IMS Open Lecture - Making prose sing in Richard de Fournival's Bestiaire d'amours

This lecture is part of the IMS Open Lecture Series, which showcases cutting-edge research by leading scholars in important aspects of medieval studies.

Elizabeth Eva Leach (Professor of Music, Exeter College, University of Oxford) will deliver this IMS Open Lecture, titled ‘Making Prose Sing in Richard de Fournival’s Bestiaire d’amours’. Richard de Fournival’s Bestiaire d’amours (Bestiary of Love) quotes two lines from a lyric by Bernart de Ventadorn, placing him on par with Ovid as an authority in love. Although these are lyric lines, they are not differentiated visually from the surrounding prose in any manuscript. In some copies of the work, additional lyric lines are used at the end, which, again, are not readily visible as poetry. 

Given that the narrator of the Bestiaire explicitly rejects lyric, commenting extensively on the fatal nature of song using the examples of the swan, the cricket, the sirens, and the asp, such latency seems intentional and meaningful. This paper will look at the role of song and lyric in the Bestiaire, which further a latent aim of the work to counter the prevailing orthodoxy in medieval treatments of the senses.

The work is framed by an opening quotation from Aristotle’s Metaphysics and has a long section drawing on the De anima, which notes the priority of vision in sense perception. However, the presence of Bernart and Ovid run counter to claim priority for the sonic and auditory over the visual and written, something which is illustrated even in the treatment of the sense by the example of bees, which cannot hear but are nonetheless led by song. ‘Voice’, comments the narrator, ‘is the most powerful force known’. 

The narrator’s voice, however, is constrained by its textualization and the overtly visual nature of the illustrated manuscript trace. Whether and how the sound of that voice is allowed to sound as sound becomes one of the key questions of the text and requires us to imagine its medieval performance, on the page and off the page, both in sound and memory. Ultimately, the two teachable senses of hearing and seeing are shown to be radically interrelated; far from being composed only of pictures, thought, it seems, might instead be made up of sounds and voices. 

Leach is a musicologist and music theorist, with research interests in songs, counterpoint, and singing with a particular focus on medieval secular lyrics in French. 

The lecture will be followed by a drinks reception. All are welcome! 

All queries can be directed to Axel Müller