Sunday, February 02, 2014

Laura Kendrick on courtly love

From The Game of Love:

For Guillaume IX and his facetious troubadour followers, the stakes in the game of love were not the sexual favors of living ladies; Guillaume IX did not have to write poetry to get what he wanted from women, nor did other nobleman and courtiers. The object of the twelfth – century game of love was to win with words, just as the objective of medieval wargames was to win with weapons. The player's goal was not to win the lady, but to win the game, to conquer the masculine opponents. The secular domna  presided as a figurehead (abstract, distant, absent) over the troubadours' vernacular language games in secular courts– much as her religious counterpart, the domina of Mary/Ecclesia, presided over the scholarly Latin language games of ecclesiastical schools and courts. To win the lady's favor, to rise in her esteem, to be desired by her: these are the nominal objects of most of the troubadours' verbal contests in the arenas of the secular courts. With nearly all games, however, the "material" prize of winning the game is, of itself, not worth the players' efforts; it is merely a symbol of the more intangible prize or pretz. Everyone knows the prize of the Olympics is not the gold– or the stamped gold medals. The real object of the troubadours' game of love was to assert personal prowess by wielding words to attack and destroy opponents' words, reversing or modifying their meaning by dismembering or "cutting them up" or by reframing and reinterpreting them in one's own new context.
Marcabru played the facetious troubadours' debasing game on their terms, going them one "down," which only heightened the contest. Other ascetics – some of them monks, canons, and clergy – took a different, and ultimately more promising, tactic; they cleaned up the facetious troubadours' lyrics by interpreting them in a deliberately "good" way; they found sincere adoration of a lady or the Virgin to be the "true" object of the lyrics, however ambiguously expressed, and wove the facetious troubadours' phrases into the new context of their own "sincere" love lyrics. It's not at all inconceivable that Cercamon's lady in "Assatz es or' oimai qu'eu chan" was as Jeanroy once suggested, the Virgin. In all these cases, however, a contest is implicit in the language of the lyric, a debate between points of view that we sense, if at all, as ambiguity or equivocation.

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