Pure Filth: Ethics, Politics, and Religion in Early French Farce 9780812251685

As Noah D. Guynn observes, early French farce has been summarily dismissed as filth for centuries. Renaissance humanists

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Pure Filth: Ethics, Politics, and Religion in Early French Farce

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Table of contents :
Cover......Page 1
Pure Filth......Page 2
Title......Page 4
Copyright......Page 5
CONTENTS......Page 6
A Note on Sources......Page 8
Introduction. The Many Faces of Farce......Page 10
Chapter 1. The Wisdom of Farts: Ethics and Politics, Farce and Festive Comedy......Page 28
Chapter 2. A Justice to Come: Messianism and Eschatology in Maistre Pierre Pathelin......Page 78
Chapter 3. Sacraments and Scatology, Faith and Doubt: Andrieu de La Vigne’s Mystère de Saint Martin and Its Farces......Page 118
Chapter 4. Making History: Misbehaved Women, Well-Behaved Women, and the Sexual Politics of Farce......Page 160
Afterword. Against Protoforms......Page 228
Notes......Page 236
Works Cited......Page 244
Index......Page 262
Acknowledgments......Page 268

Citation preview

Pure Filth

THE MIDDLE AGES SERIES Ruth Mazo Karras, Series Editor Edward Peters, Founding Editor A complete list of books in the series is available from the publisher.

P U R E F I LT H Ethics, Politics, and Religion in Early French Farce

Noah D. Guynn

u n i v e r si t y of pe n ns y lva n i a pr ess ph i l a de l ph i a

Copyright 䉷 2020 University of Pennsylvania Press All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations used for purposes of review or scholarly citation, none of this book may be reproduced in any form by any means without written permission from the publisher. Published by University of Pennsylvania Press Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104-4112 www.upenn.edu/pennpress Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper 1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available from the Library of Congress. ISBN 978-0-8122-5168-5


A Note on Sources Introduction. The Many Faces of Farce

vii 1

Chapter 1. The Wisdom of Farts: Ethics and Politics, Farce and Festive Comedy


Chapter 2. A Justice to Come: Messianism and Eschatology in Maistre Pierre Pathelin


Chapter 3. Sacraments and Scatology, Faith and Doubt: Andrieu de La Vigne’s Myste`re de Saint Martin and Its Farces


Chapter 4. Making History: Misbehaved Women, Well-Behaved Women, and the Sexual Politics of Farce


Afterword. Against Protoforms




Works Cited






a note on sources

The vast majority of the surviving French farce corpus is to be found in four compilations, including one manuscript and three recueils factices, compendia of playscripts that were printed and sold separately and were only later bound together. All four collections were produced in the sixteenth century, though precise dating of individual plays can be difficult, as they were almost certainly performed before they were published. The Manuscrit La Vallie`re (BnF fr. 24341) is a manuscript copied in Normandy around 1575, presumably from an older source. It contains seventy-four plays, thirty-five to forty-eight of which are farces, depending on what generic criteria are applied. The Recueil du British Museum (C.20.e.13) contains sixty-four plays, forty-two to forty-seven of which are farces. Most were printed in Lyon between 1540 and 1545, but the collection contains Norman and Parisian plays as well. The Recueil Trepperel (BnF Re´s m. Yf. 149), which has been securely attributed to the Parisian workshop of the printer Jean Trepperel, dates from the early sixteenth century. It contains thirtyfive plays, seven or eight of which are farces. Finally, the Recueil de Florence, also known as the Recueil Cohen, is a collection of fifty-three plays, all labeled as farces. That designation is difficult to justify in several cases, however, and may have been used to conceal the polemical content associated with sotties or “fools’ plays” in a period when theater was subject to heightened scrutiny and censorship (Koopmans, Recueil de Florence 26). The curious history of this last volume is worth retelling briefly, as it gives a sense of the evolving and uncertain nature of source studies in the field. The Recueil de Florence went missing early in the twentieth century, after being put up for sale in Florence in 1928 by the Prussian-Italian publisher and bookseller Leo Samuele Olschki. Since then, it has been known exclusively through Gustave Cohen’s Medieval Academy edition, which was produced from faulty transcriptions and has been considered defective since it was first published in 1949. The collection resurfaced in the 1990s, when it


A Note on Sources

was once again put up for sale. It remains inaccessible, however, as the new owner is determined to preserve his or her anonymity. Fortunately, the Dutch theater scholar Jelle Koopmans was granted permission to examine the volume and prepare a new edition, which appeared to great fanfare in 2011. Thanks to his immense erudition, including in matters of typography, Koopmans was able to attribute the Recueil de Florence (as well as parts of the Recueil du British Museum) to the Trepperel workshop and to date the original printings between 1504 and 1521 (far earlier than previous claims). He was also able to argue, speculatively but persuasively, that (a) Florence is either a sequel to Trepperel or forms a single, two-volume collection with it (14–15); and (b) the volumes together constitute the repertory of a theater troupe that was obliged to disband for political reasons early on in the reign of Francis I and to liquidate its assets (19–25). Among modern farce editions, Koopmans’s is state of the art and is especially useful in that it offers an authoritative discussion of chronological and geographical attribution for each play. Readers may also consult Andre´ Tissier’s thirteen-volume Recueil de farces (1450–1550), which assembles sixtyfive plays and includes extensive annotations, as well as Euge´nie Droz and Halina Lewicka’s edition of the farces from the Recueil Trepperel. Nearly all the plays discussed in this book can be found in one of these editions, and I cite them as follows. The initial parenthetical reference indicates volume and/ or inclusive page numbers for the play under discussion, and subsequent citations refer to line numbers only. I use the abbreviation “s.d.” to indicate stage directions, followed by the page numbers on which they appear. I cite these only if they are original to the base text, as opposed to stage directions hypothesized by the editor on the basis of textual or contextual clues. Unless otherwise indicated, all translations in this book are my own, for both primary and secondary texts. In the case of primary texts, I often signal double entendres and alternative meanings by supplying two or more possible translations separated by a slash.


The Many Faces of Farce

Society is a very mysterious animal with many faces and hidden potentialities, and . . . it’s extremely shortsighted to believe that the face society happens to be presenting to you at a given moment is its only true face. None of us know all the potentialities that slumber in the spirit of the population. —Va´clav Havel

In seeking to understand the culture of farce in late medieval and early modern France, we could do no better than to start with the guidon, or “heraldic flag,” of the festive and theatrical society known as the Infanterie Dijonnaise, or La Me`re Folle de Dijon. On one side of the guidon (Figure 1), we find Me`re Folle herself, wearing robes in the signature colors of folly (red, yellow, and green), a fool’s cowl (with eared hood, scalloped collar, and jingle bells), a crescent moon-shaped wimple (to evoke lunacy), a long flowing scarf, and a Carnival mask. She is surrounded by the four keepers of the winds, whose cherubic, disembodied faces peer out at her from dark, menacing clouds and whose exhalations appear to have caused her hood to blow off, her scarf to unfurl, and her mask to come undone. Seemingly unperturbed at being thus bombarded and exposed, her face retains the inscrutability of a mask, even as she dexterously uses three fols, or “bellows,” to direct her own blasts of wind at the cherubs. The fols are an apt symbol for her, as they suggest a verbalvisual pun on fol/folie. They may also refer to the folliculus, or “scrotum,” reminding viewers that all members of the Infanterie were men, even if their sovereign presented as a woman, with porcelain skin, narrow shoulders, and pendulous breasts.

Figure 1. Guidon de la Me`re Folle (D86.1.8). Painted silk taffeta and paper, 78 ⳯ 74.5 cm. De´poˆt du Muse´e arche´ologique de Dijon, Muse´e de la vie bourguignonne Perrin de Puycousin, Dijon. Photo by Franc¸ois Perrodin.

Figure 2. Guidon de la Me`re Folle (D86.1.8). Painted silk taffeta and paper, 78 ⳯ 74.5 cm. De´poˆt du Muse´e arche´ologique de Dijon, Muse´e de la vie bourguignonne Perrin de Puycousin, Dijon. Photo by Franc¸ois Perrodin.



On the reverse side of the guidon (Figure 2), we find two well-muscled acrobats, followers of Me`re Folle who perform their own blustery, topsyturvy version of foolishness. Like their commander, they wear fool’s colors and eared hoods and are surrounded by the keepers of the winds. They have made no attempt to mask themselves, however, but have instead lowered their breeches to expose the lurid sight of their round, dimpled, shining ass cheeks. As if to prevent us from looking away, they contort themselves to ensure we will see as much of them as possible. The one fool holds the other upside down in his arms, and both men are twisted so that each may turn toward us while blowing a fart in his partner’s face. The pleasure they derive from their antics is evident, especially for the upended fool, who smiles beatifically as he inhales deeply through a pert, upturned nose. The flatus itself is rendered visible, using the same white brushstrokes that depict the squalls emanating from the mouths of the keepers of the winds. As if in imitation of the acrobats, the cherubs cock their heads and turn their faces toward us as they offer a gusty retort. It would be tempting to read the guidon as an expression of senseless vulgarity and escapist humor: a thumbing of the nose at moral seriousness, a mooning of the buttocks at the dark clouds of adversity, or a tooting of the sphincter at the variable winds of fortune. Indeed, even the cherubs seem to be laughing at the acrobats’ absurd hijinks: their faces are lit up with simpering smiles, as if to indicate that they, too, can be lured in by fatuous (and flatulent) human games and that Me`re Folle can make fools of both Lady Nature and Lady Fortune. We should not be too quick to dismiss the Infanterie as a band of rascals and wags, however, or as purveyors of vacuous jokes and gratuitous laughter. On the contrary, as Juliette Valcke has shown, their institutional mission was characterized by ethical, political, and religious depth, if not exactly gravity. Their aim was to use ludic ritual and comic theater “to establish a true moral jurisdiction over their fellow citizens” (15), to inveigh against “misconduct of all sorts” (55) and at all social levels, and to animate religious feasts by inspiring collective acts of devotion. The wind cherubs may themselves signal the spiritual inflection of the Infanterie’s activities, inserting reminders of messianic revelation into popular festivity: Daniel’s vision of “the four winds of the heaven” as the social agitations that herald the Apocalypse (Dan. 7:2); God’s promise that the “spirit” will come “from the four winds” and enable “[the] slain” to “live again” (Ezek. 37:9); Christ’s prophecy that the “Son of man” will send angels to “gather together his elect from the four winds” (Mark 13:27); and John’s prediction that the



angels of doom will hold back the “four winds of the earth” for the faithful (Rev. 7:1), only to unleash them afterward against the wicked (Rev. 8:5). While modern viewers may find it difficult to understand how the Infanterie could use scatological foolishness to conjure eschatological truths, the fact is that the two registers are not as distinct as they may seem and were not necessarily in conflict in medieval and early modern culture (Morrison). If Me`re Folle blurs the relationship between face and mask, reality and illusion, spirit and wind, so, too, does the Messiah, whose identity is known only to “the Father” (Mark 13:32), who is difficult to distinguish from “false prophets” with their bogus “signs and wonders” (Matt. 24:24), and whose spirit takes the form of “a mighty wind” (Acts 2:2) that “breatheth [or perhaps, breaketh] where he will” (John 3:8). Likewise, if the acrobats turn one another and the world upside down, confounding faces with buttocks, mouths with assholes, breath with flatus, they also remind us that the devout “are made a spectacle to the world and to angels and to men” (1 Cor. 4:9)— indeed, that they make themselves “fools for Christ’s sake” (4:10) in order to show the world that its “wisdom . . . is foolishness with God” (3:19). Just as Christ may be confused with the Antichrist, miracles with make-believe, and the godly with the mad, so, too, may truth be found in bluff, faith in doubt, profundity in the fundament, and theological understanding in the most sordid and inane of spectacles. These are essential insights for anyone wishing to understand the preposterous, unbridled, and scurrilous aesthetic of early French farce. Judged according to classical aesthetic standards, this would appear to be the most vulgar, primitive, and formulaic of theatrical genres. To begin with, farce characters are generally devoid of psychological complexity, are used to embody crude stereotypes, and often bear no other name than the social category to which they have been subsumed: wife, husband, priest, cobbler, miller, and so on. What’s more, farce plots, rarely more than an hour long, are typically vulgar and predictable in the extreme, crafting flimsy scenarios around sexual and scatological jokes, cynical and repetitive proverbs, and unlikely forms of social inversion: wives who best (or beat) their husbands, servants their masters, tenants their landlords, and so on. Finally, farces indulge in a great deal of vulgarity, buffoonery, and mischief, apparently without concern for, and sometimes openly ridiculing, the more obviously elevated and edifying content found in morality, miracle, and mystery plays. With nearly two hundred surviving scripts and countless others lost to history, farce was plainly the most favored genre of early French comic theater.



And with audiences drawn from all social ranks and milieus (from the working poor to the haute bourgeoisie, from university students to petty aristocrats, from fraternal associations to royal courts), it was the most pervasive one as well. Yet to modern audiences familiar with the moral and sentimental comedies of Corneille and Molie`re, and neglectful of the latter’s indelible early training as a farceur (Rey-Flaud, Molie`re), the aesthetic and social impact of farce may seem rather limited: an hour of strutting upon the stage, a tale told by an idiot signifying nothing. This book seeks to reclaim the aesthetic and social complexities of French farce by focusing on thematic content related to ethics, politics, and religion. I argue that farce’s repetitive and even obsessive focus on social cliche´s, moral depravity, le monde a` l’envers, and le bas corporel does not make it a naı¨ve, crude, or primitive theater or a mere diversion for the rabble. On the contrary, it is a highly intricate, deeply self-conscious cultural form that can accommodate, and indeed depends upon, multiple, conflicting modes of interpretation. In the ensuing pages, I argue that, even as farce illustrates the depravity of human behavior and constructs fictional worlds devoid of kindness, tolerance, and love, it also lends comic resonance to the most august sources of Christian moral wisdom: scripture, liturgy, theology, hagiography, and sacraments. As with other, traditional forms of religious humor—for instance, the medieval risus paschalis: burlesque homilies, lewd jokes, and theatrical entertainments that commemorated Christ’s Resurrection by filling the church with levity and laughter (O’Connell)—farce parodies and ridicules, even as it revitalizes and extends, sacred texts, themes, and rites. It also embraces contradictory modes of political engagement. If, on the one hand, it finds rowdy humor in the undermining of authority, the overturning of hierarchies, and the repudiation or transgression of social norms, on the other hand, it demonstrates that inverted hierarchies are hierarchies nonetheless and that anarchic wit depends upon the inevitability of political domination in the temporal world. Problems of interpretation in turn yield problems of classification: contradictory readings are so densely intertwined in farce that it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to categorize individual works as either normative or subversive, conservative or radical, or to determine what ideological goals they would have aimed at or achieved in performance. Many farces appear simultaneously to stabilize and destabilize, affirm and oppose established values, traditions, and institutions. Even as they allow spectators to participate imaginatively in staged rebellion, they offer reminders that in real life,



dissidence will provoke a coercive response unless it remains latent, silent, or invisible. The latency of resistance in farce can itself be read in contradictory ways—as an acknowledgment that the ruling classes are capable of imposing docility on subalterns, or alternatively as a reminder that subaltern resistance can never be fully eradicated and retains its power precisely because it can be so difficult to detect. The cynicism of this political outlook (farce’s apparent belief in endless antagonism and injustice) is in turn counterbalanced by a tendency in many works—including Maistre Pierre Pathelin, the undisputed, and by some accounts the only, masterpiece of the genre—to focus implicitly or explicitly on ethical, religious, and messianic themes. This includes Jesus’s prophecy (in all three synoptic Gospels) that in the Kingdom of Heaven the first will be last and the last first (Matt. 19:30, 20:16; Mark 10:31; Luke 13:30), as well as Mary’s prophecy (in the Magnificat canticle) that at the end time her son will unseat the mighty and exalt the humble (Luke 1:52). Tellingly, even these themes can be classified in disparate ways—as licensed and innocuous forms of folk religion or as insidious and disguised forms of political agitation; as the opiate of the masses, fostering belief in a future justice that will remain perpetually on the horizon, or as the veiled expression of hidden struggles, nourishing the desire of subordinates to resist their subordination in remembrance of Christ himself. To echo Va´clav Havel (who knew a thing or two about creative, ludic, and veiled expressions of dissent), early French farce, like the societies that reveled in its foolish humor, is a “mysterious animal with many faces” (109), none of which can be said to be the real or authentic one, and each of which is in some sense a mask. My goal in this book is to revalue farce and the urban popular cultures in which it flourished by scrutinizing these many faces, by probing the genre’s manifest and latent forms of social and cultural mediation, and by attempting to reconstruct its often contradictory ethical, political, and religious investments. Following Pamela Allen Brown, who in turn cites Stuart Hall, I take popular culture to encompass “any text or performance that became familiar in part because it was either cheap, or free to be heard, seen, or performed oneself” (18); that was, by dint of social and stylistic accessibility, likely to “[circulate] through multiple trajectories” (18); and that is misrepresented, therefore, by “self-enclosed” critical approaches that analyze “cultural forms as if they contained within themselves, from their moment of origin, some fixed and unchanging meaning or value” (Hall 237). Now, farces were sometimes staged for restrictive, elite audiences: French kings from Charles VI to



Louis XIV are known to have been passionate admirers of the genre (Rousse, “Pouvoir”); and Pathelin itself may originally have been conceived for the court of Rene´ d’Anjou (Roy). Still, their usual ambit was considerably more expansive and diverse. Performances were regularly sponsored by urban institutions that were anything but static, monolithic, or acquiescent: colleges, universities, guilds, confraternities, youth associations, and the festive societies Natalie Zemon Davis has dubbed the “Abbeys of Misrule” (97–123). The occasion for a performance was often a religious festival—most famously, Carnival—that sanctioned, or at least tolerated, hierarchical inversion, social mobility, and political disruption.1 Finally, farces would customarily, if not exclusively, have been staged in open-air or broadly accessible spaces that could not easily restrict attendance or control audience response. Even plays that were performed behind closed doors often circulated beyond them, as witnessed by the fact that Pathelin yielded at least two popular sequels and multiple print editions that may well have been hawked by vendors in the streets (Rousse, “Pathelin” 18–19).2 Indeed, regardless of where they were put on (in a castle in Anjou, an assembly hall in Paris, a public square in Dijon, or a jury-rigged playing area in a small provincial town), farces were composed in an idiom that all could understand, appreciate, and share, and that was well suited to the heterogeneous, wayward, and often unruly popular audiences for which the period is known (Enders, Death 105–17; L. Muir, “France” 325–27). As we shall see, moreover, despite an apparent penchant for hackneyed themes and plots, the extant playscripts typically respond in creative, experimental, and largely untotalizable ways to the symbolic structures, subjective differences, and ideological fault lines that characterized French urban life on the threshold to modernity. Unfortunately, farce’s aesthetic and social complexities have nearly always been lost on learned scholars. From Renaissance moralists to Enlightenment philosophes, from Romantic philologists to modern theater historians, intellectuals of all stripes have heaped reproaches upon farceurs, accusing them of pandering to the rabble, degenerating public morals, and violating norms of civility and taste (Rey-Flaud, Farce 1–10). True, attitudes toward farce (and late medieval theater generally) have shifted considerably over the past thirty years or so, thanks to rigorous historical research from scholars like Jelle Koopmans, Marie Bouhaı¨k-Girone`s, Katell Lave´ant, and Sara Beam; to Jody Enders’s pioneering explorations of rhetoric and law, memory and violence, imitation and enactment, performativity and ethics on the early



