Guillaume de Machaut, The Debate Series: Introduction

Introduction: Footnotes

1 This biographical sketch details Machaut’s relationship with the two patrons who figure in the interconnected works of the debate series, Charles of Navarre and Jean of Bohemia. The biographical sketches in other volumes of this edition, as appropriate, will emphasize Machaut’s relationships with his other principle patrons, John of Berry and King Peter I of Cyprus. Furthermore, we here assess Machaut’s artistic achievement primarily with reference to his literary works; more detailed discussion of his considerable contributions to the development of music in the fourteenth century can be found in the biographical sketches in the volumes of this edition devoted to his musical texts.

2 Queux de St. Hilaire and Raynaud, eds., Eustache Deschamps, I.246, ballade 127. All translations in this volume are mine unless otherwise noted.

3 Queux de St. Hilairie and Raynaud, eds., Eustache Deschamps, III.259. The text in question is ballade 447, which reads, referring to Machaut, “Qui m’a nourry et fait maintes douçours” (line 5).

4 Leach, Secretary, Poet, Musician, p. 2.

5 For details see Poirion, Le poète et le prince.

6 See Volume 3 of Guillaume de Machaut: The Complete Poetry and Music.

7 See lines 3083–86 of the Confort, in Volume 2 of Guillaume de Machaut: The Complete Poetry and Music.

8 Gauvard, “Portrait du prince,” p. 26; see Poirion, Le poète et le prince, p. 196, for a similar view.

9 Prise d’Alexandrie, line 769. See Volume 6 of Guillaume de Machaut: The Complete Poetry and Music.

10 See Plaisse, Charles, dit le mauvais, for further details.

11 Quoted in Plaisse, Charles, dit le mauvais, p. 17.

12 This account is based on Plaisse, Charles, dit le mauvais; Bordonove, Jean le Bon et son temps; Cazelles, Société Politique; Deviosse, Jean le Bon; and Quillet, Charles V.

13 Quoted in Plaisse, Charles, dit le mauvais, pp. 61–62.

14 For the original texts of the letters to Edward, see Plaisse, Charles, dit le mauvais, pp. 62–63.

15 Quoted in part in Jean de Venette, Chronicle, pp. 226–27.

16 Jean de Venette, Chronicle, p. 69.

17 See Cazelles, Etienne Marcel, for details of Marcel’s revolt.

18 Quoted in Plaisse, Charles, dit le mauvais, pp. 78–79.

19 See Chailley, “Du cheval de Guillaume de Machaut,” for further detailed discussion of this stage in Machaut’s career.

20 Bakhtin, Dialogic Imagination, p. 11.

21 Bakhtin, Dialogic Imagination, p. 49.

22 For more on the “post-modern” Machaut, see Palmer, “Transtextuality and the Producing-I.”

23 See Calin, Poet at the Fountain.

24 For discussion and texts, see Oulmont, Débats.

25 See Spearing, Medieval Autographies, for further discussion of this issue.

26 See Volume 3 of Guillaume de Machaut: The Complete Poetry and Music.

27 For an intelligent discussion of the tradition behind Machaut’s allegory here see Ehrhart, “Medieval Treatments of the Virtues.”

28 The full list of manuscripts and shelf marks can be found in the Textual Notes on p. 369. N.b., Manuscripts F and G are part of a two-volume set of the complete works.

29 Eagleton, Criticism and Ideology, p. 48.

30 Brownlee, Poetic Identity, p. 15.

31 Brownlee, Poetic Identity, p. 11.

32 See Calin, Poet at the Fountain.

33 See essays in Plumley, Di Bacco, and Jossa, eds, Citation, Intertextuality, and Memory.

34 See Volume 2 of Guillaume de Machaut: The Complete Poetry and Music.

35 See Hœpffner, I: pp. xliv–lii for an elaborate and persuasive demonstration of this view.

36 See Volume 5 of Guillaume de Machaut: The Complete Poetry and Music.

37 See Williams, “Author’s Role,” for a full discussion of this issue.

38 See Keitel, “Musical Manuscripts” and Kibler and Wimsatt, eds, “Machaut’s Text.”

39 See Earp, A Guide to Research, for full details.

40 Hœpffner, I:1.

41 See Leo’s “An Art Historical Overview” in the following section for further discussion of this important point.

42 Machaut’s versification is discussed fully in the introduction to Volume 7: The Lyrics I of Guillaume de Machaut: The Complete Poetry and Music.

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Guillaume de Machaut, The Debate Series: Introduction


After delivering a manuscript containing the works of Guillaume de Machaut to Count Louis de Male of Flanders, Eustache Deschamps dedicated a pair of ballades to his master in which he declares:
Dont vous estes honouriez haultement
Car tous vos faiz moult honourablement
Chascuns reçoit en maint païs estrange
Les grans seigneurs, Guillaume, vous ont chier,
En voz choses prannent esbatement.
And so you are highly honored
For all your works quite honorably
Are received by everyone in many a foreign land
Guillaume, the great lords hold you dear
And take pleasure in what you write.2
Deschamps observes further that Machaut “nourished” him and “paid him many kindnesses.”3 So perhaps we should consider his opinion of the older poet’s reputation somewhat inflated by gratitude and personal admiration (we might add family obligation since Machaut was also Deschamps’ uncle). And yet Deschamps is hardly the only contemporary writer to offer so favorable an opinion of Machaut’s artistic accomplishments and their reception. Martin le Franc terms him a grand rhetorician, while Achille Caulier praises him as a renowned poet, according Machaut a place in his Ospital d’amour (Love’s Hospital) alongside Alain Chartier, Boccaccio, and Petrarch in his pantheon of vernacular authors. We may safely conclude from such evidence that Guillaume de Machaut was one of the most famous and influential poets of fourteenth-century France.

Machaut’s reputation rested on his production of an immense and varied corpus of works, many of which were composed for, and in honor of, the several grand nobles with whose courts he was at various times associated. As a musician, he wrote more than twenty motets and a polyphonic setting of the mass, the virtuosity and innovations of which have made him one of the most important figures of medieval music. As Elizabeth Eva Leach puts it, “what does differentiate Machaut from his contemporaries . . . is the central role of music within his literary output.”4 Of musical as well as literary interest is his extensive body of lyric poems in various fixed forms such as the ballade and the virelay. In fact, Machaut was largely responsible for the continuing fashion of this type of poetry.5 A central aspect of Machaut’s achievement is that he provided musical settings for many of these lyrics using recently developed forms of notation. Finally, following in the tradition of thirteenth-century love vision poetry, especially the Romance of the Rose, Machaut composed ten long narrative and didactic poems (dits amoureux or “love poems” as well as others with philosophical/religious or historical themes) and four shorter ones (which are all concerned with love). These poems, partly because of their love motifs and partly through what appears to be contemporary allusions, greatly pleased the noble audiences for whom they were originally intended. The considerable number of surviving manuscripts, some beautifully illuminated, testifies eloquently to this popularity. His dits exerted a substantial influence on other contemporary writers and some of the generation to follow, especially Deschamps, Oton de Granson, Jean Froissart, Christine de Pizan, and John Gower. And Geoffrey Chaucer’s poetry evidences a close and reverent reading of narrative works by the French master. Machaut’s dits include Le Jugement dou roy de Behaingne (Judgment of the King of Bohemia) and its sequel, Le Jugement dou roy de Navarre (Judgment of the King of Navarre), which constitute what is commonly referred to as his debate series. A third text, the Lay de Plour (Lay of Weeping), which is not narrative but lyric in form and set to music, is linked textually to the two debate poems and is thus included in this edition.

Because he was a low-born cleric (even though he was to become a servant of the noble and famous) little is known about Machaut’s life beyond what is preserved in a few ecclesiastical documents and the poet’s own works, which contain a fair number of biographical indications, though these are not always reliable. From documents which detail his appointment to different benefices, it can be inferred that Machaut was born at the beginning of the fourteenth century, probably in the village of Machault in Champagne. Since the same documents fail to accord him any of the titles which would indicate noble birth, we may assume he was not well born. This social status is consistent with the self-portrait that emerges from the poetry in which Machaut often makes his diegetic alter ego a humble or even cowardly clerk who moves uncertainly among his betters, the butt of mild class humor. The following passage from his Fonteinne amoureuse (Fountain of Love) is especially revealing:
Et comment que je soie clers
Rudes, nices, et malapers,
S’ay je esté par mes .ii. fois
En tele place aucune fois
Avec le bon Roy de Behaingne,
Dont Dieus ait l’ame en sa compaigne,
Que maugré mien hantis estoie
Car il n’i avoit lieu ne voie,
Ne destour ou fuïr sceüsse,
Si couvenoit que hardis fusse.
And though I might be a clerk
Who is ignorant, incapable, and inept,
Yet I’ve been, by my two faiths,
In such a place several times
With the good King of Bohemia,
And may God keep his soul among His company,
And despite myself I was brave
Since there was no place, no path,
No byway where I knew to flee
And thus I had to be courageous.
(lines 139–48)6
A similar passage occurs in the Navarre. Here a poet named Guillaume de Machaut encounters a beautiful and distinguished lady while hunting rabbits. Starting to dismount, Guillaume is dissuaded from such an unmannerly act of obeisance by the lady herself. Returning her greeting, the poet confides to his readers that he has learned well how to honor those of such higher station than himself (lines 739–59).

Various documents refer to Machaut as “master.” This might mean that after an early education, quite probably in the cathedral school at Reims, Machaut pursued theological studies at a university, likely Paris, finishing with the grade of magister. But it also might mean nothing at all, for such a title is a common honorific. Machaut, however, did not go on to take holy orders, it can be assumed, since he is nowhere referred to as a priest and only served in offices like the canonicate which were open to those outside the priesthood. Most university students left after taking the master’s degree to begin a career in secular or religious administration. Having secured a patron or a benefice, they might then return to the university to finish studies for the doctorate degree.

Through circumstances no longer known, Machaut became associated, while in his early twenties, with one of the most notable grand nobles of the era, Jean de Luxembourg, the king of Bohemia. It may have been that Machaut came to Jean’s notice during one of the latter’s sojourns in northern France; Jean had frequent dealings with the archbishop of Reims, a see with which Machaut may have been associated at an early age, and the archbishop perhaps effected an introduction. To the modern historian, Jean appears an extravagant and perhaps unstable figure. To his contemporaries, however, the king’s fabled prodigality, the restlessness with which he sought to expand and consolidate the lands under his rule, and his reputed social finesse made him the very type of ideal ruler that would appeal to Machaut. In Le Confort d’ami (Comfort for a Friend) and other narrative works, Machaut speaks of Jean with the highest respect and reverence. Machaut also describes his experiences as Jean’s secretary and chaplain. These include a sojourn at the castle of Burglitz (1323), a series of military expeditions through Poland, Russia, and Lithuania (1329), Jean’s invasion of northern Italy (1330–31), and his involvement in Austrian affairs (1331). Ecclesiastical documents suggest that Machaut remained in Jean’s service until the king’s heroic death (he was led blind into the battle to fight) at Crécy in 1346.

Although he was so willing to provide information about his early association with Jean, Machaut offers few indications about any experiences with the king after 1331. This may mean two things. During the last fifteen years or so of his life, Jean’s fortunes notably declined. Machaut does not mention the king’s second marriage to the French princess Beatrice of Bourbon (1334); the loss of an eye (1337) and the king’s desperate, often revengeful attempts to restore it; finally his complete loss of sight in 1339 and stubborn refusal to withdraw from a restless and active public life. Nor does Machaut recount military activities in the east, especially Jean’s continuing difficulty in Bohemia (which culminated in the somewhat scandalous pillage of the synagogue in Prague) and renewed hostilities in Austria, where his victories were marred once again by questionable looting of a holy place. Machaut’s silence may be a polite way of dealing with Jean’s private sorrow and public troubles. After a long and effusive homage to Jean in the Confort, Machaut declares that he will not provide more details about his doings “on the other side of the Rhine,” but that no one faults him.7 Or his reticence may simply mean that he was no longer a member of Jean’s entourage and so could not testify directly about what happened.

During his association with Jean, Machaut established a reputation as a writer with musical and, especially, poetical works. Evidence suggests that three of his longer dits were certainly composed and circulated prior to 1342: Le dit dou vergier (The Poem About the Orchard), the Behaingne, and Remede de fortune (Fortune’s Remedy). It was their success that enabled Machaut to acquire other noble patrons after Jean’s death.

Following Crécy, Guillaume must have found himself in a secure but unpromising position. Jean had secured him an appointment as a canon at Reims cathedral, but he apparently did not take up residence there until much later in life. In time, Machaut was provided with other ecclesiastical benefices, but these did not allow him to live in the rich state to which he had become accustomed while serving the King of Bohemia. But in the highest social circles of fourteenth-century France a noted poet was a highly desirable acquisition; Machaut did not spend much time without appropriate benefactors. As Claude Gauvard has said, “le véritable client est alors moins le poète que le prince” [the true client then was less the poet than the prince].8 Perhaps surprisingly Machaut did not enter the service of Jean’s heir and son, Charles, newly crowned emperor of Germany. Toward the end of his career, however, Machaut did dedicate the long crusading chronicle La Prise d’Alexandrie (The Taking of Alexandria) to him; this indicates that their relations must have been cordial at the least. And in this same work he mentions that he “performed much service for”9 Charles’ sister Bonne (Gutha), who had been married in 1332 to Jean, son of Philip VI, soon to become the next Valois king of France. It is likely that this means he was associated with the provincial court of Jean and Bonne in Normandy. Whether he served the duchess as he had her father (that is, as secretary and resident poet) is not known, but, significantly, he composed no dits (or at least none that survive) in her honor, that is, in which she would figure honorifically as a character, unless Lady Bonneürté in the Navarre is based on her. In any case, the association with Bonne was short-lived since she died on 11 September 1349, presumably of the plague which at that time was sweeping across northern France.

