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«by Alice Jane Cooley A thesis submitted in conformity with the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy Centre for Medieval Studies ...»

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Alice Jane Cooley

A thesis submitted in conformity with the requirements

for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

Centre for Medieval Studies

University of Toronto

© Copyright by Alice Jane Cooley, 2010


Get a Room: Private Space and Private People in Old French and Middle English Love Stories

Submitted by: Alice Jane Cooley Degree: Doctor of Philosophy (2010) Department: Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto This study explores the way in which one circumstance of daily life in the twelfth to fourteenth centuries—the relative scarcity of private space—influenced the literature of courtly love. It presents the argument that because access to spatial privacy was difficult, although desirable, stories of illicit love affairs carried on under these precarious circumstances had a special appeal. In these narratives we can observe a tendency for emotional privacy to be invested in trusted confidants and servants, and for spies and meddling figures to pose a special danger. Both of these character types are frequently shown to have privileged access to private space as well as to private knowledge.

The framework for this study is provided by a discussion of the material background to developing ideas of privacy, which argues for a greater resemblance between medieval and modern concepts in this area than has previously been acknowledged. The remainder of the study is concerned with literary examples. Medieval French adaptations of the Ars Amatoria show subtle changes in emphasis which can be attributed to the different status of privacy in the medieval world as compared to Augustan Rome. The Lais of Marie de France, in particular Guigemar, Yonec, Milun, Eliduc and Lanval, are discussed in relation to the concept of the ii female household, a specific category of private space within the medieval castle. Three of the romances of Chrétien de Troyes—Cligès, Lancelot and Yvain—present significant variations on the theme of love mediated by third parties and flourishing in private space. Five different versions of the Tristan and Isolt story are discussed, showing their consistent preoccupation with the roles played by helping and hindering figures. The study concludes with a consideration of three works by Chaucer. Troilus and Criseyde gives prominent place to the most fully developed example of a character who mediates between lovers, Criseyde’s notorious uncle Pandarus, while The Miller’s Tale and The Merchant’s Tale both centre on lovers’ quests for privacy, but do

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I am pleased to be able to acknowledge all the help I have received, both practical and emotional, from within the academic world and without, which has allowed me to complete this dissertation and my degree. I was fortunate to have an excellent supervisor in Suzanne Akbari.

She provided superb methodological guidance at every stage, and her cheerful encouragement repeatedly succeeded in convincing me that things were going much better than I thought they were. She and the other members of my advisory committee, John Haines and David Klausner, deserve my gratitude for their enthusiasm and for their patience throughout the long process of developing my initial ideas to their current form. I am also grateful to David Staines, who, as external examiner at my defence, very rightly refused to let me get away with any nonsense. Jill Ross provided me with a number of exciting suggestions for further research. Tom Cohen also offered a wealth of ideas for my first chapter. And Judith Deitch, although not directly involved in the progress of my PhD dissertation, has been of incalculable help and influence in my academic career since I took her Old English class more than a decade ago. I am extremely thankful for her early assistance and her continued advice.

I have been blessed with wonderful friends among my fellow students, and their contributions to the completion of the present work, though trivial in relation to their other claims on my affection, deserve mention here. Alexandra Bolintineau, among countless other offices of friendship, provided me with the idea for my title. Andrew Reeves was my trusty carrel-neighbour in Minas Morgul. Victoria Goddard read the whole thing, in short order and

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and, even after finishing her own dissertation and going off to frolic in seminary, remained an amazing source of emotional support.

I am deeply grateful to the clergy and parishioners of St. Thomas’s for the atmosphere so consistently fostered in that place of respect for intellectual and artistic endeavours and their role in the Christian life. I particularly want to thank Father Mark Andrews for his advice and guidance in the latter stages of my degree.

St. Thomas’s also introduced me to Mike Degan, who became (rather in spite of himself, I think) “emotionally invested” in the progress of my dissertation. Which is, in its own way, a very significant gesture of love.

Above all, I owe thanks to my parents, who not only provided boundless encouragement and support of all kinds, but actually became quite interested in what I was writing about. I am sure they would have done the same no matter what my subject; but all the same, they are very smart people, and their approval is very gratifying.

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1. Words and Things: Conceptual and Material Aspects of Privacy

2. The Chamber, the Chambermaid and the Spy: Privacy in Medieval French Adaptations of Ovid’s Ars Amatoria

3. The Window and the Seashore: The Female Household in the Lais of Marie de France......... 89

4. Happy Endings: Cligès, Lancelot and Yvain

5. Brangain and the Barons: Helping and Hindering Characters in Five Tristan Narratives...... 197

6. Tragedy in Troy, Farce in Oxford, Satire in Lombardy: Chaucer Gets the Last Word........... 269 Conclusion


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One scene of a crumbling mural in Runkelstein Castle, painted around 1400, shows a ship under sail, its deck crowded with figures. A sailor is hauling on a rope in the background, and in the ship’s prow two trumpeters blow their instruments at the rail, marking the importance of the voyage. In the waist of the ship, well dressed men and women appear deep in conversation. In the stern, raised above the crowds and facing away from them, another man and woman stand together. The labels that hover above their heads are no longer readily legible, but they are scarcely needed. The woman wears a crown and raises a cup to her lips; the man holds out his hand as if the cup has just left it. Tristan and Isolt are depicted in their most iconic moment, drinking the potion that precipitates their tragedy by supernaturally cementing their love. What is surprising about the picture is that this intensely private experience seems to be happening with all sorts of other people present.

