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Fortune and desire in Guillaume de Machaut

By Lewis Beer


There is a pervasive tendency, in Machaut scholarship, to read his poetry as having\ud value only insofar as it speaks to our postmodern age: either it is fragmented and\ud riven with ambiguities, or it celebrates eroticism and the things of this world for their\ud own sake; in any case, it resists religious and moral orthodoxy. Such readings, while\ud often valuable in themselves, fail to take sufficient account of the influence which\ud Boethian and Neoplatonic ideas had upon Machaut, and thus misunderstand his work\ud on a fundamental level. By paying attention to the Boethian content in the narrative\ud dits, and by analysing Machaut's verse more thoroughly than has been done before,\ud my thesis demonstrates not only this author's moral orthodoxy, but also his extremely\ud sophisticated didactic methods. I begin with the Confort d'ami, Machaut's most\ud overtly moral work. The Confort engages with the supposed 'worldly' perspective of\ud its imprisoned addressee, adapting biblical and classical exempla in order to coax\ud Charles of Navarre towards a deeper understanding of worldly fortune. In Chapter 2 I\ud show how, in the Prologue and the Dit du vergier, the ambiguity so beloved of critics\ud can serve as a moral commentary on the carnality and self-absorption of the erotic\ud and artistic points of view. Having established, in the preceding chapters, that this\ud author's approach to his subject is ambiguous and critical, in Chapter 3 I explore the\ud extremes of his pessimism, and show how his love poetry can incorporate\ud sophisticated philosophical ideas, through my analysis of the Jugement du roy de\ud Behaigne. The thesis culminates in a detailed reading of the Remede de Fortune.\ud Through his deliberately idealised statements about education, through his application\ud of these views to the art of courtly love, through his composition (and setting to\ud music) of a sequence of virtuoso lyrics, and through his explicit invocations of and\ud borrowings from Boethius, Machaut develops an empathic but ultimately, as I argue,\ud deeply sceptical vision of earthly love

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