The opening of the Navarre tells us much of Machaut’s activities at the time. Possibly resident in the kingdom of Navarre, Machaut recounts his melancholic reactions to the outbreak of the disease, foretold by astrological and political signs. Having made a good confession, the poet closes himself up inside his house and stops going to town (a move that may well have saved his life). He describes the various events that attended the attack of the disease: the persecution of the Jews, the appearance of wandering troops of flagellants, the mass burials of victims, the depopulation of the countryside, and desperate economic hardship. The disease at an end, Guillaume finds himself re-entering an unnamed but festive city, tired of burying its dead. The remainder of this work is fictive, a love debate that continues, in a complicated fashion, the one begun a number of years earlier in the Behaingne.


Significantly, the patron who figures in the second judgment poem is Charles, the nineteen-year-old newly crowned king of Navarre (the official coronation took place in Pamplona on 27 June 1350). Charles was the eldest son of Jeanne, queen of Navarre (who had inherited the kingdom from her parents), and Philip, count of Évreux. Though chroniclers at the time and modern historians usually refer to Charles as the king of Navarre (the customary epithet “the Bad” was given him by a Spanish writer in the century following his death), this interesting and complex person, whose career became so connected to the important political developments of the age, was thoroughly French in culture and interests. He may more profitably be considered as count of Évreux and the investee of other properties, especially in the north of France, one of the great feudal vassals of the kingdom rather than a foreign potentate.10

How did Machaut meet Charles? Most likely in Normandy or in Paris, where Charles spent most of his early life. Jeanne was the daughter of Louis X of France and thus passed to Charles, through the female line, a direct connection to the royal house. Charles’ younger brothers were Philip and Louis, also prominent French noblemen, while his sister Blanche was married to Philip VI of France. The family’s relation to the Valois was made closer by the fact that young Charles himself was married to Jeanne, daughter of the soon-to-be Jean II, King of France; this was a marriage initiated and promoted by Jean, who apparently desired better ties with his cousin. Having a claim on the throne perhaps as good as that of the Valois, Charles inevitably attempted to press the merits of his case or, at least, increase his domains at the expense of his more fortunate rivals. He was aided in this by what, contemporary accounts suggest, were an engaging personality, a goodly amount of learning, and substantial cunning. In a history of his rival, Charles V, a contemporary chronicler characterizes the king of Navarre thus:
C’estoit un petit homme, mais plein d’esprit et de feu . . . d’un oeil vif et d’une éloquence qui persuadoit tout ce qu’il vouloit, et avec cela si affable et si populaire, que, possédant en perfection l’addresse de se faire aymer tout autrement que les autres princes, il luy fut facile de gagner les esprits du peuple, et mesmes d’attirer à soy, et de débaucher plusieurs personnes considérables, de l’obéissance et de la fidelité qu’elles devoient au roi.

[he was a little man, but full of spirit and fire . . . with a lively eye and an eloquence which persuaded everyone he wished to persuade, and in addition he was so affable and friendly that, possessing the ability to make himself more loved than any other prince, he found it easy to gain the hearts of the people, drawing them to his side, even corrupting several important nobles in the loyalty and devotion they owed to the king.]11
The difficulties between the Valois and their English cousins, also claimants to the throne of France, provided Charles with an opportunity to maneuver; his possessions in Normandy and Navarre, though eventually quite substantial, could not support a direct confrontation with his father-in-law, and yet these same possessions were, for obvious geographical reasons, of great strategic importance.

In order to understand Machaut’s relationship to Charles of Navarre, which endured more than a decade and prompted the composition of the Confort we must at this point examine in some detail the events of the late 1350s in which patron and, to a lesser extent, poet both became embroiled.12

The first dispute between Jean and his Navarrese son-in-law arose in 1354 over the king’s gift of the county of Angoulême to Charles, constable of France, a man, also of royal blood, who had been given the office held by Raoul of Brienne, recently executed by Jean as a traitor. Charles of Spain, cadet son of the royal house of Castille, was one of Jean’s favorites, perhaps his lover as well (the rumor of a homosexual liaison was spread by Charles of Navarre, even to the Pope at Avignon, but Jean never answered the charge). As Charles of Navarre reckoned, the county of Angoulême belonged to him. By right his mother should have inherited the counties of Champagne and Brie (territories which her grandmother had brought to the crown in marrying Philip the Fair). When a minor, she had been tricked by her guardian and Philip VI of Valois into renouncing her claim to these counties in return for those of Angoulême and Mortain, as well as for fixed rents to be drawn on the royal treasury. The Valois had never permitted Jeanne possession of Angoulême or paid the compensation, and when Charles of Navarre became Jean II’s son-in-law, he pressed this family claim strongly. Moreover, he was at the time promised a huge dowry in cash that was not paid.

Continually refused by Jean what he fairly considered his due, Charles was enraged to see the county of Angoulême pass to Charles of Spain as the result of what he could only understand as a deliberate affront to his personal honor. When Charles of Spain passed through Alençon on the night of 8 January 1354 (foolishly approaching the Navarrese stronghold of Évreux with no escort), he was waylaid at a local inn by Philip of Navarre and several of the king’s cronies, including the count of Harcourt, the seigneur de Graville, a knight named Maubue, and the squire Colin Doublet. As he would later publicly acknowledge, Charles of Navarre gave the order for the assassination. In bed, stripped of his arms, and begging for mercy, Charles of Spain was cut down without pity. With his typical taste for the spectacular and gory, Froissart states:
Lors le Bascon de Mareul et Radigo et quatre servans occistrent le dit Charles d’Espaingne connestable de France. Et l’occist de sa main et de son espée le dit Bascon de Mareul. Car il lui lança et bouta tout oultre parmi le corps ; et tant engoisseusement, villainnement et abhominablement l’apareillerent qu’ilz lui firent quatre vingt plaies.

[then Bascon de Mareul and Radigo and four other squires killed the aforementioned Charles of Spain, the constable of France. Bascon de Mareul killed him with the sword in his hand. For he pierced and stuck him right through the body, and they did it so that he suffered great pain, was villainously and abominably treated, having eighty wounds.]13
Jean’s reaction was a predictable rage and desire for vengeance. But Charles of Navarre had powerful allies at court, especially his aunt and sister, at that time the widows of Philip VI and Charles IV, who pleaded his case with Jean. There were even a good number of the king’s council, ecclesiastics and nobles alike from the north of France, who sympathized with Charles of Navarre and what they viewed as his legitimate struggle against the crown. Many thought that the count of Évreux had acted only to restore his injured honor; Machaut apparently agreed, for, reviewing Charles’ career in the Confort, he more than once affirms that his patron never did anything to merit the punishment he was then suffering (see especially lines 15–18 and 1832–35). Charles also arranged for the pope and other influential members of the Church to intervene, accomplishing this in what was then a novel way: by the writing of persuasive letters of explanation. Perhaps most effective, however, was the fact that Charles of Navarre sought aid, once again by elegantly written letters from his English cousin Edward III and the king’s lieutenant, Henry of Lancaster.14

Fearing a coalition between England and Navarre (and a secure Norman base for operations against northern France), Jean allowed himself to be reconciled with Charles through the intercession of the Cardinal of Boulogne. As it turns out, the cardinal was an important member of what French historians term the Navarrese party at court and a vital source of information for Charles. Jean’s political situation permitted no other course. Though submitting to his father-in-law, Charles was forced to give nothing, not even a public apology for his “crime.” However he received the better part of the Cotentin, a territory then in dispute which made his Norman holdings even more strategically substantial and, as far as the Valois were concerned, more threatening. The Treaty of Mantes (signed in March 1354) established a temporary peace between the two rivals. Jean was at the time very much occupied with the English peace negotiations which, had he accepted the proposed final settlement, would have resulted in Edward III’s taking possession of most of France. Reneging on the Treaty of Mantes (after some provocation), Jean was forced once more to deal with Charles of Navarre who, in 1355, was in the Cotentin and planning a voyage to England, where he was to resume his own negotiations. Jean appeased his son-in-law with the Treaty of Valognes (signed at an impressive ceremony of reconciliation on 10 September 1355). Once again Charles profited at the expense of his father-in-law and the latter’s continuing fear of an Anglo-Norman alliance. He demanded and received the payment of his wife’s dowry and even claimed financial compensation for the expenses incurred in raising an army (which was supposed to join an expeditionary force led by Edward III of England debarking at Cherbourg) to fight his sovereign.

The confrontation increased the popularity of Charles among the nobles of northern France, especially Normandy, a duchy which, for a number of reasons, was having its own difficulties with the king. It was during this sojourn in Normandy that Charles probably had the idea of plotting with the dauphin, Charles, recently put in charge, but not created duke, of Normandy (Charles, quite probably, convinced his impressionable younger cousin that his father was not going to give him his due). In October 1355, Jean was faced once again with the landing of an English army, but the campaign was short-lived and resulted in no significant gains for either side. He felt, perhaps, that with a lull in the war the time had come to deal decisively with Charles of Navarre. The details of a plot between his son and Charles of Navarre probably came to the attention of the king about this time; Jean had an excellent network of spies. As Friquet de Fricamps, one of Charles of Navarre’s lieutenants, was to reveal much later under torture, the dauphin was encouraged by his cousin to ask in person for armed help from the emperor to save the kingdom from his father’s misrule. Having raised a substantial force, Charles was then to return to join armies with the king of Navarre in order to capture and do away with his father.

Jean soon saw a perfect opportunity to defeat this conspiracy; the majority of Norman nobles had assembled in early April 1356 at Rouen to do homage to Charles and discuss issues of state, especially new taxes. With a substantial party of armed men, Jean surprised the convocation at the castle of Rouen on 5 April 1356, entering unnoticed through a back gate. Jean immediately had Charles of Navarre taken into custody. He dealt more severely with the noblemen in his retinue who had been involved in the killing of the constable of Spain. Harcourt, de Graville, Maubue, and Doublet were put into a cart to be transported to the gibbet, but, apparently fearing some trouble from the townspeople among whom Harcourt was especially popular, Jean ordered them unloaded halfway there and beheaded in the presence of his by then presumably quite terrified son Charles. Their bodies and heads were dragged in chains and installed on the city gibbet. Put in the personal custody of Arnoul d’Audrehem, the marshal of France, Charles of Navarre was taken to a number of prisons. First he was transported to the Château-Gaillard, then to the Louvre, then to the Châtelet (near Cambrai), and finally to Arleux-en-Palluel (near Douai). Contemporary accounts, based largely on what Charles was to reveal upon his release, confirm what Machaut hints at in Confort, namely that the king of Navarre was often harshly treated, in effect tortured during his captivity. Charles was not to gain his release until a year and slightly more than seven months had passed (8 November 1357).

For about six weeks Philip of Navarre tried to persuade Jean to let his brother go, but his efforts, and those of Charles’ other friends and relations at court, were in vain. As a result, the Navarrese in Normandy made common cause with the English against Jean during the summer campaign of that year. But this fighting was soon to seem insignificant when at the beginning of autumn an English raiding party led by Henry of Lancaster made an attempt to link up with the forces of the Black Prince, who had invaded Poitou. Raising a huge army, Jean pursued the latter and in a remarkable and famous turnabout was defeated at Poitiers on 17 September. This was an event that Charles of Navarre, languishing in prison, might have regarded with some good humor, for the king who had put him in chains was himself made a prisoner (though in much less uncomfortable circumstances).

The absence of Jean and widespread dissatisfaction at the dauphin’s initial lack of strong leadership probably contributed to the climate, long favorable to Charles of Navarre, which led to his eventual release. Somewhat inexplicably, Jean never publicized his reasons for arresting Charles, a fact to which Machaut himself refers in the Confort (see lines 1805–06); this contributed to the feeling, shared by the poet and many others, that the arrest was a miscarriage of justice that would be corrected by proper legal procedure (see the Confort lines 1815–24). Already at the meeting of the Estates General during October 1356, a call had been made for Charles’ freedom, among other changes demanded by a party interested in the reform of the royal government (the session was eventually prorogued by the dauphin). It is interesting to note that Machaut demonstrates a good deal of sympathy for and agreement with the cause of reformation, although the Confort, to our knowledge, constitutes the poet’s only public action in its support. One of the most prominent among the reformers was Jean de Picquigny, who was governor of Artois. At about the very time Machaut was composing a poetic consolation for his imprisoned patron, Jean de Picquigny and other Picard nobles plotted and successfully executed Charles’ deliverance from Arleux-en-Palluel; chroniclers disagree about the details of the escape, so we cannot be sure how it happened. There are hints in the Confort that he knew something of these plans; for after nearly eighteen months of captivity he decided to compose a political/moral work for Charles that was in many ways quite optimistic about his benefactor’s eventual deliverance (see the Confort lines 1825–29, which even mention that the king has friends working hard for his release).

