French Literature: From the Beginning to the 15th Century Part II

Troubadour poetry, miracle and mystery games

In the 12th and 13th centuries, poetry played an important role in France. Popular lyric poetry included, inter alia. the epically tinged, romance-like “Chansons d’histoire” and the “Chansons de toile”, the “Rondeaux” and “Virelais” (dance songs), the “Rotrouenges” (songs with refrains), “Pastourelles” (love songs of the shepherds) and the “Reverdies” (spring songs). Through the courts, especially those of Eleanor of Aquitaine and her daughter, Marie de Champagne, the Provencal troubadour poetry was conveyed to northern France in the middle of the 12th century. The theme of the platonic, unrealizable love of a knight for a socially superior and mostly married woman had found its way into old French literature and shaped the way of life depicted in the »Roman courtois« (courtly novel) (up to late novels in the courtly spirit such as by Gerbert de Montreuil or “Li chastelain de Couci” by Jakemés Sakep, 13th century). Well-known courtly poets were among others. Chrétien de Troyes, Thibaut IV (Count of Champagne and King of Navarre), Gace Brulé, Blondel de Nesle, Colin Muset and Conon de Béthune, who also emerged as a poet of crusade songs (Chansons de croisade). The French drama is of liturgical origin and developed from the scenic representation of biblical material on church holidays with the aim of religious instruction. Relocated to the church in the 12th century and performed on a simultaneous stage, it developed into an actually dramatic action. Mundane scenes were also increasingly included, which expanded the context and the inventory of figures and the performances moved away from their ritual starting point. In contrast to the “Jeu d’Adam” (12th century), the “Jeu de Saint-Nicolas” contains von Bodel (around 1200) with partly realistic and comical elements already approaches to secular drama. It is also the oldest French miracle game (a dramatized legend about the miraculous deeds of a saint). Other genres were the passion play, which emerged in the 13th century, and the mystery play, which has been handed down since the 14th century. Well-known authors were among others. the brothers Arnoul and Simon Gréban (»Passion…«, around 1450). These dramas were played and organized by guilds organized in “Puys” and “Confréries de la passion” or by associations such as the “Clercs de la basoche” (court officials) and scholars, including vagabonds. Adam de la Halle was one of the outstanding authors of secular, comedy-like games (“Le jeu de Robin et de Marion”, 1283).

14./15. Century – turning to the reality of life

With the economic and social rise of the urban bourgeoisie, forms of life deviating from aristocratic and courtly culture developed from the end of the 13th century and were represented in literary terms. The poetry of the late Middle Ages differed from courtly poetry in its (partly satirical) turn to reality and an accentuation of the sensual and the coarse sensual. The allegorical rose novel (“Roman de la Rose”), the (unfinished) first part between 1225 and 1240 by Guillaume de Lorrisand the second between 1275 and 1280 by J. de Meung was written. However, while Lorris’ Poetry was still committed to courtly ideals, Meung moved away from them decisively and gave space to a realistic, sensual conception of love.

The early urban lyricist Rutebeuf conveys a picture of his restless life with his feeling for the events of the time and his criticism of political and ecclesiastical grievances; at the same time, his poetry (for example in “Le miracle de Théophile”, around 1260; German “Das Mirakelspiel von Theophilus”) reveals a deep piety. Check to see more about France and other countries in the world.

Against the background of the social upheaval and the reorientation, especially in the 14th and 15th centuries, a didactic trait of literature was characteristic, and poetry, which was doctrinal in the narrower sense, took up a large space.

Forms of secular theater of this time were the farce, which provided vivid character drawings in its pictorial language and had realistic traits in the accuracy of observation (e.g. in “La farce de Maistre Pierre Pathelin”, written around 1465), and the sottie which made use of the biting, partly class and political satire, as well as the edifying morality, which exhibited religious and moralizing tendencies. Well-known sotties and morals were written by Fr Gringoire.

A turning point was also heralded in narrative poetry: the previous ideal of the high medieval knight only retained its role model in a kind of nostalgic retrospective (e.g. in “Petit Jehan de Saintré”, 1456, by Antoine de La Sale); a realistic and sometimes skeptical worldview increasingly displaced the idealizing representation, e.g. B. in “Cent nouvelles nouvelles” (around 1462; German “The 100 new novels”), a work that was also strongly satirical in color. The prose form that replaced the verse corresponded to the new, more realistic approach. In the poetry (even with formal imitation of the troubadour poetry) an overall bourgeoisisation was heralded: on the one hand in the partly guild-like care of poetry by Meistersinger, in which – as in the drama – also individual cities (including Arras) emerged, on the other hand through the meaning for reality, which was often given a critical satirical tinge, but also through an often very personal feeling and commitment. The lyrics of the combined a strict sense of form with a sometimes very personal tone Guillaume de Machaut (14th century), while E. Deschamps dealt with political, moral and philosophical topics in form-strict and partly confessional poems. Time issues are also reflectedin the poems of Christine de Pisan,who was trained by him, v. a. but she defended the worth of women. Other important poets during the Hundred Years’ War were A. Chartier and Charles d’Orléans, both directly involved in the political life of the time. A particularly popular lyric form was the ballad, which often had a didactic character. At the Burgundian court in the 15th century the poet group of the learned »rhetoriqueurs« formed (inter alia with J. Molinet and J. Lemaire de Belges), who endeavored to create an exemplary verse art and thereby oriented itself to ancient rhetoric and poetics. The dominant figure in French literature of the late Middle Ages was F. Villon, whose poems articulate secular and spiritual themes, joie de vivre, awareness of transience and fear of death in a new language with unsparing truthfulness from the perspective of the vagabond and bohemian (as in »Petit Testament«, written in 1456, and “Grand testament”, originated in 1461, German “The great testament”).

From the Beginning to the 15th Century Part II