French stage; to Koopmans’s rediscovery and reedition of the Recueil de Florence, a collection of fifty-three farces that went missing in the 1920s (see A Note on Sources, above); and to Enders’s deeply learned and deliciously irreverent modern English adaptations of two dozen of the best plays (the beginning of a much-anticipated series). And yet despite a profusion of scholarship that aims to bring neglected material to light and to disabuse us of centuries’ worth of prejudice and misconception, we have not entirely discarded the “self-enclosed” critical perspectives that tend to bridle, diminish, and distort popular culture. Thus, E. Bruce Hayes argues in a recent monograph that “the world of farce does not move beyond the quotidian and the domestic” (15); that it exhibits a “pervading pessimism that does not promote change, but instead scorns anything that could be construed as new or innovative” (15); and that it took a figure like Rabelais to realize the subversive potential of farce, in part by narrativizing it and removing it from the stage. Invoking Peter Burke’s claim that popular culture was essentially “conservative” in nature (230), “as if people believed that the system could not change” (234), Hayes argues that “traditional farce . . . offers little in terms of ‘new ways of thinking about the system’ ” (6, citing N. Davis 143). Farce was radicalized only when Rabelais and the “elite group of reform-minded humanists” with which he was associated (7) “recognized [its] potential to be transformed into a political weapon to be used against entrenched institutions” (6). Of course, one might dismiss Hayes as a chauvinistic seizie´miste whose account of the conventionality and quietism of medieval farceurs enables him to exaggerate the achievements of Renaissance humanists, even as it requires him to minimize the extensive historical, cultural, and political overlap between the two. As he rightly notes, however, many card-carrying medievalists have made similar claims, arguing that if farce has an ethics and politics, they must be mechanical, instrumentalist, and conservative in nature, serving, on the one hand, to reinforce established norms through negative examples and, on the other, to attenuate, suppress, and purge disruptive impulses (Aubailly, The´aˆtre 181–89; Rousse, Sce`ne 253–60; Knight, Aspects 41–67; Mazouer, Moyen Aˆge 347–58, Renaissance 130–44). This view is echoed, moreover, by Jessica Milner Davis in the most influential transhistorical study of the genre. For Davis, “the style of humor in farce is essentially conservative,” meaning it “tends to restore conventional authority, or at least to save that authority’s face, at the end of its comic upheavals” (3). If it disallows “airs and pretences,” and often ridicules the wealthy and powerful, it also precludes



any “preaching for a revolution” (3), calling instead for a “cheerful ending” with “no offence given or taken” (46). And yet tenacious as this reading of farce may be, it is predicated on a rather flimsy essentialism, by which I mean it endows a historically extensive, socially pervasive, and inherently ephemeral and interactive performance tradition with a predetermined, uniform set of intentions and outcomes. Or as Havel would put it, the reading claims to know “all the potentialities that slumber in the spirit of the population” (109) and denies to the supposedly benighted hoi polloi the capacity to imagine alternative social realities, or oppose existing ones, without a humanist intelligentsia to guide them. In reconsidering the aesthetic, intellectual, and social operations of the farce tradition, we would do well to abandon such an elitist and deterministic point of view and turn instead to materialist scholarship that problematizes the ways in which ideology acts through popular culture and is acted on by it. A good place to begin might be Pierre Macherey’s reading of Jules Verne; for here we learn that “a writer [or in our case, a playwright or performer] never reflects mechanically or rigorously the ideology which he represents, even if his sole intention is to represent it: perhaps because no ideology is sufficiently consistent to survive the test of figuration. And otherwise, his work would not be read [or, for that matter, performed]” (195). We might turn as well to Fredric Jameson’s celebrated study of Jaws and the Godfather films; for Jameson (citing Macherey) shows us that “the work of art does not so much express ideology” as endow it “with aesthetic representation and figuration” and enact its “virtual unmasking” as a cultural construct liable to internal instability and interpretive difference (“Reification” 147). Even more useful for my purposes is John Fiske’s analysis of Anglo-American television series; for Fiske shows us how any attempt “to produce a coherent set of meanings and social identities around an unarticulated consensus” (320) inevitably runs afoul of the “multiaccentuality of the [ideological] sign”: a “polysemic potential” that enables diverse “social groups” with diverse “social interests” to enjoy the same cultural objects even as they exercise “[the] power to construct meanings, pleasures, and social identities that differ from those proposed by the structures of domination” (320; citing Volosinov 23). In this book, I propose a similarly materialist reading of late fifteenthand early sixteenth-century French farces, which I take to be the expression of collective social and cultural experiences that could not be reduced to a collective or false consciousness—and would never have found an audience if they had been. As a vibrant and ubiquitous mass medium, farce could be



used to shape and reshape subjective and communal awareness, civic involvement, and large-scale structures of thought and belief. It could not, however, impose passivity and consensus on spectators, nor (to quote Fiske) could it neutralize cultural and class struggle by “reduc[ing] the multiaccentual to the uniaccentual” (320). To be sure, censors and patrons often sought to restrict theatrical content, regulate performances, and condition audience response. But there is little reason to believe that they could ever master the unpredictability and evanescence of live theater long enough to create a truly stable set of representations—or that, even if they were able to do so, such representations could be used to suppress dissent or thwart change. In fact, recent work in theater history has made quite the opposite claim. Drawing on archival evidence that has long been neglected or misconstrued, scholars have reinterpreted medieval popular theater as a uniquely privileged but also inherently volatile medium for social interaction, contestation, and transformation. As Carol Symes argues in a study of thirteenth-century Arras, the medieval “common stage” was a literally and figuratively open-ended vehicle for urban populations to gain access to publicity, to reflect on faith and morality, and to question prevailing distributions of wealth and power. Relatively unbounded and highly representative, it can usefully be compared to Ju¨rgen Habermas’s public sphere, in that the German philosopher’s notion ¨ ffentlichkeit, “the urban ‘open realm’ ” (Symes, Common 127), finds a of O rough analogue in notions the Arrageois applied to public meeting and performance spaces: ad phalam, which Symes glosses as “out in the open” or “at the . . . display place” (145), and en plaine hale, “in the open air [literally, the marketplace] and in the presence of the assembled townspeople” (207). If Habermas denies the very possibility of a medieval public sphere on the grounds that the printing press was a prerequisite for communicative rationality, Symes counters that it not only existed but was likely to have been “larger and more buoyant” than its modern counterpart (279).3 After all, as Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky have shown, modern mass media are subject to concentrated ownership, government sourcing, and profit imperatives, making it relatively easy for the public sphere to be hijacked by corporate and political interests. By contrast, Symes argues, Arras’s public sphere was shaped by media “that could not be efficiently controlled—no matter how hard kings and canonists might try”; media that, in their interactive and dialogical liveness, endowed the community with forms of “meaningful exchange, social innovation, and political action” that modern consumer culture may well lack (279).



This claim is certainly borne out by Symes’s speculative reconstruction of a performance of Le garc¸on et l’aveugle, a kind of proto-farce in which “actors pretending to be con men pretending to be beggars”—and who may initially have been taken by onlookers for “beggars putting on a good show (the better to win alms), or con men whose begging and acting skills had been honed out of sheer necessity”—must stake out space for a performance in a crowded and boisterous public square (132–33). While we lack the evidence to prove that the play was staged as Symes imagines, her conclusion is certainly an apt one: by posing as social undesirables who nonetheless manage to win and hold the attention of an urban audience, street performers would have effectively demonstrated how “people without the power to assert themselves through more conventional means (violence, wealth) [could gain] other types of power through the use of public media” (130). If we turn to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (a period for which we have a far more robust, if still uneven, record of performance conditions and practices), we soon discover that the common stage retained, and perhaps enhanced, its mediatizing and democratizing functions. For Jelle Koopmans, the profane playwrights of this era, who “invented a new tradition without knowing ancient models,” can be considered “radically experimental”— indeed far more so than, say, the 1950s avant-garde, which differentiated itself from “a known and documented tradition” (“Rire” 210) even as it perpetuated many features of theatrical realism, including the proscenium stage, box sets, and a fixed system of perspective. To gain a fuller picture of the formal and ideological experimentalism of early farce—to glimpse what Koopmans calls its “unlit face” (210)—we must shift our own ossified perspectives, especially the still widely accepted “safety valve” theory, which holds that festive comedy depicts le monde a` l’envers in order to confine social rebellion to the realm of make believe and to impose an aesthetics of closure that restores “everything to its proper place” at the end of the show (213; citing Mazouer, Renaissance 144). Even a cursory examination of performance records reveals how misguided this theory is. Farceurs were regularly accused of sedition and le`semajeste´, and of performing polemical plays that sought to hinder rather than enable social integration. Those accusations seem, moreover, to have been well grounded: farce presentations led with some regularity to open confrontations with authority, eruptions of violence, and prison terms for those involved. If this, farce’s dark and menacing face, has seldom been visible to modern literary critics, there are, for Koopmans, three main reasons: first, the



most disruptive plays were likely never published or were suppressed after publication; second, the plays that did survive were almost certainly subject to censorship and self-censorship; and third, in reading these plays, critics have adopted taxonomic and generic modes of analysis that have tended to generalize, neutralize, or obscure subversive content, much of which is already encoded or veiled (“Rire” 211, 219–21). Divorced from historical context, the corpus of surviving farces has thus lent itself to a nostalgic, reactionary, and totalizing vision of the harmless and childish antics of the lower classes at play. Koopmans exhorts us to resist such a groundless, sentimental caricature and to embrace instead neohistoricist and microhistoricist projects of recovery: we must delve into municipal and regional archives in order to resituate farce within its original communicative settings, thereby redefining its popular character. That character is just as likely to be targeted and oppositional as conventional and quiescent, and in many instances the latter tendencies would have served to conceal and enable the former. Farceurs may have smiled broadly, but evidence suggests that they often did so through clenched or gnashing teeth. Likewise, the laughter they elicited in audiences was not always playful and harmless; on the contrary, writes Koopmans, it could be a “rire grinc¸ant”: ruminative and brooding, sometimes even threatening and cruel. But what are we to do with the scores of published scripts that cannot be linked to a well-defined context and that have often given the impression of puerile mischief, genial resignation, and toothless wit? I believe we could read those scripts more deeply, and perceive farce’s many faces more clearly, if we were to start by conceding Jody Enders’s claim that early French playwrights rarely managed (or sought) to impose aesthetic coherence and fixed value systems on the common stage. Instead, they enacted a play of differences, shuttling freely “between hegemonic and populist agendas, concession and rebellion, oral and written transmission, tradition and change, illusion and reality,” to the point that one pole becomes difficult to distinguish from the other (Death 5). Even the most conventional farces exhibit elements of this dialectical oscillation, which is legible in the very thematic and structural properties of the genre. Thus, the proverbial basis for many plots—a` trompeur, trompeur et demi, “every deceiver will be deceived,” or, more literally, “for every deceiver, a deceiver and a half”—suggests that in the hands of farceurs, reality is prone to increasingly artful forms of falsification and that the seemingly bland repetition of traditional formulas may itself constitute a tactic for pursuing social advantage, disruption, and change. After all, many



farce characters use theatrical tricks to claim identities and privileges that are not their own by right, custom, or birth. Even if they are eventually exposed or unseated, moreover, it is usually by an even wilier deceiver pursuing not justice or truth but his or her own advancement. Together, then, trompeur and trompeur et demi reveal that social roles, ranks, and realities are not fixed and innate but contingent and transferable, and that the theatricality of everyday life can be used to undermine hegemonic forms of social determinism. Naturally, we encounter more rigidly conceived characters in farce as well, characters whose truth to type seems to verify the power of social categories to absorb individuals and prescribe their destinies. And yet by giving ideology such a crude form, these characters must also have exposed it as a system of representation subject to demystification and appropriation. Many spectators would presumably have understood, whether consciously or unconsciously, that reductive stereotypes have little to do with real people but instead mark an attempt to impose ideological order through fictional means. Many others would likely have grasped the ways in which real people could in turn use typological masks—what were known in the period as faux visages (Koopmans, “Et doit”)—to achieve subversive goals or avoid pernicious outcomes. Indeed, theater archives lend credence to such a claim: forensic records reveal that farceurs were immensely skilled at exploiting the genre’s conventions, as well as the ambiguities of identity and intention inherent in theatrical performance, to surreptitiously convey seditious messages, to guarantee themselves plausible deniability in case of detection, and to undermine the efficiency of political domination by ruling elites (Bouhaı¨kGirone`s, “Proce`s”). Evidence such as this surely confirms Paul Zumthor’s claim (which Enders is fond of citing) that “of all the arts, theater is, without a doubt, the most receptive to changes in the social structure, and the most revelatory of those changes” (Essai 447, qtd. in Enders, Death 5). As Enders rightly notes, however, “it is not so easy to figure out just what theater was . . . revealing . . . in a given time and place” (Death 5); nor can we readily discern all the manifest and latent meanings a play and its players would have communicated to an assembled audience and the various subgroups it encompassed. Much like the tricksters they played, farceurs were careful to hide their faces in a regression of masks, and seem to have been especially skilled at concealing acts of rebellion within gestures of concession. We must therefore train ourselves to think of all faces in farce as faux visages. By endowing social



identities and relations with aesthetic form, these false faces illustrate the paradoxical power of concealment and latency. Or to quote a description of les Gens (the People) in Me´tier, Marchandise, le Berger, le Temps et les Gens, a fifteenth-century farce morale, “Ilz vous montrent leur faulx visage / Car ilz parlent mal en deriere” (“They show you their false face because they speak ill behind it”; qtd. in Koopmans, “Et doit” 280). Taking my cue from characters like les Gens, Me`re Folle, and her acrobatic fools, I argue in this book that much of the richness of the extant farce corpus lies in its use of familiar and shared, but also elusive and multiaccentual, cultural codes to mediate, negotiate, and reflect upon the ethical, political, and religious complexities of late medieval and early modern urban life. My ambition is to recover some of this richness by exploring the many intriguing ways in which character types, crude jokes, and conventional plotlines were imbued with social, ideological, and even metaphysical significance. My approach diverges sharply, however, from current trends in medieval theater history. Trained in literary criticism and cultural and critical theories, I have focused less on original archival research than on published playscripts in modern critical editions. As Koopmans notes, it is rare that we can “faire le pont” between these two forms of evidence (“Rire” 217); and indeed, I am often obliged to adopt speculative methods in this book as I turn to plays for which we lack solid information regarding date, provenance, authorship, audience, or performance practice. I aim to show, however, that a materialist, socioaesthetic analysis of farce can be considerably advanced by focusing on literary modes of social description, representation, and critique, especially parody and satire; by attending to the semantic ambiguities inherent in playscripts and their intertextual (and especially scriptural) references; and by using poststructuralist, anthropological, feminist, and queer theories of ethics and politics, domination and resistance, subjectivity and subjection, faith and doubt to conjecture about possible relationships between theatrical spectacles and the social and ideological worlds in which they emerged. As I argue in the following four chapters, those relationships are neither static nor neutral but are instead profoundly equivocal, highly charged, and largely ungeneralizable. Chapter 1 draws on Michel de Certeau’s theory of everyday consumption and James C. Scott’s theory of the “infrapolitics” of subordinate groups to argue that, even when farceurs purvey seemingly compliant or hegemonic forms of comic representation, they also establish a dialectical relationship with them, exposing contingencies, weaknesses, and opportunities at the



heart of the ideological field. Thus, whereas many scholars have argued that farce uses satirical depictions of inversion, deviance, and revolt to ensure moral rectification and political acquiescence, I insist that those depictions mediate oppositional struggles without resolving them and thwart attempts to achieve social catharsis. This denial of closure invites a hermeneutic stance I call “plural reading”: states of interpretive undecidability that elicit participatory engagement and oscillate between the enforcement and disruption of ingrained systems of value. In keeping with this focus on hermeneutic practice, the chapter is devoted in large part to historical performance as it can be reconstructed from institutional records, eyewitness testimonies, and the like. I do, however, present readings of three plays: the Norman farce Le gentilhomme et Naudet; Pierre Gringore’s four-part Parisian Carnival play Le jeu du Prince des Sotz et de Mere Sotte; and the Reformation-era Rouennais morality play Le Ministre de l’Eglise, which, while not technically a farce, aptly illustrates how the multiaccentuality of comic theater can fuel ethical inquiry, political opposition, and religious innovation. Chapter 2 turns to Maistre Pierre Pathelin and argues that this celebrated courtroom drama, in which a devilish shepherd tactically relinquishes human speech and agency in order to triumph over his exploitative employer and shyster lawyer, is not the immoral or amoral masterpiece it is often made out to be. Rather, Pathelin makes deft use of social parody to expose the injustices of mercantile capitalism, and of scriptural parody to elaborate an ethical and political eschatology that is known (like the eschaton itself ) only as prophetic expectation. I argue that contemporary audiences would have been deeply attuned to the operations of parodic repetition in the play and would have construed it less as profane desecration than as productive engagement with sacred beliefs. Among other things, sacred parody transforms a notion of otherworldly justice that inures us to present injustice into an opportunity to critique and resist bourgeois hegemony in Christ’s name. The chapter concludes with readings of Pathelin’s little-known sequels, Le nouveau Pathelin and Le testament Pathelin, which echo the original by using liturgical parody to put pressure on religious conventions and moral norms. Chapter 3 is also devoted to the sacred-profane dialectic and focuses on Andrieu de La Vigne’s Le myste`re de saint Martin, a three-day-long saint’s play that was staged in the Burgundian city of Seurre in 1496 and included two shockingly irreverent farces: Le meunier de qui le diable emporte l’aˆme en enfer and L’aveugle et le boiteux. My claim is that these farces point to lay misgivings regarding clerical sanctity and sacramental efficacy even as they



show us that it was in the very nature of late medieval belief systems to confuse orthodox rituals and theologies with their apparent contradiction, to sacralize the filth that official religion strives to preclude, and to affirm the power of the liturgy by contemplating its performative failures. While little attention has been paid to Christian content in farce, many plays focus on theological doctrine, devotional practices, and clerical life, especially those that were inserted like forcemeat (farcir, “to stuff”) into mystery play productions. This chapter attempts to provide a richer perspective on religion in farce by examining burlesque sendups of penance, Eucharist, and hagiography in Le meunier and L’aveugle and the ways in which they establish a dialogical relationship between mystery and farce, and thereby present alternatives to, and suggest alternative meanings within, familiar rituals and codes. My final chapter is devoted to la farce des femmes and offers a queer reading of the classic “woman on top” theme, which served both as a normative charivari (affirming male headship through fanciful inversions of sexual hierarchy) and as a projection of revenge fantasies (including women’s own and those of various “feminized” subalterns). Although feminists have long argued for an inherent ambivalence in fictions of female insubordination, scholars of farce have tended to view those fictions as ridiculous contrivances that clarify hierarchies by reversing them. My claim is that farce’s gendered fantasies are far queerer than this reading allows. They often entail games of cross-dressing and rest upon a fluid conception of sexual difference that lends itself to a variety of appropriations. I seek to queer la farce des femmes by demonstrating how female characters work to disclose the tenuous relations, cultural anxieties, and ideological fissures at the heart of the heterosocial regime, whether they submit to its dictates or repudiate them. To make my case, I examine two plays: Serre Porte et Fin Verjus, in which a shrewish housewife surrenders power to her husband only on the condition that he obey her by donning her dress and exacting revenge on their shared enemy; and Le poulier a` six personnages, in which a milleress rescues her husband from eviction and debt using paradoxical gestures of submission that enable her to subordinate men and emancipate women across the social spectrum. Drawing on Mary Hartman’s “subversive” history of the household and Jack Halberstam’s queer account of “shadow feminism,” I argue that these plays manifest the ability of well-behaved women to acquire room for maneuver, to raise political voices, and to enact historical agency even in circumstances of apparent ideological overdetermination.



