromans, Dancing before the genius of love, in Roman de la Rose (ca. 1420–1430).88
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/4390/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 40k
Légende Canterbury Tales mural by Ezra Winter (1939). North Reading Room, west wall, Library of Congress John Adams Building, Washington.190
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/4390/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 24k
Légende Opening page of the “Prologue of the Wife of Bath’s Tale”, from the Ellesmere manuscript of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (early fifteenth century).221
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/4390/img-4.jpg
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