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Christine de Pizan is remarkable in many ways, not least as an author who produced an extraordinarily large volume of writing in a comparatively short period. Among these works are several allegories, some in verse and some in prose. Readers have tended to interpret Christine's movement from verse to prose allegory as simply a choice motivated by convenience or, somewhat more subtly, as an early manifestation of the complex and ornate prose style that would become ubiquitous in the later fifteenth century. This chapter argues that Christine's movement from verse to prose can fruitfully be understood in two complementary ways. First, it participates in an effort to integrate some of the rational and argumentative structures found in late-fourteenthcentury French translations of philosophical and scientific writings within the originally poetic forms of medieval allegory; and, second, it is in step with Christine's definition of ‘poesie’ as a form of allegorical language that can be expressed through prose as readily as through verse. I have argued elsewhere that Christine's allegory exhibits features that depart from earlier allegorical models, especially with regard to the use of personification. Her novel approach to allegory is perhaps nowhere so fully expressed, however, as with her redefinition of the mode as less a genre than a manner of expression. Christine innovatively constructs a notion of ‘poesie’ that establishes a range of texts – mythographic, historical, even scientific – as the object of allegorical exposition and as the source of hidden knowledge whose acquisition unites the interpretive community of perceptive readers.
Christine's first allegory, the Epistre Othea, combines verse and prose. This combination differs, however, from the prosimetrum form familiar from a number of allegories influential during the Middle Ages, including Boethius's De consolatione Philosophiae and Alain de Lille's De planctu Naturae: unlike these texts, in which the regular alternation of prose and verse reflects the dialogic interaction of narrator and personified interlocutor, the Epistre Othea features a four-part structure in which a short piece of verse is surrounded by an emblematic illustration and two distinct layers of prose commentary. This allegory differs substantially in form from Christine's subsequent works. The later works feature a linear narrative, in which Christine makes a journey or participates in the construction of a city, while the Epistre Othea is static and progress occurs only didactically, in the education of the reader.
Covering the period from the late thirteenth to the early sixteenth century, Poetry, Knowledge, and Community examines the role of poetry in French culture in transmitting and shaping knowledge. The volume reveals the interplay between poet, text, and audience, and explores the key dynamics of later medieval French poetry and of the communities in which it was produced. Essays in both English and French are organised into three inter-related sections, "Learned Poetry/ Poetry and Learning", "Poetry or Prose?", and "Poetic Communities", and address both canonical and less well-known French and Occitan verse literature, together with a wide range of complementary subject areas. The international cast of contributors to the volume includes many of the best-known scholars in the field: the introductory essay is by Jacqueline Cerquiglini-Toulet (Université de Paris IV, Sorbonne), and keynote essays are provided by David F. Hult (University of California, Berkeley), Michel Zink (Collège de France), and Nancy Freeman Regalado (New York University).
Edited by REBECCA DIXON (University of Manchester) and FINN E. SINCLAIR (University of Cambridge), with Adrian Armstrong (University of Manchester), Sylvia Huot (University of Cambridge), and Sarah Kay (University of Princeton).
CONTRIBUTORS: Suzanne Conklin Akbari, Mishtooni Bose, Jacqueline Cerquiglini-Toulet, Rebecca Dixon, Thelma Fenster, Denis Hüe, David Hult, Stephanie Kamath, Deborah McGrady, Amandine Mussou, Nancy Freeman Regalado, Jennifer Saltzstein, Finn E. Sinclair, Lori J. Walters, David Wrisley, Michel Zink