Before moving on, I should say a few words about the structural and intellectual design of this book. First, I should admit to, and perhaps apologize for, my proclivity for long chapters. This proclivity is rather clearly at odds with the formal economy of farce itself and entails what may initially appear to be unlikely departures into unrelated (and unfunny) domains: nominalist philosophy, sacramental theology, female clergie, marital debt theory, historical demography, law enforcement, foster parentage, and so on. I hope to have made the relevance of these deviations evident to my readers, to have kept my through line well in sight, and to have compensated for my rather unbounded sense of intellectual terrain by carefully subdividing my chapters into sections. Second, I should acknowledge that most of the plays studied here are little known even to specialists and therefore require detailed exposition. To that end, I have organized many of my readings seriatim in order to give a sense of the temporal unfolding of plot in performance. Finally, I should grant that while I have worked assiduously to avoid the kind of decontextualized analysis Koopmans critiques, I have nonetheless conceived this book as a study in genre and have therefore sought to identify broad continuities within the farce repertory. In an attempt to mitigate the essentializing tendencies of literary taxonomies, I supply geographical and chronological signposting wherever I can. I am assisted in this task by the brilliant historical lexicographer Yan Greub, whose diatopic study Les mots re´gionaux dans les farces franc¸aises has enabled scholars to attribute specific plays to specific regions with far greater certainty than in the past. I also rely on the work of theater historians who have studied the manuscript and print sources for farce, gleaning from them precious clues regarding provenance and dating. Most crucial for my purposes is Koopmans’s new edition of the Recueil de Florence, which has enabled numerous historical discoveries and conjectures. Perhaps most enticing among these is Koopmans’s speculation that the plays contained in the Recueil may have been assembled by Pierre Gringore and the theater troupe of which he was a member, that the troupe may have sold their repertory to a publisher early on in the reign of Francis I, and that the reason for the sale may have been the king’s vigorous persecution of satirical actors and political dissidents (22–23). The volatile, contested nature of farce performance, which is the subject of Chapter 1, may thus be legible in the history of the books that have preserved farce scripts for posterity.

chapter 1

The Wisdom of Farts Ethics and Politics, Farce and Festive Comedy

When the great lord passes, the wise peasant bows deeply and silently farts. —Ethiopian proverb It is always good to remind ourselves that we mustn’t take people for fools. —Michel de Certeau

Farts and other noxious emissions are ubiquitous in early French farce, as Jody Enders’s gutsy and gusty volume of translations, “The Farce of the Fart” and Other Ribaldries, attests. They are, however, rarely as silly or trivial as we might imagine. One fart in particular—a purely verbal but potentially explosive reference to breaking wind in Le gentilhomme et Naudet (Tissier, Recueil 1:243–303), an early sixteenth-century Norman farce from the Recueil du British Museum—is worth sniffing out here.1 Although it seems at first to be little more than a country bumpkin’s uncouth turn of phrase, it reveals a great deal more than the coarseness of the laboring classes. It points as well to the constructed, theatrical nature of social identities, to festive comedy’s ability to meld normative codes with pungent critique, and to farce as an arena for both the performance of ideology and ideology’s unmasking as performance. The plot runs as follows. A peasant couple, Naudet and Lison, receive a visit from a philandering gentleman, who sends the husband out on a series of assignments so that he may seduce the complicit (and well-remunerated)


Chapter 1

wife in his absence. Although Naudet is cast as a simpleton—a badin in French or a naudet in the Norman patois (Fournier 431n2)—he is not fooled by his fool’s errands and repeatedly forestalls his wife’s tryst by returning to the house with importunate and impertinent questions. He does not dare openly accuse the gentleman, however, as Lison has warned him that he will be thrown in prison if he is overheard making threats. When the gentleman orders Naudet to deliver a message to his wife without disclosing his whereabouts, the peasant has no choice but to obey. Yet he does so only after sneaking back into the house, glimpsing the lovers making the beast with two backs, and donning the gentleman’s abandoned cloak, supposedly to safeguard it from thieves. The message Naudet subsequently delivers is characterized by ideologically weighted doublings and substitutions, and leads to a series of recognitions and misrecognitions. Although the gentleman’s wife initially mistakes the peasant for her husband, she soon realizes her error and demands to know why he is wearing his master’s cloak, which he has carelessly (or, more likely, deliberately) dragged through the mud. Mindful of the gentleman’s injunction not to speak (and the threat of prison that goes with it), Naudet reveals his master’s misdeeds indirectly and for the most part wordlessly. Miming what he witnessed earlier in his home, he sheds his clothes and carries the lady off to her bed. Once there, he copulates with her so expertly that she longs for him to replace her husband permanently: “Pleust a` Dieu que tu fusses Monsieur / Et que Monsieur devint Naudet!” (“Would to God you were Monsieur and Monsieur became Naudet!”; 319–20). Imploring him not to compromise her by speaking indiscreetly, she promises him a new wardrobe if he will return to her bed each time her husband visits his. Later, when the lord returns to the manor dressed only in an undergarment, his wife hypocritically denounces him for having “abaisse´ gentillesse” (“abased gentility”; 347) with his womanizing. By contrast, Naudet humbly submits to noble prerogatives, inviting the lord to choose the woman he likes best. The gesture is anything but ingratiating, however, and turns especially sour when Naudet declares he has no preference himself: each woman has a plump, soft, hairy “chose” (“thing”; 362) that “ne bouge de la maison” (“never leaves the house”; 363); and although he has played with both, he would not know the difference if they were mixed together “pelle mesle” (371). The lady tries to discredit Naudet as a “babillet” (“chatterbox”; 366) and a “fol” (“madman”; 384); but her husband, realizing he has been cuckolded by his own peasant, calls for silence and declares that in future he will remain “a` la maison”

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(391) to prevent his wife from receiving visits. Disregarding the gentleman’s call, Naudet fills the silence with a long-winded closing monologue that reinstates norms even as it demonstrates their performative instability: Ma foy, Monsieur, sans trahison, Je ne vous donnerois ung pet Pour estre Monsieur ou Naudet. Mais il n’est pas bon d’estre ensemble Naudet et Monsieur, ce me semble. Ce vous seroit grand deshonneur Qu’on fist ung Naudet de Monsieur; Quand de Naudet tiendre´s le lieu, Naudet seroit Monsieur, par Dieu. Gardez donc vostre seigneurie, Et Naudet sa naudeterie. Se tenez Lison, ma fumelle, Naudet tiendra ma Damoyselle. Ne venez plus naudetiser, Je n’iray plus seigneuriser. Chascun a` ce qu’il a se tienne! Et, affin qu’il vous en souvienne, Croyez moy qu’il fault, mon amy, A trompeur trompeur et demy. Pourtant que plus ne vous advienne! (394–413) By my faith, Monsieur, I’m not betraying you when I say I wouldn’t give you a fart to be either Monsieur or Naudet. But it seems to me it isn’t good to be Naudet and Monsieur at the same time. It would be a great dishonor to you if someone were to make a Naudet/fool of Monsieur; if you were to take Naudet’s place, Naudet would be Monsieur, by God. So, stick to your seigneury, and Naudet will stick to his foolery. If you take my wife Lison, Naudet will take Milady. Don’t come around making a fool of yourself [naudetiser], and I won’t lord it over you [seigneuriser] any longer. Let each man keep to what is his! And to help you remember this, believe me when I say, my friend, that for every deceiver, there is a deceiver and a half. So, don’t let this happen to you again!


Chapter 1

Although critics have long perceived Naudet as a precursor to Beaumarchais’s Figaro (Toldo 115–18; Payen), they have also insisted that there is not a whiff of rebellion in this play, let alone the revolutionary ferment found in Figaro’s own, rather more famous monologue. For Jean-Charles Payen, Le gentilhomme et Naudet is the story of an “aborted revolt” (19), with the “doltish” peasant pressed into service as the “architect” of “restoration” and the mouthpiece for a “conservative,” “conformist” message that naturalizes aristocratic domination (15). It makes little sense that Naudet would willingly choose to return to a squalid hovel, a faithless wife, and a life of subservience to the aristocracy. But as Payen would have it, Naudet is simply too obliging and dimwitted to seek a better life, and earnestly believes that it would not be worth a fart to trade places with his lord. His boorish reference to breaking wind thus reveals the rigidity of social divisions: no matter what he wears or whom he beds, Naudet will never play the part of a gentleman convincingly. Upon closer examination, however, we soon discover indications that Naudet is in greater control of language and performance than he at first appears, and is as much trickster and farceur as lackey and dolt. Early on in the play, he declares in an aside to the audience that he is enraged at his master’s constant betrayals and will get back at him if he is able. In fact, he achieves a remarkably complete form of revenge precisely by playing the roles of guileless simpleton and obedient servant. While dutifully safeguarding Monsieur’s cloak from thieves, he literally drags his reputation through the mud and supplants him in his own bed. While executing the commands of master and mistress in turn, he commandeers the landed estate that constitutes their “seigneurie,” evokes the threat of a “naudetized” lineage in which social divisions would be permanently blurred, and betrays each spouse to the other. Finally, while prattling like a halfwit as his betters listen in abashed silence, he insinuates that a peasant can become, in language if not reality, his lord’s peer (“amy”), master (“trompeur et demy”), antagonist (“que plus ne vous advienne”), and even conscience (“ce vous seroit grand deshonneur”). Viewed in this light, the cloak exemplifies the fungible nature of identity and the power of peasants to thwart and usurp their masters; the fart devalues and defiles nobility even as it signifies the commoner’s renunciation of “trahison”; and both signifiers gesture toward the ambiguities and contradictions that lurk within supposedly innocent, conformist speech. Of course, ambiguities lurk within silence, too, and we may well puzzle over the failure of another subordinate, the gentleman’s wife, to respond to the claims Naudet and her husband stake against her body and honor. Does

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her muteness at the end of the play signify submission to the model of male authority that her husband and Naudet both cite—authority that depends upon the objectification, possession, and domestication of women? Or, taking a page from Naudet’s book, does she instead seek to punish her faithless husband by means of simulated acquiescence, sheltering her own limited (and now greatly compromised) power in taciturnity? Certainly, her desire to satisfy her lust with Naudet contradicts his metonymic construction of women as pliable, interchangeable “choses” that have no innate nature or meaning other than that imposed upon them by men. On the contrary, both Lison’s and the lady’s “things” express and act out assertive desires (sexual, economic, and political) that cannot be fully mastered and threaten both private and public, elite and humble forms of male rule. The lady’s promise to buy Naudet new clothes in exchange for sex suggests that a woman who supposedly lacks identity can strategically shape the identity of others; and the gentleman’s vow to safeguard his honor by never leaving “la maison” implies that his wife has shaped his identity in an utterly demeaning way: he will be domesticated and feminized by the disruptive autonomy of his wife’s vagina. Taking as a point of departure the latent and apparently unbounded expressivity of le bas corporel (whether male or female, anal or genital), this chapter aims to historicize and theorize farce and related forms of festive comedy, especially the fools’ play (sottie) and morality play (moralite´). I focus in particular on ethics and politics—modes of social engagement and thought that I treat as continuous with one another. I turn first to scholarly debates regarding “rituals of rebellion” on the festive stage and argue that structural functionalist accounts of these rituals, which have largely been discarded by anthropologists but continue to haunt theater criticism and history, deprive them of their constitutive ambiguity and disruptive-creative potential. I use Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life and James C. Scott’s Domination and the Arts of Resistance to cast doubt on the assumption that festive misrule is a merely temporary and symbolic inversion of social hierarchy. De Certeau’s and Scott’s suspicion of the efficiency of political jurisdictions and ideological fictions, and Scott’s fascination with “hidden transcripts” (political content that cannot be openly avowed but nonetheless gets insinuated in disguised forms into the “public transcripts” of class relations), guide me in developing a model of “plural reading” that seeks to transcend aggregative, binary models of domination and resistance and finds evidence of political and ethical tension and innovation in festive drama, including seemingly conformist plays.


Chapter 1

As will soon become apparent, I prefer to read “from below” more than “from above”; and like “standpoint” theorists (Harding), I am interested less in the negotiations that enable acts of repression than in inconspicuous forms of subaltern resistance. In taking this approach, I do not mean to suggest that the institutional and symbolic organization of hegemony is somehow stable and uncomplicated; and where it is appropriate, I point to the hidden transcripts of elite groups. My primary focus, however, is on discerning the ways in which subordinate populations respond to domination through theatrical play and performative resignification. As Naudet and Milady show us, the performance of obedience sometimes works to undermine the ideological projects that impose subordination on peasants, women, and other subalterns. Those farce characters who willingly submit to domination are often able to transform obedience into a disruptive form of agency, one that obliges regulatory regimes to adjust to inarticulate, veiled, or spectral forces. Those forces find eloquent (if inarticulate) expression in flatus: sounds, smells, and gestures that cannot always be attributed to a definite origin, intention, or meaning and that therefore blur the boundary between compliance and opposition.

Carnival, Festive Misrule, and Plural Reading Theater historians have often linked farce to Carnival, and with good reason: farces were regularly staged during the Carnival season (which in certain regions stretched from Christmas to Lent) and shared many of its distinctive traits: masking and disguise, parody and satire, insubordination and inversion. Although farces were performed at other times of year as well, and in exclusionary, elite settings that seem to have had little to do with festive or popular culture, it is useful to consider how perceptions of the genre as carnivalesque have impacted critical assessments of its ethical and political potential. Contemporary scholarship on Carnival almost inevitably begins with Mikhail Bakhtin’s massively influential study Rabelais and His World, though typically with the goal of refuting two of its core theses: first, that Carnival and related feasts constituted “the second life of the people, who for a time entered the utopian realm of community, freedom, equality, and abundance”; and second, that these celebrations stood in stark contrast to “the official feasts of the Middle Ages,” which “created no second life” but instead “sanctioned the existing pattern of things and reinforced it” (9). These theses

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held great appeal when they were first promulgated in the 1970s and enabled a broad new valorization of folkloric, “low” culture. Critiques of Bakhtin’s methods and assumptions soon emerged, however. The Russian scholar was sharply reproved for his nostalgic idealism and naı¨ve populism, and for his failure to acknowledge that Carnival was often sponsored by, and therefore beholden to, the very officials and institutions it mocked and upended. Indeed, cultural borrowing occurred more or less constantly, both up and down the social scale; and Carnival depended upon the commingling of elite and subordinate groups, as well as a high degree of social differentiation along vertical and horizontal axes (Berrong; Burke 7–15; Chartier, “Culture”). Although Carnival was clearly capable of a wide variety of ideological effects, Bakhtin does not adequately address its potentially normative and even coercive dimensions. As Peter Stallybrass and Allon White rightly point out, the “[carnivalesque] space of the market and the fair” was hardly the “placebeyond-place” or “pure outside” that Bakhtin celebrates (28). It was, on the contrary, a “crossroads, situated at the intersection of economic and cultural forces, goods and travellers, commodities and commerce” (28–30). If it “could be the site of opposition to official ideologies, it was also the means by which emergent mercantile interests could stimulate new desires” (38). And if it allowed for the contestation of hegemonic power, it also served as a site for “displaced abjection”: “the process whereby ‘low’ social groups turn their figurative and actual power, not against those in authority, but against those who are even ‘lower,’ ” notably women, Jews, and outsiders (53). In short, if we fail to consider how his “generous but willed idealism” (10) may have caused Bakhtin to falsify historical realities, his account of Carnival will be at best misleading and at worst specious. While we must take these critiques seriously, I would hasten to note that Bakhtin’s most strident critics have often worked to totalize Carnival in the opposite direction—and, in the process, have themselves falsified festive rituals and genres. Under the witting or unwitting influence of structural functionalism, numerous scholars have argued that Carnival upheaval was little more than an ideological strategy for dissipating popular aggression, much as safety valves were used in barrel fermentation to release pressure and prevent explosions. Thus, for Terry Eagleton, Carnival is “a licensed affair in every sense, a permissible rupture of hegemony, a contained popular blow-off” (148); for Umberto Eco, it can flout the law only by requiring that “the law . . . be so pervasively and profoundly introjected as to be overwhelmingly present at the moment of its violation” (6); and for Roger Sales, its “fizzy,


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dizzy . . . spirit” was used to release “emotions and grievances” and make the people “easier to police in the long term” (169). Given how influential these critiques of Bakhtin have been over the past thirty years, it is not surprising that theater critics and historians have only rarely directed sustained attention to ethical and political content in farce. Indeed, many have asked whether there could possibly be significant or innovative forms of social thought in plays that seek to beguile audiences, co-opt their agency, and direct their rage at more vulnerable populations. Those who have dealt seriously with the subject have rarely ventured beyond the claim that farce’s satirical jokes and hierarchical inversions were countervailed by fictional structures and cultural processes that worked to ease social tensions and maintain political order by means of a purifying abreaction. Thus, Charles Mazouer holds that the genre’s seditious content is only superficially and momentarily disruptive: if farces give expression to fantasies of “popular revenge” (353), hegemonic rupture is confined to the “makebelieve world of theatrical fiction” and is “reclaimed by order” through the effects of a “comic catharsis” (Moyen Aˆge 358). Ultimately, then, the “function of carnivalesque farce” (and here Mazouer cites Naudet’s monologue) is “to pop the cork on the barrel” (Renaissance 144), leaving spectators with an implicit or explicit defense of social norms. E. Bruce Hayes likewise holds that farce’s formulaic plots betray its underlying conservatism: since characters guilty of immoderation are alone subject to comic reversals, the genre seeks to inculcate an ethos of “[le] juste milieu” (the happy medium) and “chacun a` sa place” (each man in his place) (25, citing Aubailly, The´aˆtre 186). Thus, if Naudet is allowed to humiliate and cuckold his master, his actions ultimately work to “restor[e] the harmony of the status quo” (38), sending each man back to his wife, home, and proper role. Citing Robert Darnton, Hayes concludes that farce’s humor, like that of early modern folk tales, never goes beyond “nose thumbing and table turning,” and that characters like Naudet do not “dream of revolution,” no matter how “unhappy” their lot (38, citing Darnton 58). And yet one wonders how anyone could know for sure what folk and farce heroes did and did not dream of, or what their failure to attempt social revolt would have signified to audience members, who had their own inscrutable dreams and aspirations. One wonders as well what gets lost when critics impose Aristotelian (or, more properly, neoclassical) notions of catharsis and the “middle state” on farce, at the expense of the ludic, interactive, and unpredictable liveness of the festive stage.2 Could the “purpose” of farcical ridicule really be as rational, pragmatic, and singular as Mazouer and Hayes

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have made it out to be? More to the point, could such a purpose have been achieved through mise en sce`ne, given what we know about the hugely diverse, willful, and fractious nature of popular audiences? To be sure, the surviving scripts suggest a genre fundamentally at odds with reason, consensus, and order—a genre obsessed with the folly and fraudulence of human agents, the uncertainty of intentions and outcomes, the instability of signs and meanings, and the endlessly oppositional nature of social relations. Rather than perceiving farce as a tool for preaching the happy medium and punishing immoderation, then, should we not think of it as an artifact of a popular culture that places a range of norms, values, and ideologies in tension without achieving, or even necessarily seeking, synthesis, conformity, or consensus (Ashley)? We can certainly discern in Naudet and characters like him a deep familiarity with the sorts of tactics that would have enabled performers and spectators to participate productively in the social struggles endemic to urban existence in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century France. These tactics overlap extensively with the ones de Certeau identifies in contemporary mass culture: “speaking [a] received language [as] a song of resistance,” “playing and foiling the other’s game,” “[finding] pleasure in getting around the rules of a constraining space,” and “[getting] along in a network of already established forces and representations” (18). If modern consumers living under the “grid of ‘discipline’ ” are able to “manipulate the mechanisms of discipline and conform to them only in order to evade them” (xiv), surely late medieval and early modern subjects would have had even greater room for maneuver, given that opposition was far easier to conceal and far more difficult to control. Roger Chartier certainly seems to think so: “We need . . . to replace simplistic and static representations of social domination or cultural diffusion with a way of accounting for them that recognizes the reproduction of gaps within the mechanisms of imitation, the competition at the heart of similarities, and the development of new distinctions arising from the very process of diffusion” (Cultural 11). Imposed models of belief “did not act as imperative conditioning,” Chartier holds; instead, they engaged an “interplay between the institution and the community, between a standard model and everyday experience” (“Culture” 233). And yet farces do not simply draw our attention to the shadowiness and inevitability of social conflict; they also demonstrate how incessant contestation and performative resignification can serve as tools for identifying, negotiating, and pursuing the ethical, political, and spiritual well-being of urban communities. Thus, as we shall see in Chapter 2, even the most cynical


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farces—plays like Maistre Pierre Pathelin that depict social commerce as an endless cycle of deceit and betrayal—develop implicit critiques of justice, faith, and power by invoking universal, sacred, and utopian truths only to place them under erasure. Much as in Adorno’s aesthetic theory, utopia plays a negative, latent role in farce: rather than a “blueprint for the good or just society,” it offers a means for recognizing the “damaged” nature of real social conditions, for allowing “intimations of a possible, undamaged life” (Jarvis 9), and for fostering a process of critique that aspires toward utopia but can never reach it and can therefore never be transcended or completed.3 Thus, any hint of virtue or fairness in farce is almost immediately undermined by a dark, cruel, Hobbesian laughter—laughter that is directed at “some deformed thing in another” (Hobbes 43) and that revels in the seemingly endless antagonism, selfishness, and cruelty of which human beings are capable. That laughter, however, does not simply enable spectators to applaud themselves while degrading others, as Hobbes would have it; nor does it resolve into utilitarian forms of moral instruction, as Cicero and Horace hold (Hardison and Golden 72–74). On the contrary, it gets recuperated as a resource for ethical, political, and spiritual reflection and renewal, much as it does in the elite culture of the same period. Indeed, while the fact is not often acknowledged, festive comedy shares considerable common ground with William of Ockham’s nominalist philosophy, in which the separation of logic from theology heralds a new valorization of nonrational, intuitive forms of understanding (Dull 65–68); with Thomas a` Kempis and Nicholas of Cusa’s devotional theologies, in which the “humble, analphabetic fool” signals the folly of worldly wisdom and the wise foolishness of the cross (Kaiser 9); and with Erasmus’s “philosophy of jest and earnest,” which, for Michael Bristol, “is not predicated on absolute standards of perfection or even perfectability” (132) but instead aims to revitalize “impulses of love and belief by dissolving the authoritative claims of temporal institutions” (133). Read in the light of these other, supposedly more sophisticated cultural and intellectual movements, the distinctive features of farce—its eroding of rational systems of social order, its flouting of traditional norms, its wallowing in foolishness and depravity—come to seem less like evidence of a narrowly satirical, socially conservative genre that teaches pragmatic morality and ideological compliance. Instead, we should take these features as evidence of an agonistic and pluralistic genre that uses the precarious, contested terrain of the festive stage to enact encounters between various identities and subcultures, discourses and practices, beliefs and value systems.

