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Machaut's motet 15 and the Roman de la rose: the literary context of Amours qui a le pouoir/Faus Samblant m'a deceü/Vidi Dominum*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 December 2008

Kevin Brownlee
University of Pennsylvania


Guillaume de Machaut's motet no. 15 is structured, from a literary point of view, around an opposition fundamental to the late medieval courtly tradition: that between two key personification characters, Amours and Faux Semblant. This opposition is introduced as the first words of the triplum (‘Amours qui a le pouoir’) are sung against those of the motetus (‘Faus Samblant m'a deceü’).

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1991

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1 In the case of the Rose, therefore, I am not positing a precise intertextual dependence of motet 15 on the Amours–Faux Semblant sequence in Jean de Meun's poem. I am, rather, viewing this sequence as a central determining factor for the way in which the subsequent mainstream tradition of courtly poetry in late medieval France conceived of the Amours–Faux Semblant relationship in terms of linguistic and behavioural conventions. The Rose's unique position of literary dominance vis-à-vis that tradition in general and Machaut's courtly œuvre in particular amply justify this view. See Poirion, D., Le poète et le prince: L'évolution du lyrisme courtois de Guillaume de Machaut à Charles d'Orléans (Paris, 1965)Google Scholar; Badel, P. -Y., Le ‘Roman de la rose’ an XIVe siècle: Etude de la réception de l'æuvre (Geneva, 1980)Google Scholar; Brownlee, K., Poetic Identity in Guillaume de Machaut (Madison, 1984)Google Scholar.

2 Quoted from Chichmaref, V., ed., Guillaume de Machaut: poésies lyriques, 2 vols. (Paris, 1909)Google Scholar, modified by Ludwig, F., ed., Guillaume de Machaut: Musikalische Werke, 4 vols. (Leipzig, 19261954). Translations are mineGoogle Scholar.

3 For an analysis of the semantic and formal interplay between the voices in another of Machaut's motets, see Wright, L., ‘Verbal Counterpoint in Machaut's Motet Trop plus est belle – Biaute paree de valour –Je ne sui mie’, Romance Studies, 7 (19851986), pp. 111CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 See the lucid presentation by Todorov, T. in his Mikhail Bakhtin: The Dialogical Principle, trans. Godzich, W. (Minneapolis, 1984), especially ch. 4, ‘Theory of the Utterance’, pp. 4159Google Scholar. See also Bakhtin, M. M., ‘Discourse in the Novel’, The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, trans. Emerson, C. and Holquist, M. (Austin, 1981), pp. 259422Google Scholar; and Carroll, D., ‘The Alterity of Discourse: Form, History, and the Question of the Political in M. M. Bakhtin’, Diacritics, 13/2 (1983), pp. 6583CrossRefGoogle Scholar. It should be added that Bakhtin's own views of literary history led him in large part to neglect medieval literature, which in fact provides a particularly fertile field for interpretative analysis from a Bakhtinian viewpoint. An excellent recent example is Segre, C., ‘What Bakhtin Left Unsaid: The Case for the Medieval Romance’, Romance: Generic Transformation from Chrétien de Troyes to Cervantes, ed. Brownlee, K. and Brownlee, M. S. (Hanover, NH, and London, 1985), pp. 2346Google Scholar.

5 See Bent, M., ‘The Late-Medieval Motet’, The Everyman Companion to Medieval and Renaissance Music, ed. Fallows, D. and Knighton, T. (forthcoming)Google Scholar.

6 See Polyphonic Poetry: The Old French Motet and its Literary Context’, French Forum, 14 (1989), pp. 261–78Google Scholar, where Huot analyses the role of generic and codicological context for the literary interpretation of thirteenth-century French motets.

7 See Brownlee, , Poetic Identity, pp. 1620Google Scholar.

8 Citations are from Langlois, E., ed., Le Roman de la rose par Guillaume de Lorris et Jean de Meun, 5 vols. (Paris, 19141924)Google Scholar.

9 For a detailed consideration, see Brownlee, K., ‘The Problem of Faux Semblant: Language, History and Truth in the Roman de la rose’, The New Medievalism, ed. Brownlee, K., Brownlee, M. S. and Nichols, S. (Baltimore, forthcoming)Google Scholar.

10 On the god of love's speech, see Uitti, K. D., ‘From Clerc to Poète: The Relevance of the Romance of the Rose to Machaut's World’, Machaut's World: Science and Art in the Fourteenth Century, ed. Cosman, M. P. and Chandler, B., Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 314 (1978), pp. 209–16CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

11 For an extremely useful treatment of appropriateness conditions and of the cooperative principle in the context of literary analysis see Pratt, M. L., Toward a Speech Act Theory of Literary Discourse (Bloomington, 1977), pp. 8191, 125–32, 214–23Google Scholar. See also Grice, H. P., ‘Logic and Conversation’, Syntax and Semantics, iii: Speech Acts, ed. Cole, P. and Morgan, J. L. (New York, 1975), pp. 4158Google Scholar.

12 Faux Semblant concludes with a somewhat paradoxical self-revelation (vv. 11219−22):

…En tele guise

Come il me plaist je me desguise.

Mout est en mei muez li vers,

Mout sont li fait aus diz divers.

(‘I disguise myself in whatever way pleases me. I'm not what I seem to be; my acts are very different from my words’.)

13 The primary focus is on the Gospels and St Paul (Luke 18: 20; 1 Cor. 11: 29; 2 Cor. 8: 9; and 1 Thess. 4: 11–12) as Faux Semblant interprets the New Testament to mean that begging was systematically prohibited for Christ and the Apostles.