Rescued from his cell (perhaps by means of ladders and the connivance, forced or otherwise, of his jailers), Charles immediately began a political campaign to win support in what was, largely, a leaderless France. It is not clear, however, if he intended to take the throne or simply increase his own holdings during a period of crisis. Charles wrote sympathetic and thankful letters to authorities at Arras, letting them know that he did not hold the people of France responsible for his misfortune; he wrote the count of Savoy with similar intent. These documents, which have survived,15 reveal a resourceful and resilient man eager to take advantage of the opportunities now available to him. Proceeding to Amiens, he received shelter from the respected canon Guy Quiéret; at Amiens he made a persuasive speech detailing his claims not only to Champagne and Brie, but also those to the throne of France, though he did not call for the deposition of Jean. Charles went on to Paris, where discontent with the dauphin was already in the air and he could count on enthusiastic support from an influential bourgeoisie. There he graciously accepted the hospitality of the monks at Saint-Germain-des-Prés; according to Jean de Venette, a contemporary chronicler:
He watched for an opportunity, and when a large number of people had been summoned and had gathered in the Pré-aux-Clercs (the ditches round the monastery had not yet been dug), he stood upon the walls and began to preach to the people in a loud voice. Taking as his text these words in very good Latin, ‘Because our Lord is just and hath loved justice, his countenance hath seen equity,’ he expounded them to suit his purpose.16
We do not know what part Machaut may have played in Charles’ campaign to win popular acceptance or support, but the fact that the king attempted in part to do so through scholarly/clerical methods is suggestive. Charles, however, was very well educated and loved learning, so he perhaps proceeded without support from the poet (who, it must be added, continued in his loyalty to the king as well; see the praiseworthy references to Jean’s feats of battle at Poitiers in lines 2795–2818 of the Confort). Restored to a peace with the dauphin through the intercession of queen Jeanne and queen Blanche, his long-time allies, Charles staged an elaborate burial of the bodies of his executed friends, still hanging on the gibbet at Rouen; this took place on 10 January 1358. The dauphin had promised Charles the return of all his Norman holdings, but when he found it difficult to regain them, Charles broke the peace. Intriguing with Étienne Marcel, the leader of the merchants of Paris, who was himself organizing a formidable opposition to royal power, Charles made an attempt to secure a position in the capital, at that time unfriendly to the dauphin. This alliance likely lost him the support of many nobles and ecclesiastics. In any case, an unusual chain of circumstances, too complex to be detailed here, led to both Marcel’s death and the defeat of Charles’ hopes.17

Hindsight suggests that Charles quite probably could have seized the throne had he either the nerve or desire in the summer of 1358. But was this indeed his intention? Among other modern historians Raymond Cazelles suggests not: though he certainly thought about becoming king of France, Charles possessed two clearer and not necessarily connected aims:
profiter des embarras des Valois pour s’agrandir et s’enrichir . . . [et] il n’y aucun raison pour que le roi de France abandonne une partie de son royaume au roi d’Angleterre alors que lui-même estime avoir plus de droits qu’Edouard III” [to profit from Valois troubles and thus enrich and elevate himself . . . and there was no reason for the king of France to abandon half his kingdom to the king of England when he himself thought it by rights should be his own and not Edward III’s].18
Allied with the English, Charles made war upon France, even in 1359 blockading the city of Paris by closing navigation off on the Seine in both directions. Stymied by the dauphin, Charles was once more forced to make peace. Throughout most of the next decade, Charles of Navarre remained an annoying but ultimately rather harmless enemy of his Valois cousins. He was able to continue and in some ways succeed in the position of leadership and responsibility that Machaut prepares him for with conventional wisdom and advice in the Confort. But he never became the royal leader around whom the somewhat inchoate cause of reform could organize itself. Defeated decisively by royal forces at the battle of Cocherel in 1364, Charles’ fortunes began to decline precipitously in the late 1370s. In 1378, Charles suffered the confiscation of all his territories in France. Reduced to his Spanish possessions, he died in Pamplona on 1 January 1387, according to Froissart of a sudden illness brought on by a night of debauchery with a very young and beautiful girl. If this is true, it was a somewhat fitting end for a man whom Machaut characterizes in the Navarre as an enthusiast of the game of love.

After the Confort, Machaut never mentions Charles of Navarre again in any of his narrative poems, even though ecclesiastical documents and other evidence suggest that he remained associated with the king in some capacity for a number of years after his release. Machaut’s career during this period demonstrates that the contractual relationship of patron and prince was flexible. Still attached to the king of Navarre, Machaut also became associated with a nobleman who, at least politically, would have been Charles’ mortal enemy: Jean, the Duke of Berry, his brother-in-law and cousin. During the winter of 1359–60, Machaut lived through the siege laid to the city of Reims by the English and was even required, despite his age, to do some military service. In the spring of 1360 the French were required by the treaty of Brétigny to supply hostages in return for the release of the imprisoned king Jean (whose huge ransom his subjects were having difficulty raising). One of these was Berry, a man who, like Charles of Navarre, loved learning and the arts. Apparently in his service, Machaut wrote a consolation intended to comfort him, just as he had done for the king of Navarre. The Fonteinne amoureuse, however, offers a traditional love poem instead of advice and instructive exempla. Le Livre dou Voir Dit (The Book of the True Poem), written about the same time, hints that Machaut enjoyed patronage from yet another grand nobleman, Charles, duke of Normandy.19

In his later years Machaut, serving as canon, must have participated in a number of important public events, including the coronation of Charles V on 19 May 1364, in Reims. Among Charles’ entourage was Pierre of Lusignan, the famous knight (he must have reminded Machaut of his beloved Jean of Bohemia), a man whose chivalric accomplishments the poet was later to chronicle in his Prise. During this time Machaut was probably more or less permanently resident at Reims, suffering from the afflictions (a cataract and the gout) he mentions in the Voir Dit. The records of the canonial chapter reveal that he died in April of 1377 and was interred alongside his brother Jean, who had died some time before.


Russian theorist Mikhail Bakhtin has famously suggested that in its relentless attraction to the written and not yet written, the modern novel is generically anti-generic, and is because it offers, in contrast with formal traditions such as the epic, a “new zone opened . . . for structuring literary images . . . the zone of maximal contact with the present . . . in all its openendedness.”20 With no fixed form or conventional matter, the novel is defined by its lack of a defining feature beyond the most unhelpfully vague: that it is prose fiction of a certain length. Had he been acquainted with the tradition of the late medieval dit, the form of verse narrative whose acknowledged master was Guillaume de Machaut, Bakhtin might have been inclined to view the novel’s receptivity to languages, styles, and themes of all kinds as interestingly anticipated by the most popular form of a much earlier period. If the novel is, as he argues, a kind of summa or master form capable of re-orienting and re-presenting texts of all varieties, then this unlimited capacity to accommodate all imaginable sources is anticipated by the dit (roughly speaking, the tale), which is most importantly characterized by its attraction to the quotidian, the occasional, even the autobiographical and, in consequence, by its formal preoccupation with discontinuity and pastiche.

In its definite indefiniteness, the dit is by nature open to the textualizing or re-textualizing of whatever can be rendered in octosyllabic rhyming couplets. Such openness should, to a degree, dispose the form outward, toward the matter that might be incorporated. And yet, while he does not foreclose centrifugal possibilities of inclusion, Machaut simultaneously turns the dit inward, redirecting its openness toward its own ontology. However heterogeneous and syncretic, his dits are in a sense all of a piece since they are most notably characterized by a centripetality that leads them to focus on the social (dis)continuities of his authorship, as well as various aspects of his text-making practice. Across an impressively large oeuvre, this metafictional urge manifests itself in a continually re-inventive fashion, whose always surprising variety reflects the different materials (literary, personal, historical, etc.) on which each text draws. Such a balance between the outward and inward energies is proto-novelistic in the sense that, as Bakhtin suggests, the novel, though lacking a “unitary language” and disposed to reproduce all those it encounters, locates the author at “the center of organization where all levels intersect.”21 The novelist is customarily an all-disposing ventriloquist who disappears into his various appearances. Like the other poets who imitate his example, however, Machaut does not only constitute the subjective source of the dit’s verbal flow. He is also either his own main character or an important subsidiary presence when characters of noble birth claim the narrative spotlight. In this insistence on the organizing energies as well as the representational possibilities of authorial singularity, the Machaldian dit proves generically ungeneric, as the subsequent developmental history of the form makes clear. His contemporaries Jean Froissart, Christine de Pizan, John Gower, and Geoffrey Chaucer, among others, produced so many similarly self-regarding texts — each of which is resolutely disposed toward uniqueness and disconnection, defying regularizing tendencies — that this particular inflection of the dit becomes the most recognizable literary form at the end of Middle Ages.

An embrace of disconnection and uniqueness constitutes the paradoxical formal ground of this impressive body of texts, which includes such diverse masterpieces as Froissart’s Prison amoureuse, Chaucer’s House of Fame, and Christine’s Livre du duc des vrais amans. Unlike most medieval narrative, the dit eschews pre-existing cycles, the thematic corpora or matières that make possible a vast range of fictionalizing that is genetically related as for example in the various strands of the Arthurian tradition that so dominates literary production in the period. Like the novel, the dit resolutely resists any subordination of the individual text to ordinate traditions, which increase in cultural authority through continuing acts of invocation and re-use. Their cultural lives are characterized by the continual accretion of “range” to which each individual text contributes in terms of narrative mass, even as by its very existence each new text expands the possibilities for further imitation and linkage. Textual boundaries are never understood as closed, but rather as open to a continuation that can always inspire further continuation, producing complex, never-closed multiplicities (sometimes appropriately termed “cycles”). The dit is utterly different from matter-based narrative. The dit constitutes, in fact, the formal and thematic “other” to such impressively massive genres as the romance and the chanson de geste, with its invocation of speech (dit from dire “to say”) perhaps pointing toward the unreproducibility of parole. The roman, by way of contrast, takes its name for the vernacular language in which it first appeared (romanz=French), and it fittingly shows affinities with the rule-governed nature of langue, in which the abstracting generalities of a constantly expanding repertoire customarily prevail over the idiosyncratic.

Another way of saying this is that almost without exception the dit exists in se and per se. Whatever transtextual connections it may establish are not mandated by a tradition that molds and prescribes even though Machaut’s own oeuvre in some sense connects to the tradition of love poetry. His dits offer a perfect match between generic form and content. To repeat, the major structural motif of his narrative verse is the dramatization of his activity as a poet in the service of different great nobles. Such a focus is hardly surprising or unusual. In its insistence upon the unique, the unanticipated, and the ephemeral, the dit is strongly drawn toward the at least ostensibly autobiographical, most obvious source of emerging story (a truism about the connection between author and form that the modern novel, of course, clearly reflects).

And yet, the Machaldian dit continually escapes the confinement of the autobiographical. For this particular persona (if in complicated ways that connect to such modern notions as narrator and implied author) is identical with the poet who assumes the burden of continuing production. And this is a task that necessarily involves more that the narration of the self, generally including a substantial invocation of literary tradition in some form. The overall result, in any case, is an inward-regarding text constantly referencing itself as an aesthetic object in the making, whose confection (the various stages of which, to be sure, can also constitute the subject of further versifying) is the task the poet sets himself.

Long neglected as the productions of an inferior author who could do little more than imitate the truly grand monuments of an earlier age (especially the Roman de la rose and the Ovide moralisé), the narrative poems of Guillaume de Machaut have been revalued by the current generation of medievalists. Contemporary critics have especially appreciated the features of Machaut’s dits dismissed by earlier scholars as “conventional:” the insistent literariness of the Machaldian text, its intricate (dis)connections to the poet’s corpus and life, its playful celebration of the shifting, complicated relations among poet, public, and patron, its self-conscious re-making (and replacing) of literary models. The creation of a “post-modern” Machaut rightly has restored the poet’s reputation by demonstrating that he should be read according to his age’s conception of the literary (one intriguingly contemporary).22 Current work, however, has slighted those aspects of the writer’s oeuvre, particularly political and didactic elements, which do not fit such a model of textual self-containment. It is true, to paraphrase William Calin, that Machaut’s narrative poetry is often about the writing of poetry by a poet;23 but this interest is hardly global, and does not explain the generation or form of certain works. The lack of attention paid to that poetry reflects a judgment about literary categories that is thoroughly modern, not medieval: a division between the fictional, mimetic, and entertaining, on the one hand, and the occasional, rhetorical, and didactic, on the other. The modern critic and reader prefer texts of the first type, though this taste was not shared by their fourteenth-century counterparts.

