Research Seminar. Vanina Kopp: “Invention of Tradition: The Use and Function of Literary Pastimes at the French Court around 1400”
Mellon Fellow, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies.
Throughout the Middle Ages, reading and literary games constituted a favoured pastime at court. In this talk, I will investigate the “renaissance” of courtly and chivalric values transmitted via poetic competitions or newly created literary works at the French court in Paris around 1400.
In the last Research Seminar, I presented the different contexts of reading as a pastime at court, concentrating on the performance of literary games and poetic competitions around 1400.These pastimes were performed through public prose lectures, exchange of letters, poetic debates, or even in competitions between members of the literary order the Cour amoureuse. I emphasized the contexts and expressions of these public events, and the opportunity they gave the audience to interact at the royal court: between two competitors, between the sexes, clerks and knights, university scholars as well as bourgeois.
In the upcoming Research Seminar, I will investigate the function of these interactions as pastimes and how they transmitted chivalric values and courtly love by focussing on the aspect of adaptation in literary pastimes. I will inquire why narratives of the twelfth and thirteenth century were still powerful in the fifteenth century. Concentrating on Eric Hobsbawm's concept of the “invention of tradition”, I will show how fourteenth/early fifteenth century court society tried to connect to an “ancient” tradition of texts and how reading as pastimes contributed to social cohesion.
I will explore the fact that chivalry and courtly love remained part of courtly culture and even regained importance as ideals, although social changes, military progress and the general evolution of courtly society grew tremendously apart from it. My working hypotheses is that in
such a changing world, “invention” of a chivalric tradition via texts and the refashioning of a courtly society was an attempt to bring together a new society by making it adapt old role models, still prestigious enough that even rich bourgeois or ascending clercs du roi recognized them as
superior values. The literary games were used as a set of tools containing well-known values and ideals and thus served as the elements to federate not only political parties, but also to channel emotions and to shape courtly interactions and expressions via literary pastimes.