A slightly later moment in the same story is depicted strikingly in one of the fourteenthcentury Tristan embroideries in the Cistercian convent at Wienhausen. Here Tristan and the queen, having drunk the potion, lie embracing in one half of the ship, while a servant hovers over them, holding aloft the empty cup, and on the other side of the mast a crowd of figures is again shown engrossed in conversation. Here the lovers are shown not merely experiencing the first moment of mutual love in a crowded space, but physically expressing their love without apparent regard to the presence of their fellow passengers.

These images are characteristically medieval in their execution, sacrificing pictorial realism for narrative detail. What I have referred to as a “ship” is, in the Runkelstein mural, apparently the size of a small fishing boat, in the Wienhausen embroidery the size of a canoe, and the figures are crammed so tightly into each vessel that there does not appear to be room for all their legs. Both depictions are probably based on the narrative of Gottfried von Strassbourg, which situates the lovers in the ship’s cabin at this point, where they are alone, but for a few young ladies-in-waiting.1 This, as it turns out, is a crucial point, as it is the absence of Brangain, to whom the magic potion was entrusted, that allows the mistaken drinking of it to occur. It could be argued that by crowding the vessels with so many other people, both the mural and the embroidery do a less than satisfactory job of presenting this situation. Yet each has in subtle ways demarcated the crucial scene as private. In the Wienhausen embroidery, the mast and the curving sail set apart one half of the ship in a way suggestive of interior space, separating the other passengers from the lovers and making the servant with the cup the only clear witness to their embrace. In the Runkelstien mural, something similar is suggested by the way that the lovers stand apart, elevated in the stern of the ship, with only the two small attendant figures behind them looking in their direction. Brangain, here labelled like the lovers, is very clearly positioned with her back to them, in conversation with another passenger.2 The creators of both mural and embroidery thus succeed in representing several important aspects of the scene at once, and illustrate at the same time an alienating feature of medieval romance. To be private in romance does not necessarily mean to be alone. The servant who could proffer the flask of potion is

1. Gottfried, Tristan, ll. 11667–9. Both the murals and the embroidery are illustrated and discussed in Loomis and Loomis, Arthurian Legends in Medieval Art, 48–52, and figures 69, 70 and 77. The murals are also discussed in Van D’Elden, “Reading Illustrations of Tristan,” 348–350.

2. Medieval illustrations often show the inside and outside of buildings at the same time, to demonstrate what sort of building a scene takes place in; something similar happens with the pictures of Tristan and Isolt on the ship.

always close at hand, and the shipful of mariners and attendants never far away. Yet even under these circumstances the moment that seals the lovers into a private world can occur.

That this aspect of medieval romances reflects something about the world in which they were produced will be the argument of this dissertation. Private space was scarce in the real world outside of romance, and the literature of courtly love responds to this reality with a complex treatment of privacy. Many narratives turn upon the efforts of lovers to preserve their secrets and find opportunities to meet amid threats and obstacles. Many also give prominence to characters who either help to guarantee or attempt to violate the lovers’ private world.

Romance writers do not present the details of contemporary daily life with journalistic realism, any more than do medieval visual artists. This is a point not always recognized by social historians. For instance, one author, in discussing gender segregation in medieval castles, quotes a passage from Geoffrey of Monmouth which refers to men and women dining separately at a king’s court, observing, so Geoffrey says, the venerable custom of the Trojans. This is presented as having some bearing on actual medieval practice, presumably in the twelfth century, when Geoffrey was writing.3 But the king in question is Arthur, and the only thing that this passage actually proves is what Geoffrey of Monmouth thought about the cultural continuity between one imaginary court and another. If anything, it indicates that the situation in twelfth-century England was different. Danielle Régier-Bohler also relies on an Arthurian example when she cites the behaviour of characters in Erec et Enide as evidence for when and why medieval people slept

3. Gilchrist, “The Contested Garden,” 123. The rest of Gilchrist’s study, which will be discussed in greater detail in Chapter 3 below, is very useful and does not exhibit the same type of carelessness.

alone.4 It may indeed be true that in twelfth-century France, “When a person slept alone, it was because someone felt that he needed his sleep.”5 But Chrétien himself was aware that the events of his romances did not take place in the twelfth century, and that important things had changed since King Arthur’s day.6 His works may indeed, in most respects, represent aspects of daily life as it was lived in their author’s own time, in the same way that their illustrators depicted Arthurian characters in the clothes and armour of their own day. But we must be careful not to take every detail at face value. Chrétien professes, like many romance authors, to be memorializing past events rather than inventing new stories. If his narrative calls for certain archaic customs, he will be likely to preserve these details even if they do not conform to contemporary practice. Indeed, the plot of Lancelot turns upon an incident which necessitates an explanation about the significance of carts “in those days.”7 Medieval narratives cannot simply be mined for data about medieval living. Rather, like the murals at Runkelstein and the Wienhausen embroideries, these texts reflect attitudes and ideas about private life shaped by the material conditions in which they were produced.8 To begin this investigation, Chapter 1 sets out to examine some of the evidence that can

4. Régier-Bohler, “Exploring Literature,” 328. This chapter in the History of Private Life is focussed on extracting information from literary sources, and begins with something of an acknowledgement of the limitations of this endeavour.

5. Ibid. This is not explicitly what Régier-Bohler is arguing here.

6. See, for instance, the opening of Yvain.

7. Chrétien, Lancelot, l. 321 ff.

8. A similar point is made by Diana Webb (Privacy and Secrecy in the Middle Ages, 114). Webb makes use of literary and artistic sources throughout her study, but she does so with due caution and an awareness of where and how these sources can be relied on for details of domestic life.

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