courtly love

Next up: work in progress, #femfog


Currently connecting up:

  • The Maria de Ventadorn & Gui d’Uisel partimen
  • Some other medieval Occitan partimens & tensos
  • Questions: are rape jokes possible or permissible? Is there any way in which they can be positive and productive in educating and acting against rape (pseudo-)culture? And more immediately in preventing assault?
  • The K-Beauty débacle, feminism, academic feminism, and the point and public purpose of academia & academics
  • Having been obliged to think about the absurd foolish #femfog and #GYB bollocks, and how this feels… how shall I put it… intrusive?
  • Foolish and wise laughter and their social and ethical side: Plato (ideas triggered by talk on Friday), via Jean de Meun and Erasmus and Rabelais, looping back to medieval Occitania (and surrounds, i.e. Catalonia): Raimon Vidal de Besalú, Guilhem d’Aurenga, Socratic irony, true nobility of soul, and taking the piss (out of oneself and generally)
  • Satire, sincerity, play and its imaginative hypothetical space, and mesura (in whichever language, time, and culture; or as utopian ideal)
  • On which: it would be nice and proper if “PC” were to be returned to its original and longest-running meaning: the standard abbreviation for “Pillet-Carstens,” that is, the standard numbering system for the Troubadour lyric corpus (at least, for the 478 poets identified at that time, which has expanded since) and our industry standard since Alfred Pillet & Henry Carstens, Bibliographie der Troubadours. Schriften der Königsberger Gelehrten Gesellschaft, Sonderreihe, Band 3. (Halle: Niemeyer, 1933); for the record, this was one of these monumental two-generation-spanning works actually completed in 1931 and NOT a member of that other species of 1930s German philology. William P. Shepard’s classic 1934 Modern Language Notes review may be recommended as a splendid quick introduction in English.
  • So: #FeministHardcorePhilologySaysFogYou and #FogYB


Update: an idea about carnivalesque, consenting, courtly condoms

(not a contradiction in terms)

(just an idea)

Now, what follows may be totally naff, puerile, silly, etc. Be ye warned. Apologies in advance.

(again: just an idea)

How the idea came to be: in revising this post, this happened:



The Old Talks Series: “Le non-dit in ‘Flamenca’: language, courtliness, and languages of courtliness”

DRAFT – WORK IN PROGRESS [LAST UPDATE: 2014-10-09, changes to the end of section IV]

Because apparently it’s therapeutic to be more open about such things. You know, that work is a process, and that A Work rarely if ever emerges fully-formed ex nihilo. When made by regular humans, anyway. Though this does feel rather like the self-consciousness that smites one when one realises that one has accidentally left home having forgotten to put on a crucial item of clothing.

What follows bears many caveats.

  • there’s loads and loads and loads of text; most of it is from Flamenca
  • some formatting is clunky
  • while this piece is  partly about silence, the unspoken, the unspeakable, and gaps: there are also gaps here that are not of that sort
  • while this piece is partly about jokes, there are some elliptical or incompehensible parts that are not in fact very subtle or otherwise failed jokes
  • some of it is downright sketchy; some of which I’m still trying to figure out from archaic notebooks
  • it’s a work in progress

Further down, in case it’s all a bit much, I have taken the liberty of including one of my Favourite Comedy Videos Of All Time. It happens to be relevant, both to the caveats above and to the piece as a whole. I may add some more videos too, and hopefully they will be similarly appropriate-yet-inappropriate.

On which note, before I forget: here is a first, entirely appropriate video:

Le non-dit in Flamenca: language, courtliness, and languages of courtliness”
International Courtly Literature Society Triennial Congress
Montréal, 2010

Courtly Cultures on the Move (c): Languages of Courtliness


Le non-dit as the inexpressible and unexpressed corresponds to a feminine non-expression of literary silence, with familiar implications of non-existence. Luce Irigaray proposes one solution: “Mais si l’objet se mettait à parler?” (Speculum. De l’autre femme). This paper moves her question to a 13th-century context, looking at Flamenca’s contribution of alternatives or successors to a dominant, culturally-privileged highest mode of expression.