Machaut was prompted to compose occasional poems because of events in his own and his patrons’ lives. Both the Voir Dit and the Navarre, for example, offer themselves as responses to turning points or crises in the career of the poet (though it may well be that these “events” are themselves fictional, imagined in order to justify the works which respond to them). It is fairly certain that Machaut carried on a literary love affair with a much younger reader, and the first of his two jugement poems was perhaps found so objectionable by female readers that he was forced to compose a revision. But our only evidence for these “histories” is in the poems themselves. It is public knowledge, however, that Jean of Berry was forced by treaty obligations to leave France for England; the Fonteinne amoureuse refers, if vaguely, to this occasion, but also provides consolation for the sorrowful patron. This poem fulfills its occasional and didactic purposes through the construction of a traditional fiction. It is a love vision that assimilates Jean’s grief (which presumably was a complex emotion) to the agony felt by a lover forced to part from his lady. The resulting text treats its occasion metonymically, offering an exposition of only those elements which can be expressed by poetic forms and conventions. The metonymy, in this case the figuration of Jean as a lover, means that occasionality becomes subordinated to the more general meanings of dream vision (e.g., that the nobleman’s dream of Venus is not intended to represent Jean’s particular, unique circumstances). Occasionality, in other words, is less a meaning in the text than a meaning which can be read into it. We do not need to know about the unfortunate turning of events in Jean’s life to understand and appreciate the poem, though such knowledge helps us to locate a referential gesture that supplements our understanding and appreciation. The poem develops a series of general, conventionally acceptable meanings which can also be applied flatteringly to Jean’s real life situation. Thus the patron’s sorrow is less represented than alluded to. Occasionality in the two debate poems similarly incorporates autobiographical references into what is essentially a generic framework.

Because the later omnibus manuscripts of Machaut’s complete poetry and music, including BnF, fr. 1584 (usually known by the siglum A) on which this present edition is based, to all appearances put the narrative dits in chronological order of composition, it is possible to establish that the Behaingne was the poet’s second major work, likely following closely on his initial work, the Dit dou Vergier. Machaut’s first jugement poem was followed more than a decade later by a sequel of sorts, the Navarre. The Behaingne revives a genre inaugurated some two hundred years earlier in which questions of love and gender are broached in debate form. Under Machaut’s brilliant handling, the love debate genre went on to flourish for more than a century and a half, involving many, perhaps most, of the gifted authors of the later Middle Ages. The model he set stages a debate argued by two or more characters, each of whom speaks to a particular side of an issue concerning love. The discussion often takes place in the presence of a narrator figure in charge of recording the argument for a patron who will decide the matter. The whole case is written up as poetry, providing plenty of scope for lyrical expression of the joy and pain brought on by strong emotion. In the hands of the best poets, language and erudition are on display as much as sentiment. That is certainly the case with both the Behaingne and the Navarre.


Reaching back to the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, extended poetic debate in the topic of love existed already in what were called débats du clerc et du chevalier (debates of the cleric and the knight) or jugements d’amour (judgments about love). We have as examples of this genre half a dozen works, some in Latin and some in Old French, that stage a discussion in which ladies weigh the relative merits of clerics and knights and lovers. Consider, for example, the short Latin verse narrative Idus Aprilus Habitum est Concilium Hoc in Monte Romarici (Council of Remiremont), written in the middle of the twelfth century and soon translated into French.24 The Concile recounts the extraordinary events that supposedly took place at the monastery of Remiremont. The nuns have come together on the Ides of April, we are told, not to hear the reading of the Gospel but to discuss amoris tractatus (the “practice of love”). On one level, the poem satirizes those devoted to the religious life, who were famed, justly or unjustly, for a failure to observe the most difficult of vows. No men are permitted to attend this council except for “honest clerks,” monks from nearby Toul, whose presence is welcomed and for whose “solace” the company of women has, in fact, been convoked. All the sisters know of love, but they have no physical experience of it. In a kind of mockery of religious service, the meeting begins not with a reading from the Bible but with a passage from the teachings of Ovid, which are declaimed by a certain Eve, who is said to be well skilled at following Love’s commandments and offering sagacious advice to others. Eve is hardly attired in the modest garments of a nun. Instead, she is dressed like a courtly lady, wearing splendid clothes and adorned with precious jewels and flowers. She has come, so she says, to advise them never to hide the manner of life they have chosen for themselves — which, she says, is characterized by its exclusive devotion to, if not the physical presence of, carnal love and desire.

Elizabeth of Granges responds for the company, declaring that they have served Love to the best of their ability. Most important, the community has observed the rule of refusing to have sex with men (viri copula) and not accepting the companionship of anyone who does not belong to their “order.” Elizabeth of Faucogney, however, offers a somewhat more expansive view of the sisters’ behavior. They have never ceased enjoying, she declares, the grace, the worthiness, and the good memory of clerks — and they intend to continue loving them in this fashion.

Elizabeth of Faucogney then proceeds to catalogue the virtues of clerks as lovers. The clerk is gracious, kind, and attentive, full of courtesy and generosity. Experienced in love, he knows how to treat a woman well, bringing her appropriate presents and never failing to keep a promise. And he is faithful in his love, never abandoning a woman to whom he has joined himself. A knight, in contrast, is not worth the trouble or affection of a virtuous lady. His brand of loving is detestable, unfortunate, and short-lived. The sisters of the house at first sought out knights for lovers, but, realizing that they were deceivers, quickly abandoned them for clerks, who are famed for being blameless in affairs of the heart. And so any attachment to a knight has become forbidden to members of the company, she concludes. Such is the life they will continue to live, if it pleases Eve for them to do so.

One of the other nuns present has a different view, however. Clerks, she declares, are not as able in loving as Elizabeth has maintained. Those who share this opinion also belong to the “family of Love.” Knights are worthy of respect because they love both war and pleasure. They fear no pain, whether it comes from love or wounds. In battle they are courageous, with a view toward gaining the ladies’ affection and possessing the bodies of women.

Those who prefer clerks then state their case once again before Eve puts an end to debate. She affirms that clerks are able, sweet, and affable, while knights are fickle and given to foolish speech. Henceforth, these women should accept the proffered affection only of clerks. Women who shun this advice would not be admitted to their company until they repent and are granted absolution for the transgression.

The wisdom of clerks is to be preferred because, when women act foolishly, clerks will know where their best interest lies and direct them to pursue it. Eve orders that those who do not follow her injunction be excommunicated from the community and become objects of hatred. But pardon will quickly come to anyone who shows proper repentance.

Eve’s judgment is that clerks make the best lovers, but, enforcing a double standard, affirms that nuns are to honor absolutely their vows of chastity. The Concile thematizes this new “doctrine” in a different fashion, making the question of how women should behave in love the subject of a debate that centers on the qualities to be expected in the men to whom they devote themselves. The Concile establishes the basic structure of the genre: a debate about an important aspect of the love experience — here the relative suitability of clerks and knights — which is eventually referred for adjudication to an appropriate authority figure.

Another text in the love debate tradition is worth a brief look. The thirteenth-century French Jugement d’amours (Judgment of Love) offers a distinctive variation on what was becoming a stock theme. One May morning two maidens, pretty and elegantly dressed, make their way to a pleasant garden where they intend to entertain themselves. After a walk through a valley filled with blossoms and the pleasant fragrances of the season, they find an olive tree, under which they sit and discuss a question of love. The first maiden, Blancheflor, sings the praises of the man, a clerk, with whom she has fallen in love, while Florence, her companion, argues for the superiority of her lover, who happens to be a knight. They can reach no consensus and decide to take their case to the God of Love, who with his knowledge and power, can resolve the dispute. On the appointed day, they make their way to Love’s palace, a beautiful dwelling covered in flowers, but the door is barred and there is no porter to allow them inside. Suddenly two birds appear to conduct them to the divinity who is taking his rest on a bed of flowers. The god listens with interest and summons his council of “barons” who are all birds of different kinds. They debate the issue between champions representing the two positions. The champion who supports the knight is soon forced to admit that clerks are valiant and courteous and that all virtues are more evident in them than in any other men. Feeling her lover dishonored, Florence breaks into tears, moans bitterly, and dies. The poem ends with her burial as a martyr to Love.

The literature of love reaches its apotheosis in the thirteenth century with Roman de la rose (Romance of the Rose), a work of immense breadth and impact that is preserved in more than 250 manuscripts, a huge number for a medieval vernacular work. Its influence is correspondingly large. Virtually all love literature that follows over the next two centuries shows the impact of this work in some way, reproducing/rewriting, or taking exception to its contents, conceits, and characters.

The Rose consists of two parts, the first of approximately 4,000 lines and the second of an additional 18,000. It is conventionally assumed that the two parts were composed by different poets. Guillaume de Lorris is known as the author of the older portion, composed around 1230, which begins the story of a young lover who falls in love with a rosebud he sees in the Garden of Delight. The garden is the domain of the God of Love and his company, a group of allegorical personifications favorable to his powers. The second part of the romance, composed by Jean de Meun around 1270, describes the vicissitudes experienced by the lover but also incorporates long passages of exposition on all manner of topics, making it a compendium of knowledge as well as the resolution of the quest for the Rose.

The story is a dream vision that unfolds in the narrator’s unconscious. Here, we find extensive meditations on love, debates about the central issues of the emotional life. Becoming the vassal of Love in the first part of the poem, the dreamer is aided in his pursuit of the Rose by Fair Welcome, who is driven off by Danger, Shame, and Fear before the lover can attain his goal. At this point, Reason rushes to the lover’s rescue, urging him to give up on love, which, she maintains, is both unnatural, because not centered on procreation, and unreliably transient. An opposing view is offered by Friend, who emphasizes the positive aspects of the love experience, persuading the dreamer to disregard what Reason has advocated. In the poem’s second part, the dispute over the value of love becomes even more elaborate, as a variety of other personifications appear to offer different perspectives. For example, a character known as the Old Woman, who has, perhaps foolishly, been given charge of the Rose’s virtue, offers a disquisition on the rules of love, foolish counsel, promiscuity, and the blatant manipulation of unfortunate men. Her advocacy of an immoral surrender to impulse is opposed both by Nature, who recognizes that “laws” can be rejected by those who make use of their reason, and by Genius, whose view of love’s essential connection to the procreative imperative reflects official Church doctrine. In the end, these points of view are, at best, uneasily reconciled. The lover does finally gain possession of the Rose, although his success is depicted in an extended military metaphor that shows his victory as a siege and assault on the tower protecting the Rose, a violent and overtly sexual ending to a tale that began in the most refined of registers. Most modern readers agree that the debate over the nature of love offered in the poem is never adequately resolved.


Though it was to reinvent a genre, Machaut’s first judgment poem begins in a most conventional fashion, with the narrator’s reminiscences of the adventures he passed through one late April morning, a time appointed by Nature and God for love. Love, he affirms, is an emotional experience that affects many men and women, bringing them both joy and pain. This narrator confesses to being an experienced and successful lover, so he can give himself over quite happily to the enjoyment of beautiful sunshine and reawakening nature. Following a nightingale, he enters a lonely glade, there to contemplate in solitude the indescribable beauty of the natural music he hears. This short opening (lines 1–40) draws explicitly on the Roman de la rose in which the archetypal Lover similarly falls prey to the enticements of springtime. In the Rose, after falling asleep, the lover experiences a vision of the Garden of Love, where the poem’s complex, allegorical drama unfolds. In Machaut’s reworking, however, the narrator does not fall asleep, but becomes witness to a different kind of drama that takes place nearby (lines 41–124).

The structure of the Rose has been invoked, but radically transformed. The elaborate interplay between allegorical personages that lends psychological and intellectual depth to the Rose has been altered in favor of a confrontation between two human characters, a man and a woman, unknown to one another, whose experiences in love — which are related in substantial detail — have been, up to a point, similar. Both have known not only the joy that love brings but the overwhelming and enduring sorrow that comes from its loss. Yet this loss, in their two cases, has intriguingly different sources, and the poem takes as one of its main themes the measuring of one loss against the other. Which of these distressed lovers suffers the greater pain? The issue is debated first (and inconclusively) by the protagonists, only later to be submitted as a question of love that is answerable by the king of Bohemia’s courtiers, allegorical personages who each represent, in the tradition of the Rose, different and to some degree incompatible, aspects of the love experience.

Enjoying his springtime walk, the narrator spies an obviously troubled lady and a serving girl approaching down a lonely path. At the same moment, on the other side, he sees a knight walking down the same path. Thinking he may be intruding upon a lovers’ meeting, the narrator hides in the bushes, becoming an involuntary witness to their encounter. The knight gives the lady a fair greeting, but she ignores him. Puzzled, he seizes her robe and questions her. She apologizes for her inadvertent rudeness; it seems she was lost in thought. Like a true gentleman, the knight offers his assistance, but it is declined since, as the lady declares, her difficulties are so severe that no one save God could alleviate them. Though sympathetic, the knight politely challenges her declaration, responding that his own suffering is more than any human being ever endured or indeed ever could. Their dispute leads almost to a joint undertaking as the lady and the knight will explain their troubles in full in order to determine who bears the greater burden of grief.

The lady begins her account of emotional distress by describing her dedication as “serf and vassal” to Love, who favored her with the affection of a knight who, in her view, was the best man who ever lived. His death, she maintains, has left her with an irremediable sorrow, the proof of which seems to be the dead faint into which she falls at the end of her speech (lines 125–205). After reviving her, however, the knight refuses to concede, remaining committed to his initial view, and in an even more elaborate response (lines 261–860) recounts his faithful service to the God of Love, which eventually earns him the reward of the young girl’s heart. But Love’s favor leads in the end only to misery, because his beloved throws him over for another man, betraying his trust. The bereaved lady, though sympathetic to his plight, is not persuaded that the jilted knight’s suffering is worse, and she makes a telling point to support her contention (lines 881–928). She argues that since his beloved is still living, it is possible for him to regain her favor through loyal and patient service. In his rebuttal, the knight maintains the contrary: were she dead, he could forget the girl and be released from pain, but, being alive and forever unattainable, she will make him suffer endlessly (lines 929–1167).