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This claim finds substantial corroboration in the work of social and cultural historians, many of whom have marshaled documentary evidence to correct the totalizing views of Carnival generated first by Bakhtin and then by his detractors. Thus, Edward Muir asserts that “Carnival did not function in any single way, either reinforcing or subverting authority. Carnival revolved around an ongoing improvised social drama, played out in a highly creative and elastic fashion that evoked multiple meanings, which depended on changing local contexts and conditions” (“Carnival” 348; see also Ritual 93–124). Bakhtin is therefore misguided when he idealizes Carnival as a spontaneous expression of utopian longing and populist rebellion; but so, too, are scholars who interpret it as a set of rituals used to indulge but ultimately restrict and co-opt subordinate groups. As Samuel Kinser notes, Rabelais himself resisted such a conception of Carnival, registering “the varied and sometimes hostile, sometimes masked encounter of heterogeneous communities and heterogeneous ideologies, not their amalgamation in a universally valid synthesis, low or high, popular or elite” (255). In other words, it appears that Rabelais grasped what Bakhtin and many of his detractors missed, namely that there are “only mixed Carnivals, jointly invented by elite and popular groups” (257). The structural functionalist analysis is therefore as reductive as Bakhtin’s utopian idealism: in practice, carnivalesque rituals and genres could serve both to reinforce ideology and to present alternatives to it, giving indirect expression to fantasies of resistance while holding the desire for open rebellion in abeyance. That said, the historical record shows that the disruptive energies of Carnival were not always kept in check. On the contrary, they regularly spilled over into everyday life and either thwarted or entirely obstructed institutional and class hegemonies. As Sara Beam argues in a recent history of farce, carnivalesque satire “directly challenged the authority that religious and royal officials enjoyed” (7); and “the sting of the farce players’ jokes often lingered” beyond the temporal limits of the season: “Fighting, law suits, and complaints of slander attest to fears that jokes made at festival time impacted the ability of the clergy and secular officials to rule with impunity” (3). And yet popular culture did not simply enable subordinate groups to disparage their social superiors and limit their power. As a recent study by Samuel Cohn suggests, it also presented opportunities for concerted, politically transformative acts of rebellion. The evidence Cohn presents is massive and wideranging. Drawing on French, Netherlandish, and Italian chronicles and letters of remission, and then cross-referencing these against archival registers,


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he identifies some 1,112 social revolts between 1200 and 1425, with many others doubtless lost to history or still buried in the archives. These materials reveal not only that political resistance was pervasive in the later Middle Ages, but also that it was highly effective—far more so than one might suppose based on the well-known fourteenth-century Ciompi, Jacquerie, and Wat Tyler rebellions, all of which were violently quashed. Generalizing on the basis of these three events, historians have largely endorsed Jacques Le Goff ’s claim that “the habitual form of peasant struggle” was individual “passive resistance”: “the silent guerrilla warfare of looting on the lord’s lands, poaching in his forests, burning crops, refusing to pay dues,” and so on (Civilisation 373; qtd. in Cohn 25). When scrutinized carefully, however, the archives reveal a far more complex picture, one in which peasants, laborers, and artisans frequently rose up against economic and political oppression, and in the process won significant concessions from the institutions and groups that ruled over them. It seems reasonable to conclude, then, that the symbolic modes of inversion and opposition associated with festive misrule were considerably more potent and disruptive than they at first appear, and that revelers were able both to dream of and pursue social change, even when they seemed to capitulate to the status quo. As Dylan Reid has shown in his study of a spectacular Shrovetide pageant staged in 1541 by Rouen’s Abbaye des Conards (“Triumph”), Carnival’s most prized and contested rituals were often its most equivocal. A contemporary description of the pageant, published under the title Les triomphes de l’Abbaye des Conards, reveals that parlementary and civic officials sought to regulate festivities and censor performances well in advance of the occasion itself. Strikingly, though, neither group expressed much concern about satirical attacks on the clergy, aristocracy, and judiciary. It seems the Conards—artisans, merchants, and petty officials who were responsible for much of the city’s prosperity but enjoyed only limited influence in local politics—had secured the right to use derisive spectacles to express their resentment of ruling elites, often speaking on behalf of the disenfranchised and the poor. The source of concern for the censors was less explicit forms of political mockery than music and noise, disguises and masks—nonsatirical and largely nonverbal forms of festivity that the Conards defended vigorously and that seem to have served a variety of official and unofficial, overt and covert functions. Noisemakers and fife-and-drum bands served to draw audiences but could also incite the crowd and intimidate officials (Reid, “Triumph” 153–55). Rich costumes and flamboyant masks signaled pride in local

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craftsmanship but also violated sumptuary privileges, concealed the identities of revelers, and shielded them from prosecution (155–59). And finally, the sophisticated, almost bookish spectacle of the Triomphes simultaneously performed acts of cultural appropriation and abasement, in that the Conards claimed the rhetoric of a humanist elite as their own even as they purveyed it, like pearls before swine, to the unwashed masses in the streets (159–68). Add to this the fact that the throng that assembled for Carnival in Rouen was massively heterogeneous, and it soon becomes clear how futile it would be to assign a determinate set of intentions and outcomes to the abbey’s activities—or to the Carnival feast generally. If some Conards used Mardi Gras to express or act out opposition to abusive authority, Reid suggests that others were more likely to have viewed it as an opportunity to perform cultural competency, to demonstrate their virility to marriageable women, or to prove the superiority of Rouen and its citizenry to outsiders (“Triumph” 168–73). None of these goals or dreams precludes the others, and each presumes an internally divided, socially stratified audience as well as an irreducibly complex sphere of reception. Given the many divergent intentions and outcomes that merged in a Carnival like this one, it makes little sense to interpret the feast either as a ruse of power on the part of elites or as an ideological provocation on the part of subalterns. On the contrary, argues Reid, the study of Carnival “requires a less restrictive, more general approach,” one that conceives of the crowd as many publics in one and that can encompass “the complex interaction between the intentions of the creators, the expectations of the audience, and the circumstances of the performance” (“Triumph” 150). In short, we must acknowledge, first, that late medieval and early modern societies (like contemporary ones) were characterized not only by their capacity to harmonize human differences but also by permanent tensions that rendered conflict inevitable; and, second, that if Carnival mediated social differences by cultivating a shared vocabulary of seasonal cheer, it also derived creative, transformative, and potentially disruptive energy from structural inequality. The permanent nature of that inequality means that festive rituals, genres, and performances were also inescapably ambiguous. As James Scott argues, the problem with the structural functionalist account of Carnival is not simply historical (the misrepresentation of the feast’s “actual social history”) but also hermeneutical: it confuses “the intentions of elites with the results they are able to achieve” and thereby predicates “an untenable essentialism,” the claim that mass celebrations in power-laden and conflict-prone


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settings could somehow be reduced to “a given, genetically programmed, function” (Domination 178). Once we reject a rigidly intentionalist reading of Carnival, we can start to perceive it, along with Scott, as “the ritual site of various forms of social conflict and symbolic manipulation, none of which can be said, prima facie, to prevail” (178). After all, why would “ritual modeling of revolt . . . necessarily diminish the likelihood of actual revolt? Why couldn’t it just as easily serve as a dress rehearsal or a provocation for actual defiance?” (178). While it may in certain instances have served to canalize or neutralize aggression through licensed, temporary, and symbolic forms of defiance, it was also an equivocal mode of collective expression that was capable of mediating an immense variety of social messages and was inevitably received by different individuals and groups in different ways. Or as Max Harris puts it, “Religious festivals are rarely, as official records may misleadingly suggest, monological displays of power. Rather, they are enacted dialogues, implicit negotiations between dominant and subordinate groups, between the hierarchical powers of the church (or state) and the unwritten but no less articulate power of the street” (Carnival 77–78). Given the constitutive ambiguities and contingencies of Carnival, a socioaesthetic analysis of farce must avoid emphasizing coherence, consensus, and order at the expense of divergence, antagonism, and disruption. What the genre calls for instead is a model of plural reading that construes the festive stage as a contested and unmasterable space of mediation and appropriation, one that allows for the performance of ideology but also for various tactics of consumption that sought to mask resistance and contestation with compliance and acquiescence. Scott calls these tactics “infrapolitics,” by which he means an “unobtrusive realm of political struggle” in which invisibility is “a tactical choice born of a prudent awareness of the balance of power” (Domination 183). For de Certeau, such tactics are modes of “reemployment”: oblique, deviant, or ironic uses of an established repertory of cultural signs and practices that modifies the “functioning” of that repertory and interferes with its attempts to organize attitudes and impose behaviors (17–18; see also Sponsler, “Transit”). Although efforts were certainly made to seize control of the festive stage, including through patronage, censorship, and propaganda, those efforts were likely thwarted in many cases, whether in whole or in part. Indeed, given the liveness, ephemerality, and multimediality of carnivalesque performances, we are right to ask, as Jelle Koopmans does of both theater and print culture, “Was anyone capable of controlling these phenomena and of using them to some end?” (“How” 291).

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In an attempt to answer this question and test out a practice of plural reading, I propose to turn now to primary sources—archival documents and playscripts that suggest the various ethical and political uses to which farce could be put in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. First, I examine the transcript of a 1447 trial in which several actors from Dijon were accused of producing a seditious farce but in which they also skillfully defended themselves using strategies worthy of the wiliest farceur. Shifting gears, I then propose a reading of a celebrated propaganda play, Pierre Gringore’s Le jeu du Prince des Sotz et de Mere Sotte, which is clearly calculated to ease popular resentments of Louis XII’s Italian Wars but also seeks to broker the terms under which the Third Estate will comply with the king’s appeals for solidarity. Finally, I consider evidence related to theatrical performers and performances under the highly repressive regime of Francis I, a king known for his love of farce but also for his rank intolerance of political satire. In each of these instances, we shall see that festive exuberance cannot be separated from polemical struggles, and that ethical and political tensions often lurk within seemingly anodyne discourses, tropes, and plots.

Infrapolitics and the Festive Stage: Dijon 1447 In recent years, French theater historians have returned to long-abandoned archives with the goal of discerning more clearly the social, legal, and political status of fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century performers. This research has revealed that the typical actor was neither an illiterate proletarian nor a member of the ruling elite but rather belonged to the couche moyenne, which lay between the disadvantaged and propertied classes and maintained complex ties with each (Beam 20–26; D. Reid, “Carnival” 1038–39). According to Marie Bouhaı¨k-Girone`s (“Comment”), actors did not constitute a homogeneous social category but were associated with a variety of “middling” vocations. Merchants, artisans, students, and priests were frequently drawn to the stage, as were law clerks and judicial apprentices in unusually large numbers. The latter frequently belonged to lay confraternities known as Basoches, which were affiliated with criminal and appellate courts in Paris and major provincial cities. The Basochiens were former university students who had acquired enough knowledge of forensic rhetoric and procedure to work within the judicial system but were not always able to pursue careers as procureurs (“solicitors”) or avocats (“barristers”). They were well educated but


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poorly remunerated, and occupied a subaltern position within the legal bureaucracy. Banding together to protect their mutual interests, they were known for performing comic plays and for using genres like farce, moralite´, and sottie to solidify bonds of fraternal solidarity, to mock and criticize their adversaries and superiors, and to satirize social injustices and political abuses.4 It was widely understood that these performances, which were generally open to the public, had the potential to incite audiences and disturb the peace. Parlementary and municipal officials saw it as their duty to monitor actors closely and to prosecute those who breached agreements or laws, or who in any way offended public morals. Indeed, as Bouhaı¨k-Girone`s has discovered, the earliest surviving document related to the Basochiens is a writ dated May 8, 1420, that prohibited the law clerks of Poitiers from assembling crowds, committing acts of libel, or performing “farces et comedies” (Clercs 139). It is easy to understand why such a writ would have been issued at that particular moment. It was the height of the Armagnac-Burgundian Civil War and a mere two years after the dauphin, the future Charles VII, had been forced to flee Paris, establish a court at Bourges, and move the Parlement to Poitiers. Judicial officials were no doubt rightly concerned that comic performances might exacerbate an already volatile political situation. The fact is, however, that such concerns were never fully assuaged, even during periods of relative tranquillity. On the contrary, throughout this period, public performances, whether sacred or profane, were regularly subject to censorship; and actors, whether clerical or lay, risked indictment, imprisonment, and even torture if they were found to have defied or skirted the authority of the censors (Bouhaı¨k-Girone`s, Clercs 136–39). Given this robust and coercive oversight, it is reasonable to conclude that theatrical performances were perceived in the period as political acts, no matter the circumstances or the subject matter; that actors would have been highly motivated to conceal dissident views within the seemingly frivolous content typical of farce; and that (as Scott and Harris would have it) every public performance entailed explicit and implicit, political and infrapolitical negotiations between dominant and subordinate groups. If we wish to get a glimpse of what these negotiations looked like, the best resources are not necessarily published playscripts, which only partially account for the realities of performance and were typically bowdlerized before reaching print (Aubailly, Monologue 413–42; Koopmans, “Texte”). Rather, we must turn to writs of censorship, performance bans, and procedural records that detail the investigation and prosecution of playwrights and actors. Of

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course, these documents, too, have often been purged of inflammatory content. Recalling Scott, we might think of them as public transcripts in which the accused have carefully regulated their speech in order to ensure they will be perceived as compliant with authority and innocent of wrongdoing. At the same time, such calculated discourses allow us to conjecture that more candid ones must have taken place “ ‘offstage,’ beyond direct observation by power holders” and “under different constraints of power” (Scott, Domination 4–5). While this hidden transcript is in many ways invisible to history, we can presume its existence by the very fact that hegemonic groups actively sought to ferret out dissident material in theatrical performances. The rigors of censorship in the period imply that institutional elites knew of the existence of hidden transcripts, were aware that they could be made obliquely legible onstage to informed spectators, and were therefore highly motivated to search for and suppress them. Moreover, the strategies actors adopted in defending themselves against prosecution suggest the ways in which they may have sought to conceal dissident content within seemingly neutral theatrical gestures. One archival document in particular seems to call out for such an infrapolitical analysis: a record of legal proceedings in which a prosecutor from Dijon, Jehan Rabustel, investigated a complaint against a group of actors (including a weaver, several cobblers, and a law clerk) for staging an incendiary farce.5 The farce was performed in the Champ de Morimont on October 29, 1447, the opening day of Dijon’s All Saints Day fair, as an interlude within a Carmelite production of a Myste`re de saint E´loi. (Both plays are now lost and were perhaps subject to prior restraint during the proceedings.) A group of unidentified “notables personnes” who were in attendance alleged that the farce contained “foles et oultrageuses paroles” (“foolish and outrageous speeches”), specifically ones that mocked and criticized King Charles VII of France, his son (the future Louis XI), and their cohort (131). Although the interlude was meant to “faire resveiller ou rire les gens” (“wake people up or make them laugh”; 131), a common practice in mystery productions as we shall see in Chapter 3, Rabustel determined that it also contained illicit and seditious content. The actors testified, however, that they were unaware of the implications of their words; and in his report, the prosecutor expressed a good deal of uncertainty about how culpability could be determined in such a case and to whom it could reasonably be assigned. Unfortunately, Rabustel does not transcribe the farce’s offending passages, perhaps because the Lex Julia prohibited the repetition of seditious


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language in official records (Bouhaı¨k-Girone`s, “Proce`s” 129n35). However, Beam and Bouhaı¨k-Girone`s have skillfully reconstructed its polemical content, which pertained to tensions between France and Burgundy and between common and elite Burgundians in the wake of the 1435 Treaty of Arras. That treaty terminated a feud between Charles VII and Duke Philip the Good, as well as an alliance between Burgundy and England that had greatly disadvantaged Charles by favoring the claim of Henry VI to the French throne. The treaty failed to bring an end to French depredations in Burgundy, however, and the farce’s “foles et oultrageuses paroles” likely pertained to the ongoing suffering of ordinary Burgundians. Rabustel reveals that the farce contained a reference to Montbe´liard, a city to the east of Dijon that was assailed by the dauphin in 1444 during a campaign against the Swiss, and to other military operations that led to collateral damage for Burgundy and popular resentment of the French. When, however, Rabustel interviewed two of the actors, Girard de Vesoul and Guillaume Bocquemont, and assembled a tribunal to interrogate a third, Jehan Savenot, all three men denied giving offense knowingly. On the contrary, they asserted that they took steps to expurgate the text in advance of performance, changing the word “escorcheurs” (“flayers”), a reference to rogue bands of royal infantry who were terrorizing Burgundy with the tacit consent of the French king, to “estradeurs” (“cavalrymen” or “scouts,” but also “plunderers”).6 As Beam notes, this minor edit would have done little to disguise the farce’s political message and may merely have drawn attention to it instead. The “notables” in the audience were therefore justified in feeling anxious about how the farce might impact local and regional affairs: the truce between Burgundy and France was an uneasy one for local elites, who owed loyalty to Charles and Philip alike and could not afford to alienate either one (Beam 14–15). When the tribunal quizzed Savenot about the origins of the script, however, he presented evidence that would seem to have exonerated him and his comrades of deliberate wrongdoing. He testified that he had seen part of the play performed in nearby Beaune, enjoyed it a great deal (especially a scene in which an innkeeper is swindled—a classic trope in farce), and decided to purchase the script. He then held the play in reserve until the Carmelites asked him to supply an interlude for their mystery production. Savenot claimed that the entire company had read the play, monks included, and had deemed it good. He insisted, moreover, as did his fellow actors, that it was performed exactly as written. If it gave offense, Savenot was surely not to blame. After all, the work had already been performed in Beaune without

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complaint; and he, who could read “tres poul” (“very little”), was obliged to trust others’ judgment: “S’il eust congneu de soy ou este´ aviser par aultres que sce eust este´ mal faict de jouer icelle farse il s’en fust incontinent depourte´ et desiste´” (“If he had known himself, or had been informed by others, that it would have been bad to perform this farce, he would have immediately ceased and desisted”; 134). Savenot’s protestations of innocence are not, however, terribly convincing. Are we really to believe that the “notables personnes” readily discerned the play’s inflammatory content but that none of the actors were able to do the same? For that matter, would poor literacy have prevented Savenot from understanding the content of lines he had memorized and delivered on stage, and that pertained to events and circumstances with which he was entirely familiar? If he were canny enough to know that he should suppress an explicit reference to the escorcheurs, would he really have missed other references to the Franco-Burgundian conflict? Is it not more likely that the entire company, including both monastic actors and lay ones, sought to rally public support against the French monarchy and the thugs who were terrorizing Burgundy? The mystery play itself may have contained veiled references to the legitimacy of Burgundian power, since Saint E´loi (Eligius) was adviser to Dagobert I, the Merovingian ruler who united Austrasia and Burgundy under his rule. It seems reasonable to conclude that the Carmelites wished to remind spectators that the dukes of Burgundy had reestablished their claims to sovereignty over Flanders with the marriage of Philip the Bold to Margaret of Dampierre in 1369, and that Burgundy was, as a result, less a French fief than a rival state. The farce’s political claims were obviously more obtrusive: rather than discreetly contesting the French monarchy’s abuses or the collaboration of local officials with French rule, Savenot and his company ruptured the separation of the hidden transcript from the public one, revealing to municipal elites that dissident messages were being disseminated along with seemingly innocuous, cliche´d jokes about the defrauding of an innkeeper. Certainly, the Dijon case reveals the subversive potential of farce and the vigilance with which municipal officials were obliged to monitor the festive stage. It further suggests the extent to which theatrical humor extended beyond the confines of a particular performance to impact local, regional, and state rule. The legal proceedings against the farceurs are carefully recorded and, in Bouhaı¨k-Girone`s’s view, suggest an accusation of le`semajeste´, which was a capital crime (“Proce`s” 128–29). The public transcript can therefore be understood as an attempt to bolster the power of municipal


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elites and to force subalterns into compliance after an intolerable breach of civic order. That compliance may, however, be only partial. Rabustel does not indicate that his investigation led to a trial, and the farceurs’ defense may therefore have been an effective one. Although he insisted something must be done to preserve Dijon’s honor, Rabustel poses a number of questions to the city councilors indicating how difficult it would be to prosecute such a case. Should the mystery players be held responsible for the content of the farce? Should all the farceurs be held responsible for the “paroles . . . injurieuses” (“injurious speeches”; 132) uttered against the king and his cohort, or only those actors who had spoken the words? Once the guilty parties were identified, what kind of punishment should they receive? Would one penalty suffice for all, or should each individual be punished according to his specific offense? A number of more delicate questions could not, perhaps, be entered into the public record. Could Dijon’s elites prohibit references to the FrancoBurgundian conflict without implicitly acknowledging Charles VII’s policy of covert aggression and their own collusion with it—without speaking aloud, in other words, the very thing they wished to prohibit as unspeakable? Would such an acknowledgment have caused further difficulties for municipal officials by provoking the ire of Charles VII, Philip the Good, or both? Could it be that the farceurs took refuge in the fact that the municipal elite could not condemn their offenses too aggressively without calling attention to the awkward political circumstances in which they found themselves? Certainly, they made it difficult for the tribunal to assign guilt in the case, given their claims that the farce was created by an unknown playwright and was performed exactly as written by partially literate, politically naı¨ve, but otherwise loyal members of Dijon’s couche moyenne. How indeed could legal proceedings discern the true motives of actors skilled at concealing themselves within characters and behind masks? After all, guilelessness can itself be a guileful performance—a sly strategy agreed upon in advance because it is known to be effective in supplying plausible deniability. Even though the public transcript of the trial prevents us from glimpsing the actors’ real intentions, it allows us to infer that a delicate balance of power pitted municipal authorities against dissident and subordinate groups and that in a festive setting, actors were able to use the stage and performance to undermine and defy official power, possibly even committing le`se-majeste´ with impunity. We might compare the uses of festive comedy in this setting to the forms of subaltern resistance that James Scott calls “weapons of the weak” and that