An earlier enquiry into the problem is offered by Ovid’s Heroides through its presentation of other sides, alternatives to masculine and monolithic expression: feminine first-person voice lyric; response by the Muse that instigates dialogue; and the dialogue writ large that is the contextualization of a single work within a larger œuvre. It is not by accident that the Heroides and the Occitan tenso are amongst the materials alluded to by and woven into the very fabric of Flamenca, a densely allusive super-romance that draws on several literary traditions and courtly cultures and deals with matters associated with the non-dit in a novel way.

Flamenca plays out the invention and reinvention of language, courtliness, and a language (Occitan) of courtliness: touching delicately on contemporary affairs, including linguistic politics. The narrative moves from wordless communication to a poetic composition that is the finding–or rather, the rediscovery–of poetic language; whilst playing with language through an ingenious derivative creativity that brings together feminine speech and the very lexis of cortesia itself, best exemplified in the word trobairitz, coined by women in dialogue.


The Old Talks Series: “The ‘Trobairitz’ and ‘Flamenca’ “

47th International Congress on Medieval Studies
University of Western Michigan, Kalamazoo
May 2012

Société Guilhem IX: Session 93, “Women and the Troubadours”


Women figure in the large majority of Troubadour poems, whether as the erotic focus, object of mystery, speaking voice, invoked saint or patroness. The Trobairitz corpus has gone from obscurity to possible overexposure in recent decades with the rise of feminism and interest in women’s studies. This panel invites scholars to take stock of the many places of women in Old Occitan studies. Contributions may consider literary, cultural, linguistic, musical, lexicographical, or biographical questions. Many women have contributed to Occitan studies, and this would be an opportunity to take account of their legacy, as well.


The paper pulls together two main threads associated with Flamenca scholarship.

The first is the word trobairitz and feminine trobar: further on which see the work of Angelika Rieger and other, and the theme of this panel.

The second is the double conundrum that is the attribution of authorship to this romance, and the approximation of its date of composition. Attempts at finding answers have moved from an earlier expectation of a single male author, as exemplified by Grimm (1930) and the “finding” of the clerc Bernardet; to Solterer and Grossweiner and a shift towards multiplicity, including composition by two or more hands; and work (Bynum, Kay, Vitz, and others) on the creative contributions of a range of participants in the poetic process: patrons, very hands-on patrons, collaborations, performers, adapters, and so on. To assist in this quest, we may add in Spearing on narratorless narrative; Jewers and Kay and others on play and playfulness and games; gender-ambiguity and gender-play in trobador lyric, and—another of today’s Guilhem IX topics, of course—the linguistic play of dialogic composition, as witness the tensos and partimens. (more…)

Courtly Love in “Flamenca”


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Also available with extra cheese.


The Old Talks Series: “The 13th-century Occitan ‘Flamenca’: a mere curiosity or a larger literary conundrum?”

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FHIS departmental research seminar
UBC Vancouver, 2009


This paper explores one of Flamenca‘s many oddities: narrative peculiarities that set up questions on relations between art and life, and on the nature and purpose of literature, in the form of a sophisticated literary joke.


Flamenca is an 8095-line-long Old Occitan work in octosyllabic rhyming couplets, probably dating from the later 13th century. It apparently disappeared from the European literary scene until the early 19th century; Flamenca‘s several oddities have consistently piqued Romance philologists’ interest for the last two centuries, and have recently started to attract the attention of wider audiences.

This paper takes Flamenca‘s narratological problems as its main focus: multiple focalizations and commentating voices, the peculiar importance of dialogue, and collisions and collusions between multiple realities.

A first intention is to see how Flamenca sets up questions on the relationship between art and life, and on the very nature and purpose of literature itself. The paper also aims to show how- amongst many other things – this romance works not only as a literary summa and critical meta-romance, but also as a sophisticated literary joke.


  1. A plain old-fashioned jolly good read.
  2. A puzzle.


Jean-Charles Huchet, Flamenca: Roman occitan du XIIIe siècle (Paris: U.G.E., 1988): 20-22. Trans. O’Brien.