Having reached an impasse, the two disputants obviously need a judge to decide the case, but, constrained by the rules of polite intercourse, neither wishes to nominate one. Nearly forgotten during the progress of the debate, the narrator once again assumes a prominent role, if quite a different one (lines 1185–1442). He is no longer free to lose himself in his own thoughts of love, awakened by the spring morning. Instead he must serve his betters in their time of emotional distress. Like the knight and the lady, he finds himself in a difficult position, for, though he wished to help them find a proper judge, he is embarrassed to reveal his presence. Chance soon intervenes. The lady’s dog spots him hiding in the bushes and runs toward him, barking. This provides him with the opportunity to introduce himself. Confessing that he has heard all of their discussion, the narrator proposes the king of Bohemia as a judge to hear the case. The pair concur and the narrator quickly leads them to the nearby castle of Durbuy, where the king is in residence. Jean listens graciously to a summary of the disagreement provided by the knight (lines 1509–1608), and he then turns the issue over to his court for further discussion, charging his courtiers, sixteen allegorical personages with names such as Reason, Love, Youth, and Loyalty, to provide the proper explication of the issues involved.

Raison (Reason), who holds a position of prominence at court, speaks first, and in a long response (lines 1665–1784) confirms the correctness of the knight’s argument, maintaining that, since love is a carnal affection, it cannot survive the death of the body. But the knight sees his unfaithful lady constantly and so cannot forget, even though Raison advises him to do so, because Jeunesse (Youth) and Amour (Love) urge him on in this mad error. Amour then intervenes (lines 1788–1811), agreeing with Raison’s solution of the dispute, but challenging her view that the knight should abandon the love he feels because she has proved a traitor to him. In an emotional rejoinder (lines 1824–47), Loiauté (Loyalty) condemns the faithless behavior of the knight’s beloved. She argues that Amour is wrong in demanding that the knight continue to love someone from whom he gets nothing but misery. Loiauté agrees with Raison that the knight suffers more because Amour holds him fast in a sorrow from which he cannot recover. Jeunesse finds herself in accord with Amour, asserting that the knight will never give up his love as long as her power can prevent it (lines 1857–1891). Like Amour, Jeunesse argues that the experience of love is reward enough, even if its object has proved unworthy, a position at whose foolishness and impracticality the king gently laughs, reproving Jeunesse for wanting to keep a faithful servant of Amour in such continual pain that he might die (lines 1900–14). So be it, says Jeunesse; he will then attain great honor as a martyr (lines 1915–20). Delivering his judgment, the king endorses the view that the knight suffers more than the lady. They have not assembled, he reminds them, to determine if that man should indeed continue to love the woman who has betrayed him (lines 1923–56).

And yet the debate does move from a weighing of the sorrows felt by the knight and the lady to a consideration of a much more difficult question, one that is, by royal command, never finally adjudicated: Should reason guide the behavior of those in love, who are under the powerful sway of both the affection itself and the impetuousness of their immature age? In this “digression,” we see Machaut coming to grips with a dilemma developed more fully, if never answered decisively, in the Rose. The king, a mature man, sides with Raison, that when her grief passes, she will find another lover in accordance with natural imperatives. The assembled court assents unanimously to this judgment, though we can imagine that Jeunesse and Amour are not happy with the outcome, which endorses Raison’s opinion that love does not survive the death of the body (lines 1716–23) and thus can exert but a limited power over those under its dominion. For eight days the courtiers attempt, with little apparent success, to assuage the suffering of the king’s two guests, who are finally allowed to depart after receiving generous gifts.

Beyond the two questions of who suffers more and whether lovers should heed the dictates of the head rather than those of heart, the debate, if only indirectly raises a third question, which will become the focus of the poem’s sequel: Who proves superior in love, men or women? The knight is judged the winner in the debate, an indication, perhaps, of the greater power of male reasoning and discernment — or it may be that the king has simply decided in favor of a fellow male. In any case, it is the knight’s continuing devotion to his lady, however undeserving, that occasions the court’s discussion of the relative claims of reason and emotion to direct human action. Moreover, the cause of the knight’s sorrow is his lady’s faithfulness, over which he has no control. Of the two women who figure in this poem, one is given to mistaken opinions (overestimating a misery that, it is predicted, will soon pass), while the other is a promiscuous betrayer of male trust, who inspires virtuous devotion only to inflict pointless pain on a man who merits, as all present agree, a quite different reward.

The poem’s two men, in contrast, reflect the highest masculine ideals. Both are submissive to love and mindful of the proper service due the women to whom they have pledged themselves. These exemplary men suffer only because of what lies beyond their jurisdiction: for one, the vagaries of fortune leading to an early death; and for the other, the instability of a woman’s heart that mocks the steadiness of the love bestowed upon it.

It could be argued, as a female figure of great authority does in the Navarre, that the author, who has created a fiction that so obviously favors men over women, has insulted the gentler sex. If this was unintentional, then she thinks that the author must be under the sway of that complex of incorrect notions about the “inferiority” of women that we term misogyny. Whether Machaut is guilty of this charge is the question that, with no little humor and irony, is debated in the Navarre, where the poet becomes his own main character. And so what was extratextual in the Behaingne, namely the author’s intentions and his responsibility to advance only “true” opinion, becomes the center of the new work, as Machaut himself — or, more precisely, a humorously inept, fictional version of the poet — is called to account.

This transformation, however startling, is by no means unanticipated. An important feature of the Behaingne is its reflexivity, that is, its self-conscious presentation of the role the poet plays in court society. There is an unmistakable autobiographical strain in the poem, which gives voice to Machaut’s likely uncertainties about his position — as clerk and commoner, but also as the designated spokesman of emotional idealism. At first, the narrator’s solitude indexes both the importance of his subjectivity (which is a potential source of meditation on the love experience) and his openness to instruction or enlightenment, which should conventionally come, as in the Rose, in the dream that follows this figure’s falling asleep in the springtime setting. The dramatic interchange between the knight and the lady, however, means that the narrator’s solitude comes to indicate his sudden displacement from the debate to follow, as well as his conversion into an unseen and eavesdropping figure, the very image of Guillaume de Machaut the courtly poet, who attends to understanding the ideas advanced by the debating pair. Using his artistic powers, he will convert these ideas into poetry, as he confesses he has done in the work’s coda (lines 2062–79). Giving way to the concerns of the class he serves, the narrator (and by extension Guillaume himself) is not content to be a simple witness, serving a narrating function that effaces itself behind the story. The role it fulfills is a larger one, for the poet, as Machaut sees it, is also a guide. His fictions are not just entertainments but are also intended to inform and comfort. If his experience in love must be denied the privilege of focus, the poet’s duties as teacher and adviser cannot be so easily laid aside. That experience, however, offers no easy truths to be confidently endorsed. The conflict between Raison, on the one hand, and Jeunesse and Amour, on the other, does not finally admit a simple solution in favor of either clear-headed restraint or reckless self-abandon. The debate ends but does not conclude, much in manner of Machaut’s most notable model, the Roman de la rose.


The Behaingne displays its indebtedness to the Rose in order to mediate its reception as one of both sameness and difference. In the Navarre, the concern with a love question leads not only to a debate between allegorical characters (most prominently Raison, one of the most important characters in the earlier allegory); it also leads to a representation of the central contradiction which defines the clerkly poet’s role (a subject never raised by the two authors of the Rose). Similarly, the Navarre, though composed as much as a decade later and for a different patron, mediates its reception through a series of references to the Rose, though these are not, as was the case before, to the first part of that poem written by Guillaume de Lorris, but rather to Jean de Meun’s continuation of Guillaume’s narrative. Like the second part of the Rose, the Navarre offers a lively, occasionally raucous debate that raises the issue of anti-feminism. Furthermore, the debaters frequently use exempla of different kinds to make their points, though these exempla are not as fully developed as the similar ones in Jean’s Rose. In addition, there is an important structural resemblance between the two works. The Navarre is the only work in the Machaut corpus which explicitly takes a previous poem as its subject matter or pre-text; in fact the work’s full title in manuscript A, BnF, fr. 1584, is Le Jugement dou Roy de Navarre contre le Jugement dou Roy de Behaingne (The Judgement of the King of Navarre against the Judgement of the King of Bohemia). The transtextual link between the two works is thus established from the outset, and it is characterized by a desire for a correction or emendation, something similar to Jean’s motives (or those of his narrator, at least) in continuing Guillaume de Lorris’ unfinished poem.

What prompted Machaut to write a sequel to one of his most popular works, a sequel that suggested the earlier poem was somehow deficient or faulty? Scholars have sometimes maintained that Guillaume had personal reasons for writing the Navarre. The Behaingne, it is inferred, must have been criticized for its unusual “doctrine” in noble circles; Guillaume’s second judgment poem, then, would be an answer to those charges, an answer that could be seen as a retraction of the earlier judgment that cunningly does not refute it. The fact is, however, that we know nothing about the reception of the Behaingne beyond an evident popularity attested to by the large number of surviving manuscripts. We therefore have no good reason to think that the second judgment poem was motivated by anything other than what the Prologue, which the poet wrote toward the end of his career, tells us about Machaut’s literary production; these “new” poems about love come into existence because Guillaume has undertaken to spend his intellectual career creating them. The Fonteinne Amoureuse and the Confort, it is true, are both motivated by extraliterary events: the departure of Jean of Berry for temporary exile as a hostage and Charles of Navarre’s imprisonment by the king of France respectively. These events, however, are very clearly established as extraliterary motivations within the texts themselves (i.e., Charles is addressed by name and the anonymous nobleman in the Fonteinne Amoureuse is revealed to be Jean in a closing anagram). In contrast, the allegorical character Bonneürté, whose dissatisfaction triggers Guillaume’s bungling defense of his earlier poem, can only perhaps be identified as a real figure in Guillaume’s life. A prominent noblewoman attached to the French royal family, Bonne (daughter of the king of Bohemia), might be a model for this character. Machaut was well acquainted with her and undoubtedly shared the view of the court that she was especially virtuous, living up to her name. Although pure speculation, there are some intriguing reasons to suppose she might have been the model for Bonneürté. Bonne seems to have been an affectionate name; she was christened Jutta (Judith). Married to Jean of France, duke of Normandy, she might well have known Charles of Navarre personally; Charles was born in Normandy, where he inherited extensive lands and spent much of his early life. Bonne died of the plague in 1349, the same year Charles became king of Navarre. Charles later became a deadly enemy of Bonne’s widower, Jean of Normandy, who became Jean II of France in 1350. But this is far from certain. The poem contains references to real events of that life; its opening section treats the narrator’s melancholic reaction to the plague and other disasters of the years 1349–50. But these real events do not include any mention of attacks on Guillaume’s reputation. It seems best, therefore, to conclude that the Navarre constructs the problems of Guillaume the protagonist for the purpose of generating a playful and entertaining text.

By making his previous poem the issue of a contentious debate, Guillaume is able to focus on a character other than the experiencing-I which he inherited from Guillaume de Lorris and which figures, as we have seen, in the opening of the Behaingne. In its place, the counter-judgment can offer a fictionalized version of the real Guillaume, a clerk protective of his literary reputation even as he is concerned about — must be concerned about — the reaction of the nobility to his representation of their experience. Thus Guillaume discovers in this poem a new way of understanding the “I” bequeathed him by tradition. The Navarre constructs the complexities and ironies of the producing-I, the self whose experiences with writing texts become the material of other texts written by the same self.25 Machaut’s focus on his own experiences (even when these are only “imagined” for the purpose of generating the text) is obvious from the beginning 540 lines of the poen, which treat, with accurate historical detail, the disturbing events of 1349–50 and the clerk’s reaction to them. This section starts with an evocation of fall, the season of death and loss which suits historical calamity, and ends with the joyful coming of spring, when the passing of the epidemic allows the poet to resume solitary enjoyments — especially hare-hunting — and be open to the love experience, which here assumes a very untraditional shape. The movement from fall to spring and the attendant transformation of the historical subject into a character more suited to the love themes of courtly poetry have both encouraged numerous critics to view the opening part of the poem as a tedious irrelevance. Readers more sympathetic to Machaut’s architectonic skill can stress thematic links of various kinds between the opening and the more conventional poetic fiction that follows. But the different parts of the poem become a difficulty only if we believe that Machaut was attempting to write a traditional love allegory and, for some dim reason, included an introduction which drew on tangential, historical material. The love allegory section itself, however, is hardly traditional, but in fact makes use of inherited structures in order to explore very different themes and issues.

Both parts of the Navarre in fact make it clear that the subject is the poet himself, first viewed, with great seriousness, as a historical person caught up in a tumult of events beyond his control, and then examined, rather humorously, as a bumbling versifier who slanders ladies even as he defends his attempts to exalt them. One important connection between the two parts of the poem is the poet’s melancholy: the state of the world saddens him and then, with the disappearance of the disease, allows him pleasure again. Soon after, his hare-hunting is interrupted by the “call” from Bonneürté (Happiness) who sinks him back into a melancholy from which he is somewhat rescued by the lightheartedness of the debate’s conclusion. Unlike the Weltschmerz that so affects him at the work’s beginning, this melancholy can be (and is) overcome by Guillaume’s gracious acceptance of the judgment against him and his cheerful agreement to do appropriate penance (which is the composition of three lyrical pieces in fixed forms with, this time, the “correct” doctrine).