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include dissimulation, false compliance, and feigned ignorance. Actors who sought to express opposition to a dominant social order could use conventional, accepted theatrical techniques—masquerade and disguise, metaphor and allusion, parody and satire—to avoid detection. And in cases where they transgressed the limits of what could be safely spoken aloud in the public sphere, they could resort to the pretense of inexperience and unknowingness in an attempt to evade punishment. There are certainly good reasons for generalizing the Dijon case, for it is by no means an isolated one. When a Basochien was accused of slandering the archdeacon of Troyes during Paris’s Epiphany festivities in 1473, the defense he presented was strikingly similar to that of the farceurs in Dijon (Bouhaı¨k-Girone`s, Clercs 113–16). He claimed the insults he uttered were not his own but were part of a role he had learned: as ceremonial king, he was charged with heralding and mocking the arrival of dignitaries at the Palais de Justice for the opening of the annual parlementary session. More than likely, those insults were meant to test, and go beyond, the bounds of festive goading: the archdeacon was a shady character who was well connected with barristers in Parlement and therefore likely to find disfavor with the Basochiens. The accused was ultimately exonerated, however, and the Basoche was merely required to delete the defamatory speech from the king’s role in the future. The Reformation put additional pressure on actors and playwrights, who were prohibited from using religious material in their plays and were brought up on charges when they were thought to have offended Catholicism with words, gestures, or pantomime (Lave´ant, “The´aˆtre”; Lave´ant, The´aˆtre 233–86; Waite). As in Dijon, plausible deniability worked well as a defense for actors accused of attacking the Catholic Church or promoting Reformed theology. When in Brussels in 1559 three different chambers of rhetoric were indicted for staging plays that ridiculed the Catholic clergy and liturgy, all three argued that society members had not written the plays they performed but had merely happened upon them; that the plays had been staged elsewhere without giving offense; and that none of the performers had entirely grasped their polemical content before it was revealed to them by the authorities (Lave´ant, The´aˆtre 268–69).7 Given that the Flemish found themselves under the sharply punitive rule of Philip II, who was well aware that “festive traditions could be manipulated to demonstrate resistance to power” (Ruiz 8), these jokes were fraught with peril. They were also cleverly calculated, however, and even audience members seem to have been prepared with a defense: they had not seen the plays in their entirety, could not remember them well,


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and did not know the actors. It seems the Bruxellois knew how to perform oblivion convincingly, as none of the chambers of rhetoric was formally condemned. Perhaps not coincidentally, Philip’s government issued legislation soon thereafter banning allusions to religion and the clergy in profane texts that circulated orally, including farces (Lave´ant, “The´aˆtre” 62). Surely, though, few actors were as reckless as these, and most would have sought to convey polemical messages in more indirect ways. Is it possible that more conventional, seemingly innocuous farces may have been used to communicate subversive content? This is unquestionably a suspicion censors themselves had: institutional, municipal, and ecclesiastical elites expurgated playscripts and surveilled actors precisely because they understood the capacity of festive drama to encode and conceal political resistance within the public transcript (Aubailly, Monologue 438–42). The stringency of theatrical censorship suggests, moreover, that even a farce that did not deliberately aim to incite dissent, or that seemed designed only to “faire resveiller ou rire les gens,” was not above suspicion—hence the 1420 writ from Poitiers, which suggests a fear that under the right circumstances any festive comedy could spark a disturbance. It therefore seems reasonable to view the permission to perform less as a guarantee that a particular play was free of provocation than as a concession to popular demands on the part of governing authorities. Or as James Scott would have it, Carnival and its rituals are “the outcome of social conflict” and are not created by, or fully subject to, the authority of elites (Domination 178). Indeed, “it would be just as plausible to view carnival as an ambiguous political victory wrested from elites by subordinate groups” (178). Whether or not farceurs deliberately set out to politicize festive occasions, the farces they produced should be thought of as reflections of the stratified, fractious milieus in which they were performed, and as an acknowledgment of popular demands to occupy and harness the power of the stage.

Propaganda Theater: Paris 1512 Although archival evidence suggests that the festive stage was an active site of ethical, political, and religious dissent, it would be a mistake to conclude that farce and other festive genres were somehow the exclusive medium of an unruly counterculture.8 On the contrary, dramatists and patrons often used festive occasions, including Carnival itself, to stage works of “integration propaganda”: plays that aimed to reinforce, or urge acceptance of, prevailing

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norms, regimes, and beliefs.9 Moreover, actors and spectators were themselves stakeholders in their communities, with complex networks of horizontal and vertical alliance that would have inclined them, under certain circumstances, to make appeals for social unity and political solidarity. That said, propaganda theater did not merely serve to bring the opinions and beliefs of the governed into conformity with a dominant ideology, nor did it transform spectators into passive, biddable subjects. As Pierre Gringore’s Le jeu du Prince des Sotz et de Mere Sotte will allow us to see, propagandists enacted dialogues between ruling elites and subordinate groups by creating works of irresolvable ambivalence. Although Gringore has been described as a royalist ideologue, he was in fact closely tied to the Basochiens (Bouhaı¨k-Girone`s, Clercs 199–203) and shared their simultaneous investment in and suspicion of judicial and ministerial bureaucracies. Indeed, Nicole Hochner has rightly proclaimed him a constitutionalist avant la lettre, in that he promoted consultative rule and used rhetoric, ritual, and theater to negotiate the terms of popular compliance with the monarchy’s domestic and foreign agendas. Thus, even as the Jeu exhorts commoners to embrace Louis XII’s militant Gallicanism during a period of acute crisis (Britnell), it also takes advantage of a moment of weakness for the monarchy to make insistent demands on behalf of the Third Estate. Translating political struggles into unresolved comic scenarios, it reveals the actual instability and balance of power at the heart of France’s nascent absolutism. It also suggests that commoners must be compensated for their willingness to laugh away moral and political qualms provoked by foreign policies and military objectives that in no way benefited them. A four-part work consisting of a cry, sottie, moralite´, and farce, the Jeu was staged in Les Halles, Paris, on Mardi Gras 1512 (NS) in an attempt to rally support for Louis XII’s increasingly costly and morally dubious campaign in Italy, the so-called War of the League of Cambrai (1508–16).10 There is no proof that Louis commissioned the play; however, many scholars believe he was involved in the production, most likely through an intercessor like Jean Ganay, chancellor of France (Hindley, “Introduction” 47n64). There must have been at least some influence, given the Jeu’s overtly royalist and antipapalist content. The cry calls all fools, from all social levels and all walks of life, to assemble in the marketplace of Les Halles to celebrate the holiday with their Prince, who plainly doubles for Louis himself. The refrain “Le mardy gras jouera le Prince aux Halles” (“At Mardi Gras, the Prince will play in Les Halles”; 9, 18, 27, 36) reminds the audience that their monarch is party


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to the festivities and shares in their good cheer even if he is not physically present.11 The sottie further develops this message of solidarity, urging spectators to rally behind their Prince as he fights a war against his enemies, which spectators would readily have construed as the Holy League, a coalition of states formed under the leadership of Pope Julius II to thwart France’s expansionist campaign in Italy. Sotte Commune, who represents the common people, is at first vexed by the calls for war but is eventually brought around. The moralite´ then heaps blame for the suffering of all commoners, both Peuple Franc¸ois and Peuple Ytalique, on L’Homme Obstine´, another double for Julius II. It concludes by urging all good Christians to fear divine punishment more than a wicked pope. Finally, the Jeu offers up a farce, Raoullet Ployart, which has typically been read as a frothy, trivial divertissement used to alleviate spectators’ anxieties about the war. It concerns a lustful young woman married to an impotent old vintner, whose failure to satisfy her sexual needs has forced her to take lovers. It is reasonable to wonder what kind of ethical and political subtleties there could possibly be in a sottie and moralite´ used to justify war to commoners against their convictions and interests, or in a farce used to distract them with crass jokes about impotent peasants and insatiable wives. And yet an attentive reading of the Jeu suggests that Gringore used the Carnival stage not only to cultivate acceptance of royalist ideology but also to remind the monarchy of its dependence on the Third Estate and of the need for a popular, dissenting voice to emerge in public forums. Thus, if Sotte Commune silently endures the aristocratic fools’ jingoism until nearly halfway through the sottie, she eventually loses patience and cries out, “Par Dieu, je ne m’en tairay pas!” (“By God, I won’t shut up about it!”; 266). From that point forward, she holds fast to center stage and makes no attempt to mince her words. Deploring the economic uncertainty caused by international conflicts, she demands to know why she should care whether the pope is “ung fol ou ung saige” (“a fool or a wise man”; 273), provided there is peace “en ceste terre” (“in this land”; 275) and safety “en mon village” (“in my village”; 277). The initial response she receives is hardly an auspicious one. The Prince seems not to recognize or hear her at all: he repeatedly asks, “Qui parle?” (“Who’s speaking?”; 270, 279, 288, 297), only to be told (again repeatedly, as if he cannot be bothered to remember the answer), “Sotte Commune.” As Cynthia Jane Brown argues, this literal malentendu gently mocks Louis XII for his hearing impairment and advanced age; yet it also signals “the monarch’s deafness to his subjects’ opinions” (“Political” 105) and suggests

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apprehension about the monarchy’s willingness to recognize or respond to popular concerns. The Prince’s attitude is, moreover, echoed by that of his aristocratic fools, who reprimand Sotte Commune for her grumbling, then agree to ignore her entirely. Their language is tinged with class bigotry and misogyny. One nobleman complains, “La Commune ne sc¸ait tenir / Sa langue” (“The Commons/Common Woman does not know how to hold her tongue”; 332–33). Another urges, “N’y prenez point garde. / A ce qu’elle dit ne regarde” (“Take no notice of her. Pay no regard to what she says”; 333–34). A rapprochement occurs, however, when fools of both genders and all estates learn they have a common enemy in another female character: Mere Sotte, who is dressed up as Mere Saincte Eglise and presents a caricature of Julius II as a shameless hypocrite and schismatic fiend. Addressing the audience, Mere Sotte declares her affinity with Abiron and Dathan, accursed leaders of a revolt against Moses (Num. 16), and then proceeds to rally her troops. She lures the credulous Sotte Fiance and the imprudent Sotte Occasion, both of whom are female, into sedition but ultimately fails to convince the others. She then leads her troops into battle, offering a visual representation of the scornful epithet assigned to Julius by his enemies: il Papa Guerriero. The battle evidently disgusts Sotte Commune, who makes an abrupt reversal, casting blame for her troubles on ecclesiastical greed rather than French belligerence: “Les marchans et gens de mestier / N’ont plus rien: tout va a` l’Eglise” (“Merchants and workers have nothing left: everything goes to the Church”; 552–53). When the Prince asks Sotte Commune if his enemy is “l’Eglise proprement” (“in fact, the Church”; 610), she is initially unsure how to respond. Soon, though, she discovers the truth and closes the sottie by exposing the pontiff as an imposter: Affin que chascun le cas notte, Ce n’est pas Mere Saincte Eglise Qui nous fait guerre: sans fainctise Ce n’est que nostre Mere Sotte. (654–57) Let each of us take note, it isn’t Holy Mother Church who wages war against us: no lie, it’s none other than our own Mother Folly. This denouement has rightly been read as an attempt to buttress Gallicanism against a rising tide of dissent—to use the “popular and carnivalesque appeal” of the sottie “to persuade a good Christian people to support the


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struggle of their ‘most Christian’ king Louis against a pope who is not worthy of his title” (Hindley, “Introduction” 32). Indeed, Sotte Commune illustrates this goal by modeling a transition from resistance to compliance, accepting the Prince as her benefactor and denouncing the pope as the enemy of “chascun,” everyman. And yet there is another message implicit in her words and deeds, one that suggests tactical maneuvering rather than passive acceptance. To begin with, the manufacturing of her consent comes at a steep price: she is given the opportunity to express popular resentments of foreign wars, to reveal the tactical necessity of popular support for those wars, and to transform herself from a mute and overlooked subordinate into the bearer of the play’s core insight. If the sottie asks commoners to agree to a military campaign that will cause them financial hardship and moral and spiritual anxiety, it also implicitly calls for a more interactive relationship between the monarchy and the Third Estate (Brown, “Political” 94–96). Gringore thus not only emphasizes the importance of popular consultation for discerning moral and political truths and for defeating France’s enemies; he also casts Sotte Commune, who should be subservient by virtue of both gender and rank, in the governing role of Bon Conseil (Hochner 105–8). Presumably, he wishes Louis XII to learn the same lessons as the Prince des Sotz: an unruly, voluble, female subaltern may well be his sturdiest support in an emergency; and if he wishes to prevail over his enemies, he must recognize the common folk, heed their concerns, and seek their advice. This rather pointed, if largely implicit, lesson on balance of power is surprising in a work of royalist propaganda, as if the sottie were meant to serve double duty as a political tool for the monarchy and a mirror for princes. It is all the more surprising when we consider that the reign of le Pe`re du Peuple, as Louis XII was dubbed at the Estates General of 1506, was known to be an unusually limited and consultative one. The king was widely held to be respectful of his people and actively courted their approval by outlawing venality in the judiciary, opposing nepotism and bribery, lowering taxes on commoners, and ensuring they benefited from economic expansion (Baumgartner 247–51). Given these political realities, Sotte Commune’s outraged cry of “je ne m’en tairay pas!” should perhaps be read less as the attempt of an oppressed underclass to assert itself on a national stage than as a tactic on the part of the Third Estate to extract even greater allowances from an already accommodating monarch who has been temporarily weakened by religious and political controversy. In short, the sottie serves both as a vehicle for royal propaganda and as a medium through which “les marchans et gens

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de mestier,” and even the peasant “en [son] village,” are allowed to engage in power plays, making exceptional and exorbitant demands of their king. By comparison with the sottie, the moralite´ is a more balanced affair: it allows both the French and the Italians to air their grievances regarding the war, even as it continues to hold Julius responsible for the conflict. As Peuple Franc¸ois and Peuple Ytalique lament their fates and reproach each other in the opening scene, it becomes clear that each has legitimate complaints and has also exaggerated his position for rhetorical and tactical purposes. The former is taxed to support a war he has not chosen and claims to have been rendered destitute by the resulting economic uncertainty. The latter is denied peace, security, and autonomy in his own home and implores the French king to take note of the atrocities perpetrated by his armies. With the arrival of L’Homme Obstine´, blame for the suffering of both peoples lands squarely on the pontiff: he openly avows his treachery and wickedness to the audience, and even Peuple Ytalique reproaches him for his intransigence. Yet Pugnicion Divine insists that the need for contrition is universal: Peuple Ytalique has allowed a corrupt papacy to lure him into sin, and Peuple Franc¸ois has ill served the God who has lavished “biens mondains” (“earthly goods”; 325) upon him. The ubiquity of sin is made visible through the appearance of Demerites Communes, who has the word “SY” emblazoned across her chest and who describes what the church, estates, and nations would be like “IF” they were not hobbled by wickedness. All characters now acknowledge their fear of damnation and appeal to God for mercy, with the exception of L’Homme Obstine´, who perseveres in his error with support from his counselors Symonie and Hypocrisie. A pious call for atonement is thus neatly fused with Gallican propaganda: Gringore shows that the French and Italians can achieve salvation only by embracing contrition and repudiating a godless pope. Yet even as the moralite´ heralds the penitential spirit of Lent in the midst of Carnival and fosters bonds of solidarity through attacks on a common enemy, it reminds the audience of the threats to fellow feeling that hang over the holiday, including economic and political wedge issues that could easily ignite social resentments and disturbances. Peuple Franc¸ois, who (like Sotte Commune) personifies the masses, is especially devious and divisive in this regard. In his opening ballade, he reveals himself to be the very embodiment of complacency: he lives in peace, has enough to eat, is neither mistreated nor overworked, and comfortably pays his taxes, both subside and taille. Even as he acknowledges his privilege, however, he aligns


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himself with the overtaxed, impoverished “petitz” and demonstrates his capacity to leverage his subaltern status using tactically ambiguous language: Il fault que je baille, Sans que aye sommeil, mes motz bien compassez, Brief, les plus grans en sont interessez, Et les petitz n’ont plus or ne monnoye: Tousjours en fin vient ung cop qui tout paye. (5–9) Though I’m not tired, I must yawn/offer my words well measured; in brief, great men are harmed by/interested in what I say, and little people no longer have gold or coins: always in the end comes a poor fool/a blow who/that pays for everything.12 Peuple Franc¸ois’s stagy yawn is clearly meant to communicate that he has been exhausted by drudgery and privation, thereby lending credence to his pauper’s lament. And yet he simultaneously acknowledges that his fatigue is contrived (after all, he is not tired), as is the grievance itself, which has been carefully crafted (“mots bien compassez”) either to deflect the interests of “les plus grans” or to inflict harm upon them through injurious speech (interesser, “to damage or dishonor”). These double entendres are not lost on Peuple Ytalique, who appropriates the refrain for himself, proclaims his suffering to be far greater, and bitterly denounces Peuple Franc¸ois as a hypocrite and malcontent: “Tu n’as cause d’estre melencolique!” (“You have no reason to be melancholy!”; 35). The latter counters that if he does indeed “amasse des biens” (“amass wealth”; 38), it simply gets seized from him and taken to Italy. He must concede, however, that he consumes his meals “en paix, sans bruit” (“in peace and tranquillity”; 44), that he is the master of his “maison” (44), and that if he is threatened there, his rights are immediately guaranteed by the very government he objects to funding. Yet if Gringore seems intent on exposing the Third Estate as shiftless, dishonest, and greedy (and therefore in need of rebuke and discipline), he also illustrates the verbal and theatrical techniques commoners might use to obtain economic and political concessions from a temporarily weakened sovereign. The reference to “ung cop qui tout paye” delivers both of these messages simultaneously. On the one hand, it can be taken to mean “the poor fool who pays for everything,” or as a given moment (presumably the Last Judgment) when all debts will be reckoned and settled (Boudou 378–79).

