This advanced graduate course recognizes that French literature and culture were of fundamental and preeminent importance in the Middle Ages; English developments were both eccentric and retarded (in place and time). The University of Paris was the most prestigious site of learning; the Parisian booktrade dwarfed equivalent activities in London. The Roman de la Rose proved to be a text of foundational importance for European poetry: Brunetto Latini’s Tesoretto begins an Italianization of the Rose that culminates in Dante’s Commedia; Chaucer begins his career by translating the French text. By the later fourteenth century, however, English poetry is beginning to participate more fully in this French-dominated cultural nexus. Chaucer learns assiduously from authors such as Machaut, Froissart, and Deschamps, a process that continues long after his first encounter with Italian writing. In fact, the Italian texts that Chaucer uses most intensively—Boccaccio’s Filostrato and Teseida—are themselves products of a French-dominated court culture (that of Angevin Naples).
In this course we can only, of course, sample the range of texts from this time (c. 1360-1430): a period fully enclosed by the intermittent but highly destructive campaigns of the Hundred Years’ War. Our aim will be to concentrate upon movements between literary and regional cultures, resisting the usual practice of reading within purely national parameters. For even when at war (or on opposite sides of a papal schism), English and French chivalric and religious cultures worked within common frameworks of reference. The English soldiery that persecuted Joan of Arc also harried Margery Kempe; poets fighting on opposite sides of the war (Chaucer, Deschamps. Oton de Granson) cheerfully engaged verses with one another.
Choice of texts in this course is difficult to finalize, but it would be logical to begin with some poetry deriving from the Roman de la Rose, some Machaut (Voir Dit) and Chaucer’s The Book of the Duchess. We will read Boccaccio’s Filostrato and Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde. And we might add Henryson’s short Testament of Cresseid, since the Franco-Scottish axis of the ‘auld alliance’ deserves some notice. The chronicles of Froissart, who followed a French queen to England but later served the French (while still returning to England later in his career), repay attention as an extraordinary genre hovering between history, travel writing, and romance. The vast corpus of Deschamps, who commits to poetry what we might expect to find in a journal or chronicle, will also be explored. We will read Christine de Pisan’s extraordinarily hopeful poem about Joan of Arc, plus something of Philippe de Mezière’s utopian plan to unite French and English kings in a crusade against the infidel. Something might be said about John Gower’s work in French; we will certainly dwell upon the remarkable bilingual poetry of Charles d’Orléans, written during long captivity in England. And we will read Mandeville’s fantastical Travels, a text that remained in vogue until the sixteenth century. Hon y soit.
Texts will be read in French, Italian, or Middle English; translations will be provided. Students will be asked to contribute short reports to kick-start discussion; assessment will be by one long essay.
Fulfills 1 & 5 requirements.