If the true subject of the poem is the “real” Guillaume, then the historical references and analysis in the opening make good artistic sense: they ground the fiction which follows in the truth of the poet’s experience. After referring to the cold north wind which has destroyed the greenery of summer (lines 34–36), the narrator describes how in the contemporary world there is no justice or truth, only a rapacious avarice that destroys social and familial trust; the result is a constant warfare that has brought down a heavenly vengeance in the form of destructive weather (lines 37–108). This description is a conventional, apocalyptic one (the topos is usually called mundus senescit or “the world grows old”), but it is followed by a return to the narrator’s state of mind. The fall season had made him sad, and reflecting on the decay of the world sinks him into melancholy, which he tries to resist, following the wisdom of Ecclesiastes (lines 109–42). But, leaving behind the thoughts of social decay, the narrator considers those present ills which make him even more melancholic. These include ominous heavenly signs (lines 151–66), particularly the lunar eclipse of 17 January 1348, the various astrological configurations of that year widely interpreted as predicting the subsequent epidemic and the appearance of a fiery comet. Guillaume also makes reference to the great earthquake that devastated parts of Eastern Europe and Italy on 25 January 1348 (lines 167–80), a passage that mentions a heavenly rain of blood that boded ill. God revealed the meaning of these signs quickly by permitting a great outbreak of wars and killing, another apocalyptic reference with some basis in contemporary reality (e.g., the continuing hostilities of the Hundred Years’ War, in which Machaut himself took some minor part). This long passage (lines 181–228) mentions as well the outbreak of anti-Semitism that accompanied the first appearances of the plague in northern Europe; like many at the time, Machaut believed that the Jews had poisoned wells and thus deserved the murderous fury of the persecutions which followed the spreading of these rumors (lines 229–40). Guillaume connects the phenomenon of wandering companies of flagellants to the disastrous events predicted by the heavens, even though this bizarre form of religious piety had come into existence during the previous century and continued to be active in Bohemia during the 1340s (lines 241–56). Because men were so intent on destroying themselves, Guillaume suggests, Nature decided to assist in this destruction by sending terrible storms to the earth, in expectation that the world would soon end; this weather, Guillaume suggests, was connected to the terrible mists that were said by many to have caused the epidemic, which immediately followed (lines 271–346).

Throughout this part of the poem, Guillaume gives the distinct impression that he is following one of the numerous Latin chronicles of the period, though no specific source has been identified. His selection of events (and their explanation as well) closely resembles what contemporary historians have to say about the outbreak of the epidemic. In any case, it is interesting that Guillaume here assumes the voice and manner of an historian’s first-hand experience. The last part of his account is by far the most dramatic. God sees from his house that the world is everywhere corrupted, and so he sets Death loose on suffering humanity. Death is a beast so greedy and insatiable that he consumes heaps of corpses every day. The towns and villages are soon emptied of people; ditches must be dug in churchyards to bury the unnumbered dead. Guillaume says that no one will be able to count how many have died or will die (lines 393–99), an important indication that this part of the poem was indeed written during the epidemic. Pasture and field go untended because there are none to work or tend them (lines 408–430). At this point the narrator returns to his own reactions. Horrified by an imminent death, he confesses his sins thoroughly and resigns himself to the inevitable, closing up his doors and staying inside the whole winter (a precaution that probably saved his life). In this way he suffered less melancholy than he would have, for many of his friends died and were buried, a fact of which he remained ignorant. Finally, the end of the epidemic is signaled by merrymaking throughout the town, which Guillaume hears in his house. Asking one of his friends what is happening, Guillaume learns that the survivors are celebrating. He decides that he will do the same and goes to his horse and dogs, proceeding to some hare-hunting in the springtime fields. This is an activity that he defends with great seriousness, saying that its practice so absorbed him he would not have recognized anyone had they ridden up to him and spoken (lines 431–540).

At this point Machaut begins to reprise and adapt the structure of his earlier judgment poem. In the Behaingne the sorrowing lady, lost in gloomy thoughts, ignores the knight’s greeting; this prompts their conversation and leads to the debate. Similarly, Guillaume’s enthusiasm for hare-hunting here blinds him to the arrival in the fields of a “lady of great nobility,” who, alerted to the poet’s identity by her squire, sends him a message to appear before her. Indeed, she is the very lady whom Guillaume serves, although it is only later that he learns her name. This inconsistency conceals a hidden meaning, namely that Guillaume is unthinkingly aware he owes service to Bonneürté without knowing who she truly is or the power she wields over him. Like the traditional instructress figures of love allegory or the mysterious, supernatural ladies of Arthurian romance, Bonneürté appears to correct and enlighten her male subject. As it turns out, what she has to offer is advice about Guillaume’s career; her judgment involves a renewal of the poet’s contract to write about ladies and love in the appropriate fashion. As their debate develops, however, what is most significant is the fact that in this poem Guillaume takes the place of the knight as the male member of the debating pair. This change signals the most important difference of the Navarre. In the earlier poem, the narrator/clerk is displaced from the poem as the debate begins; here the narrator/clerk, no longer an anonymous and traditional figure but a fictional version of Guillaume himself, becomes the accused who must defend himself against the charges of Bonneürté. In the Behaingne the levels of traditional love allegory/debate and commentary on the poet’s role in its making are kept distinct; the twist in the conventional structure of the poem calls attention to itself, focusing the reader on the narrator’s role (and its reflection of the author’s historical predicament as court poet/lyric voice). In the later judgment poem, on the contrary, the fiction itself becomes an examination of the poet’s performance as poet.

Instead of a response to a conventional demande d’amors (question of love), the debate here is more like a law suit in which the plaintiff makes a complaint whose rightness or wrongness is to be determined by an impartial judge. Unlike the interlocutors in the earlier poem, Guillaume is literally put on trial for an alleged crime: the promulgation of the “incorrect” view that the man whose beloved has betrayed him suffers more than the lady who has experienced the death of her lover. Bonneürté begins by faulting Guillaume for not noticing her arrival on the scene, a charge against which he defends himself successfully (lines 760–801). Then she accuses him of having sinned against ladies, but does not tell him how or when. Frustrated, Guillaume pleads for more specific information which, apparently impressed by the persuasiveness of his argument, she finally furnishes him, making reference to the conclusion reached in the Behaingne (lines 801–1038). Though she advises that Guillaume admit his fault immediately and correct his error by promulgating the opposite opinion (lines 1031–38), the poet refuses to do so because the original judgment is his published view. He resolves to win the debate if he can even though this means opposing himself to a grand and noble person whom he ought to, perhaps, unquestioningly obey. Guillaume’s attitude here contrasts sharply with that of the character Guillaume in the Prologue; the latter is appropriately obedient, humble, self-effacing, and eager to please, agreeing wholeheartedly with everything Nature and Amour ask. In fact, in the light of the circumstances of literary production set out in the Prologue, the reaction of Guillaume to Bonneürté’s charges is most surprising. Nature gives the poet Meaning, Rhetoric, and Music so that “in writing poetry you cannot fail at all” (I, line 17); the three natural children of artistic technique and content will make sure that his works will never “contain anything which will cause you to be blamed” (I, line 20).26 This command hardly makes room for error, and that is because it does not grant Guillaume any control over what his works will contain. Certainly it does not authorize his willful disagreement with anything a figure of authority — especially a heavenly lady — might offer by way of correction.

Agreeing to debate the issue of his “error,” Guillaume and the lady decide that the young King of Navarre, a man with amorous interests, shall be their judge. The pair ride on, accompanied by the lady’s entourage, to a handsome manor house where she holds court. Described as a state of absolute repose and enjoyment, this manor house is a more realistic version of the traditional locus amoenus where love allegory is often set. There the poet is introduced to the twelve damsels who comprise the lady’s court: these include psychological personifications.27 The narrator relates that the lady is served well by her courtiers, who insures that she does only what is right and avoids all evil. It should be added at this point that the scheme adopted here is a fluid one; an important allegorical personage, Mesure (Moderation), appears later but is not introduced at this point. This long passage of description (lines 1155–328) is the poem’s most impressive set piece. The appearance of the lady and her court dazzles the impressionable Guillaume, who for a moment is tempted to give up his defense; his strength, however, is restored by Raison (lines 1329–56). The lady then wishes to rehearse her complaint to the assembled court and, despite Guillaume’s wish that they wait for the arrival of their judge, she does so impressively. As she finishes, the King of Navarre arrives by chance and immediately agrees to judge the dispute, picking appropriate members of Bonneürté’s court to advise him (lines 1443–628). The debate finally begins with a long presentation of the case by the lady, who uses examples drawn from the bestiary tradition — the turtledove and the stork (lines 1629–702) — to argue that Guillaume is wrong.

Though he refuses Bonneürté’s request to change his mind, Guillaume answers with extreme politeness, asking the judge’s permission to speak, and simply restating his contention that the pain a man feels because of his beloved’s infidelity is more severe than any other (lines 1703–68). Guillaume ends by asking for the judgment on his behalf, and this arrogance angers Attemprance (Temperance), who chastises him for wanting to circumvent proper legal procedure and for deliberately misinterpreting one of the lady’s points. Attemprance suggests that the man, even though betrayed, can find relief in many ways, while the woman, seeing her lover dead, will suffer unending sorrow. And to illustrate her point, Attemprance introduces the debate’s first exemplum, the story of a young girl who, upon learning her lover had been killed, soon dies despite the efforts of a host of doctors (lines 1769–2024). Guillaume agrees that the story is compelling, but finds in it a point for his side, namely that the lady died quickly and did not suffer long, while the cuckolded man finds no end to his misery (lines 2025–76). Reminding the court of something he had maintained in his earlier work (see the Behaingne, lines 1110–21; 1716–23), Guillaume states that the dead are soon forgotten, making the heart recover from grief. Once again, he asks for the decision on his behalf.

This time Pais (Peace) objects to his impertinence, declaring that he has not made enough argument to win the judgment. Intending to give Guillaume more to think about, she relates the death of Dido, who, betrayed by Aeneas, committed suicide. This exemplum diverts the course of the debate in a new way, because Dido did not suffer the death of her lover, but rather his faithlessness. Such a divergence is anticipated in the original judgment poem where the debate between Jean’s courtiers about the issue of who suffers more soon turns to the question of whether Raison or Jeunesse should command the lover. Pais seems to be implying here that women have a greater capacity to suffer, whatever the cause. In any case, she also reproves Guillaume for stating that Nature overrides the commands of Amour, allowing the grief-stricken beloved to forget her loss. Amour, Pais suggests, always rules lovers and does not heed the wishes of Nature in any way (lines 2077–206). Guillaume, still polite, begs to disagree, relating the story of a clerk from Orléans whose distant lover proves unfaithful to him, marrying another man. Learning of her betrayal in a letter, the clerk goes mad and for the next twenty years lives in the wild like an animal, speaking to no one. Such a man, Guillaume avers, suffered a hundred times more pain than any woman who lost her lover (lines 2207–314). Foy (Faith) takes exception to Guillaume’s exemplum, noting that he has not proved that the letter which caused the man to go mad actually was written by his beloved; her angry tone distresses Guillaume, and he asks her to stop threatening him (lines 2315–80). At this point Foy confers with Charité (Charity), and the latter is chosen to relate another exemplum, one which surely will prove Guillaume wrong. Charité tells the story of a rich man who, planting a sapling in his garden, goes to see it one day and finds it a full-grown tree. The story, as Charité explains it, signifies the behavior of the proper lover who, seeing his beloved grow into marriage with a powerful man, rejoices at her new-found station and happiness (lines 2381–532). Guillaume then challenges his opponents to prove only that no lady has ever suffered so much as to offer herself to death (has he forgotten the story of Dido, just related to him by Pais?). Honnesté (Honesty) doesn’t address this point, but attacks his story about the clerk of Orléans, maintaining that, once mad, the man did not suffer at all. Guillaume’s response is typically clerkly, a short disquisition on the distinction between primary and secondary causes which he thinks supports his view about the clerk’s continued ordeal (though its relevance seems problematic at best).

At this point the debate turns completely toward the issue broached earlier by Pais, the supposed greater capacity of women to suffer. In a long speech (lines 2699–822), Franchise (Frankness) offers exempla from Classical literature, the stories of Ariadne and Medea, which, she believes, illustrate the point that women are made to suffer by men but emerge victorious in the end. Guillaume rudely attacks this argument, saying that he could easily find a host of examples to prove the opposite, namely that men have a greater capacity for suffering than women. He then relates one of the strangest exempla of the debate. A married woman has given her lover a ring on the condition that he never remove it unless she do it for him. One day her husband notices that the ring is missing and demands to see it. She sends a message to him asking for its return, and he sends it to her along with his finger in order not to break his word. Recognizing that extremes in loving are to be condemned, Guillaume suggests that the man surpassed all women in loyalty and suffering (lines 2823–924), Prudence (Prudence) does not agree, and she launches a long refutation of Guillaume’s contention, which the poet ignores, preferring to return to the issue raised by Franchise. Though he recognizes that the debate has broadened to include an issue not mentioned in the beginning, Guillaume offers his opinion that men are far superior to women in love because there is nothing stable or firm about a woman’s emotions or beliefs. These anti-feminist statements, he affirms, are endorsed by everyone, and that is why he advanced them in his poem (lines 3009–70).

