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Blogging Kalamazoo 2021: Session 434 - Food and Furnishings: The Domestic in Marie de France

Saturday, May 15, 2021 - 12:29

The session title suggests a focus on material culture, although it’s organized by the International Marie de France Society, so we can expect the papers to be filtered through a literary lens. (This is the second session in a row that ended up containing only a single paper.)

Telltale Textiles: Fabric and Voice in the Lais of Marie de France - Simonetta Cochis, Transylvania University

Paper focuses on the functions of fabric in the tale of Bisclavret (a werewolf story). Examples from the text of how wolf!Bisclavret still shows nobility and gentility, even though “naked”. This is contrasted with how his wife is described as base and treasonous, despite her fine clothing. She has stolen Bisclavret’s clothing, preventing him from returning to human form(?). His clothing become “spoils” of conflict. When the clothing is returned to Bisclavret, he declines to transform back in front of witnesses, but must perform the transformation/dressing in private.

This bare outline leaves many questions around the role of the clothing. Does clothing “make the man”? Or does it have a different function.

The paper looks at using voice and performance as a way of shifting the audience’s perspective to try to access how the tale would have been understood in its original context. [Note: the presenter specializes in medieval performance, especially of the Lais. Fortunately, we are getting translations alongside the original French text performances.] “Voice” can mean both the verbal performance of the storyteller and the character-voices within the tale.

The presenter discusses the importance of reading the Lais aloud in order to gain a deeper understanding, or additional layers of interpretation, beyond what is on the page. A performer/speaker must make choices to embody only one of multiple possible readings that can remain ambiguous on the page.

Getting back to clothing, the stolen clothing represents the fragility of status, while it is the inner qualities of Bisclavret—not the status conveyed by incidentals—that earns him acceptance and praise in the court, even as a wolf.

We now move on to the romance of Lanval. There is a motif of a character reclining on/within fabric in the context of a key interaction between Lanval and his (future) beloved. Lanval goes to sleep with his head on his folded cloak—described in plain and unornamented terms—and then is taken to meet a lady reclining within a tent (on a ship?) described with rich and varied terms indicating luxury and wealth. (Now we get a discussion of analysis of theatrical technique.) The lady’s opulent tent display her nature and character, with the text building up the dramatic tension along with the build-up of the language of description as Lanval/the audience is led to meet her.

Gender and Agency in Marie de France's Domestic Spheres - Susan Hopkirk, University of Toronto

[Presenter has asked that the paper not be shared in social media. And what is more, the paper was withdrawn at the last minute.]

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