14 In light of this kind of repeated interpretative ‘instability’ that is built into Faux Semblant's discourse at every level, it is fitting that he conclude by focusing explicitly on the truth status of his discourse in the context of this specific speech situation (vv. 11969–76):

Mais a vous n'ose je mentir;

Mais se je peüsse sentir

Que vous ne l'aperceüssiez,

La mençonge ou poing eüssiez;

Certainement je vous boulasse,

Ja pour pechié ne le laissasse;

Si vous pourrai je bien faillir

S'ous m'en deviez mal baillir.

(‘But to you I dare not lie. However, if I could feel that you would not recognise it, you would have a lie in hand. Certainly I would have tricked you, and I would never have held back on account of any sin. And I will indeed betray you even if you treat me badly for it’.)

15 Faux Semblant's precise words to the god of love at this juncture are particularly suggestive: ‘Metez vous en en aventure, / car, se pleges en requerez, / ja plus asseür n'en serez, / non veir sej'en baillaie ostages, / ou letres, ou tesmoinz, ou gages’ (vv. 11990−4); (‘Take your chances on it, for if you demand pledges, you will never be more sure, in fact, not even if I gave hostages, letters, witnesses, or security’).

16 The voice of the hypocritical friar (linked to the generic discourse of the fabliau and the Roman de Renart); the voice of the biblical exegete and moralising social critic (linked to the persona of Guillaume de Saint-Amour and, to a somewhat lesser degree, to the anti- courtly sub-genre of trouvère political satire as exemplified by Rutebeuf); the voice of the radical Joachite prophet (linked most specifically to the Evangile pardurable).

17 In order to account for this kind of complexity in a literary context which foregrounds and thematises the speech situation as such, a powerful interpretative tool is provcided by Oswald Ducrot's revisionist ‘theatrical’ model of a fundamentally ‘polyphonic’ speech act, as described in ‘Esquisse d'une théorie polyphonique de l'énonciation’, Le dire et le dit (Paris, 1984), pp. 171233Google Scholar.

18 Furthermore, when Amant finally enters the castle under the guidance of La Vieille, he finds Amours together with Faux Semblant and goes so far as to pray for the latter out of gratitude for his help in advancing Amant's love suit. False Seeming has been his essential ally (vv. 14748−52):

Si pri pour aus, vaille que vaille.

Seigneur, qui veaut traïtres estre,

Face de Faus Semblant son maistre,

E Contrainte Astenance preigne:

Doubles seit e simple se feigne.

(‘Therefore I pray for them [=False Seeming and his consort Constrained Abstinence], for whatever that is worth. My lords, he who wants to be a traitor should make False Seeming his master and take Constrained Abstinence He may then practise duplicity and pretend simplicity’.) It should also be noted, however, that Nature explicitly disapproves of Faux Semblant (vv. 19345−54), and excludes him (vv. 19355−9) from taking part in her ‘saluance’ (salvation v. 19357), her solution to Amant's problem, which is the mission on which she sends Genius. Nature's condemnation of Faux Semblant involves, nevertheless, an ambiguous affirmation of his close link to Amours (vv. 19360–8):

Bien les deüst Amours bouter

Hors de son ost, s'il li pleüst,

Se certainement ne seüst

Qu'il li fussent si necessaire

Qu'il ne peüst senz aus riens faire;

Mais s'il sont avocat pour eus

En la cause aus fins amoureus,

Don leur mal seient alegié,

Cet barat leur pardone gié.

(‘If Love had not known certainly that they [=False Seeming and Constrained Abstinence] were so necessary to him that he could do nothing without them, he should have shoved them out of his army if it pleased him. But if there are advocates to lessen their wickedness in the case for pure lovers, I pardon them their fraud’.)

At the moment of Genius's arrival on the scene before the castle, we learn that Faux Semblant ‘partiz s'en iert plus que le pas / des lors que la vieille fu prise / qui m'ouvri l'uis de la pourprise /… Il n'i vost onques plus atendre, / ainz s'en foï senz congié prendre’ (vv. 19446−8, 19451−2; ‘had left in a hurry as soon as the Old Woman was captured, the one who opened the door of the enclosure for me… He had not wanted to wait any longer, but had fled without asking leave’).

19 See Brownlee, , Poetic Identity, pp. 5463, 141–56Google Scholar.

20 See Un engin si soutil’: Guillaume de Machaut et l'écriture au XIVe siècle (Paris, 1985)Google Scholar, especially part 3: ‘Un monde en éclats ou la crise généralisée des signes’, pp. 157–200.

21 For Christine as critical reader of the Rose, see Brownlee, K., ‘Discourses of the Self: Christine de Pizan and the Romance of the Rose’, Romanic Review, 79 (1988), pp. 199221Google Scholar.

22 For an interesting consideration of the liturgical/biblical context of another of Machaut's motets (Fons totius superbie/O livoris feritas/Fera pessima), see Eggebrecht, H. H., ‘Machauts Motette Nr. 9’, Archiv für Musikwissenschaft, 19–20 (19621963), pp. 173–95, 281–93Google Scholar.

23 For the more general aspect of this phenomenon in motet composition, see Bent, who begins her discussion with the remark ‘Art further consisted in devising clever (and often cleverly concealed) symbolic relationships (both verbally allusive and numerically musical) between the tenor and the parts added to it’.

24 See Reaney, G., Guillaume de Machaut (London, 1971), p. 51Google Scholar.

25 Citations are from Biblia sacra iuxta Vulgatam Clementinam, ed. Colunga, A. and Turrado, L., 4th edn (Madrid, 1965)Google Scholar.

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