These views give rise to an outburst which must eventually be settled by the judge, causing Guillaume to admit to some satisfaction and pleasure in seeing the assemblage of ladies so discomfited (lines 3157–62). Doubtance (Wariness) tells the story of Pyramus and Thisbé and Souffissance (Sufficiency) the tale of Hero and Leander as proof of women’s capacity to endure. But Guillaume counters with the observation that in the latter case Leander suffered more since he suffered first (once again a somewhat dubious point). Thinking that the debate has continued long enough, the lady now asks the judge to go in private to deliberate. The judge and his advisers then leave, but Guillaume is informed of their proceedings by an attendant at court. Reviewing the aspects of proper judgment, the advisers condemn Guillaume unanimously. Mesure rebukes Guillaume for daring to debate such a noble and respected personage, for advancing a mistaken opinion, and for offering insufficient and dubious evidence in support of his position. Raison agrees, and when the court has reassembled with the accused, condemns him on these three counts (lines 3767–832). Seeing Guillaume saddened by the outcome, Raison reveals to him the identity of the lady and describes her immense powers; in the tradition of Boethius’ Fortuna, Bonneürté distributes talents and wisdom to those she favors. Raison’s long description of her providence particularly emphasizes the different gifts she accords to clergy and knights (lines 3839–4006). More reconciled to his fate, Guillaume asks to be sentenced, and the judge signifies to him that he owes three amends for his three different faults. Raison and the judge confer about the specifics of the sentence, a meeting which, Guillaume perceives, is somewhat lighthearted. Meanwhile Avis (Discretion) recounts the allegorical meanings of the different parts of Bonneürté’s dress (lines 4075–170). The judge then returns to Guillaume and tells him he must compose three lyric poems, of different types, as penance. The poem closes with Guillaume’s confession that he has made this poem in order to recognize his fault better and intends to present it to the lady along with his promise of continued service. Guillaume then expresses his desire to complete his penance quickly by composing a lay concerned with love.

In manuscripts B, E, and M the Lay de Plour follows the end of the judgment immediately; in F–G and A, the lay either is missing entirely or is found among the other lyric poems.28 It seems that Machaut initially thought it should follow the narrative poem which is its pre-text but later changed his mind. I have included it as a continuation of the Navarre. The reader may judge whether Machaut’s original plan is artistically successful or not (I happen to think it is, of which more below).

In assessing the artistic achievement of the Navarre, we must, I think, read the poem metafictionally, in the same way the original audience likely did. For we must, as did they, distinguish between the seriousness of Guillaume the character, who resents the accusations of Bonneürté and loses his composure as the trial begins to slip away from him, eventually mouthing, somewhat gleefully, the very anti-feminist statements he declared himself innocent of at the beginning; and the seriousness of Guillaume de Machaut the poet, who with remarkable sprezzatura puts his own poetry on trial in a work whose sophistication and finesse equally testify to his commanding, confident talent. The poem playfully treats the relationship of the poet to his métier and to his patrons, problematizing the very traditional poetics later enunciated in the Prologue by turning the poet’s individual control over the content of his works (and the reputation they make or do not make for him) into an issue to be debated. Within the fiction, Guillaume’s temerity is roundly condemned, as much, if not more than, the anti-feminism of which he proves himself guilty. But the poem itself testifies to the ways in which Guillaume, as creative source of his works, can forge something entirely new from the givens of tradition, including a different sense in which “poetic identity” can be represented. Focusing on the producing-I, the Navarre traces the ways in which authorial intertext, rather than traditional techniques and subject matter, “creates” poetry. The Behaingne generates the Navarre, which in turn generates the Lay de Plour. The audacity here is that Guillaume produces poetry which is intensely self-reflexive, thematizing the discontents of an author controlled by the reader, who consumes his work, even as Navarre asserts the power of the poet to exceed or contravert the position assigned to him by tradition (i.e., here Guillaume the writer not the lover, is the main character). For this reason I believe the poet’s original plan to have the Lay de Plour follow the end of the judgment poem was most effective artistically.

The Navarre is unlike all other medieval works in its complex exploration of the poetics of authorship, in its meditations on and comic reduction of the difficulties posed by a literary tradition and its underlying ideology to the creative author.


Though separate, the two debate poems and their lyric continuation clearly constitute a transtextual series. Machaut intended the two jugements to be read together, arranging that in his later collected works’ manuscripts; the Navarre was presumably moved from after the Remede to follow the much earlier Behaingne directly. The series features the producing-I, a fictional reflex of the poet who is represented as struggling with the demands (including angry readers) of his chosen profession. The producing-I, however, is also the reflex of a transformed matter. In the transtextual course of the debate series, the dit amoureux genre becomes an exploration of authorial experience because the poet’s activity is now available as content. This textual series, in large measure a meditation on its own making, is an artifact best accounted for, in a purely formal sense, by modernist theories of self-containment and “spatial form.” And yet the impulse toward reflexivity and autotelism, however intriguingly contemporary its structural effects might seem, finds its distinctly late medieval source in the poet’s complex connection to his patron and the court. The judgment series confirms Terry Eagleton’s view of a literary work’s material symptomaticness, the way in which it “bears the impress of its historical mode of production as surely as any product secretes in its form and materials the fashion of its making.”29

As a structural feature, the figure of the poet who as poet can become his own subject is related to an aspect of the Machaldian oeuvre that has received some important and valuable study from Kevin Brownlee, William Calin, and others: what is usually termed intertextuality. For Brownlee, a key aspect of Machaut’s career is the poet’s well-documented concern for his collected works and, hence, his reputation:
The arrangement of codices — in the thirteenth century largely the business of scribes . . . becomes with Machaut the business of the poet himself. Indeed the notion of organizing a codex is transferred by Machaut into the organizing of an oeuvre.30
And the Prologue that Machaut, late in his career, wrote for elaborate collections of his diverse works “involves the establishment of the poetic voice that will be speaking in all the works that follow.”31 A striking feature of some of Machaut’s most renowned narrative poems is the manner in which they enfold other texts, particularly lyrical inserts, thus constructing themselves as self-generating or autotextual artistic objects.32

These aspects of intertextuality we might term global and textual respectively. They are concerned with the unity established for diverse works by a text that explains their compositional origin, and with the isolation of an individual text from the flow of literary tradition, the establishment of its self-sufficiency through the rhetorical figure of the mise-en-abyme. Though in divergent ways, both forms of intertextuality foster a sense of the uniqueness and separateness of Guillaume’s artistic efforts. As such, they respond to the literary ideology of the court patronage system, which demanded adherence to traditional forms and materials, even as, by the end of the Middle Ages, that system had begun to encourage the building of an individual literary career by the artist called to make new his culture’s literary inheritance.

The judgment series is an unusual if symptomatic response to late medieval literary ideology. In these works it is a question of the ties manufactured between texts in a series, a conception that depends on the ways in which subsequent texts can be understood as answers to previous ones. More than either global or textual intertextuality, such a method of connecting works emphasizes the role of the author, for he can now be imagined — and thus be represented — as a figure who must answer continually for (and hence in some way transform) what he has already written. The Prologue offers itself as an ur-text. In it Machaut delineates the hierarchies of creation which have brought about his selection as a creator of new poems (of which the Prologue itself, of course, is one). The individual works Machaut composes are imagined as generated by this call. The Prologue accounts for the oeuvre as a whole, not for the particularity and sequencing of separate works. The use of lyric inserts as mises-en-abyme, in contrast, creates autotexts whose rhetoric of self-generation belies any connection except to their poet-creator. The debate series offers yet another plan, for it imagines the poet in time, involved in a give and take with his patrons and with the literary tradition he serves. The difficult and multi-levelled connections among these three works index the vicissitudes (however fictionalized or idealized) of the poet’s career, of creative acts that cannot be represented without reference to their reception (particularly judgments about their doctrinal conformity).

The judgment poems are thus dialogic or “open” in ways which the other works within the Machaut corpus are not. The debate which is the traditional (however modified) content of the Behaingne becomes the form which dictates the conception of the series (i.e., a debate about the debate), as the earlier poem becomes the question debated hypertextually (because the Navarre is a response to and modification of the earlier poem) as well as diegetically, because this response is generated self-consciously within the fiction, becomes the thematic matter of the new text.33 The connection between the two poems cannot be described simply as an instance of intertextuality, as the co-presence of two texts.

The writing of the Navarre transforms the meaning of the Behaingne, identifying it as a problematic fulfillment of Guillaume’s mission to write love poems with the proper doctrine; the Navarre, in fact, becomes a metatext, a commentary in the sense that it opens its hypotext to hermeneutic exploration, “speaking of it” as itself and thereby raising the question of what it says. We might go further and say that the diegetic transformation of the Behaingne within the Navarre, the presence of the earlier poem as summarized content, constitutes the reduction of the Behaingne to a pretext. Bonneürté’s desire is that the earlier poem be thought of as what we might call a disposable pretext, for she wishes its message replaced by a new judgment, by the new poem that her complaint provides the material for and is produced by (for, having poeticized his experiences with Bonneürté, Guillaume dedicates the freshly produced work to her). The Navarre itself, in turn, becomes a pretext, the explanatory preface for the Lay de Plour, which is the artistic penance called into being through the judgment passed against Guillaume by his patron, the lady, and her courtiers. Here is yet another text generated by a preceding one (in fact, by the two which precede it, since the Behaingne furnishes the content to be rewritten). Perhaps even more important, it is called into being by the encounter of the poet with the court, who uphold traditional love doctrine. This relationship is restaged within the debate itself. Ironically and appropriately, the lyric penance recalls the first poem in the series; the lady’s complaints from the Behaingne are transformed from argument into a lyric complaint, which is a transvestite performance whose true speaker is the poet himself, taking seriously the judge’s admonition to see the merits in the female point of view. Here the strident male (and clerical) tones of the narrator’s voice from the Navarre ventriloquize the sorrows of female experience, but of course, and here is the humor, in an authentically poetic rather than authentically womanly fashion. The feelings evoked in the lyric outburst must be read within the context of the series as evidence of Guillaume’s reformation, not as the personal product of emotional experience.

The debate series generates its own tradition. Such a refiguration of the traditional ground of allegorical love vision/debate poetry generates a radically different narrative persona. In the Navarre, the “I” that speaks is not the experiencing-I of the Rose, nor the clerkly narrator of an earlier literary tradition. Instead, it is the producing-I, the self whose experiences with writing texts become the material of yet other texts written by the same self (even, of course, as that self is written by its own texts). In the debate series, tradition becomes the earlier production of the poet; the rewriting that is the court poet’s approach to newness becomes directed toward, and contained by, the oeuvre. The poet furnishes himself with a new voice, speaks through and beyond what he has already said, escaping thereby the power of what other writers have done before. At the same time, the Navarre constructs the dialogue of reception-production, fictionalizing the imagined negative response of listeners whose disagreement with the author furnishes the ground for a new, corrective series of texts, including the Navarre itself. In the debate series, the author’s career is not represented as a command to produce which maps itself unproblematically over a series of texts that proceed like spokes from the hub of a wheel. Authorship, instead, is conceived as dialogic (like the texts it generates), as a series of bids and counterbids dependent for its continuation and shape on the answers furnished individual works by their aristocratic consumers.

The Navarre makes the reader understand the Behaingne as Guillaume’s own, original contribution to textual production; and the Navarre identifies itself as, first, an exploration of that earlier text and as, finally, a rewriting of it. To put it somewhat differently, the new poem which inevitably transforms the old is required, but not because a tradition, in order to live, must be supported by the continuing production of new texts. The new work is required instead because a previous text has not been found to be the proper kind of rewriting (Guillaume allegedly has violated Love’s command never to slander ladies). The Behaingne is allegedly nonconformist, unconventional. And so a new text is required to answer, atone for, and revise the one already composed. In this way, the issue of rewriting, of making a new text from the givens of the love poetry genre, becomes most directly connected to the author’s consistency and integrity. It is the producing-I who is therefore both the voice and the theme of the debate series. The doctrine and form of love debate poetry become merely the source of this poem’s engagement with the dilemmas and discontents of authorship.

Machaut’s playful problematizing of his own role is ultimately humorous. Found guilty of heterodoxy, he is nevertheless not punished by the loss of his authority, his mandate to write; instead, he is simply required to compose more texts. In the repentant poet’s hands, even the text of the Navarre becomes a gift he might bestow on his angry audience. It is interestingly transformed from a record of his recalcitrance into a monument of his rededication to proper love service, as it changes from a narrative representing experience to a made object, a codex that can be presented. The producing-I who composes the work is ultimately distinct from the beset and confused producing-I whose troubles and stupidity generate it. It is this distinction, figured in the text by the narrator’s frequent silence as he witnesses the predicament of his former self, which allows the textual series to function both as an indictment (albeit fictionalized) of Machaut and as a testimony to his inventive skill.

It is thus strangely appropriate that Guillaume is assigned the penance of composing three lyric poems with the correct doctrine. The Navarre confirms his authorship in the very act of making amends for its evident and proven deficiencies. The debate series is resolutely open-ended, its second text called into existence by the reception of the first, and the second, in turn, to be replaced by three further texts, whose value is similarly to be determined by Guillaume’s readers. The ultimate meaning of the series is the self-generating continuity of authorship, which can only be interrupted by the poet’s inability or unwillingness to write more.

Fittingly, the scene at the end of the Navarre is echoed by the dramatic encounter of the Prologue but with a crucial difference. Here Guillaume accepts the command to write from Bonneürté, just as he agrees to become an author in the Prologue at the instance of Nature (Nature) and then Amour. Once again Guillaume humbly takes up the burden of what appears to be social and existential necessity. Like Nature, Bonneürté represents a number of forces. Both figures point toward the fact of patronage, that is, toward the existence of a class whose concerns occasion courtly poetry and who must be pleased by it. At the same time each figure suggests that the poet’s calling is a unique, either natural or fortunate, gift which depends on him for its realization and furtherance. The difference is that the Navarre conceives authorship dialogically; Bonneürté does not furnish Guillaume with a command, but engages him in a debate. His oeuvre is thus imagined here as a never-ending struggle over the generation of meaning. Guillaume must realize the command he so readily and unproblematically accepts in the Prologue, but to do so he must submit to the ultimate authorship of those for whom he writes. Or at least he must apparently do so. The Navarre, we must remember, is most likely not an occasional piece, a response to some real attack on Guillaume’s abilities and dedication, but rather an ingenious fabrication that allows him to colonize the love poem genre, to transform its content into a pretext and convert the “I” of tradition into its subject matter.

Machaut conflates authorial and emotional experience in the Navarre, just as he does in the Remede,34 written during the same period of his career. But there are important differences of structure and rhetoric between the two works. The Boethian poem features a poet-lover whose production of a beautiful lay in honor of his beloved serves as the hypotext for both the love sorrow he suffers and the consolation which, with the aid of the heavenly Hope, he eventually experiences. Similarly, the Navarre offers a protagonist whose writing of a poem gets him into difficulty with the lady he is bound to serve faithfully and love. The publication of this text leads to a fractious, nearly damaging debate between him and his lady’s twelve damsels, which culminates in his censure. Here the writing which causes difficulty but ultimately leads to happiness is not enfolded within the text; it is a public part of Guillaume’s oeuvre. It exists in the Navarre only as a short summary. The Navarre does not treat the judgment of the earlier poem as a “reality” whose story world it would extend in the manner of a sequel. Instead the earlier judgment is represented as a text for which the author, named as the poet Guillaume de Machaut, is held responsible. The fiction of the Navarre is second degree. It has been constructed by the absorption into a later text of that which was extra-textual in an earlier one (i.e., the facts of authorship and reception). There is no question of any coincidence between amorous and authorial experiences because these belong to different layers of textual “reality.” Or, to put it another way, we might say that the only experience that the Navarre (and by extension the debate series itself) can treat is authorial.

The Navarre functions more as metatext than simple transformation. Similarly, the Lay de Plour, reverting to a genre in which pure emotionality and its appropriate technical expression are at issue, furnishes a commentary on the Navarre. As a lyric, it provides a “correction” that implicitly goes beyond scholastic disputation to the roots of authorial feeling about love experience. An important aspect of the penitential rhetoric of this lyric is that it is a transvestite performance. On the surface at least, the poet’s conversion stages, in so far as possible, the abandonment of the gender position Guillaume allegedly adopts in the Behaingne and so wrongfully defends in the Navarre. Finally, the contextualizing of the lyric implicitly asks the reader to judge it as an important element of the author’s career (i.e., as textual evidence of his rededication to the proper service of ladies required of him in the Prologue).

At the same time, it is significant that Guillaume “corrects” the error contained in his first judgment by closely repeating central elements of what he had written. If the Navarre replaces the Behaingne, embodying as a text the wish of lady Bonneürté that the first judgment poem be effaced, the Lay de Plour in effect restores the Behaingne by containing and transforming it. As a metatext, the lyric reads the earlier judgment “against the grain,” emphasizing the elements which had there been improperly marginalized. Furthermore, the reversion to a lyric form at this point in the series allows Guillaume to restage a move made in the Navarre. Guillaume’s judgment in the Behaingne is not proven wrong so much as it never receives an adequate defense from the producing-I, who actually winds up mouthing unquestionably anti-feminist sentiments that clinch the case for the opposition. Similarly, a lyric penance makes it possible for Guillaume to avoid retracting his viewpoint. He accords the emotional turbulence of the sorrowing woman a special place (repressing male unhappiness with female fickleness and betrayal in the process), but the form does not constrain him to admit directly the error of his opinion. The Lay de Plour is an ironically subversive text, a testimony to Guillaume’s obedience as a character to the wishes of his lady, but sly proof as well that Guillaume the author never surrenders final control of his versifying to the powers that he himself has decided to summon into diegetic existence.

The Lay de Plour accommodates two different voices, the voice of the producing-I and the voice of the character he recycles in order to further his role as author. The traditional lyric form remains technically intact; but the transtextuality of the debate series, the transformation which links one text to another, has in effect altered the reading strategy which Machaut’s courtly audience must adopt to consume it. The poet shifts the rhetoric of the text, making his readers attend more to the work as a poem written by an author to achieve a particular effect than as a pleasing imitation of feeling and grief. Machaut speaks through the simulated emotions of his constructed persona to delineate once again the producing-I, the implied poet whose experience is authorial rather than emotional. The Lay de Plour exists to express authorial desire, or, to be precise, the author’s desire for authorship; it exists dramatically in the manner of the traditional lyric only to the extent that the producing-I reveals himself as the ultimate voice that speaks it.



Unlike most poets of the Middle Ages, Guillaume de Machaut was eager to present to the public his poetical and musical works as a unified oeuvre that would testify, in its breadth and variety, not to mention its demonstrated finesse, to his talent and accomplishment. This understanding of his compositional activities seems, from the evidence, to have occurred to the poet relatively early in his career, but it achieved its most impressive textual form late in his career. Though Machaut’s works are sometimes found individually bound with those of other authors (this is especially true of the Behaingne, which seems to have enjoyed an unusual popularity), the more authoritative manuscripts offer more or less complete versions of the oeuvre and do not contain works by others. In attempting to establish the best witnesses for Machaut’s various works, textual scholars evaluated the surviving manuscripts on the basis of what might be called a “growing contents” theory. Thus, the more complete manuscripts should be thought of as later and hence representative of the poet’s final version of his works.35 In the Voir Dit,36 the character Guillaume de Machaut speaks of the book “where I have put all my compositions” (after line 6281; L33), establishing that there was at least one manuscript whose contents did grow the poet’s compilation of fair copies.37 In the past three decades or so, this theory has been challenged, both as a global explanation of the affiliation of the surviving manuscripts and as a protocol for establishing the “best text” to be used in editions of individual poems.38 It may well be that one or more of the surviving manuscripts is “incomplete” because its contents were meant to suit the tastes of a particular patron. So it follows that the dating and establishment of relative authority must rest on a careful examination of the evidence in each case. However, this does not mean that in deciding on the base text for an edition of an individual work the view that the more complete manuscripts carry no special authority can be laid aside lightly. How these issues affect the editing of the musical texts is discussed in full in the introductory materials of the several volumes of this edition devoted to Machaut’s musical production.

The poems of Machaut are found either individually or in groups in seventy-three manuscripts that have either survived or can be postulated with some certainty.39 Here follows a list of the five that include Machaut’s last major work, the Prise, and thus seem to extend their completeness to the end of his active career:
A Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, fonds français MS 1584
B Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, fonds français MS 1585
E Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, fonds français MS 9221
F–G Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, fonds français MSS 22545–6
Vg olim Marquis de Vogüé; now Ferrell 1, Parker Library, Cambridge
An earlier manuscript that lacks the final two major dits — the Voir Dit and the Prise — as well as the Prologue, but which, for a number of reasons carries considerable authority for the early works, is:
C Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, fonds français MS 1586
Of the five later, complete works manuscripts, only A and F–G include a full version of the Prologue that Machaut wrote late in his career to serve as a literary explanation of why he devoted himself to the composition of verse and music. B includes a short, perhaps preliminary version of the Prologue. Vg lacks not only the Prologue, but some of the shorter works of Machaut’s later career, and even though it does contain the Prise, it lacks the Voir Dit. While, like Vg, E lacks some of the short, later dits, it does include full versions of both the Voir Dit and the Prise. C lacks the Navarre.

A, E, and F–G undoubtedly relate closely to one another, but direct affiliations are difficult to establish. Of the three, A and F–G may well have been copied from the same source, but these two manuscripts do not regularly agree with Vg, B, and E, as one might expect in such a case. E sometimes furnishes readings superior to those of A and F–G. We can hardly doubt that A, E, and F–G are no more than one or two removes from Machaut’s own fair copy, which, it is entirely possible, he may have edited during the preparation of these omnibus manuscripts. The fact that two substantial passages of the Behaingne have apparently been excised from A, and that these lacunae cannot be accounted for as scribal error or other material reasons (such as a missing folio), raises the strong possibility of authorial intervention in the preparation of this manuscript which, as shall become evident, we have other good reasons to believe was copied and assembled under the supervision of the poet himself. In any case, “authorized” versions of the different works may have circulated in different “final” forms. For this reason, the principle of common error cannot be invoked with any certainty in establishing a “correct reading.”

A has consistently, if not exclusively, been preferred by Machaut’s literary (if not musical) editors because it offers reliable, if hardly error-free versions of his various texts. Ernest Hœpffner, Machaut’s first modern, scientific editor, merits quoting on this point:
In so far as the establishment of the text is concerned, priority must be given to the most complete manuscripts which contain in one form or another the last redaction of the works of Machaut, the definitive forms that the author wished to give them: A and F–G.40
A bears an additional cachet that distinguishes it absolutely from F–G. Its index is headed by a rubric, unique among all the Machaut manuscripts, that reads “Vesci lordenance que Guillaume de Machaut wet qil ait en son livre” (This is the arrangement that Guillaume de Machaut wishes his book to have). If we interpret “ordenance” more broadly to mean something like “form,” this rubric might be understood as a testimony to the authenticity of the manuscript’s witness to the author’s intentions. Furthermore, the miniatures in grisaille throughout the body of the manuscript seem to be of provincial design, perhaps executed in Reims under the poet’s supervision.41 For these reasons, A has been selected as the base manuscript for the edition of the poetic works. Since there are compelling reasons to think it offers the best witness to Machaut’s final intentions, the editorial policy adopted here accords priority to A in all matters. The two works in this volume are presented in fairly error-free form in A, and minor grammatical “errors” (if that is what they are) have been allowed to stand, while spelling variations have not been regularized. Obvious miswritings of various kinds (as opposed to misspellings, in so far as these two categories can be distinguished) have been noted and corrected. The several lacunae in the text of the Behaingne have been supplied from C; in the case of the two larger passages of this kind, the reader is invited to speculate on whether the cut-down or full version of the poem is the artistically superior. Accents, including the dieresis (or umlaut), are supplied to the original text; words written together that are normally separate are separated; abbreviations are expanded, but manuscript numerals are allowed to stand; u/v as well as i/j are treated in the modern fashion, with /v/ and /j/ reserved for consonantal use; capitalization follows modern practice, and the separation of initial letters from the first words in poetic lines has been abandoned. With these exceptions, the French text presented here is essentially the same as it appears in manuscript A, but of course with modern punctuation.

The facing English translations serve two quite different purposes which, in practice, have not always proved possible to reconcile. On the one hand, the English version is a guide for those reading the original, who might glance at it for assistance with a difficult construction or unfamiliar word. For such readers, the most useful translation is a version in which each French expression is rendered by an appropriate English equivalent. Basic syntactical and grammatical similarities between Middle French and Modern English make such translation possible, though often the result is awkward or unidiomatic. On the other hand, the translation also serves those with no knowledge of Middle French, for whom the best introduction to Machaut’s poetry is a modern English version that reproduces not only the meaning of the original, but something of its style, though the version offered here does not pretend to equal the elegance of the original. Most lines of the translation do correspond to those in the original. To produce easily readable English, however, I have sometimes not been guided by Machaut’s syntax. No attempt has been made to reproduce the rhyming octosyllabic couplets of the Navarre or the stanzaic form of the Behaingne.42


The musical reading of the Lay de Plour presented here follows A alone; even where adjustments are required from that reading, they are made here without recourse to any other manuscript sources (for details of such instances, see the notes to the music, p. 377). By adhering closely to our base source and integrating illuminations from it, we offer a snapshot of a single tradition of transmission. Combining music and image into the text in their original positions enables the reader to appreciate the richness and subtlety of this tradition. As a consequence, the musical edition offered here is subtly different from its counterpart in Volume 10: The Lays, where the weight of evidence from the other manuscript sources sometimes calls for the adjustment of the reading from the base source, even where the version stated in our base source is also technically viable. A full list of the musical variants will be presented there, while the textual variants will appear in Volume 8: The Lyrics I.

In the score presented here, sharps and flats appearing above the stave are editorial. Brackets distinguish between more and less controversial suggestions. Detailed discussion of our editorial policy will appear in the music volumes of this complete edition. Further discussion about editorial approaches can be found on our project website, along with accompanying tailored scores and illustrative sound clips made by The Orlando Consort and Le Basile;

Go to BNF, FR. 1584 An Art Historical Overview