Another French Class To Consider

Fren 3611 Courts, Patrons, and the Construction of Culture in the Twelfth Century

01:25 P.M. – 02:15 P.M. , M,W,F Professor Mary Brown

Courtliness is perhaps the central star in the constellation of concepts that we attribute to the culture of the late Middle Ages, although it is easier to drop the term in casual conversation than to define it with any precision. Its ancillaries, courtly literature and courtly love, are no less frequently cited and no less vague. In this course, we shall test common assumptions about courtliness against the evidence left by writers, artists, and musicians working in twelfth-century French, Poitevin, and Angevin courts. The central figure in this milieu is, of course, Eleanor of Aquitaine (ca. 1122-1204), granddaughter of William IX (commonly known as the first troubadour). At the young age of 15, she inherited the duchy of Aquitaine and the county of Poitou, and her wealth and political power allowed her to make two brilliant marriages, first to King Louis VII of France, then to Henry, duke of Normandy, who was soon to become King Henry II of England. Her actions ? her insistence upon accompanying Louis on crusade, her ambiguous relations with her uncle Ramon of Antioch, her willingness to dissolve her first marriage in order to wed a man 11 years her junior, her collusion with her sons in rebellion against their father ? led to no end of scandals and controversies, making her something of a legend even in her own time. Her many children played important roles not only as rulers, but also as practitioners and patrons of art: Richard C?ur-de-Lion composed lyric, while Marie de Champagne encouraged the romance writing of Chretien de Troyes, among others. We shall therefore take account of the historical context in which patrons and artists functioned, a context where representations of the king, the queen, the knight, the lady, and the cleric could never be entirely disinterested. How did writers and artists reshape the material that they borrowed from other sources (Celtic myth, Classical epic, Byzantine culture) in order to reflect indirectly upon their contemporary milieu? And, conversely, how did the circulation of these artistic representations shape the way diverse members of these courts (noblemen, noble women, and clerics) spoke, behaved, and understood their situation? Finally, how have modern notions of medieval courtliness been shaped? Students will therefore be asked to take account both of the way twelfth-century courtiers actively constructed their cultural paradigms, and of the way scholars and non-scholars today construct a historical understanding from the enigmatic fragments of text and material culture that survive from more than 800 years ago.

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