Life Imitating Art Imitating Life Imitating Art Imitating Life? – Part II by Uri Smilansky

A Peek at Machaut and Le Franc – Part II

Previously on the MALMECC blog: in the last post, I traced a few links between Guillaume de Machaut and Martin Le Franc and left some questions hanging as to how far they can be stretched. This is the focus of today’s instalment. My suggestion first involves a widening of the range of works to be compared, and then allowing the comparison to take a step beyond the world of literature. The work I have in mind is Machaut’s Remede de Fortune (early 1340s?). The comparison with Le Franc is not directly with any of his literary works, but with his retrospective fictionalization of the events surrounding the double presentation of his Champion, and the composition of the Complainte described in Part I. Instead of a literary space, Le Franc uses the Burgundian court to portray a real-life version of Machaut’s fictional model of courtly rejection, reinvention and eventual acceptance, with himself, his books and his literary creations acting as characters in the story. See what you think.

NY Morgan library and Museum MS M 396 fol 67v detail

The Remede is not an overtly biographical work, though its compositionally-minded and active first-person narrator invites a certain amount of conflation between character and at least an idealised author-figure. As a result, this work has been taken to attest to a number of extra-literary processes. These include the formation of, at a minimum, a professional relationship between Machaut and Bonne of Luxembourg (May, 20th, 1315-September, 11th, 1349), the supposed dedicatee of the work, conflating her with the character of the beloved (Wimsatt and Kibler, 1988); Machaut’s didactic relationship with the future Charles V as a child (Leo, 2013); and the literary reframing of a real-world, contemporaneous transition from old to new musical and poetic possibilities and conventions (Switten, 1989, Brownlee, 1991).


The narrative arc of the Remede is presented in a much-simplified version in the first column of the table below. Central events and structural points of change are highlighted within the narrative through lyric interpolation, with seven of the nine insertions sporting musical settings in the majority of surviving versions (and, notably, in the central group of sources close to Machaut’s person). These self-contained pieces work as a set, offering a single instance of each courtly genre of the day, and presented as moving simultaneously towards poetic simplification and musical innovation. The middle column of the table details their locations within the narratives, as well as giving some more detail of the events of the Remede. Finally, I have added a third column to the table, where the parallels between Machaut’s and Le Franc’s creations are mapped out. Beyond the transition from a literary space to that of the Burgundian court, this requires the substitution of Machaut’s literary protagonist, the amant, with Le Franc’s literary work, the Champion. Placing a literary creation as a character is, of course, problematic. Le Franc overcomes the problem of this (relative) fixity in two ingenious ways. First, the ventriloquizing of the Champion’s first presentation copy—now Brussels, KBR, MS 9466—within the Complainte permits it to acquire a narrative presence within the fictionalized proceedings. Second, the creation of a new, physically distinct version of the same text—now Paris, BnF fr. 12476—, visually differentiated through the integration of a new illumination programme and the Complainte, allows for the material performance of change without the text changing or losing its identity.


Narrative Structure Machaut Le Franc
Context: Remede de Fortune. Burgundian court c. 1442-51.
Protagonist: First-person narrator Champion des Dames / KBR MS 9466
Narrative initiated by a mistimed, misunderstood or rejected performance of a circulating artefact, 1st interpolation (lai) finding its way to the hands of the lady. Presentation of the Brussels manuscript at court.
resulting in a distancing from court and the melodramatic composition of an overlong complaint in pursuit of a scapegoat. ‘Escape’ from court to the garden of Hesdin, low-point and composition of 2nd interpolation (complainte). Complainte du livre du Champion des Dames a maistre Martin le Franc son acteur­­, detailing the sorry state of affairs and the shunning of the Brussels manuscript.
External figure offering a ‘remedy’ based on Boethian discourse, Lady Hope. [3rd and 4th interpolations, bridging a stylistic transition.] Martin Le Franc, appearing as a character in the Complainte.
leading to a reinvention of the protagonist and a successful reintroduction and acceptance into courtly society of both the originally performed work and its author. Remainder of the dit. [5th interpolation demonstrating reinvention, 6th and 7th interpolations respectively highlighting re-introduction to and acceptance into court.] Paris manuscript (with the addition of a new visual programme), and its re-presentation to the same court and patron.


So far so good? In the next instalment (only two weeks away), I shall offer a few more thoughts concerning how these parallels were brought to the fore, and what purpose they may have had.


Selected further reading:

R. Barton Palmer with Domenic Leo and Uri Smilansky, The Boethian Poems, in R. Barton Palmer and Yolanda Plumley (eds), Guillaume de Machaut: The Complete Poetry & Music, volume II (TEAMS, Medieval Institute Publications: Michigan, 2019).

James I. Wimsatt and William W. Kibler (eds) with Rebecca A. Baltzer (music ed.), ‘Le Jugement dou roy de Behaigne’ and ‘Remède de Fortune’ by Guillaume de Machaut (University of Georgia Press, 1988).

Domenic Leo, ‘The Pucellian School and the Rise of Naturalism: Style as Royal Signifier?’, in Kyunghee Pyun and Anna D. Russakoff (eds), Jean Pucelle: Innovation and collaboration in manuscript painting (London, 2013), pp. 149-170.

Kevin Brownlee, ‘Guillaume de Machaut’s Remede de Fortune: The Lyric Anthology as Narrative Progression’, in Doranne Fenoaltea and David Lee Rubin (eds), The Lader of High Design: Structure and Interpretation of the French Lyric Sequence (University Press of Virgina, 1991), pp. 1-25.

Margaret Switten, ‘Guillaume de Machaut: Le Remède de Fortune au Carrefour d’un Art Nouveau’, Cahiers de l’Association Internationale des Études Françaises 41 (1989), pp. 101–116.

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