What remains of the story opens with the examination of the offer for Flamenca’s hand, presented by an emissary on behalf of Archimbaut, lord of Bourbon. The request is granted by Flamenca and her parents. The nuptials are celebrated with magnificence at Nemours. The festivities last eight days, then Archimbaut returns to Bourbon to oversee his young wife’s welcome. Flamenca’s arrival in the town is the occasion for sumptuous feasts, at which the king of France demonstrates excessive courtesy. This awakens Archimbaut’s jealousy: and, when at a joust, he sees the king bearing a sleeve suspected of belonging to Flamenca. The new husband sinks into a morbid jealousy that leads him to neglect himself, renounce the worldly values of courtesy, and, finally, to cloister Flamenca in a tower, the better to keep watch on her and shelter her from the attentions of imaginary gallants.

The romance then lends itself to a near-clinical study of jealousy and an evocation of the recluse’s woes. Rumour of the latter reaches the ear of a young knight – Guillem de Nevers – endowed with every quality, but sheltered until then from the trials of love. Guillem decides to love Flamenca and becomes Love’s devotee. He goes incognito to Bourbon, arriving the Saturday after Easter, finds the best inn, and chooses a room from which he can perceive the tower concealing the sole object of his preoccupations henceforth.

The next day, in church, he has the chance to glimpse Flamenca’s face; although the jealous husband keeps her in a nook sheltered from all gazes and desires. Guillem works out that it is possible to slip the beauty a word, under cover of the psalter, the moment when it is given to be kissed. He takes the place of the clerk Nicolas – sent to Paris to continue his studies – and has his hosts empty the inn of other guests so that he can have an underground tunnel dug secretly, linking his room to the baths where Flamenca is sometimes allowed to go. Over the course of several weeks from May to August, uttering one word every service, Guillem reveals his love to Flamenca, who agrees to reply to him and ends up sharing the same feelings. Feigning serious illness, the recluse obtains Archimbaut’s permission to take the waters whenever she wishes, and regularly visits Guillem’s room via the underground tunnel. This clandestine love lasts until the end of November. Flamenca then pronounces a kind of oath [of fidelity]that allows the jealous husband to recover his courtesy and announce that a tournament will be held the next Easter. Flamenca persuades Guillem to return to his lands and then come back for the tournament.

Thanks to Archimbaut, who is frequenting tournaments again, news of Guillem’s exploits reaches Flamenca, as well as salutz [love-letter(s)] composed by this former clerk who has become a knight and troubadour again.

The week after Easter, jousters gather in Bourbon, where Guillem, too, arrives. Invited by Archimbaut to choose some jewels in a room, the lovers are able to resume their pleasures again at their leisure.

Guillem wins the Prize for the tournament’s first day, as well as Flamenca’s sleeve, with which he covers the inside of his shield. The story ends on the second day.


(From O’Brien 2006)

Flamenca is a manuscript unicum, its witness being Bibliothèque municipale de Carcassonne manuscript 34, from around the late 13th to early 14th century.1 The text itself could have been composed at any time(s) beforehand, although it is generally supposed to date from the final quarter of the 13th century, and therefore close to this manuscript’s making.

The manuscript contains 140 good-quality vellum folios, of which the first is badly torn, such that only the top left-hand corner and a few partial lines remain. Each folio measures 21.5 by 14.2 cm. The manuscript is probably in fifteen quires, each of around eight folios, within a leather binding dating from around 1890.2 The text is single-column, with around 29 lines per side. There are substantial lacunae – of an unknown number of folios – at the beginning and end, and four others through the text: one of three folios, between ff. 122 and 123, and three of one to two folios, after ff. 1, 31, and, 115.3 Fifteen lines are missing, two lines are repeated, and there are eight instances of two lines being written as a single one at the bottom of a folio-side. Otherwise, the text is in good condition, written in a very fair, Italianate hand, with next to no standard scribal abbreviations. There are no illuminations, but quite plentiful decorated capitals (221 monochrome blue or red, 25 gilded) and rich abstract marginal ornamentation, in a French style, possibly early 14th century.