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Read this way, the line would imply the common folk’s fatalistic acceptance of their role as overtaxed, overworked indigents who must await the end time to be rewarded for their travails. On the other hand, one might intuit in these words a rather more explosive statement regarding the relationship between “les petitz” and “les plus grans.” The latter category would obviously include the royal court, which has levied the subside (a war tax) and waged the Italian campaign against the people’s moral, political, and economic objections. It would also encompass the First and Second Estates, which, despite their massive wealth, were exempted from the taille (a direct land tax that targeted the nonprivileged) and were greatly resented for that fact. If Peuple Franc¸ois casts himself as the “cop” (“fool” or even “cuckold”; see Cotgrave, s.v. “coup”) who must pay for everything while patiently accepting his subservient status, he also points to an aggressive and only partially hidden transcript—a threat that political tensions and economic demands may lead to violence and that the people may inflict blows as well as receive them. This threat is especially conspicuous in a subsequent ballade in which Peuple Franc¸ois condemns ruling elites for causing financial instability and a devaluation of the currency. He conceives of these unnamed elites as the vulnerable, embodied targets of his curses: Ceulx qui ont tous ces brouetz brassez, Je les maulditz juc au cueur et au foye: Tousjours en fin vient ung cop qui tout paye. (25–27) Those who have cooked up all these stews/evil tricks, I curse them straight through the heart and the liver: always in the end comes a poor fool/a blow who/that pays for everything. The performative “je les maulditz” indicates that words have become actions here, and that motz could in turn become copz: blows that would punish ruling elites for the vile stew they have made and that would reveal them to be vulnerable, permeable bodies, perhaps even meat—hearts and viscera that can be served up to the poor if they get hungry enough. Petty complaints have yielded to thinly veiled threats here, providing a palpable sense of the tenuous accords and political perils that loom within Carnival festivities. Admittedly, by the end of the play, Peuple Franc¸ois has enveloped all Christians into a collective “nous” that will together “cryer a` Dieu mercy” (“cry out for God’s mercy”; 541) in order to fend off Pugnicion Divine. But


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does this pious, prayerful close substantiate Brown’s claim that Gringore uses the moralite´ to minimize the shadowy, unresolved “polemics” of the sottie and to make room for “a more objective moral perspective” (C. Brown, Shaping 118)? And what of the farce, which numerous scholars have viewed as an attempt to gratify the people’s vulgar tastes while easing social tensions between “les petitz” and “les plus grans”? Is it true, as Brown argues, that Raoullet Ployart “has nothing to do with what precedes it” and was “left until the end so as to lighten the mood of the audience” (Shaping 141n71; cf. Hindley, “Pierre” 195–96)? Is the farce a “mere nothing” and a “concession” to the rabble, as Bernard Faivre holds (370–72), or a gift of “unbridled laughter” after the arduous “political satire” of the preceding plays, as Andre´ Tissier would have it (Recueil 2:240–41)? I would argue the contrary: far from purging spectators of their anger and anxiety, the farce uses sexual jokes and rowdy charivari to put pressure on the same ethical and political fault lines that emerged so forcefully in the sottie and moralite´, to demonstrate how unstable those fault lines remain at the close of Carnival, and to insinuate that stability cannot be achieved by means of trivial allowances and fictive compromises. The play’s political messages are, however, oblique and encoded; and as with many other farces, the characters and storyline appear at first to be little more than tired cliche´s. Raoullet Ployart is the hackneyed figure of the old cuckold: an aging vintner whose metaphorical “besche” (“spade”; 100) bends and weakens (“ployer”) at the demands of his oversexed young wife, Doublette. As her name suggests, Doublette is a two-timer: rather than allowing her “vineyard” to go untended, she takes two lovers, Dire and Faire, with a distinct preference for the latter, who is all action and “plows” her “field” with a firm hand. The plot acquires a political valence, however, when the vintner returns from work and catches his wife “doing it” with Faire. Doublette is remorseless and defiant, leaving Raoullet no option but to appeal for justice at the court of the Prince des Sotz. The Prince is absent, however, having delegated the task of hearing cases to a certain Seigneur de Balletreu, whose name implies prick, hole-stopper (a bouche-trou), or an instrument that makes vaginas dance (faire baller le trou).13 Moreover, Balletreu soon betrays his shortcomings as a judge and his lust for Doublette by repeatedly addressing himself to her even though it is her husband who has lodged the complaint. In the end, Doublette turns the tables on Raoullet, accusing him of being “lasche a` la besongne” (“lazy at his work”; 272) and leaving her “vigne en

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frische” (“vineyard untended”; 274). When she suggestively declares her willingness to submit to “la seigneurie de Balletreu . . . au mieulx que je puis” (“Balletreu’s rule . . . as much as I am able”; 278–79), the latter delivers his verdict directly to her: Quant a` moy, d’oppinion suis, Puis que dictes qu’il est si lache, Que y facez besongner en tasche. Et si le dis par jugement. (280–83) As for me, it is my opinion that, since he is, as you say, feeble/ flaccid, you should get yourself worked over properly. And I pronounce this as a verdict. For Balletreu, justice means satisfying Doublette’s lust, and the phrase “besongner en tasche” implies finishing the job right and bringing her to orgasm. But who will do the work? Raoullet promises to redouble his efforts, but Doublette will almost certainly have to “farm the work out to menials,” another possible translation of “besongner en tasche” (Tissier, Recueil 2:284n). This will leave her free to receive her pleasure from Faire, who is an actual drudge, though Balletreu is clearly anxious to meet her needs as well. Raoullet is outraged and angrily vows to appeal the decision, presumably to the Prince himself. As for Doublette, she declares herself Balletreu’s “subgecte” (295), meaning either that she assents to his legal authority or that she is prepared to place herself under him. The Jeu then closes with a ludicrous, titillating moral pronounced by Balletreu: “Les femmes, sans contredire, / Ayment trop mieulx Faire que Dire” (“It cannot be denied that women love Action more than Speech”; 299–300). Has the serious content of the sottie and moralite´ yielded to trite, fatuous jokes designed to appease spectators weary of warmongering and sermonizing? Hardly. If we look closely, we can see that the farce evokes, and leaves crucially unresolved, many of the political problems that were evoked in the preceding plays and that disrupted the smooth functioning of integration and moralization. These problems include the discontent and defiance of subalterns (Doublette betrays her lord with impunity, while Raoullet rejects Balletreu’s verdict and demands a more just one); the arrogance and corruption of the ministerial class (Balletreu’s very name implies swaggering phallic power and a flouting of the laws he is meant to uphold); and a neglectful


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sovereign who fails to take his seat on the throne of justice (where indeed is the Prince des Sotz, whose fellowship with his people was proclaimed so volubly in the cry?). In the end, Doublette is the only contented “subgecte” in the farce, though her allegiance is not to marriage, justice, or king but rather to her own illicit and ungovernable lust. This leaves Raoullet to redefine political subjecthood: he refuses to accept the authority of the court and (like Sotte Commune before him) demands that a higher authority listen and respond to his grievances. Tellingly, though, Gringore leaves unsettled the question of whether the peasant will ever obtain justice from his king: Balletreu indicates that the appeal “se videra” (“will be adjudicated”; 297), but the Prince never reappears, and the play’s amoral moral stands in place of a real verdict. In short, ambiguities abound and are heavily weighted with ethical and political significance. It is hard to say whether we should read Balletreu’s miscarriage of justice as the triumph of a neglected subaltern (Doublette) over an ineffectual master (Raoullet), or instead as a dereliction of royal duty that prompts another subaltern (Raoullet) to cry out in protest against misrule. Will the hearing-impaired monarch heed and be moved by the concerns and demands of the underclasses, or will he hide behind corrupt ministers instead? Is he capable of guaranteeing justice and economic expansion for commoners? And if he is not, will they refuse to lend him their moral and political support at a moment of truth for his government? Perhaps most crucially, we are left to wonder what the future will hold if social hierarchies and institutional authorities are permanently unsettled—if the monarchy bends and weakens like Raoullet’s limp member, or if it imposes justice in unduly rigid ways in the manner of Balletreu’s tumescent one. Will words become blows? Will bodies become meat? Far from ending with moral clarity and political consensus, the Jeu du Prince des Sotz et de Mere Sotte ends with the promise of potentially infinite and gruesome struggles. In the event, Carnival 1512 and the Gallican crisis of 1510–13 passed without a tax revolt or other major social disturbance; and this fact leads Brown to conclude that Gringore’s play “helped Louis XII to sustain public support to some degree and, consequently, to maintain his authority and respect” (Shaping 122). We should not conclude, however, that Carnival revelers simply accepted what they were told, laughed at Raoullet’s impotence and Doublette’s promiscuity, and were purged of their social resentments. On the contrary, I would hold that they were just as likely to have taken the vintner’s legal appeal and his wife’s lustful rebellion as “a dress rehearsal . . . for actual

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defiance” (Scott, Domination 178) and as an invitation to perceive their very real power to shape the future. While the Jeu’s ethical and political operations remain implicit and indirect, Gringore did not—and, more important, could not—transform spectators into blindly obedient subjects. Rather, the Jeu, the farce with which it concludes, and Carnival itself should be understood as “implicit negotiations between dominant and subordinate groups” (Harris, Carnival 77–78)—between the state and the streets, between the royal court and Les Halles, between a monarchy that was gravely compromised on domestic and international fronts and actors and spectators who were in a position to parlay the threat of civil unrest into political concessions for the Third Estate. Thus, even as Gringore idealizes the monarchy and makes a bid for compliance with its expectations of unity, he shows us that compliance is a two-way street and that Louis XII is “subgecte” to his own subjects’ expectations of a just, pious, and legitimate rule.

Farce and Repression Under Francis I Regrettably, we have no idea what Louis XII’s reactions were to Gringore’s play and its ambiguous ethical and political commitments. What we do know is that the king appreciated festive comedy as a forum in which commoners could express their values and air their grievances. Numerous direct and indirect witnesses attest that he was inclined to tolerate biting satire, including even jokes at his own expense, on account of the political intelligence with which it supplied him (Petit de Julleville, Come´diens 105–9). He drew strict limits only where the honor of the queen was concerned, in which case he threatened to punish insolent humor with the hangman’s noose. Those threats do not seem to have been taken terribly seriously, however, and were not acted upon despite brazen provocations (Petit de Julleville, Come´diens 109–12). The reason for the forbearance Louis showed was plain to his contemporaries: he knew that imposing limits on theatrical freedom would mean sacrificing a crucial line of communication between the monarchy and the Third Estate. Jean Bouchet reports hearing the king proclaim that he wished the Basochiens and university students to perform their plays “en liberte´” so that he might learn of the “abus” perpetrated at his own court—abuses of which “les confesseurs et autres qui sont les sages, n’en veulent rien dire” (“confessors and other wise men don’t wish to speak a word”; qtd. in Carrington 28).14


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The reign of Louis XII was, however, exceptional in this regard. We know, for instance, that his predecessor, Charles VIII, reacted harshly to a moralite´ that indirectly denounced corruption in the royal retinue, referring to arrivistes and speculators as filth contaminating the unclouded waters of justice. The playwright, a Basochien named Henri Baude, was accused of sedition along with several actors and had to be rescued by Parlement itself, which ensured that the case would bypass the king and be adjudicated by the law courts instead (Beam 65–67; Bouhaı¨k-Girone`s, Clercs 196–98). As for Louis’s successor, Francis I, he was not only more severe in his response to political theater; he was also a far more autocratic ruler, who was inclined to take justice into his own hands. Brutish and repressive from the moment he ascended the throne, Francis moved swiftly to deprive actors of the freedoms Louis had granted them. He also dealt harshly with real and perceived threats to his majesty, dignity, and autonomy.15 In doing so, he not only altered the relationship between state power and popular culture but also prompted innovations in dramaturgy and performance practice. This included evermore-resourceful tactics for mitigating the risk of prosecution and for discreetly signaling the relationship between public and hidden transcripts in closely monitored, heavily regulated performance spaces. The anonymous Journal d’un bourgeois de Paris sous le re`gne de Franc¸ois Premier reports an incident in which the repressive climate of the new king’s rule was made graphically evident. In April 1515, a few months after his accession to the throne, Francis sent a band of courtiers to track down and punish a certain Monsieur Cruche, an actor and playwright who had staged an incendiary performance in a makeshift theater in the Place Maubert. The opening sottie and moralite´ had troubled no one, but the closing farce had crudely, if allusively, tarnished the reputation of the new king. Carrying a lantern around the stage, Cruche declared that it shed light on things that were otherwise invisible, namely “une poule qui se nourrissoit soubz une sallemande” (“a hen nursing beneath a salamander”; 13). The salamander was of course Francis’s own emblem, a symbol of endurance, justice, chastity, and virtue; and the act of giving suck referenced the king’s personal motto: nutrisco et extinguo, “I nourish (the good fire) and extinguish (the evil one).”16 Well-informed spectators would have easily grasped the identity of the hen as well: Francis had recently seduced the daughter of a high-ranking official in Parlement and seized her husband’s property, reducing her to concubinage and, presumably, to sexual acts that resembled suckling. Those who got the joke must have let the others in on it; and from there, news of the king’s

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debauchery, and criticism of his hypocrisy, must have spread throughout the capital, eventually reaching the king himself. Francis demanded revenge for the offense, and his men inflicted it in an especially chilling way. They lured Cruche into a trap, brutally assaulted him with straps, threw him out of a window, and then carried him to the Seine to be drowned. He was able to save his life only by uncovering his tonsured head and revealing to his tormentors that he was a priest. Since the Holy See alone could absolve the murder of a clergyman (a so-called “reserved sin”), the anecdote suggests that only the apostolic succession was capable of imposing limits on Francis’s arbitrary, vindictive power. As Parisians soon discovered, Cruche’s ordeal was no isolated incident or impetuous act but rather an indication that the new king was willing to use a variety of legal and extralegal maneuvers to seize control of the public stage and limit the expression of criticism and dissent. As Beam notes, the curbing of free speech extended even to the colle`ges, which had enjoyed corporate autonomy for centuries, and to university students, who occupied a higher social status than other actors and had in the past been exempt from secular prosecution thanks to clerical immunity. These privileges and dispensations had begun to decline by the end of the fifteenth century, however, and it soon became clear that Francis planned to dismantle them even further (Beam 95–97). In January 1516, Parlement assembled the heads of Paris’s eight colle`ges and instructed them to ban students from performing farces, moralite´s, and sotties that impugned Francis, his queen consort, the queen mother, the princes of the blood, or any other individual close to the king, with punishments to be decided by the royal court itself (Bouhaı¨k-Girone`s, Clercs 128–29; Aubailly, Monologue 441). In a letter that seems to refer directly to this ban (versions of which were issued in 1523 and 1525), Ravisius Textor, who was rector of the University of Paris and the author of numerous comic plays, laments the fact that few student actors were willing to mount the stage at Epiphany, as had long been their tradition. The groups that did perform chose plays devoid of polemical content for fear of angering the king and finding themselves clapped in irons. As Ravisius put it, “Periculosum est in eos temere murmurare et obloqui, penes quos vitae nostrae juxta et mortis pendet potestas” (“It is dangerous to dare to murmur against and abuse them in whom hangs the power of our life and death”; qtd. in Vodoz 46). The rector and his students certainly had cause for concern, as an incident in December 1516 reveals. The Journal d’un bourgeois de Paris reports that three noted “joueurs de farce”—Jean Seroc, Jacques le Bazochien, and


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Jean du Pont-Alais—were arrested for staging a play in which Mere Sotte (doubling for Louise of Savoy, the queen mother) was said to rule the court and to have taxed, pillaged, and stolen everything (44). Francis and Louise were both enraged, and the king sent a dozen archers to shackle the actors and drag them off to Amboise, far removed from parlementary oversight. They were held there without trial for three months and would perhaps have remained political prisoners for much longer if they had not managed to escape under cover of darkness, taking refuge with the Franciscans in nearby Blois. As with the assault on Cruche, the incident reveals how far the young king was willing to go to suppress dissent, and how intent he was on ruling through royal diktat and private justice. What is perhaps most suggestive about the case, however, is the way in which the farceurs were subsequently able to regain royal favor and access to the stage. As Louis Petit de Julleville avers, Francis “loved pleasure but did not love the truth, meaning he sometimes wished to protect [theatrical expression], sometimes wished to repress it,” and was capable of swinging from one pole to the other rather quickly (Come´diens 112). It is thus not surprising that he pardoned all three farceurs shortly after their escape from prison and just prior to Claude of France’s royal entry into Paris on May 12, 1517. The reason for Francis’s clemency is presumably that he wanted the finest actors to entertain him and his new queen during the coronation festivities. Taking full advantage of his volte-face, the men immediately went about rebuilding their careers, adopting strategies that would enable them to flourish despite the newly hostile climate for performers. If Jean Seroc is, as many scholars suppose, the same person as Jehan Serre, then we know from a eulogy by Cle´ment Marot that he remained in Paris and earned “amour, et populaire estime” (8) for playing the “Badin” (14), the role of simpleton that, as we have seen with Naudet, lends itself well to concealment.17 Jacques le Bazochien seems to have enjoyed equal success under even greater scrutiny by shifting his repertory. Thus, a eulogy by Girard Le Vasseur reveals that he became celebrated for his “gente rethorique” (“noble rhetoric”; qtd. in Sturel 419) and regularly performed for the very royals whom he had insulted so coarsely and who had left him to rot in jail. As for Jean du Pont-Alais (aka Jean de l’Espine or Songecreux), he traveled to the provinces after his release from prison, presumably because the political climate in the capital had become inhospitable to the kind of theater he wanted to perform (Frappier, “Jean”; Petit de Julleville, Come´diens 167–

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80).18 We know he returned to Paris sometime after 1526, as he was imprisoned there again, this time not for staging farces but for a crime worthy of the genre: brawling in the streets with a pugnacious, foulmouthed boulange`re. He was consigned to the prison tower in part because the bailiff remembered his propensity for antiroyalist satire, and was released only after addressing pleas in verse to the provost marshal and Parlement itself. In the latter poem, he concedes the follies of his past and promises to repair them in future. Although in his youth he played farces that angered “nostre chef, prince tres cordial” (“our leader, most benevolent prince”), he learned while in the provinces the value of entertaining powerful men with “jeus plaisants” (“pleasant games”), “joyeux verbes” (“joyous speeches”), and “propos nouveaux” (“novel words”), while eschewing “oultrageux proverbes” (“insolent proverbs”; qtd. in Petit de Julleville, Come´diens 171). Indeed, after his release from prison, he seems to have set about regaining Francis’s favor. Production receipts indicate that he performed at two royal entries (Paris in 1531, Le Puy in 1533) and was hired in 1534 to stage “plusieurs farces” for the king’s “plaisir et recreation” (qtd. in Petit de Julleville, Come´diens 172). In a stunning illustration of the efficacy of judicial coercion and the versatility of farce as a genre, the very actor who had been incarcerated for haranguing members of the royal family from the public stage was now living off their largesse and performing farces for their pleasure. While it is tempting to construe the trajectories of these three actors as evidence of ideological conversion, the situation can hardly have been so simple. It is difficult to believe that their ordeal as political prisoners would have transformed them into obliging bouffons and royal toadies, or that they would have renounced their political commitments because the king had proven himself to be every inch the tyrant they had denounced. Indeed, in his account of his itinerancy Pont-Alais suggests that he was reluctant to renounce “oultrageux proverbes” and did so only after a second arrest required him to ingratiate himself to the court. We should distinguish carefully, moreover, between capitulation and co-optation. As the role of Naudet reveals, gifted badins like Seroc (or, for that matter, gracious rhetoricians like Jacques le Bazochien) could easily promote social conformity while masking and surreptitiously acting out their political resentments. Recalling Chartier’s claim that imposed models of belief do not act as “imperative conditioning” (“Culture” 233), we should consider the likelihood that these three “joueurs de farce” and others like them imbued their performances with antagonism,


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even as they found themselves scrutinized by and indebted to wealthy, powerful, and dangerous patrons. Of course, it goes without saying that actors with less public exposure would have been far nimbler in their efforts to politicize the stage. Indeed, in some cases, it appears they avoided formal staging altogether, preferring a performance mode Richard Schechner calls “eruption”: unannounced and often unscripted actions that occur in the “heated center” of a public space with a crowd of passersby assembling to observe (158–59). This mode is particularly well suited to guerrilla theater, as the performers can swiftly exit the space to find safety, leaving the onlookers to reconstruct, interpret, and spread the news of a performance for which they can hardly be held responsible. The Journal d’un bourgeois de Paris reports that just such a performance took place in the capital on March 20, 1525. Five or six men wearing green hoods processed through the streets to the Palais de Justice, where they assembled before “la pierre de marbre,” the traditional stage of the Basochiens, each holding a script, or “roolle” (268). Although they gave the appearance of wishing to perform a play, they instead cracked a few jokes and made an announcement: Francis was dead, wise men were hiding the truth, and fools alone were revealing it. The announcement was intended as “mocquerie” (268), for the news that the king (who had been captured at the Battle of Pavia and was being held hostage in Madrid) was very much alive had recently been verified. The joke was nonetheless a dangerous and illtimed one, as France found itself in dire straits: the regency of Louise of Savoy was being disputed; Henry VIII of England was plotting to seize the throne and dismember the nation; and Francis’s own disbanded, unpaid troops were ravaging the countryside and drawing ever closer to Paris (Knecht 176–83). No doubt fearful that the capital would erupt in open revolt against the monarchy, Louise responded quickly and decisively to the incident at the Palais, commanding the bailiff ’s office to track down and punish the offenders, who were said to be Basochiens. The men were never identified, however, and the Journal author expresses astonishment that more was not done to pursue them. In the end, the bailiff may have worried that arresting and executing the Basochiens for sedition would have merely exacerbated relations between commoners and the regency at a moment of great risk. They may also have perceived the “eruption” not as an act of insurrection but as a critique of censorship. The fact that the actors stood next to (rather than on) the pierre de marbre, and that they held their roolles without performing them, suggests that their goal was to make a bid for enhanced theatrical

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freedom at a moment when Parlement and the monarchy might find it difficult to oppose them. If this was in fact their intention, the result was a dismal failure. Later that year, Parlement ordered the rector and chancellor of the University of Paris, as well as the principals of the various colle`ges to prohibit their students from staging traditional Epiphany plays: “farces, mommeries, ou sottises” (qtd. in Fe´libien 4:674). As for the regent, she upheld her son’s policies in his absence and collaborated with Parlement to impose draconian forms of censorship on printers and booksellers in an attempt to suppress the spread of Lutheranism. Religious and political tensions merely increased following Francis’s return to France in 1526, and especially in the wake of the Affair of the Placards (1534), which prompted widespread fears of sedition and heresy and inaugurated a persecution movement that was initiated by Parlement and condoned by the king. Anxious to quell dissent of any sort, Parlement imposed increasingly rigid standards of deportment and propriety on actors and playwrights. As Beam observes, theatrical censorship, which in the past had been largely occasional and reactive, was now constant and proactive (91–92). Although the Basoche was hardly the only group to be targeted, it was especially hard hit. In 1536, the magistrates informed the Basochiens that ad hominem references would no longer be tolerated and that the actors would have to perform all of their plays in private before a public staging would be approved. In 1538, the Basochiens were granted the right to perform during Carnival but only after promising to present their scripts for review, to perform them exactly as written, and to omit all bowdlerized content. In 1540, Parlement upped the ante by stipulating that any actor who failed to deport himself with decency would be sent to the gallows. Finally, in 1561, the magistrates required that a copy of the approved script for any play staged by the Basoche be kept on file with the tribunal in order to verify and prevent infractions (Bouhaı¨k-Girone`s, Clercs 135–43; Beam 92–93; Carrington 32–33). Of course, the persistence with which the magistrates issued their writs of censorship suggests in turn the intransigence of the Basochiens, who obviously needed to be reminded that their stage was not their own and that dissident speech could incur terrible costs. Moreover, the meticulousness with which Parlement reviewed and expurgated scripts implies that the magistrates were keenly aware of the fact that seemingly harmless jokes and plots could be used to conceal inflammatory content and could easily lead to violence and social disruption. This awareness spread throughout France in the period leading up to the outbreak of civil war in 1562; and in an effort to


