Vanina Kopp’s project “Literary Games and Poetic Competitions in Medieval Sociability” investigates the development, performance, and functions of riddles, puns, and play in French sources from the ninth to the fifteenth century. Throughout the Middle Ages, literary games on humorous topics were among the favourite pastimes at court. Similarly, debating love topics in mock dialogues and debates was a part of courtly education and helped to shape community feeling.
The practice of these games and love debates is preserved in manuscript collections used for education, as well as in writing by poets who built their poetic works on an ironic topic. This project examines the use of poetic games in a courtly setting as a performative endeavour, and considers its effects on courtly society in Medieval France. Vanina proposes to concentrate the investigations on four key areas: 1) the humorous topics favoured by courtly audiences; 2) the composition of the audience with nobles, clergy, and commoners at court as well as their entourages, including women; 3) the settings and performative ways in which these pastimes and poetic games took place; 4) the knowledge of courtly values conveyed and held up in the games and the game’s connection to medieval literature.
Vanina argues that courtly love and courtliness were games, and that the texts are the remains of these courtly “play communities”, who conveyed values and knowledge via “love games” and humorous poems and prose. The project will concentrate on the contexts and expressions of these public events, and the opportunities they gave the audience for interaction at the royal court; interactions could occur between two competitors, between the sexes, between clerks and knights, or between university scholars and bourgeois. Vanina will explore the knowledge conveyed during the competitions, the means used by the competitors and the contexts in which they delivered that information according to various audiences. She aims to discover whether these pastimes generated some kind of special congenial self-consciousness among this heterogeneous group of people from the three estates, nobles, clergy and commoners, as well as all genders, and how criticism, hierarchy or even aggression were articulated and channelled in a courtly society.
Photo credits: Detail of a miniature of the Castle of Love, with the lover addressing three women. London, British Library, Royal 16 F II, fol. 188r.