The text is in Occitan. It is in the form of 8095 lines of (mostly) octosyllabic rhyming couplets: the standard, basic formal definition of the Old French romance (romans), and of the Occitan verse narrative (novas) and epistolary poem (salutz). It would be usual for such a text of this period to name its author and title at its start and / or end, often in a prologue or in a parallel paratextual conclusion. The title would often provide some indication of its author’s intention as to generic identity. Due to the absence of the opening and closing folios of the Carcassonne manuscript, which would quite probably have supplied this information, the text in its present form lacks all indication as to author, title, and genre.


The Old Talks series: “Losing Oneself, Being Found, and Finding One’s Own Way: Lancelot’s Adventurous Travel Without Maps”

38th Annual Medieval Workshop, UBC
Vancouver, 2009

The theme: “Writing the World”


“Geography is the writing of the earth.” What happens when “writing” is moved into the subject position in this sentence?

This paper looks at a novel approach to “writing the world” in Chrétien de Troyes’s Lancelot ou le Chevalier de la charrette, with some further reference to continuations in the non-cyclic Prose Lancelot and the cyclic Lancelot-Graal.

Here, rather than being written, the world is being unwritten – sometimes to be rewritten but more often not – while we follow Lancelot in his various quests for identity, and observe parallels between the romances’ representations of travels external and internal, and allusions of that of writing. The paper will focus on movement into and out of an unreal irréaliste world, with particular attention to passages of transition, to show how romance offers mapping options beyond the reach of more conventional or expected approaches to cartography.

[This is part of work in progress on changes occurring in French romance over the course of the 13th c., and centred on the idea of courtesy. The project continues my doctoral work’s attempts to figure out the late 13th c. Occitan Romance of Flamenca: how odd it is, why it’s odd, what that oddness means, and its literary and literary-critical implications. The talk itself was somewhat whimsical; I should add that I myself like wandering around in a meandering ambling way, but I mainly enjoy traveling with maps (at least a mental one) and purpose, where the purpose is food / a pub / the next whisky bar. A picnic often works as a compromise.]


Beginning at the beginning, with the Prologue to Lancelot. Underpinning as it does the whole romance, and providing us with auctorial intention, it also works as a tightly-knit representation – a figurative mini work within the work – and presage of the romance to come. And how it does it is, I think, central to understanding how Lancelot works as a romance of adventure, that’s also a metaphorical work about the questing of writing and reading, and especially in its looking at their contraries: unmapping, unwriting, not getting there, and the contraries to attaining the quest, of – depending on the version – being lost, getting lost, or losing oneself.

This paper looks at one of several instances of the connection between fonds and forme in a Chrétien de Troyes romance. The connection between sign and signifier, where the role of the reader (any reader…) is to find the meaning in the gap between the two: so as to make sense of the work. I’m going to call this textual person the reader, even though at the time this position will be occupied by various other people too, from what amounts to private reading by copyists as part of their compositional process, through to audiences to which the work is being read, recited, otherwise performed. But I digress: this talk isn’t about the nature of contemporary performances and performative intent. It’s about Lancelot. And so, back to our text.

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The Countess provides matiere et san – note the distinction but connection – and Chrétien promises to think, and to add in nothing but his work and intellectual effort, with an “intentionality” of antancion especially when connected here at the rhyme to reison. (more…)

The Old Talks Series: “Courtly Love and Chrétien de Troyes’s ‘Lancelot’ (or, Why Gaston Paris Was Not Actually Wrong)”


This was an invited talk for the Maynooth Medieval and Renaissance Forum (NUI Maynooth, 2009). It was long. It’s OK, it was meant to be and that was what was requested, that was the form and format. It includes a lot of words and a lot of wordiness about these words, because it’s a close reading. Mainly of what Gaston Paris has to say—that being the point and purpose—but also a fair amount of what Chrétien de Troyes has to say.

