My free copy reached me in the post yesterday, which alerted me to the fact that this new volume on Machaut’s earliest collected works manuscript has just been published. What I wasn’t prepared for is quite how beautiful the book is: not only is there a lovely colour cover with a tournament scene from the Remede de Fortune, but the other illustrations inside the book (and there are lots of them!) are in colour too. Not only that, but the paper is heavy, and the whole thing has the sort of appearance (as a book) that makes it a fitting commentary on MS C (Paris, fr.1586), a luxury manuscript from the mid-fourteenth century.
While I know the price will be prohibitive for many, at only 85 EUR, this is a bargain for such a richly illustrated volume. And, as you’ll see from the table of contents, there are some great essays in here by prominent Machaut scholars in various disciplines. I haven’t yet read all of them (but will!), but I did read Anne Stone’s when the book was in press (and heard her give it as an amazingly compelling paper in Novacella in the summer of 2017) and I think it’s a really keen piece of deduction and reading that will make medievalists think more more about the relationship between making literary works and making books.
The jeu-parti is a lyric poem in which two individuals who usually name each other at the beginning of each stanza debate a ‘would you rather’-style question: would you rather see your lady naked from the waist up or from the waist down? would you rather have a husband who is great at jousting but is always away at tournaments or one who stays at home with you but is rubbish at a tourney? And so on. Some of the questions are racy, some silly, some fairly courtly, but the jeu-parti stages a medieval precursor of the rap battle for two poet-composers to thrash it out, complete with insults, ribbing, and boasting.
Less formally, the demande d’amour is, literally a Love Question, often similar to the sorts of dilemmas in the jeux-partis, but which is posed in prose and rather simpler in format. It clearly amused courtiers who wanted to play the game themselves rather than merely listen to two performers singing about it.
It has been assumed that the informal prose practice of Love Questions pre-dated the more formal practice of the jeu-parti, but the sources for the former are almost all later than the latter — with one exception: the Bodleian library manuscript Douce 308, which I’ve been working on for years now, has the oldest collection of Love Questions and some of the latest collections of jeux-partis. In this article, I examine what these can tell us about the relationship between these two kinds of courtly entertainment.
The lovely people at OUP have given me a link that I can post here on my blog which should take you to a free version of the text. The full reference is: