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Guillaume de Machaut, The Boethian Poems: General Introduction

1 Numbers 123 and 124 in Eustache Deschamps, eds. Queux de Saint-Hilaire and Raynaud, 1:243–46. All translations from Latin and French in this introduction are by the editor.

2 See L’Art de Dictier, ed. and trans. Sinnreich-Levi. For further discussion of this general issue, see Butterfield, Poetry and Music, and Wimsatt, Chaucer and his French Contemporaries.

3 See the forthcoming Volume 4: The True Tale of this edition, Guillaume de Machaut: The Complete Poetry and Music.

4 Number 127 in Eustache Deschamps, eds. Queux de Saint-Hilaire and Raynaud, 1:249.

5 For details, see Œuvres de Guillaume de Machaut, ed. Hœpffner 1:v–viii.

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

7 For details see Poirion, Le Poète et le Prince.

8 See the extensive catalogue of Machaldian reminiscences, borrowings, and parallelisms in Roy de Behaingne and Remede de Fortune, eds. Wimsatt and Kibler, pp. 491–513. Earp’s A Guide to Research is the most comprehensive and reliable source for information about Machaut’s life and works.

9 See the forthcoming Volume 6: The Taking of Alexandria of this edition.

10 See the forthcoming Volume 3: Love Visions of this edition.

11 See further Cazelles, Jean l’Aveugle and Œuvres de Guillaume de Machaut, ed. Hœpffner 1:xi–xliii.

12 Gauvard, “Portrait du Prince,” p. 26; see Poirion, Le Poète et le Prince, p. 196, for a similar view.

13 Prise d’Alixandre, line 769. See the forthcoming Volume 6 of this edition.

14 See the maps in Ramirez de Palacios, Charles dit le Mauvais, p. 43 and 88.

15 See Ramirez de Palacios, Charles dit Le Mauvais, pp. 9–42.

16 See Ramirez de Palacios, Charles dit Le Mauvais, pp. 409–58 for details.

17 The text and translations of the Chroniques is most accessible at The Online Froissart, available at

18 Delogu, Theorizing the Ideal Sovereign, p. 14.

19 Delogu, Theorizing the Ideal Sovereign, p. 3.

20 Ramirez de Palacios, Charles dit Le Mauvais, p. 8.

21 Quoted in Plaisse, Charles, Dit le Mauvais, p. 17.

22 See Ramirez de Palacios, Charles dit Le Mauvais, pp. 81–108.

23 Quoted in Plaisse, Charles, Dit le Mauvais, pp. 61–62.

24 For the original texts of the letters to Edward, see Plaisse, Charles, Dit le Mauvais, pp. 62–63.

25 See Cazelles, Étienne Marcel, for further details.

26 See Ramirez de Palacios, Charles dit Le Mauvais, pp. 123–56 for a useful account of what is now known about the event.

27 This letter is quoted in part in Jean de Venette, ed. Newhall, pp. 226–27n24.

28 Jean de Venette, ed. Newhall, p. 69.

29 See Cazelles, Étienne Marcel, for details of the revolt.

30 Quoted in Plaisse, Charles, Dit le Mauvais, pp. 78–79.

31 Bakhtin, “Epic and Novel,” p. 11.

32 Bakhtin, “Prehistory of Novelistic Discourse,” p. 49.

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

34 See Calin, Poet at the Fountain.

35 Weimann, “Text, Author-Function, and Appropriation,” p. 434.

36 Weimann, “Text, Author-Function, and Appropriation,” p. 434, emphasis original.

37 Weimann, “Text, Author-Function, and Appropriation,” p. 435.

38 See Brownlee, Poetic Identity, for a useful discussion of this issue.

39 See Patch, Tradition of Boethius, for a useful survey of this tradition.

40 See the forthcoming Volume 3: Love Visions of this edition.

41 Further discussion of these lyrics, including technical questions relating to their metrics and verse forms, is to be found in the forthcoming Volumes 9–13 of this edition, according to genre, where the Remede’s intercalations, as well as those in the other dits, are reprinted.

42 In this edition, the settings are represented in situ, just as medieval readers would have encountered them; various issues related to the placement and function of the music within the text are discussed further below. See also Smilansky’s "Introduction to the Music,” pp. 73–80, in this edition.

43 See Boulton, Song in the Story, for a thorough account of such mixed-form texts.

44 Kelly, Medieval Imagination, p. 122.

45 Weimann, “Text, Author-Function, and Appropriation,” p. 435.

46 McGrady, “Competing for Authority,” p. 98.

47 McGrady, “Competing for Authority,” p. 98.

48 For different view of the Boethian themes in the Confort and Remede, see Kelly, Medieval Imagination, pp. 121–44, and Elliott, Remembering Boethius.

49 Herold, “Boethius’s Consolatio Philosophiae,” p. 37.

50 For further details on the Parc de Hesdin, see Salet, “Le Parc de Hesdin”; on the automata, see

51 Kay, “Consolation, Philosophy, and Poetry,” p. 22.

52 Kay, “Consolation, Philosophy, and Poetry,” p. 25.

53 Kay, “Consolation, Philosophy, and Poetry,” p. 23.

54 See Delogu, Theorizing the Ideal Sovereign, for further details.

55 Œuvres de Guillaume de Machaut, ed. Hœpffner 3:ii.

56 Wallen, “Biblical and Mythological Typology,” p. 192.

57 Auerbach, Scenes from the Drama of European Literature, p. 29.

58 See Wallen, “Biblical and Mythological Typology,” for a somewhat different view.

59 See Daniel 13. A lively, contemporaneous Middle English telling of the story may be found in the “The Pistel of Swete Susan,” in Heroic Women, ed. Peck, pp. 73–108.

60 That Gower knew and drew upon Machaut, see Nicholson, Love and Ethics, especially regarding the French poet’s influence on Gower’s politics. For Gower’s extensive use of Daniel, see Peck, “John Gower and the Book of Daniel.”

61 Cazelles, Société Politique, p. 180.

62 Original text in Plaisse, Charles, Dit le Mauvais, p. 62.

63 Original text in Plaisse, Charles, Dit le Mauvais, p. 65.

64 See Wallen, “Biblical and Mythological Typology,” especially p. 202.

65 For details, see the admirable discussion in Kelly, Medieval Imagination, pp.123–37.

66 See Prologue, lines 249–89 in the forthcoming Volume 3: Love Visions of this edition.

67 See the forthcoming Volume 3: Love Visions of this edition.

68 The list is not unlike Chaucer’s description of his Knight, whose military exploits define the boundaries of Christendom. See CTI(A)51–67. Machaut’s account of Jean’s humble dress, food, and house likewise bear resemblance to Chaucer’s Knight.

69 See the forthcoming Volume 5: Romance and Allegory of this edition.

70 See Gauvard, “Portrait du Prince,” for a full discussion of this issue.

71 Biblia Sacra, eds. Colunga and Turrado.

72 Perhaps it is noteworthy that the early French plays of Daniel (Fleury c. 1140 and Beaurais c. 1230) follow those same details quite exactly. See the drawing of Habbakuk being drawn by his hair in Bevington, Medieval Drama, p. 154.

73 See de Boer, “Guillaume de Machaut et l’Ovide Moralisé,” and L’Ovide moralisé, Introduction I:28–43.

74 de Boer, “Guillaume de Machaut et l’Ovide Moralisé,” p. 350.

75 A number of other passages in Machaut closely parallel ones in the Ovide moralisé: the most significant are lines 2361–64 (OM 5.1805–14); 2381 (5.1882); 2384–85 (5.1893–94); 2390 (5.1897); 2420 (5.1940); 2421–22 (5.1946–47); 2433–34 (5.1962–63); 2440–42 (5.1966–68); 2443–44 (5.1973–75); 2459 (5.1992); 2475 (5.1994); 2476–77 (5.1997 and 2014–15); 2486–87 (5.2025–26); 2489–91 (5.2028–30); 2492 (5.2034–35); 2501 (5.2124); 2510 (5.2252); 2517 (10.106); 2520 (10.104); 2523 (10.108); 2529–30 (10.111–12 and 341–43); 2535–36 (10.113–15) and see explanatory note on this passage; 2537 and 2540 (10.113 and 365–66); 2547–48 (10.118); 2551 (10.50, 87, 482); 2565 (10.153); 2575–76 (10.172, 174); and 2617–19 (11.133–34).

76 See de Boer, "Guillaume de Machaut et l'Ovide Moralisé," p. 337, for details.

77 See Œuvres de Guillaume de Machaut, ed. Hœpffner, 1:xliv–li for an elaborate and persuasive demonstration of this view.

78 See Volume 5: The True Tale of the present edition.

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

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

81 See Earp, A Guide to Research, pp. 73–128, for full details.

82 Œuvres de Guillaume de Machaut, ed. Hœpffner 1:l.

83 See Leo’s “An Art Historical Overview,” pp. 38 and 42–43, in Volume 1: The Debate Poems for further discussion of this important point.



One of the foremost poets of the younger generation in the closing decades of the fourteenth century, Eustache Deschamps took the occasion of the death of Guillaume de Machaut in 1378 to memorialize him with two ballades (numbers 123 and 124).1 The Champenois poet-musician, so Deschamps avers, was the mondains dieux d’armonie (the earthly divinity of harmony) as well as le noble rethorique (the noble rhetorician). Machaut was thus a master of two arts, poetry and music, and of the different forms, particularly lyric poetry in its several fixed types, in which these two kinds of composition figured together. Such a comprehensive vocation to text making was celebrated by his peers as an aspirational ideal important enough to merit a textual form of its own in Deschamps’ Art de Dictier (The Art of Poetry). Deschamps’ learned treatise exerted considerable influence and promoted the theory that music and poetry are both essentially musical forms, with the first being “artificial” since it must be studied and learnt, and the second “natural;” being more dependent on talent than intention.2 Machaut’s masterpiece, the Voir Dit (True Poem), offers an ornate and complex mélange of prose letters, narrative passages in octosyllabic couplets, and lyrics, some of which are set to music that is transcribed in situ.

Some years previously, after sending to Count Louis de Male of Flanders an exemplar of Machaut’s Voir Dit, Deschamps had felt inspired to compose an extended poetic compliment to the poet-musician who best exemplified the artistic values of the age:3

Dont vous estes honouriez haultement: And so you are highly honored
Car tous voz faiz moult honourablement For all your works are received by everyone
Chascuns reçoit en maint pais estrange, With great honor in many a far-off country,
Et si n’y a nul, a mon jugement, And so, as I judge the matter, there is no man
Qui en die fors qu’a vostre louenge. Who says anything of them but praise for you,
Les grans seigneurs, Guillaume, vous ont chier, Guillaume, the great lords hold you dear,
En voz choses prannent esbatement.4 And they take pleasure in what you compose.
(lines 4–10)

But Deschamps is not 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 René d'Anjou 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.5 We may safely conclude from such evidence that Guillaume de Machaut was one of the most famous poets and musicians 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.”6 Of musical as well as literary interest is his extensive body of lyric poems in various fixed forms such as the ballade and the virelai. In fact, Machaut was largely responsible for the continuing fashion of this type of poetry.7 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 works, partly because of their love motifs and partly through their allusions to Machaut’s patrons, who figure sometimes as characters, greatly pleased the noble audiences (and readers) 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, Alain Chartier, and John Gower. Geoffrey Chaucer’s poetry evidences a close and reverent reading of narrative works by the French master. Among the dits that especially appealed to his artistic contemporaries were Le dit dou Vergier (Story of the Orchard), 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), written in 1349 or shortly thereafter. This linked pair of poems constitute what is commonly referred to as his debate (or sometimes judgment) series. The Lay de Plour (Lay of Weeping), a lyric set to music, is connected inter-textually to the two debate poems and is thus included in Volume 1 of the present edition.

The Remede de Fortune (Remedy for Fortune) was likely written prior to 1342, after both the Vergier and the Behaingne, but the particular circumstances of its composition are not known, primarily because it contains no reference to contemporary events, as do several of Machaut’s other narrative works. The Confort d’ami (Comfort for, or perhaps from, a Friend) was written in 1357. The circumstances of its composition are complex and require substantial comment further below. Though they differ substantially in other respects, the Remede and the Confort both make extensive, and in many ways similar, use of themes, formal structures, and ideas borrowed from Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy (Latin, early sixth century), which was the most influential text in the Middle Ages, the Bible alone excepted.

Machaut’s two Boethian works, which offer meditations on the tragedy of human experience and how it might be transcended, were carefully read by the poet’s contemporaries, especially Jean Froissart and Geoffrey Chaucer. They each mined the Remede for material that could be put to creative re-use. Froissart’s Prison Amoureuse (Lovers’ Prison) replays the formal structure of the Confort, with a poet (a thinly disguised version of Froissart) exchanging letters with his imprisoned patron, Wenceslas of Luxembourg.8 Chaucer, it seems certain, had in his possession an early omnibus manuscript of the poet’s works, which was an obvious influence from the French master (including extensive borrowing and appropriation of individual verses), and extended from his youthful first efforts at writing poetry in the French style (notably The Book of the Duchess and The Parliament of Fowls) to his epic adaptation of Boccaccio’s Troy story, his own more brilliant Troilus and Criseyde. Like the two Machaut works, the Troilus offers a deep engagement with key ideas from the Consolation, especially the notion of Fortune, whom Boethius imagines as a divine figure charged with the ever-undependable bestowal of the earthly goods. Chaucer’s unfinished The Canterbury Tales, continues the formal deployment in these previous works of the first person narrator often named as the author, a figure who also appears as both a character and, in the tale that “Chaucer” tells, a philosopher-narrator who is embedded within the larger narrative that “Chaucer” himself narrates. Machaut was the literary pioneer in developing such intriguingly complex relations between textual insides and outsides, making for a finesse in the voicing of the poetic self that in his own oeuvre achieves its most impressive form in the aptly named Voir Dit. The Remede and the Confort are impressive early studies for that masterpiece and the other larger scale dit of Machaut’s maturity, La Prise d’Alixandre.9

Because he was a low-born cleric who 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 that detail his appointment to different benefices, it can be inferred that Machaut was born at the beginning of the fourteenth century (conventionally a date of 1300 is assigned, but that is no more than an approximation) probably in the village of Machault in Champagne. Since the same documents fail to accord him any of the titles that would indicate noble birth, we may assume his birth class was modest. 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. In the following passage from his Fonteinne amoureuse (Fountain of Love), the narrator, an intertextual reflex of the poet, describes his experiences with battles that prove to be especially revealing:


Et comment que je soie clers And though I might be a clerk
Rudes, nices, et malapers, Who is ignorant, incapable, and inept,
S’ay je esté par mes .ii. fois Yet I’ve been, by my two faiths,
En tele place aucune fois In such a place several times
Avec le bon Roy de Behaingne, With the good King of Bohemia,
Dont Dieus ait l’ame en sa compaigne, And may God keep his soul among His company,
Que maugré mien hantis estoie, And despite myself I was brave,
Car il n’i avoit lieu ne voie, Since there was no place, no path,
Ne destour ou fuïr sceüsse, No byway where I knew to flee,
Si couvenoit que hardis fusse. And thus I had to be courageous.
(lines 139–48)10

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, he 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 (much like “master” in modern English). Machaut, however, did not go on to take holy orders since he is nowhere referred to as a priest and only served in offices like the canonicate that 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, after which a career in church or secular administration, or in the relatively new profession of university teaching, would be in order.

Through circumstances no longer known, Machaut became associated in his early twenties with one of the most notable grand nobles of the era, Jean de Luxembourg, who also held the title of 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, who was born in the region, 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 and strong faith made him the very type of ideal knight that would appeal to a cleric like Machaut, who admired the great and powerful in whose circles he moved during his adult life. In several of his 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 Bürglitz (1323), a series of military expeditions through Poland, Russia, and Lithuania (1329), Jean’s invasion of northern Italy (1330–31), and his largely fruitless involvement in Austrian affairs (1331). Ecclesiastical documents suggest that Machaut remained in Jean’s service until the king’s heroic death at Crécy in 1346.11 Though blind, Jean had himself conveyed to the battle, a gesture of extraordinary courage that much impressed his contemporaries.

Although he was willing to provide information about his early association with Jean, Machaut offers few indications about any experiences with the king after 1331. 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 (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 troubles in both Poland and Austria. The expenses incurred by these generally inconclusive campaigns put an enormous burden on his subjects in Bohemia and Luxembourg, but such practical failings as a ruler did nothing to dim the king’s considerable reputation, as Machaut’s extended encomium to him in the Confort exemplifies (lines 2823–3086).

Following Crécy, Machaut 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 permanent residence there until much later in life. 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).12 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 Prise d’Alixandre (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”13 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 at that time running its deadly course 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, but more likely in northern France (perhaps Reims, regions that along with the Rhineland were especially hard hit by the disease), Machaut, or more precisely his intratextual reflex, Guillaume, recounts his melancholic reactions to the outbreak of the disease, foretold by astrological and political signs. Having made a good confession, the narrator 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 (including what seems a reference to the mass slaughter of Cologne’s Jews on 23/24 August 1349), the appearance of wandering troops of flagellants, the mass burials of victims, the depopulation of the countryside, and desperate economic hardship. When the epidemic comes to 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 examination of love and loss begun a number of years earlier in the Behaingne.

In the years following Jean of Bohemia’s heroic death, the very youthful Charles II (b. 1332), king of Navarre, became Machaut’s patron. The circumstances in which Machaut managed this next step in his professional career are no longer known, but can be surmised with some confidence. The poet continued to enjoy the several ecclesiastical appointments Jean had arranged for him, as well as the livings these offices afforded. And yet it was to be expected that he would seek out a new patron as well, one who could appreciate and support his artistic endeavors in the comfortable style to which he had likely become well accustomed. Charles, to be sure, enjoyed the fine life at court and surely would have made for an interesting and generous patron, one who appreciated Machaut’s talents. And yet it is most surprising that a relationship both personal and professional developed between Charles of Navarre and the poet, not only because Machaut was perhaps three decades Charles’ senior, but also since in so doing Machaut began a close association with a figure who (though connected to them by blood) was an opponent of the Valois, the royal family to whom Machaut had already established a personal connections through Bonne. From a modern perspective, Charles appears to be on the wrong side of history: an opportunistic opponent of the centralizing monarchy, which became in the course of the sixteenth century the institutional heart of the country’s story about itself (le récit national). That Machaut should have come to the notice of Charles, it should be emphasized, is hardly surprising. For in addition to his royal title, the young man was also the count of Évreux in Normandy, one of the considerable territories in the Cotentin peninsula of northern France where he was frequently in residence and to which he held claims, as was the case with lands further west toward Paris. These latter claims were ratified, despite the resistance of Jean II of France, by the Treaty of Mantes (22 February 1354).14 Not long after this last agreement with Jean, Charles paid a heavy price for his political maneuvering, which included the murder of one of Jean’s favorites, Charles of Spain. The king of Navarre was arrested by Jean and then imprisoned for months. It was this captivity that provided the occasion for Machaut’s poetic message of comfort, as will be discussed in detail below.

During the two decades following the debacle at Crécy, Charles maneuvered against Jean with the aim of securing the French throne for himself. These intrigues earned him the sobriquet le mauvais (the bad) from sixteenth-century French historians. Because their rivalry began to be interpreted in moral terms, Jean II began simultaneously to be referred to as le bon (the good). However oversimplified, this labeling has stuck. At the time, it must be emphasized, Machaut was simply one of many in France who regarded Charles of Navarre as the man best qualified to lead the country, especially since he was entitled by defensible claims to do so.15 As detailed below, Charles played to great effect the role of agent provocateur in the political turmoil that followed on disastrous French defeats at the hands of the English on the fields of first Crécy and then Poitiers (on 19 September 1356), where Jean himself was taken prisoner. This left the country without a duly consecrated king until the exorbitant ransom was paid following the conclusion of the Treaty of Brétigny on 8 May 1360, nearly four years later.

A succession of political crises followed the disaster at Poitiers. During what was in effect an interregnum, a four-cornered rivalry among Jean, the dauphin, Charles of Navarre, and Étienne Marcel, the forceful Provost of the merchants of Paris, generated an intricate series of intersecting events in which betrayal and bad faith played a role on all sides. Struggle among the rich and powerful had fostered a widespread uncertainty that was exacerbated by the onerous taxes and other restrictive measures that were imposed on the lower orders as the kingdom’s economic situation worsened. In 1358, a revolt broke out in northern France, with many among the merchants and peasantry convinced that the nobility had proven disloyal to their absent king. Charles of Navarre distinguished himself in the armed conflict that then arose, defeating and then massacring in the battle of Mello (10 June 1358) the considerable peasant force then making disorganized war on the nobility.

This civil war of sorts was soon referred to as the Jacquerie, reflecting the derisive nickname (Jacques Bonhomme) given to peasants by the nobility. Charles played an important role in the subsequent campaign of retribution visited by the army of nobles on those suspected of having supported or participated in the revolt. Murderous reprisals occurred in many cities of northern France, including Reims, as knights flocked to the struggle. Charles of Navarre proved unable, however, to turn this situation to his lasting political advantage. The Treaty of Brétigny established the dauphin as the winner in the struggle for power even though huge portions of southwestern France were ceded to the English. Released from captivity, Jean had felt forced by his sense of honor to return to England not long afterward when one of the treaty’s hostages absconded, dying before negotiations could be finalized and he could return to France. Jean’s son, Charles, was consecrated soon thereafter as Charles V.

In its mix of personal and general themes, the Confort is unlike any other medieval poem. To be sure, the narrator (self-evidently Machaut himself) announces from the outset his intention to deliver a quite personal message of consolation and advice to his imprisoned patron. And yet the Confort also explores more generally the issue of deliverance, imagining a wider audience with its anthology of well-told stories from the Bible and the French poetic adaptation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the Ovide moralisé, not to mention its useful summarizing of the chief ideas from the first three books of the Consolation. Charles was held in captivity by Jean for a variety of reasons, but the acts of which he was accused could also be seen as justified by Charles’ pursuit of his rights, given the slippery way in which the political was inevitably also the personal.

Among other themes, the Confort forcefully expresses the poet’s partisan support for Charles, and thus, indirectly, his claims on the country’s throne. Machaut makes a point of referring to others of similar views — also “friends” of Charles — who were then engaged in planning Charles’ escape. That he knew a break-out was being planned is itself perhaps significant. It seems likely that the text of the poem was delivered to him, either while he was still a captive or soon after he had regained his freedom. The timing of the poem’s completion and subsequent publication (that is, after Jean was captured at Poitiers) surely explains why a good portion of the work is devoted to advice that a young man should follow if he intended to succeed as, should the circumstances permit, the next king of France. Charles, Machaut insists, could do no better than to emulate the exalted and much lamented Jean of Bohemia, who pressed his multifarious territorial claims in a series of military campaigns, a lengthy description of which makes the case that Jean was persistent in addressing threats to his personal honor. This seems a lesson quite relevant to Charles’ situation as an aggrieved member of the royal family. Confiscation of his major territorial rights in France had preceded his imprisonment, and Navarre had been pressuring Jean for years that other lands to which he had a claim by blood on his mother’s side should be turned over to his control. Jean of Bohemia had found himself in a similar situation with regard to the throne of Poland, contesting it with king Wladyslaw I, a dispute eventually settled by treaty. Charles had done the same with Jean at Mantes, and he would do it again at Valognes (10 September 1355), in both situations using the threat of an alliance with the ever-threatening English to extract concessions from Jean, who was also his father-in-law.

Ironically, the possibility that Charles would in fact see his claim on the throne of France legitimated and accepted by a broad public became less likely not long after Machaut made public his partisanship. With the assistance of friends and confederates, Charles managed to escape on 9 November 1357 and immediately was successful in pressing claims with the dauphin (the future Charles V) for damages and the restoration of the territories taken from him. And yet, like the proverbial child of Fortune who rises to the summit of good luck only to descend quickly into disaster (a misfortune Machaut warns him against, lines 1853–2056), Charles soon saw dashed his hopes to replace Jean on the throne. Within a year or so of the composition of the Confort, the intimate (and perhaps dangerous) relationship between poet and patron dissolved, with Machaut transferring for a while his services to Jean II’s younger son, the Duc de Berry, a man whose interests were much more aesthetic and intellectual than political. By the time of his death in 1387, a decade after Machaut’s passing, Charles of Navarre had become politically irrelevant, at least as far as French affairs were concerned.16

Machaut was by no means a political writer; his poetry provided entertainment and enlightenment, especially through their thematizing of refined amorous experience, following a literary tradition that was over two centuries old. Like some of his younger contemporaries, however, especially Eustache Deschamps and Jean Froissart, Machaut did occasionally write in response to current events. The other Machaut dit that resonates with Froissart’s noted Chroniques17 is the Prise d’Alixandre, which is in effect a biography of Pierre I of Cyprus, one of the poet’s patrons in his later years. Like the Chroniques, this work offers on a smaller scale a detailed narrative of the doings of the high-born, emphasizing the ways in which they lived out, or failed to live out, the values of their class. Cyprus was an overseas French kingdom ruled since the twelfth century by a royal family with French connections, the Lusignans, but Machaut likely met Pierre during one of the monarch’s many sojourns in France. As its title suggests, the Prise focuses on the most notable success of crusading in the fourteenth century, the seizure of the Egyptian city of Alexandria on 11 October 1365. This work also features an extended encomium to Jean of Bohemia, who is once again, as in the Confort, held up as the highest example of chivalric accomplishment and virtue. Like Charles of Navarre, and despite his spectacular crusading success, Pierre did not live up to the high standards of chivalric virtue and moral high-mindedness set by Machaut’s first patron. The Prise records, with only a minimum of apology and justification, the famed warrior’s regrettable decline into self-destructive tyranny.

The rhetorics of the two Machaut dits differ significantly, reflecting the quite disparate circumstances of their composition. The Confort intervened at a time of political crisis for both Machaut’s erstwhile patron and the nation of which the poet counted himself a subject. Machaut enthusiastically expresses his support for a leader who, he apparently hoped, would deliver France from the disorder the country was then enduring. Notably, the portrait of Charles that emerges in the poem is strongly positive; the murder of Charles of Spain is invoked only indirectly in order to assert the innocence of Navarre. The poem ignores completely the plotting against both Jean of France and the dauphin. The lengthy closing section, devoted to a comprehensive if disorderly catalogue of precepts that the successful king should observe, might be read as an implicit acknowledgment that Charles’ character might be in need of reformation. Tellingly, Machaut’s inclusion of the prayer of Manasseh from the Old Testament provides the prisoner with a model for how he might seek reconciliation with God and, perhaps, also with the king whom he had so grievously offended (see especially lines 1509–36).

Composed after Pierre’s murder by disgruntled Cypriot nobles, the Prise traces a pattern of life that Machaut’s readers would have recognized as tragic. Pierre’s early success as both ruler and knight — seen as reflecting his heritage and connection to French royalty — deteriorated into arrogance, indifference, sexual turpitude, and eventually suicidal brutality. With careful impartiality, Machaut details Pierre’s often outrageous treatment of Cypriot nobles, arrogant misdeeds that robbed them of honor and fomented a palace revolt in extremis that would shockingly climax in his assassination. This act of perhaps justifiable treason raises questions about the loyalty owed to a ruler by the peers of his realm. In discussing the late medieval genre of the royal biography, Daisy Delogu correctly concludes that these works, among them the Prise, “stage contested ideas and examples of kingship” that “articulate, evaluate, and refigure ideas of political philosophy,” giving readers much to think about.18

In referencing (if only vaguely) the less commendable aspects of Charles’ conduct, the Confort similarly challenges readers to contemplate the qualities of the ideal king as measured against the inevitable imperfections of an actual ruler. As in the Remede, the role that Fortune plays in human life is a key theme; both works feature the development of an optimistic variety of Boethianism in which hope for deliverance and justice plays a role that it does not in the Consolation of Philosophy. Machaut promotes a rapprochement between, on the one hand, a Classical emphasis on mental transformation in which apparent misfortune is revalued as the necessary prelude to enlightenment and inner peace, and, on the other, a Christian expectation of deliverance for the righteous, whom God never forgets. Addressing the particularities of Charles’ situation as a prisoner (so very different from those of Boethius, who had no real hope of release), the Confort puts forth a “remedy” for the king’s misfortune, predicting that he will achieve success in years to come should he follow the code of conduct whose various points the poet lays out in considerable detail. Something of the same pattern, mutatis mutandis, is followed in the Remede, where the allegorical guide Esperence (Hope) provides the distraught protagonist with rules for success. These rules, centered on his continuing faith in her benevolence, will bring his love affair to a successful end, and assuage the deep sorrow that oppresses him.

Proper kingship, Machaut emphasizes, was no simple matter. As Delogu remarks, “the ideal king was expected to exemplify a dizzying, and sometimes conflicting, array of qualities and behaviour”; among these were a Christly power to heal that might impart a “saintly quality” to his manner, even as he aspired to be irresistible in battle, pursuing his own honor and acting as “the defender of God and his church.”19 Good rulers also assure that their subjects receive fair and just treatment, a duty that Machaut emphasizes. His Confort, a message from a friend as much as it is to a friend, offers equal parts consolation and encouragement. This was not a message that Jean of Bohemia, at least as Machaut remembered him, ever needed to hear from any among his household. Charles, however, was no Jean, as Machaut was surely well aware. He would never have sought the kind of heroic end that Jean found at the end of a long career marked by its impressive portfolio of military accomplishments.

As Machaut asserts in the passages devoted to him in the Confort (and the Prise as well), these victories testified to Jean’s peerless chivalric virtues and his pious simplicity. He was indifferent to the rougher aspects of campaigning, such as meager food, rough clothing, and bad weather. Jean cared little for finery, pomp, and wealth. As described by Jean’s former secretary Machaut, the king of Bohemia must have recalled for some among the poet’s readers the towering figure of the crusader king, St. Louis (Louis IX of France, d. 1270), who was famed for his asceticism. It mattered little to his reputation among his contemporaries that his restless attempts to create an extensive and formidable realm came to very little in the years after his death. In contrast, Charles was not possessed of remarkable spiritual virtues, and the church did not prosper greatly from his support. Charles was not at his best when forced to offer battle rather than play a deceptive game. He exemplified an approach to rule and self-advancement that emphasized neither military prowess nor the public display of Christian virtues. Instead, his major assets were what we are now disposed to refer to as “modern,” more materialistic, virtues of personality and cunning. As Charles’ modern biographer suggests:

Reconnu par ses contemporains pour son esprit vif, son éloquence et son charisme hors du commun, il était aussi un intrigant hors pair, adepte du double ou du triple jeu, des simulacres de guerre, des fausses captures et des défections imaginaires afin de tromper ses adversaires comme ses alliés. Si Machiavel avait connu sa vie, il aurait pu compléter ses oeuvres sur le thème des limites de la manigance politique.20

[Recognized by his contemporaries for his lively spirit, his eloquence, and extraordinary charisma, he was unrivaled as a master of intrigue, adept at playing a double or even triple game, at making as if he were about to launch an attack, at pretend abductions and faked defections, all with the aim of deceiving his allies as much as his enemies. Had Machiavelli been acquainted with his life, he could have brought to a proper conclusion his work on the extreme limits of political maneuvering.]

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 œil 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 fidélité qu’elles devoient au roy.21

[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 the king.]

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.

The first dispute between Jean II 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 Jeanne should have inherited the counties of Champagne and Brie, territories that 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.22

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 Philippe 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.23

[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, for they dealt him some eighty wounds.]

Jean’s reaction was a predictable rage and desire for vengeance. Yet 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 writing persuasive letters of explanation. Perhaps most effective, however, was the fact that Charles sought aid, once again by elegantly written letters to his English cousin Edward III and the king’s lieutenant, Henry of Lancaster.24

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 the Navarrese party at court and a vital source of information for Charles. Jean’s weakened political situation permitted him no other course. Though submitting to his father-in-law, Charles was forced to give nothing, not even a public apology for his “crime.” He received the better part of the Cotentin, a territory then in dispute that made his Norman holdings even more strategically substantial and, as far as the Valois were concerned, more threatening. The Treaty of Mantes established a temporary peace between the two rivals. Jean was at the time very much occupied with the English peace negotiations that, had he accepted the proposed final settlement, would have resulted in Edward III’s taking possession of most of France. Reneging on the treaty (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 a further agreement, signed at an impressive ceremony of reconciliation in Valognes. 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!

This bold and successful confrontation with royal power increased the popularity of Charles among the nobles of northern France, especially Normandy, a duchy that 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 of Valois, who had been recently put in charge, but not created duke, of Normandy. Charles of Navarre likely 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. With a lull in the fighting against the English, he apparently felt that the time had come to deal decisively with Charles of Navarre. Details of the plotting between his son and son-in-law would have come to the attention of the king about this time because 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 (Charles IV, son of Jean of Bohemia) to save the kingdom from what he had come to believe was his father’s misrule. After raising a substantial force further east, Charles was to return to Normandy to join armies with the king of Navarre in order to capture and do away with his father. The dauphin would then be installed as the new king of France.

Jean soon saw a perfect opportunity to defeat this continuing conspiracy. The majority of Norman nobles had assembled in early April 1356 at Rouen to do homage to Charles of Navarre 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. Fearing trouble from the townspeople among whom Harcourt was especially popular, Jean ordered the three unloaded halfway, where they were then beheaded in the presence of his by then presumably quite terrified son Charles. The bodies and heads were dragged in chains and displayed 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.

For about six weeks Philippe 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. Nevertheless, 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 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).25 It is interesting to note that Machaut demonstrates a good deal of sympathy for, and agreement with, the cause of reformation, although the Confort 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, though chroniclers disagree about the details of the escape.26

There are strong indications in the Confort that the poet had learned something of these plans and perhaps altered the structure of the poem to respond to these changing circumstances (see lines 2875–76). If he was aware of the plot to effect Charles’ escape from the castle, it would certainly explain why, after his patron had suffered nearly eighteen months of captivity, Machaut decided in the wake of the disaster at Poitiers and Jean II’s subsequent absence from the scene to compose a political/moral work for Charles that expressed considerable optimism about his erstwhile benefactor’s eventual deliverance (see lines 1825–29). Given the turbulent uncertainty of the period, it is surely significant that Machaut, in addition to providing comfort for a friend, also offers him detailed advice about how he might conduct himself successfully as a king. But of what kingdom exactly? Charles, it bears remembering, had in fact been king of Navarre since 1349, though he had spent most of his youth in France. Was the poet thinking that Charles might prevent the dauphin from succeeding his father and succeed to the throne himself?

In the opening lines of the work, the poet takes pains to excuse his month’s long reluctance to compose a message of consolation and encouragement, even admitting (lines 6–8) that he still knows no way that the text might be delivered to Charles. Yet Machaut perhaps protests too much. The Confort divides into two parts that are only uneasily connected by their professed common aim — namely, providing advice (line 2874). The first part is a “consolation,” properly speaking, that addresses Charles in his current condition as prisoner, offering him hope that release will come eventually because God protects and restores the falsely accused. In the poem’s second section, however, Machaut imagines a Charles who has regained political power. In the future that is projected for him, Charles might benefit from contemplating the example of Jean of Bohemia. Machaut’s much beloved former patron takes shape in the tale as a relentless campaigner who is determined to take possession from others what is his by right. The Navarrese party believed that Charles likewise had been reduced to an unjust dispossession by ill fortune and the scheming of perfidious relatives. Jean of Bohemia is thus not only presented as an image of the ideal king; he is remembered as a fierce defender of his rights. Much of this part of the work consists of admonitions about the proper deportment of the king and what we might call more generally the politics of ruling, with a special view toward the securing of consent from nobles and commoners alike through the proper handling of such fundamental matters as the minting of reliable coinage. Could it be that after he had finished the “confort” proper Machaut learned that Charles would soon find his way out of captivity, as he seems to indicate (lines 2875–76)? If so, then it could have been that in anticipation of his deliverance the poet decided to add an additional section to his work, aware that the king would soon need counsel more than consolation. The rhetorical structure of the Confort demands a careful analysis, provided in more detail below.

Charles, freed, immediately began a political campaign to win support in what was largely a leaderless France. It is not clear, however, at first if he intended to take the throne or to 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 to the count of Savoy with similar intent. These documents have survived,27 and they 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.28

We do not know what further part if any Machaut may have played in Charles’ campaign to win popular acceptance or support, but the fact that the king attempted to do so in part 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 at Poitiers in lines 2795–2818). 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 Marcel, Provost of Paris, 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 frustration of Charles’ hopes.29 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 . . . . il n’y a aucune 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 . . .30

[. . . 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 . . . ]

Allied with the English, Charles made war upon France, even in 1359 blockading the city of Paris by closing off navigation on the Seine in both directions. But 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 for which Machaut prepares him with conventional wisdom and advice in the Confort. However, he never became the royal leader around whom the 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, of a sudden illness brought on by a night of debauchery with a very young and beautiful girl, or so it was rumored. 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 Charles, Machaut also became associated with a nobleman who, at least politically, would have been Charles’ mortal enemy: Jean, the Duc 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 his later years, it is likely that Machaut, serving as a canon, attended 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 a 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. It offers, in contrast with formal traditions such as the epic, a “new zone . . . for structuring literary images . . . the zone of maximal contact with the present . . . in all its openendedness.”31 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, the didactic, 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 dispose form outward to a degree, toward the matter that might be incorporated. 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 centripetalism 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.”32 The novelist is customarily an all-disposing ventriloquist who disappears into his various appearances. Like the other poets who imitate his example, however, Machaut not only constitutes the subjective source of the dit’s verbal flow but also plays 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 un-generic, 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 irreproducibility 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).

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. In addition, this is a task that necessarily involves more than 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 that is intriguingly contemporary).33 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;34 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.

As we have seen in the case of the Confort, 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 that it is recorded in the “true story” of the Voir Dit, as well as in his descriptions of the outbreak and disastrous course of the Black Death, and his experience surviving the epidemic, in the Navarre, also have the ring of truth and accord with what chroniclers of the age record. It is public knowledge 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 that can be expressed by poetic forms and conventions. The figuration of Jean as a lover in the long-established tradition of fin’ amors 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 that 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 view of love sorrow and its eventual consolation that can also be applied flatteringly to Jean’s real life situation. It would be accurate to say that the patron’s sorrow is less represented than alluded to, not the poem’s subject matter per se, but its point of reference. Such bridging within the text of the permeable relations between life and art is one of the central features of the dit as Machaut developed and promoted the form.


Literary historian Robert Weimann observes that in pre-modern cultures like that of the early European Middle Ages the “poet’s production never attains to a state of personal property or ownership.”35 The pre-modern author instead viewed the materials of his craft “communally, as some unquestionably given, shared property,” and so Weimann finds that “there is very little that he or she can make his or her own.”36 And it is precisely the failure (perhaps the irrelevance) of self-expression that defined the social function of literary production, which is “to assert known and publicly acknowledged ideals.”37 In pre-modernity, the act of composition was always defined by a process of appropriation, by the re-use or adaptation of existing materials. But, paradoxically, this appropriation could not be grasped as such because the labor could not be conceived as un-communal. The pre-modern poet, according to historians like Weimann, could not easily think of himself as an individual agent, at least in the sense of creating from experience and thus constituting ex nihilo, as it were, his own subject matter.

Literary modernity, of which in the French tradition Guillaume de Machaut is one of the most significant harbingers, signaled its arrival by a sudden, destabilizing shift in this relationship between writers and their material.38 This emergent modernity is especially visible, if in different ways, in both the texts included in this volume: the Remede de Fortune, composed sometime before 1342 (that is, during the period of Machaut’s service to Jean of Bohemia); and the Confort d’Ami, written and published in 1357 (during the period of Charles of Navarre’s captivity). The Confort, as we will see, is a fascinating and complex mélange of exempla drawn from the Bible as well as mythological tales whose ultimate origin is Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the whole contained within a series of counsels, some of which are traditional and others pertinent to Charles’ particular situation. In contrast, the Remede is a self-conscious, artistically intricate, and intellectually audacious remaking of one of the era’s most venerated and essential texts, Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy. Machaut was hardly the first medieval writer to translate, adapt, or borrow from Boethius, and he was certainly not the last.39

If an elaborate homage to its Latin source, the Remede also recontextualizes its form and themes in ways that are startlingly original. Boethius’ work is an extended dialogue between an intratextual version of himself (imprisoned, like Charles of Navarre, after incurring royal displeasure) and an allegorical personage who names herself Philosophy. Casting herself as a physician to a man who, through a shift in fortune, has seen his life turned upside down, Philosophy, true to her name, interrogates the central questions of human purpose and the happiness that right living can bestow. In the Remede, Lady Esperence (Hope) plays the role of metaphysical counselor skilled in dialectic, while Boethius’ disquisitions on the essential truths of human experience are re-cast as a rich portrayal of rule-dominated loving, and also (expanding on an important feature of the Latin text) the multifarious connections of authorship to romantic experience.

Such connections between writerly and emotional experience had already been a focus in the debate series, whose composition both precedes the Remede (the Behaingne) and follows it (the Navarre and its lyric coda, the Lay de Plour). Yet the composition of the >i marks an intellectual break in Machaut’s career, as the poet goes beyond a deep dependence on the Rose, one of whose principal features — an elaborate give and take argument that utilizes allegorical figures such as Raison (Reason) and Jeunesse (Youth) — becomes the main focus of the debate series. A similar, if less elaborate version, of an extended dialogue between a human character and a personification (in this case the god of love) is found in Machaut’s first narrative poem, the Dit dou Vergier, whose garden setting directly references the Rose.40 These works are also heavily indebted to the tradition of love narrative, which includes debates about demandes d’amour or love questions, a sub-genre which Machaut’s series intriguingly subjectifies by dramatizing one of the discontents of authorship: the unexpected emergence of a displeased reader, who is subsequently made even unhappier by the poet’s refusal to accept criticism and, even worse, his manifest inability to defend (except ineptly) his earlier work and the ideas expressed there.

At the end of the Navarre, it is the angry patroness Bonneürté (Happiness) who, with the agreement of Charles himself (pressed into service as a judge) dictates to Guillaume the terms of renewed composition. These involve not only the demand that the obstreperous author demonstrate a change of heart, but also that he shift his attention to another genre. So the debate, with its sic et non balancing of opposed opinion in which Guillaume is easily outclassed, makes way for a structurally intricate lyric, the Lay de Plour (Lay of Weeping), which he sets to music and whose preoccupation is not intellectual, but rather the expression and appropriately stylized display of emotion. Its composition is meant as a challenge for Guillaume the character, who chooses to adopt and emotionally inhabit, the persona of the sorrowful woman in the Behaingne whose suffering he perhaps underestimated. The reader can hardly fail to notice that the penance gives Machaut the poet yet another chance to show off the connections among his varied talents. The fabulizing of the relationship between patron and writer forms the structural center of the Navarre, even as the debate fixes on the relative truth-value of ideas advanced in a literary text. In a move that seems even more distinctly modern, both Guillaume and Lady Bonneürté assume that the first poem in the debate series, the Behaingne, expresses Guillaume’s personally held opinions of love, especially women, and in fact the debate eventually proves that this is the case.

And so the penitential writing with which the series concludes focuses on, even as it is meant to exemplify, authorial conversion. The reader of the Lay de Plour is encouraged to penetrate beneath the beautiful surface of the poem to its presumed “intent,” insofar as this can be sensed in the intratextual voice that declaims it in response to the patrons’ command. For what is — most unusually — at stake is not what answer should be given to a demande d’amour, as in the Behaingne, but rather what success Guillaume achieves in adopting a reformed view of love suffering. Of course, the intense light cast on authorship within this transtextual series illuminates as well, and with appropriate irony, the finesse of the master of ceremonies who stands behind these creations, not completing some assigned penance like his intratextual reflex, but rather fully in control of offering his public a finely crafted and quite ingenious performance that extends over three texts. In the debate series, the question of love, or more precisely, the nature of the sorrow that those who lose their beloveds must endure, fades into the background as the Navarre draws to a close. The anatomizing of love feelings exists in the Lay de Plour largely as a transvestite performance, as an expression of empathy and understanding rather than as heartfelt, “personal” emotion.

In contrast, a love experience of the most refined kind remains at the center of the Remede. And yet here again Machaut provides himself with opportunities to foreground the discontents and joys of authorship. As in the debate series, Machaut explores the problematic way in which lyrics can express personal emotional truth, even as they do not lose their power to provide aesthetic pleasure through the dramatization of refined feelings that are meant to be read impersonally. Here again what comes into play is the expressive doubleness of the lyric. In the Remede, however, the poet’s controlling presence is not to be glimpsed in a comically ineffective fictional alter ego, but rather as standing behind the dazzling multimodal display (as we would now say) of his talents for writing narrative and lyric verse, as well as for composing musical settings.41 Machaut designed these settings to be integral elements of the poetic text, and they offer readers several opportunities to break into song (at least mentally) and, in effect, share the expressive experiences of the characters.42

Similarly, the narrator’s first person yet anonymous presence, invites a reading that both stresses and transcends the fact of Machaut’s authorship as confirmed in the closing anagram, whose solution reveals the writerly self in a fashion that, with playful obtrusiveness, seems distinctly modern (see lines 4258–4275). The intercalated lyrics belong to this fictionalized poet, and their evident artistry asks to be read as the objective correlative not only of the finesse, authenticity, and propriety of the love he confesses, but also of his compositional talents as well. These embeddings are, in all senses of the term, performance moments. They express the emotionality that the lover is forbidden by convention from communicating in a more direct fashion, at least until his suit is successful, when his impulse toward lyricism becomes simple and celebratory (the final lyric in the Remede is a brief rondel or rondelet, at lines 4108–15, whose theme is that the lover’s heart remains with his lady despite his physical departure from her). The Remede recycles the archetypicality of the love tradition, placing a minimally particularized amant or lover figure at its center; and yet, by emphasizing the narrator’s compositional bravura, the poem melds this fabulized “I” with that of the extratextual author responsible for the assemblage of this elaborate pastiche. The main point is that the Remede offers within the boundaries of a single text an expansive structural complexity that is strikingly distinct from the seriality of the debate poems, whose only embedded texts — most notably the series of mythological tales borrowed from the Ovide moralisé — are secondary narratives in the Navarre. These are assigned either to one of the debaters or to one of the various members of the lady’s court who help argue the case against Guillaume.

In thematic terms, however, the Remede is very much of a piece with what in Machaut’s oeuvre precedes it. Like all of the early works, and the masterful Voir Dit, the Remede examines, even as it exalts, the experience of fin’ amors or refined love. Beginning in the twelfth century, this quickly became the most conventional and enduring of themes for medieval story and song. In narrative terms, the poem traces the successful initiation of a hitherto inexperienced young man into the “religion” of love that concludes with him swearing fealty to the God of Love, lines 4276–4299, after an exchange of rings with his lady, whose “winning” is the narrative’s main concern. In other words, the Remede follows the rough outline of how this story of romantic attraction, crisis, and eventual fulfillment had by Machaut’s time been told and re-told by many others, including most famously by the two authors of the Rose, whose disquisitions wander into many cultural matters, some only tangentially connected to romance. In the Remede, by way of contrast, the various aspects of fin’ amors, especially the suffering caused by apparently unrequited affection are never displaced from focus.

Characteristically for Machaut, however, the narrative is set into motion and finally resolved by a text, in this case a lyric that the narrator composes to honor his beloved, a poem whose impersonal personalness (it figures in the plot as an unsigned text) creates the opportunity for a crisis that plays out mostly in the naive narrator’s mind. Machaut deploys a similar scenario in the Voir Dit, whose story begins with a messenger delivering to the narrator (subsequently revealed as Guillaume) a lyric penned by a female admirer, who, so she avers in an accompanying letter, has fallen in love with the poet through his own lyrics, which had been circulated impersonally. And yet her own poem is the most personal of responses, prompting the highly flattered poet to in turn fall in love with, and do worship to, the very text in which her feelings are craftily expressed. This is a moment hardly devoid of ironic humor, reflecting on the “writerliness” of Machaut’s vocation and his own amatory experience.

Though the materials deployed in the Remede are thoroughly conventional and communal, the originality of Machaut’s conception is striking, both formally and thematically. He was neither the first nor the last medieval poet to deploy embedded lyrics in a narrative in order to provide variety and aesthetic depth.43 It is rather the substantial and transformative appropriation of Boethius that marks Machaut’s efforts here as extraordinary. Through such remaking, as Douglas Kelly points out, “Machaut gives ideal love a preeminence that is meant to capture its purity and realize its essential nobility … [his] attempt to effect such a sublimation is historically significant and intellectually original.”44 While it reflects flatteringly on Machaut’s own considerable talents, this re-use of cultural givens is a mark of his modernity, as is his impulse to use traditional forms as a vehicle for entertaining readers with fictionalized versions of his own ostensible experience. Increasingly in the later Middle Ages, as Weimann recounts, the responsibility of writers to invent (originally, to find, only later, to fabulize) meant that material became ever “less predetermined by the given state of communal property.”45 This emerging unpredictability offers a useful framework for understanding the engagement and dependence of both the Remede and the Confort, on what we now somewhat grandly term the “classical tradition,” or what the Middle Ages inherited from late Roman literary culture. For Machaut, as noted earlier, this tradition meant especially two works that possessed a continuing and substantial importance for all writers of his time. Ovid’s Metamorphoses (likely finished around 8 BCE) was familiar to him in its early fourteenth century Middle French version, the Ovide moralisé, while he read Boethius either in its original sixth century Latin form or in one of several then widely read Middle French translations, including the late thirteenth-century version by Jean de Meun, one of the authors of the Rose.

The Confort draws on both works, most prominently adapting complexly resonant exempla from the Ovide moralisé (OM), as well as from the Bible. Machaut utilizes that encyclopedic source in a manner followed by many of his contemporaries, including Geoffrey Chaucer and Jean Froissart, who exploit the inherent interest of these unusual story materials. Consider, for example, Confort lines 2353 ff., where the story of Orpheus and Eurydice takes an unexpected detour into related tales, as Machaut finds himself unable to resist broadening and deepening the narrative exemplum in a move that his readers likely found an entertaining diversion from the text’s weightier political and ethical concerns, whose expression becomes somewhat wearisome. For Machaut, the OM was a useful mine of appealing stories. However, he had quite another kind of appreciation for the Consolation of Philosophy, as the use of, or more often his reference to, some of its main themes in the Confort indicates.

Ovid’s appeal was rediscovered during the Carolingian Renaissance of the eighth century in the form of attractive and useful citations. By the twelfth century Ovid had become a major influence on vernacular writers, who understood him as a sage, to be sure, but more importantly as a guide to the erotic life, with his Ars Amatoria (The Art of Love) frequently mined by writers, both vernacular and Latin, for its “doctrines” of love. By the fourteenth century, however, this version of Ovid (centering on the most important of his so-called “minor” works) had fallen into disfavor, while his contribution to the preservation of classical myth in the Metamorphoses (the so-called Ovid major) was “saved” for Christian culture by that moralizing allegorization which is such a prominent feature of the OM. If, as Deborah McGrady has written, Ovid was in general rejected by the intellectual establishment of the later Middle Ages, with his works removed from libraries and from classroom study, this movement was “countered by a fervent and sustained following in the vernacular,” where “an ethical rereading assured the master a renewed position of respect.”46 This resurrection of authority and artistic utility can be seen in Machaut’s frequent reliance on the OM for narrative materials that could easily be shaped in different ways.47

Boethius offered writers like Machaut not only attractive stories (and a demonstration of how these could be read morally, that is, as making some point). Instead, his famous book was nothing less than a fully developed philosophy of living, including a sustained argument about values and a forceful polemic about how life should be lived. And, as we have seen, he makes key Boethian ideas central in the Confort. It is almost precisely in the middle of the dit that Machaut admonishes Charles to abandon Fortune and her goods. This turn toward an inner definition of what constitutes the life worth living challenges both the prominence previously accorded to Christian notions of divine justice developed in the exempla taken from Scripture as well as the value of those secular goods, particularly inherited rank and love, that figure as the sanctioned objects of Hope. The Confort expresses the values of both the love tradition (that the lover lives in the reasonable hope that he may obtain his lady’s favor) and the Boethian affirmation, in the tradition of Aristotle and the Stoics, that inner virtue is its own reward since it is characterized by a desire for the transcendent Good that lies beyond the rule of Fortune, whose devotees remain trapped within a materiality that should be rejected for what is demonstrably higher.

As Machaut develops him, however, Charles is an anti-Boethian figure in the sense that he does not, in contrast to the character Boethius, have to face the loss of everything that has made his life worth living: rank, reputation, the holding of responsible public office, family, wealth, and liberty. In fact, the work’s rhetoric is directed toward precisely the opposite goal, namely restitution in the twin sense of the prisoner’s release from captivity and his reclaiming of what belongs to him by right. The poet continually reminds Charles that he can reasonably expect release — and the restoration of his property, family, and position. This is an aspect of the justice that, so the Scriptural exempla likewise suggest, God always delivers to the righteous, working for them through what Boethius terms the limited goods of the material world rather than by undermining their claim to provide perdurable happiness. These issues are discussed in more detail below in connection with Machaut’s re-use of material from Scripture.

In fact, the poet advances the likelihood — and here is perhaps the most satisfying of the consolations Machaut offers his erstwhile patron — that Charles will emerge from captivity to occupy an even greater position in his society. He will be, to deploy one of Machaut’s exempla, a Daniel who departs unharmed from the lions’ den, perhaps soon to witness as the prophet did, the horrific destruction of those whose treachery put him in such peril and disgrace, and also to enjoy a position of considerable worldly power. Such hope for restoration and revenge, it is worth emphasizing, dominates the poem’s last lines, which, ostensibly spoken by a Charles now strengthened by the poet’s consoling thoughts, display an aggressive, even vengeful resolve. Nothing could be further from Boethius’ central message, which is the need for reconciliation to the loss of the goods under Fortune’s control, including freedom and, especially, power over others. Such a transformed inner state depends on the recognition that these goods, being transitory, are not the proper object of desire, which is instead the transcendent “Good,” or the divine itself. In the Confort, it is true, Machaut does recommend to a Charles imagined as suffering a painful separation from his beloved that he engage his memories of her; the woman’s beautiful image, fixed in his heart, may be contemplated and thus become a source of consolation (see lines 2153–62).

Yet this inner turning, so reminiscent of the general tenor of Lady Philosophy’s line of argument in the Consolation, is offered as a temporary palliative for the king’s sorrow, not as a permanent moyen de vivre. There is no hint that Charles is advised to reconcile himself to an unending separation from the woman he loves by turning inward toward memory. Nor does Machaut counsel him to accept, following the Consolation, that his imprisonment is an existential correlative of the entrapment by false values for which he himself, and not his political enemies, should be held responsible. In the central irony that the Consolation explores, imprisonment (in the material sense) is the ground of the deliverance from the captivity imposed by values whose falseness emerges when one is deprived of the deceptively inadequate goods in which they are invested. By way of contrast, the Confort emphasizes the restorative justice God will undoubtedly provide, as well as the need in the meantime to remain hopeful and resolute despite seemingly desperate circumstances.48

The Confort demonstrates that, like many of his contemporaries, Machaut found the Consolation a source of ideas and values that could be brought to bear on the twists and turns of experience — both in love and, more generally, in life — even if the uncompromising anti-materialism of the Latin text, with its Platonic focus on transcendent rather than contingent reality, was not a view that he chose to adopt. The Remede, written earlier than Machaut’s poetic message of hope to the imprisoned Charles, also evokes Boethius’ masterwork in its title, providing yet another demonstration of the power of hope, that is, the expectation of deliverance from captivity of different kinds. Indeed this is in many ways the poem’s central message (see Confort, lines 2246–48). Yet the announced focus on “remedy” and “fortune” correctly forecasts an even more thorough revaluation of the main point made in the Consolation. Boethius’ work is obviously referenced by this title, and yet, at the same time, its intellectual structure is clearly challenged and, as the reader soon discovers, modified, if not discarded. Machaut’s Boethian revisioning of the love experience promises not reconciliation to inevitable loss through the recognition of the impermanent value of what has been lost, but rather the bettering of a profound sorrow through the attainment of the proper understanding that has hitherto eluded the protagonist’s grasp. Or, to put the matter briefly, in the end the lover gets the girl.

In a sense, the Remede resembles the modern Bildungsroman, the novel of education that takes the protagonist from ignorance to knowledge, and from solitariness to a romantic attachment that fixes his place in society. Appropriately, the Remede begins with something like an educational credo, as the narrator offers an interesting list of what any neophyte needs to do, and dispose his mind toward, as he approaches the learning of any art (lines 1–44). Prominent among these is the admonition that the young man eager to master what he needs in order to live well must accept teaching with humility, committing it to memory; it is his successful struggle to become the ideal pupil that provides the poem’s narrative focus. Thinking that Fortune has been his foe, he is soon convinced that she has favored him beyond his wildest wish, with Hope’s mediation playing a central role.

Loss, in other words, is only apparent, not real; it is a function of misunderstanding, not an aspect of metaphysical truth. The Behaingne deals with love sorrows that are truly irremediable and thus resistant to Hope’s good offices — the death of the lady’s lover and the man’s betrayal by his beloved. The Remede treats instead “merely” a difficult point of love ethics: that a lover must conceal the affection he bears his beloved, but, restrained from communicating his feelings, he can imagine no way that she might come to know what love he bears her. Hope, who promises to aid the protagonist in his struggle to gain his beloved’s favor, replaces Lady Philosophy, who offers wisdom, not a remedy for what she acknowledges is a set of circumstances that can never alter. The heavy weaponry of Boethian philosophizing, with its magisterial consideration of the most pressing of existential questions, is turned in the Remede toward the analysis and remedying of a sorrow that proves to be depthless and transitory. At the heart of the poem’s narrative is nothing more than a misunderstanding, whose remedying involves the expressive demonstration of amatory emotion, including the anatomizing of sorrow. There is a creative asymmetry in the work between Machaut’s intention to make new the tradition of love poetry and the materials he invokes with such sophistication and finesse in order to do so.

To the educated in the Middle Ages, Boethius offered an affecting, persuasive, and intellectually triumphant account of how the suffering that flows from the apparently randomness of human experience — in which loss is an actuarial inevitability — might be assuaged by a knowledge that locates the source of true happiness within, that is, in the proper direction of spiritual longing. In one sense, the work’s central point is bewilderingly simple: we all die in the end and, in dying, forfeit whatever we have been blessed to acquire in life. Fortune simply makes it clear that our “having” is every bit as contingent as our “being.” The dialogue between a character named Boethius and the allegorical personage Philosophy, imagined as a beautiful and transcendent female presence, establishes how the divine One is the efficient cause toward which everything must tend, therefore relieving its apparent meaninglessness through the distribution of fates and goods by another feminine personage, Fortune. Fortune does not appear in the work, but Philosophy evokes her through a bravura ventriloquizing performance of self-justification, demonstrating Fortune’s subordination to the rational order of the universe that contains and, in fact, depends on her apparent randomness. In her ongoing dialogue with the suffering Boethius, Philosophy demonstrates that what are customarily known as good luck, misfortune, and loss (aspects of human experience that lie under Fortune’s dominion) are occurrences in the world beyond the self whose value and meaning the self alone determines. And so, in a profound sense, the forms of experience do not exist in se, but rather in the mind — which therefore becomes the theater in which their workings may be identified by rational inquiry and the suffering they cause eventually overcome by the power of mind. Such mental struggle leads ideally to that absence of passion, what the Stoics term apatheia, in which equanimity prevails over anguish, leading to a disengaged acceptance of the true nature of the material and temporal.

Boethius was a Christian intellectual whose theological tracts continued to find favor from intellectuals in the later Middle Ages. Yet in the Consolation he produced a work that endorses the absolute dependence of the individual on a benevolent, provident divinity, but importantly, refuses to engage with the ultimately unignorable particulars of revelation, which would have promoted a different view of human agency. In the spirit of the classical philosophical tradition, the Consolation promotes the power of reason, unaided by any notion of divine grace and unhampered by the innate depravity of original sin. With its prose dialogues alternating with intercalated poems (traditionally called meters), the Consolation incorporates the beauties of poetry as well as the sterner medicine of dialectic, offering a solution to the most critical of existential problems that is not the one proclaimed in customary formulations of Christian doctrine. And yet, as Christine Herold points out, the work is “immediately recognizable to Christian writers and thinkers” because its author demonstrates that “poetry, though attractively human, never emerges from the level of question and debate, remaining, to the end, a less reliably transcendent view of life” than the work’s dominating Platonism in the dialogue sections, which can largely be assimilated to the general outlines of the Christian message.49 The poems are indeed “less reliably transcendent” because their content for the most part consists of various forms of an emotionality that is otherwise to be purged from a mind re-oriented toward a desire for the Good.

With a contrast between narrative verse in octosyllabic couplets (the standard form for such writing in his time) and the different metrical and rhyming patterns of the various fixed forms, Machaut retains but re-values this important feature of his model. While not slighting the importance of dialectic and of Esperence’s occasional long monologues to provide the narrator with the skills to live and love with profit and happiness, Machaut emphasizes the special expressivity and aesthetic intricacy of lyric voices. These constitute a much longer element of the poem than is the case with the various meters in the Consolation. One could even make the case that the narrative sections of the Remede function as settings for the embedded lyrics. This is because the Remede explores the capacity of lyricism more generally to capture and communicate personal truth, as the intense emotionality that Boethius rejects as a substantial factor of human unhappiness is instead foregrounded in the narrator’s quest for both consolation and the eventual satisfaction of establishing a relationship with his lady.

The lover’s successful suit, which concludes with her pledge that he has no rivals for her affection (lines 4213–17), has of course no reflex in the Consolation, whose final book is occupied with a magisterial discussion of the apparent paradox between God’s foreknowledge of events and the capacity of human beings to will freely all their actions. Philosophy departs from a Boethius who now understands that he is possessed of a freedom provided by the Creator, with the Aristotelian admonition that he should cultivate virtue in the solitariness of his confinement. The narrator in the Remede, in contrast, leaves his lady only after all his present desires have been fulfilled; he trusts in the promise of future happiness in their relationship, an outcome that Esperence has pledged to help him obtain and for which he renders thanks and homage to the God of Love, the ultimate source of the refined sensibility he can now confidently claim as his own to enjoy.

This result is anticipated at the outset in the self-portrait that the older, wiser lover presents of the youthful adventure that the poem proceeds to trace. Innocence, he avers, is like a blank slate upon which that of importance in experience may be written and then, if the will is fixed upon understanding, form the basis for living (lines 26–34). He has apparently persevered and succeeded in mastering the art of love, a form of self-improvement that, like any other art, requires devotion, the energy of youth, and different forms of discipline (lines 1–25). While in his youth, his actions were random and at first not carefully directed toward his goal, he now speaks with authority and self-possession. An intense love for his lady, inspired by Nature, is what provided him with the impulse to learn and mature; she is the source of the education he henceforth receives. In terms of physical detail, the lady herself remains a somewhat shadowy figure in the poem, never receiving, even when she appears later in the tale, even a short version of the conventional account of female beauty common in texts of the era (compare the lengthy description of the knight’s unworthy lady in the Behaingne, lines 296–408). In the Remede, what seems most important is that her great beauty captures his heart, impelling him toward a single-minded devotion and discreet service, even as the love that directs his every action must be kept secret, in accordance with the admonition that lovers should always be discreet and hide their feelings. This overpowering love, though it finds no satisfaction, constitutes an education in itself as the lady’s virtues demand emulation from him. Her humility, confident demeanor, and noble bearing teach him to improve himself. Her gracious speech, for example, restrains him from uttering vicious gossip or indulging in meaningless chatter (lines 217–38), even as her refined and humble behavior, as well as her generosity, constrain him from coarseness and boasting, while moving him to acts of kindness and encouraging him to avoid any taint of avarice (lines 239–80).

Pleased to serve his lady, even if his pains are unacknowledged, and satisfied with the re-making of his self that her example has helped him accomplish, the narrator still lives in hope of somehow communicating his feelings to her and discovering if she reciprocates his affection. Barred from contacting her by the lover’s code of secrecy, he decides to compose lyrics in various forms so that his emotions can find expression. Their only subject is love, he somewhat proudly proclaims, affirming that the writing of verse should always, if it is to be authentic, express one’s deepest feelings, an aesthetic position that ignores how lyrics could also be the pleasant vehicles for the communication of conventional ideas about love. In any case, it is through this poetry that he hopes his beloved will come to know the great love he bears her (lines 401–14), an affection that, when she finds it expressed in works of great beauty and singular talent, will persuade her to love him in turn, a conventional notion of courting in which he places great stock. As an example of his compositional activity, he provides a bravura performance in the most difficult of the then popular fixed forms: a lay of more than two hundred lines, with twelve sections, each offering different metrical and rhyme patterns and replete with a musical setting enabling readers to sing it silently or viva voce.

In this lyric, the narrator avows to be resigned to loving from afar and contemplating her image. But by chance (or should we distrust his narrational reliability at this point?), the lyric comes into the hands of his lady, just when its author (another coincidence?) is visiting. She asks him to read it, which he does. Perhaps she suspects from his reading that the lyric is his, that his voice and the one that speaks in the text are one and the same (lines 694–734). After all, Esperence later tells him that true lovers cannot conceal from the women they love what affection they bear them, communicating in their manner and appearance the love they otherwise dare not confess. Love, in other words, can never be kept secret, but is always made known to the beloved by the true lover’s “coat of arms,” as she emblematically puts it (lines 1862–1976). In any event, this lady seems forthright, but perhaps she is just curious.

She asks the lover to name the author of the lyric if he knows him. Thrown immediately into despair by this request, the lover finds himself trapped at least in his own mind by key points of the code that should govern the actions of true lovers but which now seem to conflict with one another. He is obligated to conceal his identity (as the author of the lyric and so as the lover of the lady whose eminent qualities it evokes) in order to keep secret his feelings from others in the group. In any case, the lover finds himself in an impossible situation. He cannot lie to the woman he loves, nor can he refuse her command. Yet if he provides a truthful answer to her question, he reveals what a proper lover is pledged never to reveal, a point that — ironically enough — he makes with some passion (lines 545–78). Much later, and after his long encounter with Esperence, he tells her the truth when she asks this question a second time (lines 3593–3630).

Intriguingly, the proclamation of authorship is simultaneous with his revelation of his true feelings and thus figures as a key element in his successful suit. The lyric at first communicates obliquely the feelings he feels constrained from confessing, but then later serves as an appropriate, and quite effective, element of his suit, that is, precisely what he had originally hoped that the work would accomplish for him. Boethius, it must be noted, provides only a hint of this key narrative development; Lady Philosophy appears in order to begin her treatment of the sorrowing protagonist after listening to his poetic expression of the difficulties that beset him. This text (meter 1), the work’s first intercalated poem, is self-admittedly a sad song, whose composition has been influenced by the poetic Muses. Lady Philosophy dismisses these figures as hysterical sluts, and the work then moves decisively beyond the expressive possibilities of poetry, its ability to communicate feelings that, in the larger scheme of things, are either harmful or irrelevant (Boethius follows Stoic doctrine in seeing the emotionality of theatrical or lyric language as hostile to reason and thus to spiritual health). The Remede moves in the opposite direction as it focuses on the virtues of poetry as self-expression and on the authorship that is its source, making the poem in important ways a mirror of the creative individuality of its existential author, Guillaume de Machaut. The text is readable by anyone qua text, that is, inexpressive of anything but general sentiments of affection that are undirected toward any woman in particular. If this lyric that pleases her is initially unsayable for him (or so he thinks), it is because the lady will realize by his performance that it is indeed personal, exemplifying his feelings for her. For that reason, the lyric constitutes an apparent barrier to his winning the lady’s affections even though, in truth, it is crucial to his achieving this goal. The lover is reduced perforce to silence and, in order to avoid being made to speak what the rules of fin’ amors prohibit, beats a hasty and impolite retreat from the group. Hoping to avoid transgression, he commits yet a different grievous fault, disrespecting his beloved by failing to take his leave and be excused.

Directionless, the lover walks quickly away until he comes upon and enters the Parc de Hesdin (in the far northern area of the Pas-de-Calais, then under the control of the dukes of Burgundy). This revelation grounds the narrative in a particular place, one well known to Machaut’s contemporaries. Constructed in the late thirteenth century, it was surely in the poet’s lifetime thought to be the most marvelous of gardens, replete in the Arabian style with ingenious automata and fountains, just as Machaut describes. The park was destroyed in 1533 by the Spanish, but its fame has persisted in popular memory, surpassed only by Louis XIV’s palace and gardens at Versailles, whose construction began in the 1660s.50 Among the amazing attractions, the lover finds a lonely spot to contemplate his miserable situation. In the Consolation, Lady Philosophy appears to a sorrowing Boethius who seems to have little understanding of his situation; a fundamental element of the explanation she provides him for his misfortune is a disquisition on the operations of the goddess Fortune. In the Remede, however, the lover’s untutored meditations quickly turn to the nature of Fortune, whose workings and ethos he seems to understand completely (lines 883–904), as Lady Esperence will later affirm (lines 2404–06). These thoughts lead him to compose another lyric, not a lay this time, but an even lengthier, if less structurally complex, complainte (lines 905–1480). The theme of the lyric is that Fortune has taken from him everything he had desired, while Hope has deserted him in his time of need — a misunderstanding soon to be remedied beyond his wildest imaginings.

At this point, the Remede once again borrows closely from Boethius. Drained emotionally and mentally by the composition of the complainte, the lover falls into a deep trance, but only after uttering a despairing lament, as he feels close to death. In the Consolation, the character Boethius finds himself at a similar psychological and intellectual state of near-death after composing, with the help of the Muses, a poem full of self-pity and hopelessness that prompts the appearance of Philosophy, who roughly dismisses from the scene these faux counselors. Philosophy is both personal (for she represents the despairing man’s rational capacities as well as his impressively broad learning) and also cultural, in the sense that she evokes a central movement in later classical thought, which came to focus on the inevitable suffering of human experience, with a view toward disposing the mind to rid itself of needless turbulence through an understanding of fundamental truths, including the wisdom of pursuing the Supreme Good.

Machaut, it should be noted, significantly alters this pattern by beginning the Remede with two lyrics, each of which signals a different, but (as it turns out) related crisis. This revision of what he found in his source holds the key to the way in which two traditions — Boethianism and love narrative, in which otherworldly allegorical figures play a role — intertwine. Encounters between protagonists and such august authorities are central to these traditions, and Esperence neatly embodies qualities taken from both. Like many of the allegorical personages in the Roman de la Rose (e.g., Fair Welcome, Danger, and Reason, even the God of Love himself), Esperence represents a mental disposition, faculty, or quality. However, in the manner of Lady Philosophy, she is also possessed of substantial intellectual and metaphysical powers that have nothing to do with expectant optimism, and these are carefully catalogued in the self-portrait she provides to the narrator (lines 2148–2192). Esperence helps the lover understand better the workings of Fortune, as does Philosophy in the Consolation, but she passes over rather briefly those issues that are crucial to Philosophy’s argument, most notably the discussion of the various limited and thus insufficient forms of the “good,” which occupies most of Book 3. Esperence disposes of this thorny question rather more quickly (lines 2452–2521), sidestepping most of the difficult points raised and resolved, at least provisionally, by dialectic in the Consolation.

Arguably, Esperence proves to be more important in her role as advisor and counselor for the lover as he negotiates the important passages of the love experience. Here is an area of her practice and expertise that finds no source in Boethius, for whom the concept of refined amorous experience, if it existed at all, was not thought suitable in a discussion of ultimate human purpose. Hope, of course, is a mental state, and does not correlate to a tradition of thought (it should be pointed out that much in the Consolation is a tissue of quotations from Plato, Aristotle, Zeno, and a host of other thinkers less well known today). In a sense, then, Esperence fills the role of the advisor figure, one of the essential stock figures of medieval romance, from the charming and energetic Lunette in Chrétien de Troyes’ Yvain (written in the 1170s) to the practical-minded and cunning Pandarus in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, written just a few decades after the Remede in the 1380s.

The doubleness of Esperence finds its structural reflex in the two lyrics that set the plot of Machaut’s poem in motion. The first of the elaborate poems, a lay, written in praise of the lover’s lady and filled with a complex, perhaps self-serving anatomizing of his feelings, expresses his unhappiness (despite occasional statements to the contrary) with simply loving and serving the lady from afar, not expecting that she would ever acknowledge or reciprocate his affection. Despite its overt concern with praise and glorification, this text barely masks the dissatisfaction at its core, manifesting a strong desire for a greater reward than the lover has thus far disposed himself to receive. The second lyric, a complainte, responds to the sudden, rude departure from his lady that circumstances (or so the lover thinks) force upon him. Its content is intellectual and, at turns, metaphysical, devoted to the role of Fortune in human life and, in particular, to the ways in which the lover feels that Fortune has been his special foe. A series of complaints broadly echo ideas more briefly developed in meter 1, where Boethius, feeling the deprivations of age and ill luck, wishes for death and blames Fortune for his unhappiness.

The first lyric sets out the lover’s problem that its textualization (literally its transformation into a written text cut free from its generating speech act) will resolve when its author is named. But, since only he knows he composed it, this personalization can occur only after the second lyric summons Esperence to the lover’s side and her words of comfort and promise of never-ending assistance dispose him to set into motion the chain of events whose happy outcome a favoring Fortune has made possible. The overall narrative movement of the poem is the resolution of what appears, but actually is not, an ethical impasse, as the lover, when later in his lady’s presence, responds to her questions about his sudden disappearance with a true account both of his quandary and also of the appearance of the divine Esperence (lines 3551–3714). Perhaps her response at this point reflects the sanctioning of the lover’s affection that Esperence has bestowed upon him; but it seems likely that, had he not lost heart when first asked to name himself as author of the lyric and thus as the lady’s lover, he would have succeeded more readily in his suit. Such a careful calculation of his chances might have allowed him to avoid the reformative experience of suffering, but then he should not have attained the unmistakable color of the true lover (see lines 1796–1820). His fecklessness, and the sickness into which he sinks, are the necessary signs of the depth of his emotions. In contrast, Boethius’ self-pitying emotionality, including his inappropriate railing at Fortune, represents a quite different sense of illness; as Philosophy points out, the suffering man needs to remember what he has forgotten about the nature of the universe, and needs in fact to bring himself back to himself.

Esperence brings to the lover a brightness that drives away the dark shadows of his misery, even as an irresistible aroma issues from her that acts like a medicine, easing his pains (lines 1520–1558). Like Philosophy, Esperence casts herself in the role of a physician, taking the lover’s vital signs in order to gauge the seriousness of the illness that besets him, which she determines is not fatal. What he needs is to realize the truth of his situation — a thoroughly Boethian diagnosis. He has not violated the commandments of love by proving himself false or ill-intentioned. And the memory of his lady’s beauty remains his to contemplate as he will; her virtues only increase, which should give him pleasure, and he should remember that nothing he might do would merit even the most insignificant reward from her, so he is not treated unjustly if she knows nothing of his devotion. Yet he should remain expectant since among her qualities are generosity and pity, and this means that she would never permit him to die from love for her. Moreover, though he has not realized it, Love has accomplished exactly that for which he has long hoped. His lady is in the possession of his all-revealing lay and can learn about the love he has long kept hidden, as it has been brought to her attention against his intention (lines 1707–1732).

Moreover, he should trust to his lady’s virtues and perspicacity. She will realize, in fact may have already realized, how much he loves her, and she will reject without hesitation all suitors who prove false or deceptive (lines 1733–1862). Esperence then offers the elaborate description of the true lover’s arms (lines 1863–1934), which the lover already bears, except that he lacks the shield straps of Hope, a failing that Esperence has set herself the task of remedying. His lady will recognize that he belongs to the order of true lovers, and Esperence pledges to remain by his side until he attains a state of wholeness with regard to his desire, which seems to mean the lady’s acceptance of his suit (lines 1935–1976). Having set out her case, Esperence then treats these themes in a lyric of her own, a chanson roial that is considerably shorter (lines 1985–2032) and much less metrically complex than the lover’s two lyrics. In her chanson, Esperence proclaims that those who love faithfully and virtuously always rely on hope, for their virtue earns this reward (an explanation of sorts for why she has come to help the lover in his time of trial). Love never fails to reward those who persist in devotion to her laws, so she avers, and this assurance of a just outcome interestingly compares with the similar view of justice developed in the Confort, whose protagonist can also trust completely to divine righteousness, albeit of a different sort. What, then, does the lover need to do? Abandon his despair, refuse the sadness in which he wallows, and trust to the assistance Esperence will provide whenever he feels himself threatened by fearfulness or despair. Moreover, as an earnest of her promise, she takes a ring from her finger and places it on his finger (lines 2094–2101).

Feeling himself released from sadness, the tearful lover recovers his ability to speak and listens eagerly to the description she provides of her considerable powers, which are, to summarize, crucial to the workings of Nature. Hope is a radiance that bathes the created order in light and warmth, a kind of metaphysical sun that providentially generates every form of human joy and natural goodness (lines 2194–2286). Praise of the natural order is the subject of one of Lady Philosophy’s most celebrated meters, and it serves to connect the poem’s more metaphysical elements with its focus on the lover’s quest for his lady’s affection.

These two themes are joined even more adroitly in what follows, as Esperence — in response to the lover’s questions about the nature of Fortune — explains that, contrary to his expectations, Fortune has not been his foe, but rather has favored him and continues to do so (lines 2610–2856). In this long disquisition on the false goods of Fortune, Esperence takes pains to affirm that the experience of love is not one of these; Esperence in fact admonishes the lover to love, providing he does so faithfully (lines 2797–2800). Whether he succeeds, so she avers in a very un-Boethian tone, will depend entirely on his good intentions (lines 2815–16). Hoping for success, he will be able to master his fear of the lady’s presumed haughtiness. This is advice for reluctant lovers, at least those that populate the literature of the age, that by Machaut’s time had become thoroughly conventional for more than two hundred years. The joys to be found in loving, which the narrator has every reason to expect will soon be his, are celebrated in baladelle that she sings to him (lines 2857–2892). The heavenly lady then disappears, leaving the lover once again to his own resources, though, as he has learned, Esperence will come to his aid whenever he is in need.

The lover undertakes to internalize her teachings and remain firm in his intention to approach his lady and effect a reconciliation. However, his resolve soon weakens as he leaves the Parc de Hesdin behind and makes his way back to her manor house, where he had left her suddenly and wordlessly some time before. The beautiful spring countryside brightens his spirit, and he is inspired to compose a balade in his lady’s honor, expressing his hope for relief. His performance ends with the thought that he will soon experience once again the joy of gazing upon her beauty (lines 3012–3036). Nevertheless, doubt quickly overtakes him, and in an anxious mood the lover summons Esperence, who quickly appears to encourage him in his adventure (lines 3125–3180). Sternly rebuking his cowardice, she once again departs, and he sets out a second time, but only after uttering yet another lyric, a priere or prayer to the God of Love, whose good graces the lover hopes will ease the difficulties ahead now that he has properly acknowledged and taken to heart the counsels of Hope (lines 3205–3348).

Arriving at the manor, he joins the assembled company, who are disporting themselves in the fields, and soon finds himself asked by the lady to sing something as part of a game they all are playing. He performs a chanson baladee or a dance-song, in which the speaker, addressing a lady, promises to love her with all his heart faithfully and without intending malice (lines 3451–3496). Taking him aside soon afterward, the lady asks for an explanation of his sudden departure some time ago and his subsequent absence from her company. This question, which he now answers truthfully, allows him to confess the great love he feels for her and to request her own in return (lines 3567–3714). Amazed by his tale of Esperence and her ministrations, she asks if this is the truth, and he avers that it is; after further questioning, she affirms that it would be dishonorable and a mistake to go against the wishes of such an august personage and grants him her affection, allowing him to call her his lady (lines 3806–3848).

Not giving any outward sign of the commitment that now joins them, the pair return inside for a dinner and entertainment, the subject of a detailed account and one of the two passages in the poem (the other is the account of the Parc de Hesdin) in which Machaut indulges his talent for realistic description (lines 3890–4018). An exchange of rings soon follows, as the lover passes on to the lady the one given him by Esperence, who herself briefly appears to sanctify their union. The lover celebrates the marriage-like ceremony of their union with a short lyric, a rondelet, in which he expresses his gratitude for the love she bears him. The lady’s somewhat indifferent glance gives the lover a moment of doubt and terror as they part company, but she is able to calm his fears. In a closing passage, he enumerates her many virtues, assuring himself that she could never betray him (lines 4234–4257). The poem closes with an act of homage to the God of Love, after which there is a brief passage in which Machaut signs his name as author, concealed in an anagram.

Machaut’s reading of Boethius as fundamentally defined by consolation seems straightforward enough, but Sarah Kay intriguingly observes that the Consolation, despite its title, only rarely evokes the “lexis of consolation.”51 In her view, the treatise may even be read as “not altogether consoling in several ways,” especially insofar as “it condemns unhappiness as mental and moral aberration in need of remedy or punishment.”52 Thus “mental healing . . . is actually mental readjustment,” with the experiences and conditions that have driven Boethius into the deepest misery ameliorated neither materially nor experientially.53 And so a radical aspect of the Consolation is its re-definition of consolation, as its conventional forms are shown wanting, especially Boethius’ themes of the love and nurturance that flow from family relations, the physical comfort provided by material possessions, and the self-satisfaction that is the most important reward of public service. Arguably, this is the aspect of Boethius’ work that Machaut found most intriguing, a set of sophisticated ideas about the emotional turmoil of experience that he would both affirm and challenge, especially insofar as they could be found relevant to an understanding of the vicissitudes of the amorous and the political life.

In fact, it would be fair to say that he offers in the Remede the kind of un-transcendent consolation that Boethius refuses to provide. The model is transformed more than it is invoked, appropriated more than it is imitated. Such an approach to a venerated text seems symptomatic of the advent of literary modernity so clearly evident at the end of the French Middle Ages, and the increasingly felt need to transform, not just recycle, communal traditions. In both the Consolation and the Remede, however, the movement of thought and emotion is from the individual to the universal, as timeless patterns of reconciliation and recovery play out under the careful supervision of benevolent semi-divinities. Philosophy and Hope represent the admirable, self-soothing qualities of human nature: introspective intellection and an expectant trust in a future where the ache of loss will be made to disappear.


Such universalizing, however, is notably absent at the end of the Confort, which, in an intriguing fashion, reveals Machaut’s partisanship, though the poet masks his own evident “voicing” of this political opinion. The Confort, properly speaking, ends at line 3978 with the poet’s double mark of identity. Not only does he fulfill the promise made in the introduction (lines 29–44) to provide in the tenth and eleventh verses from the end the anagrammatic material to produce his own name and that of Charles; but the half verse which ends the work — “ne m’en chaut” — furnishes yet another humorously disguised version of Guillaume’s name. At this point an explicit marks what should be a boundary between this work and the next (Fonteinne Amoureuse). Unlike the other explicits in the composite manuscripts, this one is followed by more text that belongs neither to the Confort nor to work that follows. This brief poem (lines 3979–4004) differs from the preceding by having its octosyllabic verses all end in the same rhyme. It also characterizes itself as a response, an overtly textual one, to the Confort:

Explicit le Confort d’amy Here ends Comfort for a Friend,
Qui esveilla le cuer de my Which awakened this heart of mine
Es tenebres ou il dormi, In those shadows where it slept,
Et au resveillier dist: ‘Aimy!’ Which waking, said: ‘Alas!’
(lines 3979–82)

By incorporating the explicit as its first line, the response, which context suggests is authored by the imprisoned Charles, becomes linked to the text that engenders it. The grammar of its first sentence produces the same effect; the poem, not the poet, awakens the prisoner’s heart. The elaborate wordplay required by the rhyme scheme, however, appears to signal the poet’s authorship; so does the musical metaphor (lines 3992–94) used to image the prisoner’s sorrow. Indisputably, Machaut — acting as editor of his texts — decided to place this poem after his own, so he is its authorizer even if he is not its author. In any case, the king (whether his voice is “real” or ventriloquized) hardly seems transformed by the Boethian arguments of the poem proper. He has the last words, and they are angry, expressing his desire for vengeance:

Pour ce te requier, alume y, And so I ask you, give me light,
Car goute n’i voy; destumi For I can hardly see; give life back
Mon triste cuer et desdormi, To my sad heart and waken it,
Et je te promet que tuit mi And I promise you that all
Annemi seront avec mi, My enemies will find themselves here with me,
Pour qui maint soupir ay vomi. Those who have made me utter many a moan.
(lines 3999–4004)

The poem (but not the poet) speaks directly the partisanship implied throughout the Confort proper. The work ends with a prophecy about the struggle that would in fact be renewed upon Charles’ escape. The ending is further evidence that the work’s occasion is not Charles’ imprisonment as such, but rather his situation at the foreseeable end of that imprisonment.

Machaut must have thought his poem would play some role in the current struggle, for he imagines the king not only as a reader. Because it is a document testifying to their mutual affection and to certain political views, both poet and patron are responsible for what the text says, and Machaut enlists the king’s help in correcting and improving what he has written; after asking him to receive the gift of the work, Machaut admonishes him about

Et que le milleur en reteingnes. Retaining the best therein.
Laisse ce qui n’est pourfitable, Let go what is unprofitable
Et si retien le plus notable. And keep instead what is most memorable.
Aussi te vueil je supplier, I would ask you, moreover,
Les deffaus vueilles supplier. To repair its defects;
Car je say po et petit vail, Since I know little and am hardly worthy,
Si n’est merveille se je fail. It’s not surprising if I go wrong.
(lines 3948–54)

Authored by poet and patron alike, the poem does not involve itself with the specifics of the quarrel between Charles and Jean over rights and inheritance; these were matters that the king was presumably “wise enough” to deal with himself as he took his case to the people of France. Rather the Confort manifests the encouragement, support, and trust of Guillaume de Machaut. It is an eloquent testimony that the poet thought Charles of Navarre a worthy, able, and moral leader. Though less directly, Machaut does here what poets of the generation to follow would occupy themselves with: speaking their minds on political questions and writing texts to guide the leaders of France.54

Rhetorically, the Confort is a complex exhortation in support of which different arguments are developed. The poet encourages Charles to be comforted, to serve God properly, to observe certain moral precepts, and to be an intelligent and effective ruler. The arguments adduced are of two distinct types: discursive and narrative. For example, in support of his view that Charles, imprisoned and idle, should restrain his appetite, the poet expands on the bad consequences of gourmandizing; eating too much of a dish one day would lead his jailors to believe he could be discomfited by a smaller serving the next time (lines 1675–702). In contrast, wanting Charles to remain hopeful, he relates a series of exempla drawn from Ovid that prove the importance of hope for success in any venture (lines 2277–672). For reasons which will become apparent, it is the more indirect of these two forms of argument, that is, the narrative, which serves Machaut better in conveying the forceful message he intends for Charles.

The Confort, as Ernest Hœpffner recognizes, divides into three distinct sections: the first (lines 1–1660) is devoted to offering the king of Navarre consolation through the presentation of relevant exempla from the Bible; the second section (lines 1661–2872) offers a loosely organized catalogue of counsels that the poet suggests will be useful to him in enduring his captivity; and the third section (lines 2873–3944) consists of advice of quite a different kind, intended to guide the king’s political career upon his expected release.55 The initial section is the most unified thematically. Having stated his purpose in writing and having furnished his readers with the instructions for solving the anagram at the end, the narrator announces the thesis he intends to prove:

Par exemples te vueil prouver, I intend here to offer proof by examples
Qui sont contenu en la Bible Contained in the Bible
Et qui sont a nous impossible, (And these seem impossible to us),
Qu’adés cils qui en Dieu se fie, Attesting that the man who trusts in God,
S’il a raison de sa partie If he acts according to reason,
Et s’il l’aimme, sert, et honneure, And loves, serves, and honors Him,
Adés son fait vient au desseure. Will come out on top at last.
(lines 46–52)

The doctrine, it should be pointed out, contrasts with the Boethian view of suffering developed later and less prominently (lines 1847–78). Although Machaut connects these two understandings of misfortune by suggesting that Charles must have forgotten God and that is why Fortune has turned away from him, they cannot ultimately be reconciled. For the initial view — based, appropriately enough, on material drawn from the Old Testament — insists on a justice that will be experienced in history, a righting of wrongs in the here and now through the moral perseverance and unwavering faith of the righteous individual (represented through Susannah, Machaut’s first example of righteousness). This view of the connection between the temporal and the metaphysical imagines a vigilant God acting in time, making sure the guilty and not the innocent are punished, as He awards success to the righteous, who will “come out on top at last.” The Boethian perspective by contrast, identifies worldly success as a false goal, one that so binds the fool to Fortune’s wheel he can find freedom only in the recognition (whose ultimate source is Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics) that what truly matters are the virtues alone and the impulse they furnish us to pursue the ultimate Good:

Mais aussi comme les estoiles But just as the stars
Raidient plus cler que chandoiles, Shine more brightly than candles,
Et sont mises en firmament And are placed in the firmament
Pour luire pardurablement, To give light forever,
Les vertus luisent et luiront. So the virtues shine and will shine
Adés furent, adés seront, Just as they were, so shall they be,
Si que Fortune nes empire For Fortune doesn’t harm them
Pour son plourer, ne pour son rire, With tears or laughter,
Pour ses dons, ne pour ses promesses, With goods or promises,
Pour povreté, ne pour richesses. Not in poverty or prosperity.
(lines 1959–68)

Unjustly imprisoned by his ruler, Charles resembles Boethius himself in The Consolation of Philosophy. The political tendentiousness of the Confort, however, means that the Boethian position must be subordinated to the expectation that God’s purpose is revealed within the public and historical. Take heart, Machaut says, for God supports the right and will see to it that you are vindicated and restored.

The poem’s last section, which draws heavily on the genre of the regimen principum or guide for princes, foresees God’s intervention on Charles’ behalf. If he is not to be delivered, then there is no point in offering advice on how to rule a kingdom the Navarrese is never to (re)gain. Nevertheless, God can be trusted, even if the poet must be vague about the kind of consolation Charles will receive:

Et s’aimme d’amour si entiere And He loves with a love so complete
Qu’onques a confort ne failli That whoever gives his whole heart to Him
Qui donna tout son cuer a li. Never fails to find comfort.
(lines 68–70)

The exempla, however, promise vindication as well as deliverance. Their indirectness (that is, their dependence on interpretation) suits Machaut’s rhetorical needs. As Martha Wallen suggests:

This hope is not merely a kind wish. Machaut does not use these biblical episodes only to encourage Charles the Bad by suggesting a vague possibility that everything may turn out all right. He has actually intended to prove that Charles, if he is faithful to God, will be rescued.56

Wishing to avoid offending the Valois, Machaut cannot actually predict Charles’ eventual triumph. The key word here then is the verb “figurer” in line 72. Scripture, Machaut says, “figures” the truth that God always consoles his friends in many places (lines 71–72). As Erich Auerbach has demonstrated, the technical term figura in late Latin designates “something real and historical which announces something else that is also real and historical.”57 In the Middle Ages, events in the Old Testament were thought to prefigure events in the New. This relationship formed the doctrinal basis of Biblical exegesis. Machaut exemplifies a form of such commentary by arguing that the various events in the Old Testament have an application to the moral life of every Christian; the stories illuminate an individual’s trials and troubles. Machaut may also be implying that the events from Scripture prefigure what will come to pass in Charles’ life, but such a correspondence between Scriptural and non-Scriptural events would not have been generally accepted by theologians of the time.58 In any case, the difference is a subtle, perhaps ultimately unimportant one, for the fact is that the poet exhorts Charles to have hope because God always delivers the righteous, as various events from the Old Testament, which are figurae exemplifying an underlying pattern of God’s concern, testify.

The application of the Old Testament stories to Charles’ situation thus means that the reader is challenged to construct correspondences between two “histories,” one Scriptural and the other personal. The story of Susannah, related first (lines 73–426), is particularly interesting in this regard, for it offers many parallels to Charles’ misfortune and foreseen deliverance. Following the Scriptural text closely, the poet recounts how Susannah, bathing in her husband’s garden, was spied upon and propositioned by two old judges, who attempted to blackmail her into doing their lecherous will.59 Thinking quickly, Susannah declines to comply, trusting in God to rescue her from whatever trouble the judges can create. Condemned by the people to death for an adultery maliciously invented by her enemies, Susannah is saved when an infant named Daniel is given by God the ability to speak the truth. Daniel tricks the judges into revealing that the story of the old men is a lie, and Susannah is vindicated and released, while they are sentenced to die in her place. The moral of this story is simply put:

Et vraiement, se t’esperence And truly, if the faith you have in Him
Est ferme en li, n’aies doubtance Is strong, then you need not fear,
Qu’en tous cas te confortera For He will always bring you consolation,
Et que toudis te gardera. Always keep you safe.
(lines 423–26)

The story of Susannah emphasizes sudden false accusation, imprisonment with a view toward eventual execution, but then deliverance when God works through Daniel to reveal the truth. Like Charles at the castle in Rouen, the innocent woman is taken unaware and given no chance to defend herself, finding herself accused of crimes of which the people, who respect her, think she is innocent:

Mais chascuns et chascune pueple Yet all the men and women alike
Sa face de larmes piteuses Covered their faces with tears of pity
Pour les nouveles dolereuses, Because of the dire news,
Car on ne tenoit milleur dame For no woman in the land was thought
Ou païs, ne plus preude fame. Better or a more prudent wife.
(lines 204–08)

Compare the passage (lines 1803–24) where Machaut discusses the widespread sorrow at Charles’ imprisonment and the support of the people which he still enjoys — reactions to the drama at Rouen which, because of the evidence of chroniclers, we have every reason to accept as true. From our vantage point, perhaps, Charles hardly seems an innocent victim of royal caprice. But we must remember that throughout the poem Machaut considers him innocent of any public, political wrongdoing; while he does suggest that God may be punishing him, the poet makes it clear that this would be for private crimes (lechery, pride, improper submission to God’s will; see, for example, lines 1847–56). Even if the murder of Charles of Spain could be considered a public act of treachery (and there were many who would not have regarded it as such, perhaps including Machaut himself), the king of Navarre could scarcely be punished now since Jean, by the treaties of Mantes and Valognes, had offered his cousin forgiveness and reconciliation.

Similarly, Charles’ maneuvering with the English would have been widely regarded as his right, for he was an independent sovereign and, as count of Évreux, a nobleman with legitimate complaints against his liege lord. Notably, throughout the regimen principum section of the poem, Machaut considers Charles a king rather than a grand noble; thus questions of loyalty and obedience are obviated since Charles, with the king of Bohemia adduced as a model, is treated like a ruler who can determine right and wrong by the principle of self-interest (see, for example, lines 3273–3310). Plotting with the dauphin to overthrow the king of France might have been viewed more seriously, but since Jean never gave this as his reason for arresting Charles and executing the Norman noblemen, Charles’ guilt or involvement would not be taken by many as proven. Machaut does not reveal how much he knew of the alleged plot between Charles and the dauphin, though rumors about it surely reached him by the time he was writing the Confort.

The next exemplum provides a somewhat different paradigm for the interpretation of Charles’ situation. Continuing with the story of Daniel because “it’s good sense to speak / of his life and accomplishments” (lines 444–45), the poet briefly recounts the prophet’s success with Nebuchadnezzar, whose dream he rightly deciphers. Appointed governor of the king’s lands, Daniel delegates direct rule over the different provinces to Shadrach, Mischach, and Abednego, who fall out of Nebuchadnezzar’s favor when they refuse to worship the huge idol he has erected (see Daniel 3). The king determines to punish the three men because of their disobedience and defiance. But the king is proven wrong when God preserves the lives of the three Hebrews in the fiery furnace. Their deliverance signals God’s will for once again a visible trace of his intervention appears, the angel who beats down the flames. Thus the refusal of idol worship is proven morally correct. Nebuchadnezzar is convinced of his error, which he remediates at once:

Quant le miracle et la merveille When the king witnessed this miracle
Vit li rois, forment s’esmerveille And marvel, he greatly wondered,
Si dist hautement en oÿe: Saying loudly for all to hear:
“Misaël, et vous Azarie, “Mishael, and you Azariah,
Il n’est plus de diex vraiement Truly there’s no god save
Que le vostre qui telement Yours, who in such a way
Vous a garenti et sauvé. Watched over and kept you safe.
Venez, car vous estes sauvé.” Come out, for you have been delivered.”
(lines 633–40)

This exemplum suggests that God can intervene not only in individual but also in political disputes. He can chastise a king by frustrating his will when he does wrong, encouraging him to restore those whom he has unjustly treated:

Et milleur estat leur donna And [God] gave them even higher ranks
Qu’il n’avoient onques heü Than the ones they had ever held
(lines 642–43)

Acts of defiance directed at a legitimate ruler can be justified, and in ways that provide justice for both parties. Nebuchadnezzar deserves admiration because faced with a power greater than his own, he surrenders, acknowledging the sovereignty of Daniel’s God. The story can be read as suggesting that the release of Charles, like the preservation of the three Hebrews, will reveal God’s judgment. If that is so, then Machaut’s inclusion of it is particularly politic since the poet chooses not to emphasize at this point (though he mentions it later in lines 785 ff.) how Nebuchadnezzar was severely chastised for his many sins, especially pride. Like Susannah, the three Hebrews must have faith in God to survive unjust condemnation. God does the rest, overturning natural law in both instances to deliver his “friends” and arranging for a truthful verdict, as judges and rulers are now able to see the light.

While connected to the continuing story of Daniel and drawn from the same Biblical source, the next exemplum approaches the issue of God’s consolation differently (see Daniel 5). It is perhaps noteworthy that in England, a couple decades later, John Gower, in the prologue and book 1 of the Confessio Amantis, draws extensively upon these same exempla from Daniel to warn the English king (Richard II in particular, as well as his cousin Henry, count of Derby — later Henry IV) of the dangers to the kingdom posed by a king’s foolish pride and presumption. Such arrogance inevitably leads to division within the kingdom that, according to Gower, all too frequently results in its destruction.60

Machaut seems to be making a similar point, emphasizing the significance of the writing on the wall that appears and is visible to Belshazzar alone as he enjoys a feast offensive to God. The king defiles the sacred vessels stolen from the temple in Jerusalem by having them used to serve food and drink. While this story once again features a ruler chastised by God for his immorality, pride, and foolishness, it does not involve a righteous servant of God who suffers unjustly. Instead, the focus here is on a defiant wise man, Daniel, whose superior intelligence enables him to predict the ruin of the kingdom and the impending death of its ruler. Belshazzar has merited the reversal of fortune he soon will suffer at the hands of neighboring peoples, to whom the riches of Babylon will pass:

Qu’a ceaus de Medee et de Perse All your kingdom will be divided between
Sera devisés tes royaumes, Those of Medea and those of Persia;
Se c’estoit fins ors ou fins baumes, Whether it’s fine gold or pure balm,
S’en ara chascuns sa partie, Every man will have his share,
Si en perdras la signourie, And you shall forfeit thereby the power you wield,
Ame, corps, et avoir ensamble. Your soul, your body, your goods at a single blow.
(lines 922–27)

For a contemporary reader this story must have appeared particularly relevant to the political situation in late 1357, with the king a captive and with continuing negotiations that proposed something along the lines of the partition of France eventually effected at Brétigny. Here Daniel assumes a role not unlike that of the reformers sympathetic to the Navarrese cause, pointing out the moral abuses that, in the minds of many, had brought disaster upon the kingdom. Charles himself would play something like Daniel’s role upon his eventual escape, however much he was later to disappoint the hopes of many who advocated a renovatio of France. This exemplum, however, is irrelevant to the general theme of this section. It does not end with the appropriate moral about God providing comfort to those He holds dear. But Daniel’s triumphant hermeneutic exercise is followed by an interesting endorsement of the wise man’s abilities and popularity:

Chascuns voit bien que Daniel Everyone saw clearly how Daniel
Porte la scïence divine Possessed a knowledge of things divine
En son cuer et en sa poitrine. In his heart and soul.
(lines 952–54)

If Charles is to be identified, as he is in the exempla that both precede and follow, with the ruler’s opponent, then we are encouraged to see him as a wise man who in an appropriately public fashion points out how grievously the king has erred. Daniel’s prediction is proven true by subsequent events, which can be understood as a punishment imposed by God for the sins of pride and arrogance that the kingdom must endure. This exemplum thus furnishes a “strong” version of the wise and faithful servant of God’s eventual victory. It can be read as predicting what role Charles might play in public life once, like Daniel, he is afforded the opportunity to plead his case.

The story of Daniel and the lions’ den develops a related theme: that of evil-minded and jealous counselors who force the king to do wrong despite his better judgment (Daniel 6). Once again through the force of God’s miraculous intervention, the enemies of the servant of God are destroyed by the evil they create. Impressed by Daniel’s abilities, Belshazzar’s son Darius makes him governor of the kingdom. He is especially responsible for overseeing the collection of taxes from local rulers:

Car li roys Daires a mandé Since Darius the king had ordered
Tous ses princes et commandé, And enjoined all his princes
Et aussi a tous ses menistres, And also all his ministers,
Quels nons qu’il aient ou quels titres, Whatever names or titles they had,
Q’chascuns d’eaus seur grant amende To render, each in turn,
A Daniel le compte rende And on pain of great penalty, an accounting to Daniel
De sa recepte et de son fait, Of their actions and of the taxes they collected,
Qu’einsi li plaist; et il l’ont fait. For this would please him; and they had done so.
(lines 963–70)

This passage significantly alters its Biblical source (Daniel 6:2 and 4) by emphasizing Daniel’s position as a royal advisor who must pass judgment on the fiscal honesty of the kingdom’s nobility. Jealous of Daniel’s abilities and position, the nobles seek a reason for his condemnation; finding none, they trick the king into passing an edict that makes Daniel’s worship of God a capital offense. Darius is pressured by the conspirators’ account of Daniel’s crime. He orders Daniel thrown into the lions’ den against his own wishes:

Quant Daires oÿ la nouvelle, When Darius heard this news,
Et vit que ceint d’une cordelle And recognized that the princes of Chaldea
Furent li prince de Caldee, Were bound as one in this matter,
Il cheï en moult grief pensee He fell into a very painful mood
Et fu courreciés durement, And was terribly upset,
Car Daniel amoit forment, For he loved Daniel very much
Si prist a penser qu’il feroit And so began considering what to do
Et comment il li aideroit, And how to help him, though he understood
Car bien perçut qu’il le faisoient Perfectly that they were doing this
Par envie et qu’il le haoient. Because they were jealous and hated him.
(lines 1069–78)

God enables Daniel and Darius to overcome their enemies. Once again He preserves the life of his threatened servant: God provides Daniel with food and restrains the lions’ mouths so that they do him no harm. As before, however, it is up to men shown the truth by God to exact the appropriate vengeance upon the guilty:

Li rois Daires fist enquerir Then Darius the king had searched out,
Partout, enserchier, et querir Sought after, and looked for throughout his lands
Tous ceaus qui de ce malefice All those who had been the cause
Furent cause, et de quelque office Of this evil deed, and whatever
Il fussent, il les fist geter Their rank, he had them thrown
Dedens le lac sans arrester Without hesitation into the lions’ den,
(lines 1245–50)

That Darius was betrayed by evil-minded counselors, who pressured him to punish an innocent man faithfully discharging his duties to the kingdom, makes him an interesting figure in regard to Jean of France’s situation prior to his decision to imprison Charles of Navarre. Consider what Cazelles says about the political situation in France at the time:

On a pu se demander, après le meurtre de Charles d’Espagne, si le roi est le maître. Il n’est au courant des traités de Mantes et de Guines que bien après leur conclusion; les négociations préalables lui ont donc échappé et il ne peut réagir qu’après. Si le fait est exact — et il me semble qu’il le soit — cela signifie qu’il n’est pas alors consulté sur l’essentiel.61

[One could ask if, after the murder of Charles of Spain, the king was in charge. He was not knowledgeable about the treaties of Mantes and Guines until after their conclusion; the preliminary negotiations escaped him and he could only react after the fact. If this is the truth, and it seems to me that it is, then it means that he was not then consulted about essential matters.]

It is possible, then, that this last exemplum from the Book of Daniel was the most appropriate one for Charles, even as it was the most desirable from the standpoint of Machaut’s own delicate political position. Understood according to this pattern, Charles and Jean could both be exculpated, while jealous nobles were assigned the blame for their feuding:

Si que li prince et li satrape So that the princes and satraps
Par pure envie, qui atrape Through pure jealousy — that lays a snare
Maint cuer, quirent occasion For many a heart — sought out the chance
Pour mener a destruction To bring Daniel
Daniel, mais il virent bien To destruction; but they saw well
Qu’il avoit en li tant de bien He was so virtuous
Q’jamais en li ne trouvassent They should never discover
Chose dont mauvais le prouvassent. Anything to prove him evil.
(lines 977–84)

Such a paradigm even furnishes a somewhat justifiable motive for the murder of Charles of Spain. The king of Navarre insisted that this intimate of Jean had intrigued against him to his own advantage, insulting his honor. In his letter of explanation to Edward of England (written 10 January 1354), Charles observed:

Charles d’Espaygne nadgaires connestable de Fraunce a dit et parlet en moult de lieux plusours grans vilenies et déshonnourables paroles de ma personne et de mes plus prouscheins amis de char, dont il a mentoit mauvèsement, et por ce aussi que malicieusement et secrètement il a purcharcié et traictié grans dommages, ennuis et empeschements contre moi et mes dits amis . . .62

[Charles of Spain, formerly constable of France, has said and spoken at length on several occasions great insults and dishonorable words about my own person and those closest and dearest to me by blood, in which he has evilly lied, and also he has maliciously and surreptitiously attempted and plotted great damage, harm, and hindrance against me and mine . . . ]

Charles’ admitted vengeance against the constable of France, though not alluded to directly in the Confort, must have been on Machaut’s mind as he composed the poem since this act had begun the feud between the two cousins. Charles himself thought this the reason for Jean’s appearance at Rouen and sought to excuse himself. As Froissart recounts his speech:

Voire est que je fis occire Charle d’Espagne, qui estoit mon adversaire, mais pais en est, et s’en ay fait la pénitence.63

[It’s true that I had Charles of Spain killed, a man who was my enemy, but there is peace about that and I have done penance for the deed.]

At this point Machaut leaves behind exempla drawn from the book of Daniel, all of which attest to both the consolation God provides the faithful and the punishment he makes the evil and misguided endure. Picking up on the theme of defeated idolatry (an element in both the stories of Nebuchadnezzar and Darius, see especially lines 1283–87), the poet goes on to relate part of the history of Manasseh (2 Paralipomenon 33). This character exemplifies what the individual Christian needs to do in order to merit God’s help, an issue not raised earlier because Susannah, Daniel, and the three Hebrews are all entirely innocent victims of circumstance. But if the innocent sometimes suffer and are delivered by God, the guilty suffer too, only finding deliverance when they reform their evil and offensive ways. The exemplum of Manasseh does not deny the pattern of those related so far, but rather approaches the problem of suffering from a different angle, that of faith or hope:

Encor vueil je .i. exemple mettre And I will present another exemplum
En rime, si prés de la lestre And rhyme it, staying as close to the letter
Comme je porrai bonnement As I can best manage
Pour manifester clerement In order to show clearly
Qu’avoir doit chascuns s’esperence How everyone ought put his hope
En Dieu et toute sa fiance. And all his trust in God.
(lines 1353–58)

Manasseh’s fault is a denial of belief in God that tempts him to commit idolatry and blasphemy. As a result, he suffers political misfortune, a captivity imposed by a king who clearly functions as God’s instrument and not as Manasseh’s personal enemy:

Mais n’atendi pas longuement But Manasseh didn’t have long to wait
Que Diex s’en venja telement For God to take appropriate vengeance
Que dou prince de la bataille Since Manasseh was bound and taken
Au roy des Siriens sans faille By the prince of battle
Fu pris et loiés Manassés, To the king of the Syrians with no trouble,
N’onques n’i ot autre prosés And he never had another hearing
(lines 1401–06)

As in the story of Darius, the true enemy of the suffering prisoner is not the king (here a shadowy presence, a mere function of the will of God expressed through history). In contrast, Manasseh’s captivity is just, the consequence of his foolishness and obdurate refusal to reform:

Diex, qui ne vuet mie la mort God, wishing not at all the death
Dou pecheur, einsois .i. remort Of the sinner, instead prompted
Li donne qu’il se convertisse Him to change his ways
Et qu’il vive en son dous servise, And live henceforth in His sweet service,
A son pueple et a li parla, And He spoke to him and his people,
Mais ne les ot mie par la, But He did not convert them at all this way,
Car a li ne vorrent entendre For they would not listen to Him
(lines 1393–99)

In this instance, suffering is not misfortune, but a sign that the wise man should interpret rightly and act upon, converting to God’s service. Manasseh’s long prayer (lines 1453–1536) provides Charles with a model for his own acknowledgment of sinfulness. Charles’ imprisonment may be either a temporary miscarriage of justice (in which case the king has only to wait for God’s deliverance) or an act of retribution (in which case the king must read it as a warning if he is to regain his former estate). Manasseh’s fault is a failure of faith, a moral crime that can be rectified by prayer:

Mais si tost comme il renia But as soon as he renounced
Les ydoles et qu’il pria The idols and begged
A Dieu ci devotement God quite devoutly for mercy,
En plours et en gemissment, Crying and lamenting,
Diex l’escouta et entendi God listened to him, understanding
Et son roiaume li rendi And gave him back his kingdom
(lines 1603–08)

Wallen seems mistaken when she suggests that this exemplum embodies Machaut’s own doubts about his patron’s innocence and that, along with the mythological tales retold in the second part of the Confort, it is arguing that the king should somehow change his ways as a public person.64 The initial section of the poem ends with yet another affirmation of Charles’ public innocence:

Si croy que c’est sans mesprison, But I believe you’ve done no wrong,
Car attrais n’ies pas de nature For your nature has not driven you
Que faire doies mespresure, To do what’s improper,
Au mains tele ne si notable Or at least nothing wrong enough
Com pour estre en lieu si grevable To merit your being in such a terrible place
(lines 1654–58)

The fact of human weakness and the difficult conditions of imprisonment make it necessary for Machaut not only to tell Charles to trust in God and confess his sins, but also to offer moral advice and argument if he is to provide true consolation.

The two sections of the poem’s second part contain advice of different kinds, some of which appears of dubious significance to a modem reader. This part of the Confort lacks the unity of the opening section, though it is not without its interest and complexity. Having advised Charles to keep a stiff upper lip and not show his unhappiness with the miserable conditions of prison life, Machaut abandons his role as moral counselor to give Charles some news that might cheer him. Rumors about the events at Rouen are slowly spreading and popular reaction is favorable to the king of Navarre (lines 1804–14); Charles’ friends are inquiring after his whereabouts — the royal captive was moved from one stronghold to another, presumably to defeat attempts at his release — and they are not asking the French king for mercy, only for justice, a testimony to their belief in his innocence (lines 1815–24). In addition, Charles has others who are pleading his case (presumably a reference to his supporters in the Estates and among the clergy) and will be judged finally by Jean, a man who will pardon him should Charles make that request (lines 1825–33).

The affirmation of Charles’ innocence once again (lines 1834–35) brings Machaut to a consideration of Fortune, which is yet a third way of understanding what has happened to him. If he is not the victim of conspiracy or jealousy and is not being punished by God for his lack of faith or sinfulness, then Charles must, like all men, have fallen afoul of Fortune, who turns her terrible face toward him in order to remind Charles of the transitoriness of earthly goods:

Si que tu as ton creatour And so you have neglected your Maker
Mis en oubli pour ton atour, Because of your possessions,
Pour ta grandeur, pour ta richesse, Because of your grandeur, your wealth,
Pour ton pooir, pour ta noblesse, Because of your power and nobility,
Et ne l’as mie tant servi And you have hardly served Him well enough
Qu’aies sa grace desservi. To merit His grace.
(lines 1847–52)

As these last lines show, Machaut’s Boethianism closely connects to the theme of historical deliverance developed earlier. For the presumption is that Charles will no longer have to endure the terrifying mutability of worldly luck if he serves God as he should. The main point of The Consolation of Philosophy, however, is that the experience of misfortune should not be interpreted morally, that is, as a sign of divine displeasure or the outward form of inner depravity; misfortune instead is the very essence of human experience, as Machaut affirms in his summary of the Consolation’s lesson:

Si n’est homs vivans qui se exente So there is no man alive exempt
De Fortune, ne qui se vente From Fortune, none who can boast
Qu’en ses mains ne soit, qui exenter He is not in her hands, for no man
Ne s’en porroit homs, ne vanter Can escape her, nor be proud
Par raison, s’il n’est de vertus Justifiably, unless he’s reclothed
Et de bonnes meurs revestus. Himself with virtues and good habits.
(lines 1927–32)

The long passage that follows (lines 1933–2014) not surprisingly deals with the Boethian notion of the perseverance of virtue in general terms that do not touch directly the king of Navarre’s situation. The implication of this reasoning would be that the pursuit of political success is mistaken since this goal is only partially good, one that cannot help leading to disappointment and ruin. Charles, as Machaut presents him, is a just man who experiences a temporary setback that should not deter him from reassuming his hereditary obligation to rule effectively. It is logical, then, that the meditation on Fortune returns the reader to further consideration of moral conduct and the most important friend that the prisoner can have: hope.

The poet reminds his patron that in his youth he might have neglected God and offended Him. In any case, no one can hope to merit God’s favor (lines 2015–39). Charles should then devote himself humbly to God’s service, for his bad luck is the sign of God’s love for him, in other words, an indication of divine favor:

Qu’a s’amour te duit et adresse For He leads and points you toward His love
S’il te punist en ta jonesse, If He is punishing what you did as a young man,
Einsi comme il fist Manassés, Just as He did with Manasseh,
Qu’en prison ot maint dur assés. Who suffered many a hard trial in prison.
(lines 2045–48)

Yet the force of this exemplum is hardly Boethian. A proper conversion will bring about political success:

De s’amour seras si refais You would be so transformed by His love
Qu’il te rendra tout ton païs; He should return you all your land;
Et ceaus de qui tu es haïs And those that hate will come
T’ameront au tour d’un soleil To love you in one turning of the sun
S’a s’amour as le cuer et l’ueil If your eye and heart focus on His love
(lines 2050–54)

Thus Fortune is less a necessary element of earthly existence than the consequence of immoral actions. The more politically radical implication of Boethianism is that the inner man matters more than the public figure; thus virtue is to be valued more highly than rank, from which it is independent:

Et se des vices separez And if he were free from vice
Estoit et des vertuz parez, And supplied with virtues,
Uns savetiers nobles seroit, A shoemaker would be a nobleman
Et uns rois villains qui feroit And a king a peasant, who would do
Maises ouevres et villonnie. Evil and villainous things.
(lines 1909–13)

This line of reasoning almost leads Machaut into a condemnation of riches and the power they bring (see lines 1980–2014), but the poet quickly leaves behind what might prove a provocative, perhaps dangerous, point of view by affirming that “the middle way’s best” (line 2001).

At this point, the poem assumes another direction, discovering a matter and language with which Machaut as court poet was very familiar. Having treated the meaning of Charles’ imprisonment in several different ways, Machaut returns to a theme developed earlier, but only cursorily: the issue of the king’s deportment as captive, especially his avoidance of despair, an evil state of mind that would cause him much pain. The image of the suffering prisoner deprived of hope is a conventional element of the dit amoureux. Here Charles is imagined as playing out this role, even to the extent of mouthing a complaint against his condition and the unending desire for his lady that makes it so unendurable:

Et se tu dis: “Las! Je sui mors, And if you say: “Alas! I’m dead,
Car j’ay plus de mille remors, For my troubles number more than a thousand,
Et plus de cent mille pensees My thoughts more than a hundred thousand
Diversement entremeslees And these are terribly confused
De souvenirs et de pointures, With memories and miseries that are
Tristes, poingnans, fieres, et dures, Sad, poignant, fierce, long-lasting,
Et s’ai desir qui toudis veille, While my desire is ever sleepless,
Qui jusques a mort me traveille.” Tormenting me to the brink of death.”
(lines 2057–64)

The narrator’s argumentative counter offers Machaut’s unique understanding of proper love. Desire for the solitary amant is not a problem, but rather the solution to the problem. That pure love is an emotion dependent on the subjective mind alone for its nourishment and continuance means that the prisoner need not find deliverance in order to discover consolation. The image of his beloved, brought to life by Sweet Memory, can satisfy his desire. Thoughts of her are friends, not enemies:

Car ce ne sont que ramembrances, For they are nothing more than the memories,
Monitions, ramentevances Recollections, and remembrances
De l’image qu’est figuree Of that image figured
En ton cuer par Douce Pensee. In your heart by Sweet Thought.
Avoir y deüsses plaisence You should take pleasure there,
Et penre grant joie et pais en ce Discover great joy and peace
(lines 2227–32)

This section of the poem offers in a somewhat condensed form (a bit more than two hundred lines) the “doctrine” of love developed at greater length in both the Remede and the Fonteinne.65 The inclusion of this material here, within a poem otherwise unconcerned with love, does not seem motivated by the particular circumstances of Charles’ situation. We should not, I think, conclude from what the poet says that Charles suffered especially from an enforced separation from his wife (if she is indeed the “beloved” referred to). An aristocrat, Charles must be represented as a noble soul capable of refined emotion and therefore affected in this way by his captivity. Literary tradition so demands, and hence his suffering must be assimilated to that of the archetypal lover in this literary tradition. Machaut’s individualistic conception of love sorrow is heavily influenced, as Douglas Kelly points out, by Boethius. This means that Charles’ captivity from this viewpoint is neither true sorrow nor deprivation; circumstances cannot affect the inner life of devotion, contemplation, and pleasure. The king of Navarre’s solitude should make it clear that love can be a self-contained experience, dependent on emotions which, like the virtues, are beyond the reach of Fortune’s whimsical domination. Because his theme is the captive’s imminent deliverance, however, Machaut underlines the importance of such joyful contemplation for the free man able to rejoin his lover. She will love him much more when she learns that he thought constantly about her (lines 2264–71). Moreover, he need not worry about her faithfulness since “in such perfect goodness / no betrayal could exist” (lines 2275–76).

Though occasioned by his friend’s supposed despair, the poet’s treatment of the positive aspects of desire and memory leads him to negate, if only implicitly, the importance of hope. If Charles needs only the image of his lover and the memory of their shared happiness to be content, then hope becomes less necessary to his deliverance from pain. And yet the exempla drawn from Ovid, whose narration takes up the next section of the poem, are all concerned with the necessity for hope. Though concerned with love and lovers, these exempla seem to have another purpose. For a contemporary reader such stories would yield two kinds of meaning. On the one hand, the elements of classical myth could be “moralized,” that is, turned into allegories emphasizing general, acceptable truths indicated by the literal level (whose representations of pagan gods could not be so enthusiastically endorsed). To suggest that these stories all emphasize the importance of Hope (Esperence) is to moralize them, and this is the treatment suggested by Machaut’s source: the immense vernacular version the Ovide moralisé (Ovid Moralized) or OM, in which retellings are followed by often lengthy allegorizations. On the other hand, these stories could also be viewed euhemeristically, that is, as not speaking of divine or supernatural events but of purely human ones. In this sense, Orpheus, Hercules, and Paris would not be mythological characters but ordinary men, whose histories would have the same relevance to contemporary events that other histories possess, since, in the medieval view, history is constituted by repeated “types.” Whether we see Orpheus as a personification of hope triumphant or as a man whose perseverance and determination win the day ultimately makes little difference here. As with the Biblical exempla discussed earlier, Machaut expects his readers (including Charles himself) to draw appropriate connections between the stories and the situation of the suffering prisoner, going beyond, as appropriate, the “readings” with which he provides them here, sometimes drawing on the allegories in his source and sometimes relying on his own powers of invention. The three exempla he adduces from the OM do not feature characters who are victims of injustice or of their own error. Orpheus is a brave man who fights to regain what he has lost, using his talent and energies:

S’esperence de la ravoir If he had had no hope
N’eüst, pour quanqu’il a d’avoir Of regaining her, he would not have made his way
En tout le monde entierement To the place for whatever goods there are
N’i fust alez, mais vraiement In the whole world,
Esperence le conduisoit, But truly Hope guided him there,
Qui ad ce faire le duisoit. Urged him to make the attempt.
(lines 2285–90)

Not a traditional hero who accomplishes his aim by force or cunning, Orpheus is rather a type of the creative artist whose captivating performances can induce those in power to do his will. In the Prologue to his collected works,66 Guillaume imagines himself as an Orpheus empowered by Nature and Love to compose poems in praise of good women and love. Such an identification might be intended here as well since Charles was no poet but a prisoner; in some ways he makes a better Eurydice. Orpheus obtains the release of his beloved by enchanting Hell itself, forcing Pluto to release his suffering captive. And yet Orpheus, apparently misled by some emotion or impulse, breaks the condition of her release, and she is forced to return to Hades:

Mais amours, qui les cuers affole, But love or desire, that drive hearts
Et desirs, ou pensee fole, Mad, or some crazy thought,
Li fist derrier li resgarder, Made him look behind him,
Et Erudice, sans tarder, And Eurydice, without delay,
S’en fuï en la chartre horrible Flew back to that horrible prison
(lines 2559–63)

His punishment is devastating. Not only does Orpheus lose Eurydice forever, but he becomes a creature of such miserable fortune that the rest of his life, in Machaut’s words, is nothing more than a “disgusting story” (line 2588). Refusing the love of other women, he is finally stoned by a group of scornful ladies. At first he is able to enchant the rocks they hurl at him, but then they make a great noise that drowns out his song and breaks the spell. The happy ending, the reunion of the lovers in Hades, is mentioned only briefly by Machaut (lines 2625–68), so that the emotional tone of the exemplum is more grim than joyful. However, the poet suggests somewhat ambiguously that Hope has made his adventure a success:

. . . Mais Espoirs l’i mena . . . But Hope led him on
Qu’i si bonnement s’en pena To struggle so nobly
Qu’il heüst son fait achevé He would have accomplished his aim
S’amours ne li heüst grevé. Had love not prevented him.
(lines 2637–40)

Unlike the case of the Biblical exempla, the point of this story is initially puzzling. It seems that the poem’s rhetorical aims would be better served by a retelling that emphasized the final victory achieved by Orpheus. Hope seems of little value in the story as we have it here since Orpheus’ own failings cancel out whatever usefulness it might have. Furthermore, the main character does not seem an obvious reflex of the king of Navarre, especially since it is Eurydice whose deliverance from prison is first accomplished, then bungled.

These difficulties become less important when we consider the three exempla as a group. These are heroes with very different strengths and accomplishments. Orpheus is a singer able to accomplish his goal through the force of words and song; Paris is a lover whose discriminating eye and devotion to the cause of love win him the heart of the most beautiful woman in the world; and Hercules is the most powerful of men, whose strength enables him to defeat extraordinary opponents and yet gain the affection of the beautiful Iole. Rhetorical charm, emotional fervor, and masculine power are figured as the attributes of an ideal aristocrat. And yet the stories also issue a warning. In each case, hope aids the hero, and yet he loses in the end because of some blindness or rash decision.

Paris ventures to find Helen because he trusts the promise of Venus, who is awarded the golden apple by her favorite and then agrees to reward him in the appropriate fashion. Like that of Orpheus, however, his success is ambiguous, a triumph that is simultaneously a disaster:

Mais Venus tant le sermonna But Venus said so much to him
Que li pastouriaus li donna, The foolish shepherd awarded it to her.
Dont toute Troie fu destruite And thus Troy was completely destroyed
(lines 2661–63)

Paris’ judgment, so Machaut implies, was a mistake caused either by emotional weakness (an inability to resist the promises of Venus) or by stupidity (his failure to envision the consequences of offending the two other goddesses). His own destruction, and that of his people, is the result. This political meaning is hinted at when Machaut develops, in a much more elaborate way, this same story in the Fonteinne.67

At first Hercules is the very type of medieval romance hero: a man who strikes down a dangerous opponent (the shapeshifter Achelous) for the sake of the woman he loves, the beautiful Deianira. And yet Hercules too throws away his success and good fortune. Making a mortal enemy of Nessus the centaur, Hercules is undone when Deianira gives him a tunic in an attempt to regain his love, which she lost when the fickle hero fell in love with Iole. And yet, unbeknownst to her, Nessus has poisoned the garment. Though he dies in pain, Hercules becomes a divinity because his many triumphs had pleased the gods. Even so, the exemplum as Machaut tells it hardly merits the optimism of its closing moral:

Cuides tu que Herculés peüst Do you think that Hercules, had he
Avoir, s’Esperence n’eüst, Not possessed Hope, could have had
Si belle et si noble victoire? Such a pleasing and noble victory?
(lines 2743–45)

These three stories thus have a double force. Even as they illustrate how hope enables the man of ambition, daring, and talent to succeed, they chronicle how defeat comes from emotional instability, wild thoughts, and a lack of intelligence. They advise Charles to be hopeful, to look for his chance, and not to throw it away through some foolish impulse.

The poem’s next section communicates clearly Machaut’s view that luck is definitely on his side. As already discussed, the poet thinks that the battle of Poitiers has reversed the value of Charles’ experience; from a misfortune his imprisonment has been transformed into an incalculable advantage. It seems hardly accidental that a discussion of the difficulties experienced by the noble prisoner of war, a passage that must have reminded every contemporary reader of Jean’s trials in the hands of the English, leads directly to the poet’s strongest statement about Charles’ impending release. The powerlessness of the king of France means that Charles will gain his freedom. At least this is the implication:

Bien croy que tu eschaperas I am convinced you will get out
Briefment, ou delivrés seras Soon or be released honorably,
A honneur, et Diex le t’otroie, And that God will grant you this,
Car, par m’ame, je le vorroie. For, by my soul, I would have it so.
(lines 2875–78)

The poet makes it clear that a shift in subject takes place at this point. The work will continue even though the issue of Charles’ captivity has been explored from every angle. Indeed, it seems likely that the Confort’s initial section might well have been planned and executed before more recent events so altered Charles’ political and personal situation. For if he is soon to be released, then his captivity ceases to matter much, even morally. What becomes important is the king’s behavior upon his release, and it is this issue that occupies Machaut at this point, for he is intent on “offering some further advice” (line 2874). The diffuse structure of the poem might well be a result of its response during its composition to a complex and shifting situation.

In any event, the short section that follows (lines 2878–2922) offers some conventional wisdom for rulers which Machaut might have gleamed from a number of written sources or simply from his experiences regarding the demands and responsibilities of powerful men. Charles is to make sure that he is honest in his dealings with everyone, and honorable as well. He is to remain emotionally constant, both in success and failure, never speaking more than he should because the words of the great are well noted. He should be generous with his riches and never a slave to them, for honor has nothing to do with wealth. Better in fact to be honorable and poor than a man of no good reputation with great riches.

These observations are certainly conservative in the best sense, that is, time-honored and widely believed (at least officially). It is not surprising, therefore, that this meditation leads Machaut to offer the king of Bohemia as a model for Charles to follow, as discussed earlier. It is important that Machaut conceives of Charles as a king and ruler who might profit from the example of one of the greatest leaders of the age. The poet does not understand his patron as count of Évreux, that is, as someone caught within a complex mesh of loyalties to his cousin the king of France and his other relatives in the royal house. Addressing Charles as a king with the capacity, indeed the duty, to act independently in the pursuit of his own advantage, Machaut avoids treating ticklish issues that might compromise his own position with the Valois if he were obligated to state a firm position about the current crisis. Once again, the argument is largely indirect, based on whatever relevance the example of King Jean of Bohemia might appear to possess. We might note additionally that Jean had no direct connection to the dynastic conflicts then devastating contemporary France; hence he is important only as a type. A meditation on Jean’s career, in fact, takes us beyond political disputes to the military idealism of the crusade. The poet’s portrait is a secular hagiography.

Jean is the prototypical warrior king, a man whose reputation rests on his many military triumphs:

Pren garde au bon roy de Behaingne, Take as your model the good king of Bohemia,
Qui en France et en Alemaingne, Who in France and Germany,
En Savoie et en Lombardie, In Savoy and Lombardy,
En Dannemarche et en Hongrie, In Denmark and Hungary,
En Pouleinne, en Russe, en Cracoe, In Poland, Russia, Kracow,
En Masouve, en Prusse, en Letoe In Masovia, Prussia, and Lithuania
Ala pris et honneur conquerre. Did venture to win glory and honor.
(lines 2923–29)68

Jean’s prize in these noble ventures was the glory gained by his numerous victories. This meant more to him than any material rewards. Money, the poet suggests, was what Jean gave to his troops and supporters, keeping none for himself. He was satisfied with only the barest of necessities: one horse, an old cloak of rough cloth, and thin soup with black bread. Jean’s poverty was the secret of his success, for it meant that he could remunerate his supporters and fix his eye on honor alone:

Trop fist de choses merveilleuses, He did so many incredible things,
Apertes, sages, perilleuses. And these were remarkable, well-conceived, risky.
Se toutes les voloie dire, If I wished to relate them all,
Je ne les te porroie lire I could hardly tell you
Ou compter en jour et demi. Or recount them in a day and a half.
Et si n’ot onques annemi And furthermore he never had an enemy
Qu’il ne chastiast par tel guise He didn’t punish in such a way
Que l’onneur en avoit acquise. That he gained honor thereby.
(lines 3065–72)

Traditionally, commentators have explained Machaut’s use of Jean as a model for Charles by the fact that the poet, so long in his service, measured other kings by his indelible memory of this one. This is certainly likely, since reminiscences of Jean appear again in the Prise d’Alixandre, a poem centrally concerned with time-honored chivalric virtues and the glory in battle that those who uphold them can win.69 I do not believe, however, that Machaut’s admiration for Jean explains fully either the use of the king of Bohemia as an example of successful kingship or a pronounced emphasis on the military aspects of his life. The mark of the successful king, Machaut argues, is that he increases his honor through conquests and through the successful defense of what is his by right. The message here for Charles seems quite clear: Punish your enemies. Exert your strength. Let no one dominate you. If Charles follows the example of King Jean, then he will do whatever is necessary to restore his injured honor by prosecuting the war against the Valois. The example of Jean of Bohemia may be politically neutral (for this king belongs to the chivalric past), but its point, as Machaut develops it, is certainly partisan and most relevant to the king of Navarre’s situation as he awaits deliverance. Charles, not noted for his martial abilities or leadership in war, is exhorted to be like the noble ruler who let no one rob his heritage, who increased his holdings through ceaseless war, and who made certain that no enemy went unpunished.

The remaining quarter of the poem (lines 3087–3978) offers an unsystematic but effective catalogue of counsels useful to both the warrior king and the ruler eager to retain the good wishes of his followers and subjects. The portrait of kingship revealed in the history of Jean is now stated differently, as a series of maxims rather than an account of deeds and admirable personal qualities. A king should never allow clerks to serve as advisors in war, but should, instead, be counseled by the wise and experienced, by those who have a personal stake in the outcome (lines 3997–4104; 3105–12; 3288–3330; 3749–68). Loyalty and a regard for honor should dictate the public behavior of a king, including his relations with his retinue, his attitude toward women, and even his dress and personal habits (lines 3087–96; 3393–3440; 3493–3544; 3553–60; 3629–712; 3731–48; 3869–82; 3903–44). Though a king should be wise enough to choose good soldiers and make sure he knows what the enemy is about (lines 3113–34; 3273–3348), he should never choose the defense when he should attack (lines 3135–58; 3239–56; and 3349–92). Treaties should never be signed in a position of weakness, but, once signed, they must be upheld (lines 3159–66; 3239–72). Rulers should respect the rights of their subjects by only exacting legal rents or taxes and coining good money (lines 3815–36).

Throughout this section of the poem Machaut paints an idealized, conservative portrait of the exemplary ruler. The poet’s views in general agree with those of the reforming party of the time.70 Charles is urged to play the part of the benevolent warrior king, a man who, observing the traditional precepts of honor in war and justice in peace, is able to protect the realm from external threats and internal dissatisfaction. Though the reformers chose St. Louis (and this indicates the conservativism of their demands) and Machaut picks Jean of Bohemia, the biographical mirror for the prince is essentially the same. In fact, one might say that Machaut remakes Jean’s image using that of St. Louis as a guide, as suggested earlier. The ultimate meaning of moral conduct and good kingship for the wise ruler is that God will intervene on his behalf and uphold his right to govern and possess. Just as the faithful servants of the Lord, like Susannah and Daniel, may trust in his justice to save them from persecution and calumny, so the devout and conscientious king may expect God to do what is right:

Se tout ce fais, tu te reposes, If you do all these things, you may rest,
Si lai de toutes autres choses Leaving God, our Father,
Dieu, nostre Pere, couvenir. To take care of everything else.
Einsi porras terre tenir. Thus you can hold onto the land.
(lines 3941–44)

In offering Charles a complex and varied response to his captivity and impending release, Machaut had recourse to a number of sources, only some of which can be identified readily. For example, it is certainly the case that the poet’s enthusiastic endorsement of a reliable network of spies derives in some way from that most influential medieval handbook of military tactics and principles, the De Rei Militari of the Latin author Vegetius. But did Machaut read Vegetius in the original, in one of several available French translations (the most famous by Jean de Meun, author of the second part of the Roman de la Rose and translator of Boethius’ Consolatio) or paraphrased and adapted in one of the treatments of chivalric arts so popular in the late Middle Ages? We cannot even be certain that Machaut used a particular written text since it is also possible he is merely repeating what had become a generally accepted view of warfare. Years of travel with Jean of Bohemia, the warrior king, must have furnished him an informal acquaintance with military principles and ideals.

The second half of the Confort, in fact, gains rhetorical effectiveness because it utilizes commonplace, traditional ideas whose written representations are naturally many and complexly related. A bookish tone would not have suited the occasion so well. Some of the poet’s counsels, such as his admonition to employ good spies, can be traced to an ultimate source; some cannot, such as Machaut’s anti-Vegetian view that a good king does not allow himself to be besieged. But this would not have mattered to his original audience because the subject matter in the second part of the poem, except for a brief section dealing with the hypothetical sorrow of Charles as lover (lines 2057–2276), is practical affairs, not the literary game of love, which required more overt forms of intertextuality, as detailed in the brief section of the Confort mentioned above.


In part, of course, the Confort is a bookish work, that is, a treatise whose power depends on its acknowledgment or obvious use of scholarly materials. The principal examples drawn from the Old Testament are adapted directly from the Latin Bible. On a number of occasions, Machaut indicates his close reproduction of the Vulgate. For example, speaking of the story of Susannah, he says:

Dou Latin ou je l’ay veü From the Latin text I’ve seen myself
L’ay mis si pres com j’ay peü. I’ve put it down as closely as possible.
Si qu’amis, tu te dois mirer And so, friend, you should ponder
En cest exemple . . . This example . . .
(lines 415–18)

The exact words of the text establish the validity of Susannah’s experience. They prove the moral the poet draws and establish the relevance it possesses for Charles’ circumstances. Translation or adaptation of the original text is thus fraught with dangers that can be avoided only by scrupulous faithfulness.

This does not mean, however, that the material borrowed from the Bible is not transformed in the two ways most familiar to medieval adaptors of existing texts, namely abbreviation and expansion. In looking at Machaut’s treatment of Biblical sources, we are hampered somewhat by not knowing exactly what these were since the Bible existed in several versions, but the now-standard Clementine text furnishes us with a close enough version to check his creativity as a translator. There are some exceptions to this, most notably that the present Latin Bible excludes the “prayer of Manasseh,” which was declared uncanonical at the Council of Trent and was unknown even to the translator of the so-called Vulgate version of the Bible, the fourth century scholar St. Jerome. This interesting text had become available to medieval readers through Latin renderings of the Septuagint, an early translation into Greek of the Jewish scriptures. The “Prayer of Manasseh” was incorporated into the liturgy of the church at an early stage, and it would have been familiar to medieval Christians (at least those who understood Latin) as a result. In what follows all references will be to the authorized modern version of the Clementine Bible.71

Machaut’s principal source for Scriptural exempla is the book of Daniel, which in medieval versions included chapters 13–14, now subtitled the historia Susannae (The Story of Susannah) and printed as an appendix to Daniel. As already mentioned, this part of the Old Testament suited Machaut’s political purposes well for it contains a number of stories involving conflicts between righteous servants of God and evil or misguided rulers and officials. In each case, sympathy lies with the unjustly persecuted victims, not with the kings or judges whose caprice, willfulness, pride, and weakness led to divine interventions. The official agenda of the exempla is proving that loyal servants of God always win in the end; but the correlative of this thesis is that bad kings are punished, sometimes even losing their lives and kingdoms. This seems the obvious explanation for the poet’s including the vision of the writing on the wall by Belshazzar and Daniel’s subsequent correct interpretation, otherwise a story with little relevance to Charles’ situation as prisoner, as noted earlier. In other words, the stories are meant to attest not only to Charles’ eventual deliverance, but to the injustice of his captivity. If this is indeed the case, then Machaut’s interest in this material would have been in what we would now term its melodramatic potential, especially any stark contrast between innocent victims and predatory authority.

Machaut, in fact, melodramatizes the story of Susannah, heightening the opposition of good to evil, even as his handling lends the narrative, already forceful and compelling, greater interest and suspense. The initial exposition (lines 73–88) closely follows its source (13:1–4) with one exception; in Machaut’s version the simple apple orchard of Joakim becomes strongly reminiscent of Paradise and therefore the appropriate setting for betrayal:

. . . erat ei pomarium vicinum domui suae; et ad ipsum confluebant Iudaei, eo quod esset honorabilior omnium

[There was an orchard belonging to him near his house; and the Jews crowded into it because it was more honorable than all others]

Contrast this with Machaut’s rendering:

Joachim avoit un vergier Joakim owned a garden
Lés sa maison, qu’onques bergier Near his house; no bumpkin
Ne fist, car trop fu delitables, Had fashioned it, for it was too delightful,
Et a tous fruis de delit ables. Stocked with every kind of fruit that offers pleasure.
Pour ç’a grans tourbes y aloient And so in great crowds the Jewish people
Li Juïf et s’i esbatoient. Would go there to enjoy themselves.
(lines 83–88)

As befitting this Edenic setting, the inhabitants are both innocent (Susannah, wishing to bathe in unselfconscious privacy) and lustfully evil-minded, the judges ruining themselves, as the poet puts it, “par luxure and par couvoitise” (line 91), a moralizing addition that blackens their characters even before they become fatally infatuated with Susannah. The sinfulness of the judges is emphasized throughout Machaut’s retelling, as in the following passage:

Et videbant eam senes quotidie ingredientem et deambulantem; et exarserunt in concupiscentiam eius (13:8)

[And the old men watched her coming in and walking around every day; and they blazed up with lust for her]

If the Biblical version offers a plain account of the lust that overtakes the justices, Machaut in contrast emphasizes the vileness of their sin and the desire that motivates them to abandon their eminent and trusted position in society:

Si la veoient ombroier And every day the elders, rife with vice,
Tous les jours et esbanoier Would watch her enjoy the shade
Li vieillart plein d’iniquité, And disport herself there,
Si qu’en ordure et en vilté, Until finally, in filth and vileness,
En ardeur, en concupiscence, In passion and with evil urges,
Par desir, par fole plaisence Through desire and misguided pleasure
Furent puis pour l’amour de li, These two became infected with lust for her,
Tant lor pleü et abelly. So much did she attract and appeal to them.
(lines 109–16)

Such an amplification typifies Machaut’s practice here. A single word from his source — concupiscentiam — generates a series of nearly synonymous expressions that expand and explain it: “plein d’iniquité,” “en ardeur,” “par desir,” and “par fole plaisence.” These are offered like glosses to the textual source, precisely transliterated by “en concupiscence.” The correlative technique of abbreviation also helps Machaut sharpen the contrast between Susannah and her persecutors. While the poet includes the observation made in his Biblical source that the two judges were so ashamed of their lustful feelings they could no longer lift their eyes to the sky, he alters slightly but significantly the rest of the verse. The phrase >i (nor did they think of just judgments) becomes:

. . . et qu’en leur cuer n’eüssent . . . or hold in their hearts
Memoire dou souverain juge Any thought of that Sovereign Judge
Qui fait tout par raison et juge Who through reason creates and governs all things
(lines 120–22)

The false judges are not just weak; their weakness makes them deny God’s ultimate justice and his right to determine the course of events. This is a blunder, caused by blind passion, that leads them to an ironic reversal when they are in turn judged by Daniel the child. Significantly, Machaut omits 13:10–11, a passage that softens the portrait of the two men by describing their shame at the lust that has overtaken them:

Erant ergo ambo vulnerati amore eius, nec indicaverunt sibi vicissim dolorem suum; erubescebant enim indicare sibi concupiscentiam suam, volentes concumbere cum ea.

[As a result they were both stricken with love for her, nor did either one indicate to the other his pain; for they blushed to acknowledge their lust to themselves, desirous as they were of lying with her.]

Similarly, Machaut leaves out a later passage (13:31–33) that not only offers more understanding of the judges’ behavior, but might be read to reflect on the perfect innocence of Susannah:

Porro Susanna erat delicata nimis, et pulchra specie. Et iniqui illi iusserunt ut discooperiretur (erat enim cooperta), ut vel sic satiarentur decore eius. Flebant igitur sui, et omnes qui noverant eam.

[Moreover Susannah was very delicate and beautiful in appearance. And those unjust men ordered her uncovered (for she was then covered up) so that in this way they would be satisfied with her radiance. Her family wept, and all those who knew her.]

The other principal omissions are to be explained by the poet’s desire to tell an exciting story. Machaut eliminates 13:44, which reports that the Lord listened to Susannah’s prayer and therefore destroys any suspense associated with the subsequent miraculous intervention of the infant Daniel. He also cuts the final two verses (63 and 64), which detail the reactions of Helkias, Joakim, and the rest of Susannah’s family to her deliverance while recapitulating Daniel’s achievement. Machaut prefers to end his version by summing up its relevance to his thesis:

Einsi fu Susenne sauvee In this way Susannah was delivered,
Et sans courpe a ce jour trouvee, Found guiltless on this very day,
Et tout par la vertu divine, And all by divine power,
Qui tout malice veint et mine. Which overcomes and extirpates all evil.
(lines 411–14)

After a transitional passage in which he argues that the history of Daniel is important “to advance my theme” (line 446), Machaut picks up the chronology of the prophet’s life by returning to the first part of the book. The story of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue and the three Jews who refuse to worship it and are thrown into a fiery furnace as punishment is adapted from 2:46–49 and 3:1–97, a long section that Machaut shortens considerably. Sometimes summary is a means for shortening the account. For example, instead of the detailed description (3:8–12) of how some of the Chaldeans went to the king to report the impiety of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Machaut says simply:

Renommee, qui partout court Rumor, who runs everywhere
Et qui s’espant en mainte court, And makes herself known in every court,
Dist a Nabugodonosor Said to Nebuchadnezzar
(lines 523–25)

Sometimes abbreviation is achieved through the suppression of details inessential to the flow of the narrative. A somewhat repetitious passage describing the punishment of the three Jews, for example, becomes less detailed and hence more effective as an element of this fast-moving narrative:

Et viris fortissimis de exercitu suo iussit, ut ligatis pedibus Sidrach, Misach et Abdenago, mitterent eos in fornacem ignis ardentis. Et confestim viri illi vincti, cum braccis suis, et tiaris, et calceamentis, et vestibus, missi sunt in medium fornacis ignis ardentis. (3:20–21)

[In addition, he ordered the strongest men of his army to put Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, whose feet had been bound, into the furnace with the blazing fire. And immediately those men bound with their breeches, turbans, and leg coverings, and with their clothes, were put into the middle of the furnace with the blazing fire.]

And here is Machaut’s version:

Des plus tres fors homes qu’il ot The king ordered some of the very strongest
Manda li rois et enmi l’ot Men of his realm to go among the people
Commanda les trois Juïs prendre And lay hands on the three Jews
Pour ardoir et brüir en cendre; To roast and burn them to cinders,
Et si leur fist sans detrier And he had their feet
Li piez et les jambes lier And legs bound together with no delay
Et eaus geter dedens le fu And them thrown into the fire
(lines 577–83)

The most radical alteration, however, is the wholesale elimination of, first, the prayer of Azarias (3:24–45) and, second, the prayer of the three captives (3:51–90). All that remains of this section is Machaut’s shortened version of the brief narrative passage (3:46–50) that describes the descent of the angel in response to the prayer of Azarias and his quelling of the flames (lines 598–612).

The most likely reason for this sweeping change is that Machaut felt including this lengthy material would take away from whatever narrative virtues the story has. But he also may have thought that this section of the Confort was not the proper place to emphasize the power of a prayer for God’s help and deliverance. Using the example of Manasseh, he later goes out of his way to include the repentant king’s prayer. As noted earlier, Machaut likely did so because this exemplum approaches the issue of deliverance differently, as something that must be requested by the former sinner who now seeks the light of divine grace. In any event, the excision of both the prayer of Azarias and the hymn of praise makes the miracle of the furnace dependent on the unconditional and uninvoked will of God to deliver the innocent, as the closing summary makes clear:

Einsi cil qui furent livré And those men saved
A la mort furent delivré From death were delivered
Par la vertu nostre signeur. By the power of our Lord.
(lines 647–49)

In contrast, the story of Belshazzar’s feast makes use of all the Scriptural material (5:1–13), most of which is translated precisely; Machaut even adds a number of details and comments to heighten the effect of the king’s terrifying experience. Thus the specifics of the menu served to the thousand guests (lines 676–78), the moralizing comments (lines 682 and 691–92), and the similes that describe Belshazzar’s reaction to his waking vision (lines 702–05 and 710) are all happy additions to the original text. The poet’s amplification, however, is even more noticeable in the two sections that follow: Daniel’s history of Belshazzar’s good fortune, pride, and subsequent punishment; the prophet’s subsequent interpretation of the writing on the wall. In the first case, Machaut follows closely the outline of the Biblical source, while translating individual verses expansively; the effect is a powerful, detailed indictment of the abuses of kingly power (lines 785–864; 5:15–24 in the original). In the second instance, the brief indications in Daniel are much expanded. For example, Scripture says:

Mane: numeravit Deus regnum tuum, et complevit illud (5:26)

[Mene: God has given your reign a number and brought it to an end.]