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stave off religious controversy and social disruption, civic governments began to impose their own rigorous and systematic censorship programs. They especially targeted plays containing religious content. As Beam notes, however, they sometimes imposed a blanket prohibition on all theater, including conventional farces, on the grounds that “jokes and mockery more often led to violence than to laughter” (109). It would appear that “farce playing had been transformed from a benign form of entertainment [if it had ever actually been that!] into a threatening cultural practice that city officials feared would contaminate the body social” (112). Yet even under the strictest of controls, actors and playwrights still managed to signal the existence of hidden transcripts in their plays; and paradoxically enough, in some cases they did so by loudly proclaiming their adherence to the censors’ decrees. Something of this paradox can be discerned in the punning title of Les sobres sotz, a highly cryptic sottie that is found in the Manuscrit La Vallie`re and was composed for Rouen’s 1536 Mardi Gras festivities, probably by a Basochien member of the Abbaye des Conards.19 Ironically proclaimed as sobres (“sober, discreet, restrained”), the play’s five sotz in fact demonstrate their penchant for silly pratfalls (soubresauts) and the unfettered speech that typifies Carnival. Sobriety has been imposed upon them this year, causing their jokes to misfire rather badly. This includes the play’s opening gag, which targets the intemperance of a well-known person of rank. The first two sotz prepare the windup by posing a question: Which is worse, overeating or overdrinking? The third sot is poised to deliver the punch line but thinks better of it at the last minute: “Je le diroys bien, mais je n’ose / Car le parler m’est deffendu” (“I would say it all right, but I don’t dare, for I am forbidden to speak”; 13–14). Offering proof of their acrobatic dexterity, the fourth and fifth sotz then turn the joke’s failure into an opportunity to reproach the censors for curtailing the traditional pleasures of the holiday: many thoughts have gone unexpressed (15–16), tales have been cut short (17– 20), and “grosses debtes” (meaning, presumably, the year’s accumulated grievances) have not been paid (21–22). The situation is apparently pervasive, as a rather brash badin later complains to the sotz that he, too, has been prevented from making his usual illmannered jokes, this time under threat of torture. Coyly evoking the many opinionated, scatterbrained fools available for mockery, he refuses to name them for fear of the thumbscrews: On ne saroyt pas trop farder Le penser qu’on a sur le coeur.

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A! messieurs, sy je n’avoys peur Qu’on me serast trop fort les doys, En peu de mos je vous diroys Des choses qui vous feroyent rire. (282–87) You can’t go too far in disguising the thoughts you have in your heart. Ah, my lords! If I weren’t afraid of getting my fingers squeezed too hard, I would tell you in just a few words things that would make you laugh. Although the badin goes on to broach hot-button topics (the burning of heretics at the stake, the litigiousness of the nouveau riche), he handles these with remarkable restraint, as if they were red herrings more than actual provocations. This leaves us with a play that repeatedly pulls its punches even as it evokes disruptive pensers on the verge of articulation and recurring desires to drive the joke home with a vengeance. More than discretion and restraint, then, the sobrete´ of the sotz should be understood as a kind of tactical, performative gymnastics whereby the enunciation of a ban on speech enacts both compliance with that ban and a form of political latency that could, under the right circumstances, precipitate acts of resistance. The potential for just such a conversion is illustrated by another likely Conard work from the 1530s, the morality play Le Ministre de l’E´glise, which is also found in the Manuscrit La Vallie`re.20 The play opens with a plaintive soliloquy, in which Le Commun laments his life of “peine et pleur . . . crainte et fain” (“suffering and weeping . . . fear and hunger”; 3), apparently a fair depiction of the plight of Rouen’s working poor in this era (Nicholls, “Social”). One after the other, personifications of “les troys estas” (“the three estates”; 31) ask Le Commun to reveal whom he blames for his suffering, even as they proclaim their abiding concern for his welfare. Le Commun refuses to speak “la verite´” (23) aloud for fear of the “dommage” (22) he will suffer as a result, and Noblesse concludes that only a “jeu” (49) will persuade him to “parler librement” (“speak freely”; 48). Le Ministre de l’E´glise proposes a game called capifol: each player is blindfolded in turn, is asked to identify which of the others has struck him, and passes the turn only when he guesses correctly. The dispirited Le Commun is thrilled at the idea of an “esbatement” (“game” or “stage play”) that will allow him to “parler librement” (50–51); and although he does not say so, he no doubt relishes the idea of striking back at his oppressors with impunity.


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He will not get a chance to do so, however, as Noblesse and Le Ministre rig the game against him and trick him into going first. Evoking the taunting of Christ, who is asked to “prophesy” which of the soldiers has “smote his face” (Luke 22:64), Le Commun is repeatedly struck and asked, “De qui te plains tu?” (“Of whom do you complain?”; 81, 88, 106, 117, 131, 140). Whereas Christ says nothing at all, Le Commun correctly identifies his assailant each time and yet is repeatedly told he is mistaken. As the blows increase in brutality, his frustration rises, and he gives voice to a litany of complaints: Noblesse pays for her luxuries by imposing onerous taxes on impoverished workers; Le Ministre refuses to ring his bells, administer the sacraments, or bury a pauper’s wife without being paid; and Labeur forces commoners to toil in abject misery for a subsistence wage. When Le Commun is at last allowed to win, Labeur (whom Le Commun has nicknamed Malheur) is told to take his place. Knowing he will be cheated in turn, Labeur is quick to anger and radically alters the tone of the play by melding social satire with religious polemic, indicting Noblesse for the abuse of peasants and Le Ministre for sending “faulx prelas” (“false prelates”; 146) and “faulx prescheurs” (“false preachers”; 147) to disseminate “faulces expositı¨ons” (“false teachings”; 150). Caught off guard, Le Ministre does not deny the accusations but instead implores Labeur to believe what the clergy teach while overlooking their wickedness. In an obvious echo of the Lutheran heresy, Labeur retorts that Catholic dogma is as flawed as its purveyors, who use the doctrine of works to line their pockets. Labeur’s audacity seems to inspire Le Commun, who refuses to deceive his opponent as he has been deceived: “Ausy bien que moy ont touche´ / Et sy ont dict que ‘c’est a tort’ ” (“They hit you just as I did, and yet they said, ‘You’ve guessed wrong’ ”; 171–72, 177–78). Saddened and angered (though presumably not surprised), Labeur proposes an alliance: since Noblesse and Le Ministre lack any sense of “equicte´, droict et raison” (“fairness, right, and reason”; 181) and will simply continue to abuse them, they must seek “en Dieu confort” (“comfort in God”; 179) and, like Saint Paul, “confort en desplaisir” (“comfort in wretchedness”; 187). Le Commun closes the play by apologizing for any discontent “nostre jeu” (“our play/game”; 191) may have caused the audience and calling for a final “chanson” (194). Although Pauline pieties and tuneful valediction may seem to restore social harmony after the scandalous revelations of the jeu du capifol, they are not as lighthearted and conciliatory as they might appear. While confort conjures up a Pauline theology of consolation, renunciation, and endurance

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(Beck 144n), the word can also signify physical force and even armed troops (Dictionnaire, s.v. “comfort,” def. B2). It may therefore evoke the militant evangelism that was long associated with Paul, who was known from antiquity as a “soldier of God,” and that was now found deeply threatening in Luther, whose God was, famously, “a mighty fortress” and “a good defense and weapon.” Desplaisir is equally ambiguous, signifying “anger” and “disgruntlement” at least as much as “misery” and “sorrow”—and, by metonymy, “hostile action” as well. The future responses of commoners and laborers to political, economic, and religious domination are therefore left uncertain at the end of the play, presumably reflecting subterranean feelings that lurked within the lower echelons of Rouennais society but could not be fully articulated in public for fear of “dommage.” As David Nicholls observes, the early Reformation in Upper Normandy was a “primarily lower-class” phenomenon (“Social” 290); and while there is no indication that “economic misery caused people to seek consolation in a new religion” (288), Le Ministre de l’E´glise suggests that the longing for moral and religious innovation was intimately bound up with the “desplaisir” engendered by economic oppression and political disenfranchisement. There were of course risks in challenging Catholic dogma, far more so than in criticizing clerical or aristocratic hegemony. That fact is amply attested by the numerous executions of Protestants that took place in Rouen in the 1530s (Picot, Recueil 3:70–71n1). It makes sense, then, that the author of Le Ministre de l’E´glise would seek to mitigate risk by implying that malcontented subalterns could be coaxed into disclosing their secrets and compromising themselves through game playing. As Le Commun and Labeur intone in a shared refrain, free speech is merely the gateway to exploitation and abuse: “De nous jouront au capifol / L’un apre´s l’autre a leur plaisir” (“They will continue to play/cheat us at capifol, one after the other at their pleasure”; 182–85, 188–89). Not coincidentally, incitement to discourse was also a key element of the theatricalized ritual of public execution: condemned heretics, who were often humiliated by being dressed up as fools, were allowed to harangue the crowd, deliver sermons, and sing psalms so that their ranting could expose their beliefs to ridicule (Nicholls, “Theatre” 56). And yet as Nicholls argues, the “exemplary” nature of these spectacles “depended on the victim as main actor fulfilling his or her role in the prescribed manner and on the audience reacting in a correct way to the spectacle presented” (“Theatre” 65). In practice, the spectacle of execution lent itself to plural reading. Condemned heretics expressed defiance by refusing to perform the amende honorable or debating


Chapter 1

theology with their tormentors; others calmly submitted to their punishment in order to manifest the strength and validity of their faith and their own status as witnesses to persecution; still others sang songs in order to demonstrate the joy of martyrdom and earn converts to their faith. The observations of one eyewitness, the Calvinist Jean Crespin, reveal just how amenable these rituals were to appropriation. In his Histoire des martyrs, Crespin refers to executions alternately as “farces,” in that they exposed the Roman clergy as impious and profane, and as “mystery,” in that God imbued martyrdom with hidden, transcendent meaning (qtd. in Nicholls, “Theatre” 374). Such readings seem to have been widespread, and during the early phases of the Reformation even spectators who were hostile to the Protestants came to admire their courage and to resent the cruelty of those who condemned, tortured, and executed them. All that changed in the period leading up to the Wars of Religion, when the hardening of factional divisions gave rise to vigilantism and mob mentality. As Nicholls argues, however, even then the polysemy of the “theatre of martyrdom” could be perceived in its inability “to preserve orthodoxy and order in both the social and ideological spheres. Ritual could not compensate for divisions within the social and spiritual ‘community’ of which it was meant to be an expression” (“Theatre” 71). We can discern this failure of ritual and theater to smooth out social divisions in the jeu du capifol, which, like the spectacle of martyrdom, lends itself to a range of discrepant readings. On the one hand, the game extracts from Le Commun and Labeur a confession of social resentment and religious polemic—and, in the process, brings them more effectively under noble and clerical rule. On the other hand, it conspicuously undermines the legitimacy and permanence of that rule by depicting Noblesse and Le Ministre as corrupt figures who perversely imitate Christ’s own persecutors and by allowing Le Commun and Labeur to substitute for and break the silence of the tormented Messiah. Even though they prophesy a future of unending injustice and abuse, the “confort” they seek in God offers them a solid moral and religious justification for more immediate forms of social action. Indeed, many spectators must have mentally supplied a conditional clause to their refrain and imagined another round or two of the game: “They will continue to play/cheat us at capifol, unless we take our turn and strike them back as hard as we can.” Just as the trompeur in farce can always be outwitted by a trompeur et demi, so the rules and stakes of capifol are shown to be endlessly manipulable and unstable. Although the power holders appear

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to control every move, they do so by duping their opponents, revealing in the process the illegitimacy and inequity of their power. And while the game is meant to procure information that would otherwise be withheld, it performs other functions as well, enabling abused and fearful subalterns to voice resentments of corrupt elites and to forge alliances against them under the banner of Pauline renunciation and Lutheran solafideism. Le Ministre de l’E´glise thus reminds us both of the permanence of inequality and injustice in this world and of the hidden transcripts that are a byproduct of the exertion of social power, that cannot be fully mastered or suppressed, and that can readily serve as instruments of social strife and historical change.

Beyond Aggregation and Transcription Needless to say, there are risks inherent in the attempt to glean insights into social and historical realities from plays that deal in personifications and character types, bluff and subterfuge. With its self-reflexive game playing and playacting, Le Ministre de l’E´glise highlights these risks by insisting upon the slippery nature of social identities and categories and the lack of transparency in both theatrical representation and social relations. By way of conclusion, I wish to consider, first, how this play and others like it short-circuit their own attempts to construct bounded social aggregations and coherent social transcripts; and, second, how these failures can help complicate theoretical approaches to power and conflict in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century festive culture. In Le Ministre de l’E´glise, the most obvious problems of aggregation and transcription have to do with Le Commun and Labeur. Both characters purport to personify the Third Estate, and yet the tensions between them suggest how simplistic and specious the fiction of the estates is, and how susceptible to appropriation. We are left to wonder, for instance, which of the two can legitimately claim to represent and speak for laboring populations (if any character possibly could), how and why they differ from one another, and what significance or permanence can be attached to their rapprochement at the end of the play. Labeur is especially difficult to pin down. Early on, Le Ministre identifies him as the third of “les troys estas” (31) and insists that, like the other two, he always has the welfare of the common folk in mind. Charitable concern is apparently bound up with cruelty, however, as Le Commun complains that he has suffered great “paine” (27) on Labeur’s


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account and fears his “haine” (“hatred”; 28). During the jeu du capifol, Labeur’s blows give Le Commun further cause for protest. Punning on travailler (“to work” or “to torture”), he complains: En quelque lieu que je chemines, Labeur devant moy tousjours voy. Ne me veuille´s plus travailler. (110–12) No matter where I go, I always see Labeur before me. Please don’t work me (over) any longer. Far from being a champion of laborers, Labeur here personifies the abuses of a capitalist mode of production, in which, as Marx would have it, labor is “a sort of torture” that alienates the common man from his own exertions (462). And yet when it is Labeur’s turn to be blindfolded and beaten, he radically shifts his tone. Speaking now as an abused and alienated serf, he denounces the “faictz ors et meschans” (“infamous and malicious deeds”; 161) perpetrated against him by Noblesse’s gendarmes, who are sent to the fields to oversee his toil. For Jonathan Beck, Labeur’s transformation into a peasant and his subsequent harmonization with Le Commun serve symbolically to repair rifts between rural and urban workers, who can now join forces against the ruling classes that exploit them (127). The reading is a credible one given what we know about Normandy in the 1530s: subsistence crises in the countryside led to rampant inflation in the cities and the development of a “putting-out” system that transferred jobs to the countryside and angered urban guilds (Nicholls, “Social” 281). And yet Labeur’s transformation and subsequent bid for solidarity with Le Commun must have struck many spectators as opportunistic, hypocritical, and implausible, and therefore as signifying not the consolidation of the Third Estate but rather the competing interests and irreconcilable differences of its members. It also suggests that the estates of the realm are a political fiction whose relationship to lived realities is historically determinative but also discontinuous and perhaps even incoherent. Incoherence can be productive, however. In this instance, it attests to the semantic and social density of festive comedy, which simultaneously constructs and deconstructs fictions of identity, value, and power. It also draws our attention to pitfalls in modern studies of domination and resistance, which (not unlike morality plays or farces) often use reductive character types

The Wisdom of Farts


and conceptual metaphors to render intelligible large-scale, infinitely complex social relations and practices. This is certainly the case with Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life, in which (to quote Jeremy Ahearne) figures of speech threaten “to cover over a disconcerting proliferation of practices with a series of poetically satisfying images” (155). A similar problem arises in Scott’s Domination and the Arts of Resistance, which uses metaphors of transcription and performance to account for occluded aspects of elitesubaltern relations but fails to acknowledge the ways in which discursive and representational practices can work to unsettle binary distinctions, including high culture and low culture, authenticity and masquerade, ideology and counterideology. As Timothy Mitchell, Charles Tilly, and Susan Gal have argued, Scott makes a number of misleading assumptions, including that overlapping and variable social distinctions are dualistic and stable; that compliance and resistance adhere to reliable, uniform, and shared scripts; and that subordinate groups are innately capable of penetrating and demystifying a prevailing ideology. While these are certainly valid critiques, I would hasten to respond that theoretical projects like de Certeau’s and Scott’s, which seek to discern attitudes, beliefs, and practices below the threshold of social and historical visibility, could hardly do without heuristic metaphors and binary oppositions. De Certeau acknowledges something like this when he asserts that the “imaginary landscape of an inquiry is not without value, even if it is without rigor” and can provide only a “marginal” or “lateral” perspective on the “phenomena studied” (41–42). In fact, “the landscape that represents [everyday tactics] in an imaginary mode” may have an “overall corrective and therapeutic value” in that it “assures their presence as ghosts” even if properly “scientific” evidence is lacking (41). As tools of social and cultural analysis, reemployment and infrapolitics are, to my mind, corrective and therapeutic in precisely the way de Certeau imagines: they “transform what was represented as a matrixforce of history into a mobile infinity of tactics” (41) and offer rejoinders to more totalizing models of social power, notably those of Michel Foucault and Pierre Bourdieu. Whereas Foucault understands power as a capillary system of “ ‘miniscule’ technical procedures” that effect “a generalized ‘discipline’ (surveillance),” and whereas Bourdieu defines habitus as a system of unknowable and inescapable rules that determine all cognitive structures and social practices,21 de Certeau counters that “popular procedures (also ‘miniscule’ and quotidian) manipulate the mechanisms of discipline and conform to them only in order to evade them” (xiv). Similarly, whereas for Foucault


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“resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power,” Scott insists that “the reverse . . . is just as plausible: ‘Power is never in a position of exteriority in relation to resistance.’ Forms of domination are devised, elaborated, and justified because the effort to bend others to one’s will always encounters resistance” (Domination 111n5, quoting Foucault 95). If Scott problematically presumes the existence of rational social actors who adopt volitional, pragmatic strategies and are free from false consciousness, he also offers a compelling alternative to a panoptic social order in which discipline is so encompassing there is little room for effective resistance and true dissent. Rather than fending off criticisms, however, it would be more appropriate to close this chapter by considering how the plays and playwrights I have discussed anticipate those criticisms and offer their own implicit, finegrained responses. How, for instance, might Gringore reply to Tilly’s assertion that compliance, resistance, and revolt rarely adhere to scripts and that the assumption of “a unitary and shared hidden transcript” merely displaces “to another level the questions that bedevil theories of hegemonic ideology: What are the boundaries of the relevant populations and their discourses? How do they construct, share, and change their discourses? Don’t subordinates ever resist the hidden transcript?” (598). While the Jeu du Prince des Sotz et de Mere Sotte essentializes social groups and conflicts by means of personifications, character types, and satirical cliche´s, it also attends closely to the internal and external differentiation within and among these tropes. Thus, Sotte Commune demonstrates that Gallican ideology cannot exclude populist sentiments from the public transcript but is instead dialectically dependent upon them. Peuple Franc¸ois reveals, moreover, that the populist agenda is not uniform or singular and does not reveal itself in readily intelligible language. On the contrary, it is paradoxical in nature, couching authentic moral and political concerns in “mots bien compassez,” which frankly signal their attempts to deceive. Finally, Doublette, much like Lison and Milady in Le gentilhomme et Naudet, allows us to recognize that social distinctions and hierarchies are in tension in the hidden transcript as well— that a woman might well choose to resist household and class allegiances in order to pursue sexual and social autonomy. In other words, there are multiple, nested transcripts at stake in a domestic farce like Raoullet Ployart, and it is not clear that any of them arise from the private realm of authenticity Scott presumes.