(And not because I talked too much, for too long, and people failed to shut me up: I do not do that because it is mean, rude, obnoxious, arrogant, inconsiderate, disrespectful, and a disgrace to The Profession. Also because I despise people who go over time. And people who talk badly. And people whose idea of a “talk” is to read out a written paper that was meant/written for, you know, solitary silent reading; that having been said, the piece below is somewhere between my (then) Super-Formal-Serious For Reading style, and my For Talking To/With Other People style. And though I get grumpy about this sort of thing—especially given the physical pain of having to sit still, ideally on a badly-designed chair, through a bad talk badly delivered—I am not a complete misanthrope, I do like some human beings.)

See also:


The eponymous hero of Chrétien’s Lancelot / Le Chevalier de la charrette has previously been interpreted as perfect knight, perfect lover, both, and neither; fatally flawed, supremely human, or both; and a problematic and downright troubling representative / representation of a courtly ideal. While “courtly love” will become the topic of a long-running modern literary debate – with an ever-growing field of enquiry – its origins and the first modern expression of the idea lie with the Lancelot and its immediate contemporary cultural context: the essay that sparked the debate being “Études sur les romans de la Table Ronde: Lancelot” by Gaston Paris, in Romania 12 (1883). Over the last 125 years, Paris’ work has suffered misreading, rereading, and rejection; but is currently in process of rehabilitation, by Karl D. Uitti through the 1980s, and with Ursula Bähler’s Gaston Paris et la philologie romane (Paris: Droz 2004) – well-received and much-reviewed over the last three years.

This paper is a reading of Paris’s essay and of Chrétien’s Lancelot, so as to ascertain what truths may be recovered or discovered from primary sources and first principles. A second intention is showing where the “courtly love debate” now stands. Having been tied to developments in various theoretical -isms along its historical course, Medieval literary criticism is returning now to its sources but in a renewed state as “New Philology” and, indeed, even influencing the mainstream of literary theory.

The main part of this paper examines courtly love in Chrétien’s Lancelot: instances thereof, its different types of expression, and analysis and interpretation in the light of contemporary intertextual context, bearing in mind a multilingual literary culture. The reading refers particularly to Occitan influences (canso, tenso, novas – especially the judici d’amors), and investigates how far the idea of love in the Lancelot signals a biculturalism that has moved into full cultural infusion and conflation. An epilogue in guise of conclusion shows how the idea of courtly love next evolves (in French romance, but with its main continuations being in Catalan poetry). (more…)

courtly love: a bibliography

(slightly revised, updated, and reissued; may be further revised in the future; it should, I hope, provide a useful starting-point for people new to the area)

Allen, Peter B. The Art of Love: Amatory Fiction from Ovid to the Romance of the Rose. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1992.

Auerbach, Erich. Literary Language and its Public in Late Latin Antiquity and in the Middle Ages. Trans. Ralph Mannheim. Princeton: Bollingen, 1965.

—. Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. Trans. Willard R. Trask. Princeton: Princeton U.P., 1953.

Bähler, Ursula. Gaston Paris et la philology romane. Geneva: Droz, 2004.

Bezzola, Reto R. Les Origines et la formation de la littérature courtoise en Occident (500-1200). Paris: Champion, 1944-63.

Bloch, R. Howard. Medieval Misogyny and the Invention of Western Romantic Love. Chicago: Chicago UP, 1990.

Boase, R. The Origin and Meaning of Courtly Love. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1977.

Camproux, Charles. Le “joy d’amour” du troubadour (jeu et joie d’amour). Montepellier: Causse et Castelnau, 1965.

Cherchi, Paolo. Andreas and the Ambiguity of Courtly Love.

Cheyette, Fredric L. Ermengard of Narbonne and the World of the Troubadours. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 2001.

Cholakian, Rouben Charles. Troubadour Lyric: A Psychocritical Reading. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1990.

Curtius, Ernst Robert. European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. Trans. Willard R. Trask. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1953.

Denomy, Alexander Joseph. “An Enquiry into the Nature of Courtly Love.” Mediaeval Studies VI (1944): 175-260.

The Heresy of Courtly Love. New York: MacMullen, 1947.