Machaut’s version is much longer and emphasizes the terrible consequences, personal and political, for the king who does not behave morally but violates in all openness the commandments of God:

‘Mane,’ c’est proprement a dire ‘Mene’ properly signifies
Que ton roiaume et ton empire How God has numbered the days of
Ha Diex nombré et acompli, And brought to an end your realm and empire,
Et si l’a conclus en tel pli Establishing such a limit
Que jamais il ne croistera, It will never thrive again,
Mais toudis amenuisera, Only grow always smaller,
Qu’il est en son plus haut sommet. For it’s at its highest point.
Se tu m’entens bien, il sommet If you understand me well, He’s submitting
Ton corps, ton honneur, ta puissance, Your very person, your honor, your power,
Ta gloire, ta magnificence, Your magnificence and glory,
Ton roiaume, ta dignité, Your rule, your dignity,
Et toute ta felicité And all your felicity
A mort et a destruction, To death and destruction,
Pour ce qu’as fait oblation For you have paid homage
Aus ydoles et sacrefice, And offered sacrifice to idols,
Et as laissié si digne office Neglecting the very fitting duty
Com d’aourer le roy celestre Of worshipping the celestial King
Qui ton pere fist le feinc pestre. Who made your father feed on grain.
Tout ce verras isnellement You will witness all this come quickly
Parfait, se Daniel ne ment. To pass, if Daniel does not lie.
(lines 881–900)

While Machaut expands his source considerably, he does remain faithful to its letter. The first seven lines translate the text and explain it in other words. The next six do the same by enumerating the various aspects of Belshazzar’s good fortune expressed by the single word regnum in the Biblical passage. The remaining lines reprise the condemnation of idolatry developed earlier (in lines 837–58; 5:23 in Daniel). The effect is to transform Daniel’s speech from an interpretation or explanation of the mysterious writing’s significance into a sermon based on this dark text. Daniel becomes a much more forceful presence in Machaut’s version, thereby justifying the poet’s added conclusion to the story. For the people, called to witness the wise man’s prescience, are surprised at the immediate fall of the hitherto powerful ruler:

Et se seingne de la merveille Blessing themselves for the miracle,
Et dist, n’i a ne ce ne el. And affirming it with no dissenting voice.
Chascuns voit bien que Daniel Everyone saw clearly how Daniel
Porte la scïence divine Possessed a knowledge of things divine
En son cuer et en sa poitrine. In his heart and soul.
(lines 950–54)

Machaut makes only minor changes in his version of Daniel’s service to Darius and the plot to put him into the lions’ den; here is a story, as suggested earlier, that suited the poet’s rhetorical purposes quite well and needed little alteration. Machaut’s source in this instance presented some difficulty since the Bible offers two different accounts of these events (Daniel 6 and 14:27–42). Machaut conflates the versions (using the first as a frame into which details from the second are inserted) but does not eliminate all their divergences in detail (in chapter 6 Daniel spends one day in the den, while in chapter 14 he is there for six days, necessitating the appearance of the prophet Habbakuk, transported by an angel, to provide him with food; see the contradiction in Machaut’s version, lines 1121 and 1130).72 Faced by anomalies in his sacred source, a source which he vows to render exactly, Machaut may well have felt that he needed to reproduce them, at least in part. In any case, the poet harmonizes the important differences between the two versions. The most significant of the poet’s adaptations concerns the motivation for Daniel’s punishment. The historia Susannae relates Daniel’s heroic activities among the Babylonians, in particular his destruction of the idol Bel, his killing of a dragon worshiped by the country people, and his successful action against wicked priests, resulting in their execution by the king (14:1–26). As a result, the people become furious and demand his death, a request to which the king, bowing to necessity, accedes. The Book of Daniel, on the contrary, describes a plot against the prophet by jealous nobles. Machaut preserves this motive for punishment likely because it fit his conception of the story’s relevance to Charles’ situation much better. He does not retain any of the details from the Susannah version to develop his portrait of the prophet’s enemies.

The poet’s account of the political situation that gives rise to the jealousy against Daniel reveals some different emphases. He omits the detail (6:2) that Daniel is only one of three princes (though he is said to be their chief) to whom the satraps are to render their accounts and whom they are forbidden to harm. This change heightens the melodramatic nature of the story and makes clearer Darius’ decision to put him in charge of the entire kingdom (6:4). Similarly, Machaut adds that the satraps are ordered to render an accounting of their tax collections (lines 968–69), a clarifying expansion of his text’s redderent rationem (they were to report, 6:2); the issue of taxes and their collection was a sensitive political issue at the time for the nobility, and this alteration furnishes an easily understood motive for jealousy and conspiracy. Machaut further sharpens the characterization in his story by another minor addition. The Biblical text (6:10) states that Daniel, learning of the edict passed by Darius at the insistence of the plotters, went inside his house, opened the window facing Jerusalem, and worshiped God, just as his custom had been. Machaut’s Daniel, however, behaves much like Susannah when he finds himself facing a worldly evil; he decides there is nothing to do but trust God completely:

Daniel, qui bien sot l’edit, Daniel knew all about the edict,
N’i opposa ne contredit, And neither opposed nor objected to it,
Eins s’en ala en son ostel, Going instead inside his dwelling,
Et si vit bien qu’il n’i ot tel For he saw clearly there was nothing to do
Com d’avoir parfaite fiance Except have a perfect faith
En vray Dieu et bonne esperence. And an unshakable hope in the true God.
(lines 1021–26)

And God responds immediately to Daniel’s trouble, as another addition to the Biblical text describes:

Mais il fust entrez en mal an But he would have been in a terrible spot
Se Dieus ne l’eüst secouru Had not God come to his rescue
(lines 1038–39)

The ultimate powerlessness of earthly forces in the face of organized evil is an important element of Machaut’s thesis (for otherwise human effort could certainly be conceived as playing some role in the struggle). This theme probably accounts for another minor but telling revision. The Bible describes Darius’ belated recognition of the trap he unwittingly set for Daniel in the following way:

Quod verbum cum audisset rex, satis contristatus est; et pro Daniele posuit cor ut liberaret eum, et usque ad occasum solis laborabat ut erueret illum. (6:14)

[When the king heard this speech (i.e., of the conspirators), he became very sad; and for Daniel’s sake he determined in his heart to free him, and never stopping he struggled, until the setting of the sun, to get him out.]

Machaut’s Darius, in contrast, quickly decides that nothing can be done to save his friend because the powerful nobles wish him dead:

Quant Daires oÿ la nouvelle, When Darius heard this news,
Et vit que ceint d’une cordelle And recognized that the princes of Chaldea
Furent li prince de Caldee, Were bound as one in this matter,
Il cheï en moult grief pensee He fell into a very painful mood
Et fu courreciés durement, And was terribly upset,
Car Daniel amoit forment, For he loved Daniel very much
Si prist a penser qu’il feroit And so began considering what to do
Et comment il li aideroit, And how to help him, but he understood
Car bien perçut qu’il le faisoient Perfectly that they were doing this
Par envie et qu’il le haoient. Because they were jealous and hated him.
(lines 1069–78)

In a similar vein, Machaut omits the description of Darius’ grief at the punishment of his trusted servant:

Et abiit rex in domum suam, et dormivit incoenatus; cibique non sunt allati coram eo, insuper et somnus recessit ab eo. (6:18)

[And the king went into his house and slept without eating; and food was not brought into his presence, while sleep fled from him.]

Finally, Machaut takes advantage of the speech of thanksgiving Daniel makes after receiving the food brought him by Habbakuk in order to emphasize once again the theme of God’s power:

Et ait Daniel: Recordatus es mei, Deus, et non dereliquisti diligentes te. (14:37)

[And Daniel said: You have remembered me, Lord, and you have not abandoned those who love Thee.]

Machaut expands on the Biblical source, characterizing God’s remembrance of the faithful:

Quant Daniel parler l’oÿ, Hearing these words,
Moult durement se resjoÿ Daniel greatly rejoiced,
Et dist: “Voirement, li vrais Diex Saying: “Surely the true God,
Qu’est rois des rois et Diex des diex King of kings and God of gods,
N’oublie onques ses bons amis; Has never forgotten His good friends;
De moult long m’a secours tramis; From far off He’s sent me help;
Les bons aimme qui le mal fuient, He loves the virtuous who flee evil,
Et ceaus secourt qu’a li s’apuient.” Aiding those who lean on Him.”
(lines 1177–84)

As in all the exempla, Machaut is here scrupulously faithful to the letter of his sacred source, departing from it only to draw out or underline a meaning that is clearly already present in the material. His translations are felicitous and accurate; they are the work of a master storyteller and rhetorician.

In a number of his narrative poems, Machaut uses exempla derived from classical mythological verse and epic; the ultimate source for these stories is most often Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In the Voir Dit he retells the histories of Picus, Polytetus, and Iolaus; in the Navarre brief accounts of Jason and Medea, Theseus and Ariadne, Dido’s death, Hero and Leander figure as forms of “proof” in the debate between Guillaume and his accuser; Fonteinne amoureuse offers a more elaborate rendition of the judgment of Paris, whose “moralization” becomes an important element in that work’s development of love doctrine. As we have seen, the Confort utilizes the stories of Orpheus, Paris, and Hercules as part of the advice given to Charles of Navarre in the second half of the poem; these exempla seem to argue against the rash behavior that mars the success otherwise achieved by the three heroes, each of whom is strengthened by hope.

Early scholars thought that Machaut had recourse directly to the Latin texts of Ovid for this material, but that view has been discredited by Cornelis de Boer, editor of the massive early fourteenth century Ovide moralisé.73 De Boer has demonstrated beyond doubt that Machaut utilized the Ovide moralisé as a source for the classical exempla in all his works and likely never encountered Ovid in the original. The stories of Paris and Hercules in the Confort are summaries rather than true narratives; they are too briefly developed to yield incontrovertible proof of borrowing. And yet adaptation from the vernacular version of Ovid is likely, as de Boer argues:

. . . ces récits se retrouvent plus détaillés dans l’Ovide moralisé et les noms latins s’y montrent francisés sous les mêmes formes que dans Guillaume: il est donc vraisemblable que celui-ci a puisé ici encore dans la vaste compilation.74

[. . .these stories are found more developed in the Ovide moralisé and the Latin names are gallicized in the same way the names are in Guillaume’s version; it is thus quite possible that he (i.e., Machaut) used that vast compilation in this case also.]

There can be no doubt, however, that Machaut depended on the Ovide moralisé for his story of Orpheus and the tale of Proserpine’s rape that he links to it. The relationship between the two works can be demonstrated by a large number of verbal parallels. For example:

Quant le bon poëtte Orpheüs Orpheüs, le bon chanteour,
Fu atout sa harpe meus Qui pour Euridice requerre
Pour aler Erudice querre Vault descendre en enfer souz terre
En une trop estrange terre (OM, 10.2497–99)
(Confort, lines 2277–80)
Par le serpent qui si l’a mort Uns serpens ou talon la mort,
En talon qu’elle en ot la mort S’en fu bele mise à mort
(Confort, lines 2283–84) (OM, 10.36–37)
Des ames qui entroublierent Les ames dou triste palais
Leur peinnes dou chant qu’ escouterent Pour la douçour dou son ploroient
(Confort, lines 2341–42) (OM, 10.103–05)

One further parallel deserves special mention. In line 2314 Machaut refers to the song Orpheus sings to effect Eurydice’s release from Hell as a “sorrowful lay”; the author of the Ovide moralisé also calls the song of Orpheus a “lais” (10.102). It is to this lyric (developed from a much briefer passage in Ovid, Metamorphoses 10. 17–39) that Machaut quite evidently refers when he says:

J’ay son lay maintes fois veü I have looked at his lay many times,
Et l’y de chief en chief leü Reading it from beginning to end
(lines 2321–22)75

Though a not insignificant portion of Machaut’s version of Orpheus’ story is derived more or less directly from the Ovide moralisé, his handling of his source is actually rather free. There is no extended passage here copied out nearly verbatim, as is the case with Machaut’s adaptation of the story of Picus in the Voir Dit.76 In fact, Machaut occasionally departs significantly from his source. Writing for an audience who were probably not well informed about the characters and events of classical mythology, Machaut felt it necessary to add a number of explanatory passages, some of which furnish details found elsewhere in the Ovide moralisé. Thus Orpheus is said to descend into a Hell whose entrance is guarded by three unnamed goddesses whose function it is to direct the souls of the damned to their proper abodes (lines 2295–306). Machaut is using a passage from an earlier book of his source (OM 4.4464–4519) which he shortens considerably; here and elsewhere he demonstrates a deep familiarity with different sections of the immense OM. Machaut also describes at some length the artistic accomplishments of Orpheus and his great reputation (lines 2307–12 and 2325–38), but here he is only drawing out the implications of his source (the passage about savage beasts and rivers listening to his music, for example, is developed from brief indications in OM 11.122–34).

Machaut’s main approach, however, is abbreviation. To begin with, he excises the lengthy allegories that follow the story in his source (largely concerned with Orpheus as a type of Christ) even as he substitutes his own moralizations. Machaut, however, does not moralize his story with a separate allegory but, instead, through commentary such as the following, integrated into the narrative (such didactic intrusions are not unexampled in the Ovide moralisé):

S’esperence de la ravoir If he had had no hope
N’eüst, pour quanqu’il a d’avoir Of regaining her, he would not have made his way
En tout le monde entierement To the place for whatever goods there are
N’i fust alez, mais vraiement In the whole world,
Esperence le conduisoit, But truly Hope guided him there,
Qui ad ce faire le duisoit. And urged him to make the attempt.
(lines 2285–90)

The lengthy lay of Orpheus (OM 10.50–102) is briefly summarized. Details in the rest of the story are dropped, occasionally rendering Machaut’s account less clear. For example, Machaut suggests that either love or some crazy thought makes Orpheus look behind him and thus lose Eurydice to a second death. His source furnishes a more precise and hence more plausible explanation:

Et ja estoient auques pres And it was when they were almost
Tous fors de l’infernal porpris, Completely clear of the infernal enclosure
Quant cil, qui d’amours fu sorpris, That he, overcome by love,
Desirreus de veoir s’amie. Desirous of seeing his beloved,
Et douteuz qu’el ne venist mie, And fearful she was no longer coming,
Se torna pour la regarder, Turned around to look at her.
(OM, 10.145–50)

Machaut’s source in general offers a fuller narrative that emphasizes the feelings and intentions of the characters. We may assume that Machaut cut this material in order to reduce the tale to a narrative minimum. In one instance, however, Machaut likely left out a detailed account of one of his characters for another reason: decorum. Desolate at the loss of Eurydice, Orpheus leaves Hell for Rhodope, where he abjures the love of women and turns to men instead, as the Ovide moralisé describes:

Trois ans s’est sans feme tenus, For three years he denied himself a woman,
Sans espouse et sans concubine, A wife, a concubine,
Si fuit toute amour femeline. And thus fled from all female love.
Toutes femes mist en refu. He refused all women.
Or ne sai ge pour quoi ce fu: Now I don’t know why this was:
Ou pour ce qu’it eüst promis Either because he had promised
A cele cui tant fu amis, Her to whom he had been so great a lover,
Ou pour ce que mal l’en cheï, Or because an evil thing had happened to him,
Mes toute femes en haï. But he hated all women as a result.
. . . . . .
Ce fu cil qui premierement He was the man who first
Aprist ceulz de Trace à retraire Instructed the men of Thrace to renounce
D’amour femeline et à faire The love of women and to take
Des joennes malles lor deduit, All their pleasure in young men.
(OM 10.177–85 and 191–94)

If Orpheus is intended as a type of adventurous hero who, led by hope, perseveres to accomplish his goal, a type Charles is himself encouraged to emulate, then the poet’s conversion into an advocate of what was then known as sodomy must be omitted. Machaut’s Orpheus is stoned by the women of Rhodope only because he refuses their love; this motive hardly explains their violent reaction to his continuing presence in their land. It is interesting to note, however, that Machaut, though declining to detail Orpheus’ “conversion,” evidently felt compelled to allude to what he had left out. However, his readers, largely ignorant about classical myth, could hardly have been expected to understand such a vague reference:

Et s’en retourna en Redope, And he returned to Rhodope,
Et devint homs de tel affaire Becoming a man of such condition
Q’ne le vueil mie retraire, I have not the will to speak of him,
Car li airs corront et empire For it would corrupt and pollute the very air
De parler de si vil matyre. To bring up such a disgusting story.
(lines 2584–88)

Machaut’s last important revision is the excision of the closing metamorphosis, which effects the reunion of lovers and gives the story of Orpheus a happier end. Machaut’s source says this:

En enfer est sans demorance Into Hell with no delay
L’ame dou devin devalee, The soul of the poet descended,
Où il vit l’obscure valee And there he spied the dark valley
Et les regnes qu’ains ot veüz. And the realms he had seen before.
Bien a les leuz reconneüs. He recognized the places well:
En la piteuse compaignie Among that pitiful company
Trouva sa compaigne et s’amie, He found his companion and beloved,
Que desirree ot longuement, She whom he had desired for a long time,
Si l’embrace amiablement. And so he embraced her lovingly.
Or la resgarde il asseür, Now, safe, he looked at her,
Sans doute de nul mal eür Without doubt beyond bad fortune
Et sans condicion grevant. And unhampered by any conditions.
(OM 11.162–73)

Machaut, however, satisfies himself with only a brief indication of the lovers’ reunion, pleading a lack of space as his excuse:

. . . et comment Lucifer . . . and how Lucifer
D’Erudice la compaignie Granted him the companionship
Li bailla, sa femme et s’amie, Of Eurydice, his wife and beloved,
Car ce seroit a reciter For this would be too long
Trop longue chose et a diter. To recite and rhyme.
(lines 2626–30)

As I have suggested above, Machaut selected three stories from the vernacular version of Ovid which have a complex tone and which, apparently, suited his desire to send Charles both encouragement and warning. Be courageous and trust in your luck, Guillaume appears to say, but avoid passionate entanglements that might keep you from your goal or ruin what success you are able to achieve. The way Machaut handles the finale of Orpheus’ adventures suggests that this understanding of the poet’s rhetorical purpose is essentially correct. Even stronger proof, however, is furnished by the fact that he not only includes the rape of Proserpine but alters the connection between the two stories indicated in his source. It seems likely that Machaut was inspired to turn to the rape of Proserpine (which is not in the immediate vicinity of his source; where Machaut’s sources have been from the tenth or eleventh books of the OM, this tale occurs in the fifth book, thousands of lines earlier) after reading the following passage in Orpheus’ lay: arguing for the god of love’s power and the irresistibility of the desires he encourages, Orpheus challenges the gods of the underworld:

Amours fist faire la rapine Love brought about the abduction
De vous deus et l’assemblement. Involving you two, and your union as well.
Se la renommee ne ment, If the rumor of this is no lie,
Pluto Proserpine ravit Pluto ravished Proserpine
Par amours, si tost qu’il la vit. Because of love, as soon as he saw her.
(OM 10.79–83)

Machaut, however, disregards this analogy between the two pairs of ill-fated lovers. The connection he makes between the two stories is based on a different parallel, the fact that both Eurydice and Proserpine suffer the misfortune of being compelled to enter Hades before the proper time. Machaut effects this alteration by an addition to his source. While the Ovide moralisé mentions only that Proserpine wept along with the others in Hades when she heard the mournful song of Orpheus, Machaut recalls the events that brought her there in the first place:

La roïne ne pot tenir The queen could not refrain
Ses iex qu’ele ne lermoiast From filling her eyes with tears
(OM 10.121–22)
Trop s’en merveille Proserpine, Proserpine marveled greatly at all this,
Qui d’enfer est dame et roïne, She who is queen and lady of Hell
Que li rois infernaus ravit And had been ravished by Hell’s king
En .i. vergier ou il la vit, In a garden where he saw her,
Ou elle cueilloit des flourettes Picking little flowers there
Avecques pluseurs pucelettes. Along with several of her damsels.
(lines 2347–52)

This brief history of Proserpine transforms her from a not terribly unhappy victim of love into an innocent maiden persecuted lustfully by unbridled male authority. Proserpine, in other words, becomes another Susannah whose story reminds us once again of the terrible damage that a king, not following reason, can cause. In this complex exemplum, then, Charles is asked to see himself in two ways: first, like Orpheus, as a courageous hero who, fortified by hope, dares what few men would dare; but second, like Proserpine, a victim of royal injustice who has been thrown without just cause to the misery of a dark prison. As in the case of the poem’s Biblical exempla, Machaut handles his Ovidian materials deftly, adapting them faithfully yet making them serve the particular rhetorical and philosophical purposes that structure his poem.

We may end this discussion of the relationship between the Confort and other works, literary and otherwise, with a few brief remarks about the poem’s influence on other writers. In general, Machaut’s poetry, both narrative and lyrical, exerted a strong effect on writers with whom he was contemporary and those in the generation to follow. This effect can be traced in numerous imitations and adaptations as well as in the continuing survival of the literary tradition Machaut accepted and perpetuated. With the single exception of the Behaingne, the Confort was the poet’s most popular work, that is, if we can measure popularity by the number of surviving copies of a particular text. Yet it was not as imitated as that earlier work, which was redone and adapted by Chaucer, Gower, Christine de Pizan, and Alain Chartier. This is easily explained. As an occasional poem, the Confort is in many ways a unique rather than a generic text; its address to the particular circumstances attending the imprisonment of Charles of Navarre renders imitation difficult, if not impossible. As mentioned earlier, Jean Froissart’s Prison Amoureuse features letters of advice and consolation sent by the poet to his imprisoned patron. Like Machaut, Eustache Deschamps directs counsels to the nobility in a number of his poems. Deschamps’ Lay de Plour contains advice similar to that offered Charles of Navarre and even contains a brief passage praising the virtues of the King of Bohemia. Machaut’s influence is obviously probable here. It is also possible that poets of the next generation, especially Christine, Alain Chartier, and Gower, were encouraged to compose political verse of different kinds in part because of the example Machaut set in his Confort d’Ami.



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 in its later stages. 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.77 In the Voir Dit,78 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.79 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.80 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 73 manuscripts that have either survived or can be postulated with some certainty.81 Here follows a list of the five that include Machaut’s last major work, La Prise d’Alixandre, 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 22545–46
• Vg: Ferrell-Vogüé, private ownership of James E. and Elizabeth J. Ferrell

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. E 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, C, 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. B is a slavish copy from Vg, while E has been prepared partly from B and partly from unknown exemplar materials. C sometimes furnishes readings superior to those of A and F–G. We can hardly doubt that A, C, 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 generally reliable, if hardly error-free, versions of his various texts. Ernest Hœpffner, Machaut’s first modern scientific editor, merits quoting on this point:

Pour la constitution du texte, il faut, par conséquent, s’attacher aux manuscrits les plus complets, qui contiennent en quelque sorte la dernière rédaction des œuvres de Machaut, la forme définitive que l’auteur voulait leur donner: ce sont A et F-G.82

[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.]

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 G. de Machau wet quil 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.83 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. 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.

Go To Introduction to the Music of Le Remede de Fortune by Uri Smilansky