Donaldson, E. Talbot. “The Myth of Courtly Love.” Ventures 5 (1965): 16-23, republished in Speaking of Chaucer (London: Athlone, 1970): 154-63.

Duby, Georges. Medieval Marriage: Two Models from the Twelfth Century. Trans. Elborg Forster. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1978.

Le Chevalier, la femme et le prêtre. Le mariage dans la France féodale. Paris: Hachette, 1981.

Ferrante, Joan M. “Cortes’ Amor in Medieval Texts.” Speculum 55 (1980): 695.

Frappier. Jean. Amour courtois et table ronde. Geneva: Droz, 1973.

Huchet, Jean-Charles. Littérature médiévale et psychanalyse: pour une clinique littéraire. Paris: P.U.F., 1990.

Kay, Sarah. “Courts, Clerks, and Courtly Love.” In The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Romance. Ed. Roberta L. Krueger. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000: 81-96.

Köhler, Erich. Trobador Lyrik und Höfischer Roman. Berlin: Rütter und Loening, 1962.

Kristeva, Julia. “Les Troubadours: du ‘grand chant courtois’ au récit allégorique.” In Histoires d’amour. Paris: Denoël, 1983: 263-76.

Lacan, Jacques. “L’Amour courtois en anamorphose.” In Le Séminaire de Jacques Lacan. Livre VII: L’Éthique de la psychanalyse, 1959-60. Texte établi par Jacques-Alain Miller. Paris: Le Seuil, 1986: 167-84.

Lazar, Moshé. Amour courtois et “fin’amors” dans la littérature du XIIe siècle. Paris: Klincksieck, 1964.

Le Goff, Jacques. La Civilisation de l’Occident médiéval. Paris: Arthaud, 1964.

Pour un autre Moyen Âge: temps, travail et culture en Occident. Paris: Gallimard, 1977.

Le Goff, Jacques, Roger Chartier, and Jacques Revel, eds. La Nouvellehistoire. Paris: C.E.P.L., 1978.

Lewis, Clive Staples. The Allegory of Love. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1936.

Menocal, María Rosa. The Arabic Role in Medieval Literature: A Forgotten Heritage. Philadephia: U Pennsylvania P, 1990.

Nelli, René. L’Érotique des troubadours. Toulouse: Privat, 1963.

Newman, F.X., ed., The Meaning of Courtly Love: Papers of the First Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, State University of New York at Binghamton. March 17-18, 1967. Albany:  SUNY P, 1968.

O’Brien, Juliet. “Contexts poetic and erotic: trobar amor clusa e cortesa.” Ch. 1 in “Trobar Cor(s): Erotics and Poetics in Flamenca.” Ph.D. diss., Princeton U, 2006: 27-143.

— “Reading (and) Courtly Love in Flamenca, via the Charrette.” In Dame Philology’s Charrette: Approaching Medieval Textuality through Chrétien’s Lancelot, Essays in Memory of Karl D. Uitti. Ed. Gina Greco and Ellen Thorington. Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies. Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (ACMRS) at Arizona State University, 2012.

Paris, Gaston. “Études sur les romans de la Table Ronde: Lancelot.” Romania 12 (1883): 459-534. Online at

Robertson, D.W. Jr. “Some Medieval Doctrines of Love.” In A Preface to Chaucer. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1962: 391-503.

— “The Concept of Courtly Love as an Impediment to the Understanding of Medieval Texts.” In Newman 1968: 1-18.

Rougemont, Denis de. L’Amour et l’Occident. Paris: Plon, 1972; rev. of 1939 ed.

Uitti, Karl D. “Remarks on Old French Narrative: Courtly Love and Poetic Form (I).” Romance Philology 26 (1972): 92.

Žižek, Slavoj. “Courtly Love, or Woman as Thing.” In The Metastases of Enjoyment. London: Verso, 1994: 148-73.

on courtly love

(feat. bibliography)
It’s finally coming out: I’d resisted sending off my piece on amor cortesa & amor coral elsewhere, so as to include it in the (second) Festschrift volume for Karl D. Uitti. I thought that was paying due homage, (more…)