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Gal and Mitchell cast doubt on the real existence of such a realm by deconstructing the binary thinking they discern within Scott’s dyadic model of domination. Gal insists that even a hidden transcript has an audience and is therefore shaped by imbricated, rather than purely oppositional, power relations: “We can easily imagine a hidden transcript that voices resistance, from within an enslaved group, to the ideology of a particular slave leader. What then distinguishes public and hidden transcripts?” (417). Mitchell further argues that Scott uses false polarities of body and mind, coercion and persuasion in order “to grant to neglected political groups the status of selfformed, autonomous actors” (548) who are capable of seeing through ideological fictions they cannot stave off and of achieving self-actualization in homogeneous “offstage” spaces. And yet, for Mitchell, Scott fails to consider Foucault’s insight that individuals are often “persuaded to become involved in the continuous monitoring of [their] own actions” and are therefore complicit with disciplinary mechanisms that are “pervasive and yet largely . . . unseen” (558). With its suggestive use of the jeu du capifol, Le Ministre de l’E´glise seems to grasp both sides of this debate and to suggest that the fiction of the estates lends itself to both readings. On the one hand, we can hardly avoid noticing that a disillusioned and world-weary common man heedlessly and foolishly joins a game that has obviously been rigged against him and that leads him into an implausible alliance with his erstwhile foe, with only the opiate of faith to dull his pain from the blows he has received. On the other hand, the play seems intent on showing us the rich potential of infrapolitical resistance, such that Le Commun can perceive his oppression even when he has been blindfolded, abused, and overmatched. In short, Le Ministre de l’E´glise depicts the social system as a self-deconstructing allegory: it does not reveal its truths openly but instead points to an endless regression of illusions and a permanent tension between the aesthetic figuration of ideology and its unmasking as ideology. As we have seen, in festive comedies like these, recognition often overlaps with misrecognition, compliance with resistance, seriousness with play, and precious wisdom with crude jokes. Like the wise peasant of my epigraph, the farceur bows down to power even as he pollutes the air with a noxious fart. A sign of his identification with the masses but also of an ineluctable embodiment that (like death itself ) levels all social distinction, the fart of the farceur suggests the power of subordinate groups to resist hegemony even as they


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submit to it, to expose political domination as an ongoing set of brokered maneuvers rather than an all-encompassing explanation. Although it is invisible and cannot always be attributed to an origin, intention, or meaning, flatus fills the air and contaminates the space, eluding the tools of surveillance and discipline and demonstrating their inability to absorb alterity or suppress dissent. With their pungent indeterminacy, farts are the ultimate hidden transcript.

chapter 2

A Justice to Come Messianism and Eschatology in Maistre Pierre Pathelin

Justice remains, is yet, to come, a` venir, it has an, it is a`-venir, the very dimension of events irreducibly to come. It will always have it, this a`-venir, and always has. Perhaps it is for this reason that justice, insofar as it is not only a juridical or political concept, opens up for l’avenir the transformation, the recasting or refounding of law and politics. “Perhaps,” one must always say perhaps for justice. —Jacques Derrida

As I noted in my Introduction, there is an age-old tradition in theater criticism of disparaging farce as an essentially vulgar, inconsequential, and even unethical genre. As many scholars both past and present would have it, these short, comic crowd-pleasers not only thematize moral corruption but also injure public morals by pandering to the baser instincts of the rabble. In a bold revisionist study, Bernadette Rey-Flaud cites Arthur Pougin’s 1885 definition of farce as an “exemplary” one: “Short little plays, of a low, trivial, burlesque comedy and for the most part very licentious; plays that sought above all to incite the coarse laughter of the rabble” (Pougin 358a; qtd. in Rey-Flaud, Farce 1). According to Rey-Flaud, this definition encapsulates the four centuries of criticism that precede it and anticipates the consensus of much contemporary scholarship as well: “Farce has not been rehabilitated in our time” (Farce 8).


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I would hasten to add that attempts to rehabilitate farce have often worked to neutralize or brush aside the ethical, political, and religious challenges it poses. This is the case with Rey-Flaud’s own study, which focuses on formal design and function and takes little notice of social context and effect. Ultimately, Rey-Flaud seeks to redeem farce on purely aesthetic and intellectual grounds, arguing that it functions as a “machine a` rire” and is imbued with what Euge`ne Ionesco calls “the intuition of the absurd” (61): the despairing awareness of “a human condition ruled by incomprehensible determinism” (Farce 299). For Rey-Flaud, Ionesco’s description of his own farces tragiques could equally be applied to traditional farces: they seek to negate human liberty, reason, and choice by staging the “collapse of the real,” the disarticulation of language, and the decomposition of character (Ionesco 252; qtd. in Rey-Flaud, Farce 299). On the one hand, it is easy to see why one might draw such an analogy. Like Ionescan antitheater, farce celebrates the clattering noise of human speech, frequently divesting it of reason, sense, and reference; it tends to disrupt and degrade supposedly inviolable social and metaphysical categories; and its plots are often circular and ateleological, carefully resisting fictional closure and intellectual distance. On the other hand, Rey-Flaud’s analogy is problematic in that it leaves little room for the ethicoreligious and ethicopolitical inflection of medieval festive culture (which I discuss in Chapter 1) and does nothing to dispel the critical depreciation of farce as immoral and ungodly. If absurdist playwrights depict the futility of human action in an arbitrary, irrational universe abandoned by God, it would be difficult to sustain a similar claim about early French farceurs. Admittedly, the latter often sought to awaken the nagging doubts that inhere in, and are constitutive of, medieval practices of faith (a phenomenon I examine in Chapter 3). Even so, they could scarcely have imagined Ionesco’s despondent, aimless nihilism; and their plays were often preoccupied with divine transcendence and sacramental immanence, as well as the ethical and political imperatives that arise within Christian messianism and eschatology. Although the association of farceurs and farce with the Messiah and eschaton may seem laughably incongruous, it is not entirely unprecedented. Over the past thirty years, a number of intrepid scholars have sought to demonstrate that, even in its most profane, vulgar, and irreverent forms, medieval comic theater bears the imprint of the spiritual practices and moral and theological teachings of the Catholic Church. Thus, the social historian Jacques Heers finds “no contradiction” between, on the one hand, “the Christian spirit” and

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its “sincerest forms of religious devotion” and, on the other, “the collective forms of exuberance” typical of medieval festivals and spectacles, including those “in poor taste” (8). Heers insists that audiences would not have thought of genres like farce as destructive or subversive; on the contrary, farceurs “readily moralize” (256) and return habitually and even reverently to themes of death and judgment. In this context, then, “Christian ethics remains solidly in place” (256). The theater scholar Alan Knight embraces a similar stance, arguing that farce, like the morality play, belongs to a culture of collective piety and moral and spiritual teleology. Knight traces both genres to homiletic origins and designates them as “ethic plays,” in that “they directed spectators to think and act in ways that would lead them ultimately to salvation” (Aspects 23). If farce depicts a world “governed by sensual desires and unconstrained by the requirements of reason” (59), its intention is nonetheless ameliorative. By deriding “foolish and ethically deviant behaviour” (20), it demonstrates to the audience “what the real world would be like without the guiding rudder of reason” (59). Its ethos is therefore negative, pragmatic, and didactic—and, above all, deeply rational, conformist, and Christian. My aim in this chapter is to bring an ethicoreligious and ethicopolitical perspective to bear on farce by turning to the unquestioned masterpiece of the genre, the anonymous Maistre Pierre Pathelin (ca. 1456–60), and to examine how it uses scriptural intertexts and sacred parody to interrogate, critique, and reimagine ossified value systems.1 Let me be clear, however, that my approach differs markedly from that of Heers and Knight. Those scholars view farce as a relatively stable form of indirect, edifying satire that reflects a fundamentally stable, uniform, and consensual set of norms. They would therefore have us read Pathelin much as Molie`re, currying favor with an absolutist regime, asks us to read Tartuffe—as an attempt “to correct men’s vices” and cultivate their obedience by exposing them to the judgment of collective laughter (115). By contrast, I construe farce as a highly unstable, parodic, and self-parodic genre that imagines and affirms the possibility of a more ethical and just future precisely by disrupting a conventional language of virtue and vice and by demonstrating the scandalous lack of justice in the present moment. In short, I believe farce belongs to a culture of performance in which laughter serves to deconstruct rigid polarities and totalized meanings and in which the play of differences is invested with profound ethical, religious, and political significance. The notion that Pathelin embraces a self-consciously disjunctive and labile semiotics will be a familiar one to those acquainted with criticism of


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the play, especially the structuralist and poststructuralist readings that appeared in the 1970s and 80s. Thus, for Suzanne Fleischman, Pathelin bears witness to the “breakdown” of feudal Europe’s (supposedly) “homogeneous world-view” and of the “signifying relationships” used to sustain it (20). Similarly, for Alexandre Leupin, the play’s discursive economy is predicated on the commutability of the signified, the slippage of meaning along a chain of signifiers, and a radical disruption of epistemology and ontology. It would be tempting to see Pathelin’s unsettling of discursive meaning as a step toward the repudiation of ethics, and indeed this move was a common one in post1968 scholarship. As Geoffrey Galt Harpham argues (citing Fredric Jameson), many “critical schools” in “the Theoretical Era” sought to debunk ethical claims as ideological mystifications (18) and to use disruptions of linguistic presence as the starting point “for transcending the ‘ethical’ in the direction of the political and the collective” (Jameson, Political 60; qtd. in Harpham 167). This critical tendency may well account for Fleischman’s assertion that Pathelin uses “the ambiguity of language” and its potential as “an instrument of deceit” (21) to disrupt the semiotic and value systems that aim to naturalize aristocratic privilege in courtly literature. It may also explain why, for Leupin, Pathelin’s slippery, self-reflexive language works to invalidate moral and legal claims: “Criminality . . . is referred back to the artifice of literature and redeemed by [it],” in that literature “does not owe anything to anyone” and is governed by “an ethic that disallows all notions of blame or moral fault” (186–87). Compelling as these arguments may be, my own reading of Pathelin takes a very different tack. Drawing inspiration from the ethical and messianic turn in postmodern philosophy, especially work by Jacques Derrida and John Caputo, I seek to accommodate Leupin and Fleischman’s linguistic and political insights with Heers and Knight’s ethicoreligious ones. More specifically, I propose that Pathelin exploits ambiguities of discursive meaning and theatrical performance in order to reframe ethics itself, and the messianism and eschatology on which it hinges in a fifteenth-century setting, as constitutively and productively open-ended. Harpham has argued that a postmodern, deconstructive ethics depends upon precisely this sort of “principled irresolution” (30): the role of ethics is to sustain and problematize “the limited and precise prescriptions of morality” (30) while remaining “critical above all of itself,” its blind spots, and its potential for misjudgment (32). Indeed, if its core “obligation” is “to form a relation with its other,” it must grant that “no matter what settlement is reached with some other or other,

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there will always be some other other demanding our attention. Ethics does not solve problems, it structures them” (37). As I argue, Pathelin’s ethics can be understood along similar lines. The play does not imagine an external perspective or absolute system of value through which its characters’ deviant conduct could be assessed, be it a “guiding rudder of reason” or a monolithic “Christian spirit.” Nor does it exploit the sliding of signifieds under signifiers to evade or disallow “blame or moral fault.” Rather, it uses linguistic diffe´rance and parodic play to unsettle reductive, conventional, and prescriptive deontologies and to show that human morality and judgment are always irreparably flawed, especially when compared with the Judgment Day that is heralded—repeatedly if irreverently—throughout the play. The evidence I marshal in support of these claims is almost exclusively textual and intertextual. I should mention at the outset, however, two codicological studies, one by Darwin Smith and the other by Michel Rousse, that offer vital corroboration of an ethical reading of Pathelin. Smith argues that we can learn a great deal about the farce by resituating it within the programmatic design of one of its earliest manuscripts, the Recueil Bigot (BnF fr. 15080/1707, ca. 1475–78), which emanates from the library of a family of elite jurists based in Rouen.2 Structured as a “mirror of human life,” Bigot seems to have been used for “meditative reading,” whether individual or collective, and specifically for the contemplation of worldly impermanence, human sinfulness, and the Four Last Things of the Christian eschaton (101). Pathelin was placed last in the sequence of texts and was used to illustrate the seven deadly sins (especially avarice and pride), the inevitability of death and reckoning, and the inadequacy of human judges and judgments. It follows that at least some medieval readers perceived the farce as a source of ethical, eschatological, and messianic wisdom. Rousse’s study, which examines the version of Pathelin found in the Manuscrit La Vallie`re (BnF fr. 25467, ca. 1480–85), suggests that we can make a similar claim regarding theatrical audiences (“Pathelin”).3 Likely a copy of a repertory text used by actors, La Vallie`re presents an alternation of two farces and two morality plays that were probably staged in pairs, suggesting to Rousse that both genres would have been endowed with ethical functions in performance. Although Pathelin does little to condemn its characters’ depravity and seems to disavow hope and progress, it would have taken on a wholly different cast when presented with the morality play Le Grand et le Petit. The former work would have implicitly repudiated the latter’s faith in a better world, even as the latter would have gestured toward the former’s latent, ethical condemnation of social injustice.


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My argument follows a similar trajectory, moving from the openendedness of farce (its lack of aesthetic and moral closure) and the indeterminacy of its language toward its largely unrealized and unarticulated ethics and politics. I begin with an analysis of the contingency of discursive and theatrical signifiers in Pathelin, pointing to moments at which norms, customs, and laws are revealed as cultural fictions subject to repetition and difference, appropriation and distortion. I then show how the farce parodies sacred rites and scriptural themes, and how it incites religious laughter in order to generate new frames of reference for the ethical obligations and political challenges posed in the Gospels. While parody is not as overtly political as satire, I argue that Pathelin uses parodic repetition to critique bourgeois hegemony and the secular law courts, even as it invites spectators to imagine what a more just society or a more just justice might look like. Throughout, my argument is inspired by Mikhail Bakhtin’s claim, in Rabelais and His World, that Carnival sought not only to degrade the “official” culture it mocked but also to regenerate it through irresolvable ambivalence. As we saw in Chapter 1, farce is a genre at the very heart of Carnival; as we shall see in the present chapter, it also mediates between the closed meanings of morality and law and the “principled irresolution” of ethics. In so doing, it allows for dynamic exchanges between authority and irreverence, piety and derision, stability and change; and the ethos that results from these comic me´salliances is not just ambivalent and indeterminate but progressive and transformative as well. While Leupin rightly asserts that Pathelin’s unscrupulous characters exploit the pluralization of language in order to “[shirk] the law, guilt, moral blame, and any economic or social obligation” (191), the play also invites the audience to reflect on the inherent deficiencies of moral language, the irreducible specificities of moral situations, and what Bakhtin calls the “unfinalizability” of the world: “Everything is still in the future and will always be in the future” (Problems 166).

The Deceiver Deceived As Rousse has argued, Pathelin can be neatly divided into three distinct episodes, each of which operates as “a complete farce in terms of form and subject matter,” and each of which develops the proverbial, circular theme of the deceiver deceived: a` trompeur, trompeur et demi (“Rythme” 89). Taking the sequence of episodes as a whole, we can readily perceive that its escalating cycle of deception, in which each deceiver is bested in turn by an even more

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artful and treacherous opponent, is inextricably linked to the deployment of self-referential, multireferential, nonreferential, and nonsensical signifiers. The play clearly seeks to demonstrate that human sign systems, including its own, are predicated upon a regression of artifice in which stable reality, rational truth, and original or final meaning are fundamentally lacking. My question will be whether and how a theory of ethics and justice could arise in so destabilized a setting. In order to recognize such a theory when we see it, we must first acknowledge that it will have little in common with the ones that prevail in modern Western jurisprudence—for instance, the pragmatism of John Rawls, who seeks “secure conceptual and moral foundations for [justice in] the constitutional principles of liberal democracy,” or the discourse theory of Ju¨rgen Habermas, who insists on “the need for . . . a secure basis for [a] critique of the present” (Patton 126–27; citing Rawls 101; Habermas, Between 15). Indeed, Pathelin suggests that we can find no stable footing for ethics and justice in either language or the world, that ethics and justice are among the first things to go missing when sign systems encounter turbulence, and that the desire to locate them again arises precisely from their evanescence. In order to tease out the full implications of these claims, I read Pathelin’s three episodes seriatim, considering as I go how semiotic disruption is used to complicate the theme of the deceiver deceived and to undermine the foundations of communicative reason and moral and legal judgment. The first episode almost immediately establishes links among words, fabric, and coins, and shows how each can signify and substitute for the others and for some very real deficiency in the material realm. As the play opens, Pierre Pathelin, who claims to be a licensed barrister but whose tattered clothes reveal his lack of gainful employment, declares his intention to go to market to purchase fabric on credit. His wife, Guillemette, is skeptical that anyone will be dimwitted enough to offer her husband a loan and reminds him that he long ago lost any professional reputation he once had. True, he is widely known as “ung fin droit mestre” (“a right fine master”; 45) but not of “advocasserie” (“lawyering”; 47), rather of “tromperie” (“deception”; 48).4 Chafing at his fate and his wife’s gibes, Pierre boasts that he could expedite any case presented to him, despite never having learned his letters: “Si n’en aprins oncq a lettre” (22). He seems to believe that fine appearances—the “camelos” (“camel hair”) and “camocas” (“satins”) with which barristers are so often “fourre´z” (“adorned”; 58–60)—are more important than education for a career in the law. He therefore affirms his plan to broker a deal that will rectify his sartorial lack without the need for coin:


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On me prestera voirement, a rendre au jour du Jugement, car plus tost ne sera ce point. (85–87) Someone will sell to me on credit, truly, and will be reimbursed on Judgment Day, for it will not be any sooner than that. Guillemette scoffs at the idea that anyone will be so foolish as to loan her husband money, though Pierre soon proves her wrong. Encountering a clothier named Guillaume Joceaulme at his stall, Pierre first flatters the man by praising his family and wares, then artfully incites his greed by claiming to have squirreled away some of his earnings, funds he will now use to indulge an appetite for finely milled cloth. Pierre’s reference to coins “que ma mere ne vit oncq frere” (“that my mother never saw, nor my brother”; 213) contains an ironic double entendre: the merchant takes him to mean that he earned the money rather than inherited it and therefore owes none of it to anybody; but the audience knows full well—as should Guillaume, given Pierre’s ragged appearance—that the coins have never been seen because they do not exist (Tissier, Recueil 7:368n). Far from being referential realities, they are for us (if not for Guillaume) emblems of semiotic disjunction and theatrical make-believe—of a discursive construction that will enable Pierre to obtain something for nothing even as he exposes the groundlessness and unreliability of signifying processes. Utterly oblivious to his customer’s verbal legerdemain, Guillaume soon proves worthy of the double entendre lurking within his own name, which in common usage means “fool” or “dupe” (Dictionnaire, s.v. “guillaume”). He agrees to sell Pierre a large amount of cloth for a considerable sum—nine aunes (“yards”) for six gold ´ecus (“crowns”)—and to receive payment later that day at his home, along with a meal of roast goose. The goose is, of course, another ironic signifier of lack, in that Pierre has neither gold coins nor rich foods, and of foolishness, in that the goose is a metaphor for the simpleton: he who is taken in by empty, mouthwatering promises (Dictionnaire, s.v. “oie,” def. B). To be sure, Guillaume’s name, like Guillemette’s, also evokes guile (Tissier, Recueil 7:392–93n); and we soon learn through an aside to the audience (and another sly avian metaphor) that the clothier believes it is he who has pulled a fast one on his customer: Ce trompeur la est si becjaune que pour .xxiiii. solz l’aune a prins drap qui n’en vault pas vingt. (341–43)

A Justice to Come


That trickster is such a naı¨ve fledgling, he bought cloth for twentyfour sous a yard that isn’t worth twenty. The merchant will soon receive his comeuppance, however, as Pierre is not a trompeur but a trompeur et demi and plans to repay his debt in language and playacting rather than gold crowns and roast goose. In his own gleeful aside, the avocat, whose declared vocation involves the putting into movement of language (Latin advocatus, from ad and vox; see Leupin 177– 78), puns on the word word and announces his plan to destabilize language altogether, and currency and credit along with it: A, dea, il ne m’a pas vendu a mon mot, ch’a este´ au sien, mais il sera paye´ au mien! Il luy fault de l’or? On lui fourre! (328–31) He certainly didn’t sell to me at my price/word, it was at his; but he will be paid at mine! He needs some gold? Let’s furnish him with some [or, counterfeit some for him]! The verb fourrer, which can mean “to cover a person in fabric” or “to counterfeit by concealing an alloy in gold” (Tissier, Recueil 7:386n), neatly encapsulates the exchange of cloth for coin and the disappearance of both in a proliferation of signifiers: mots that conceal their referents or cause them to disappear, that can be exploited even by those who lack their lettres, and that (much like theater itself ) create new meanings, identities, and realities. The clothier is draped in his own foolishness, and the guile in his name has turned against him, exposing him as a guillaume. He will be obliged not only to cover the trickster’s debts but also to attest to his mastery of language in motion—of an advocasserie that is synonymous with tromperie and betrays the justice it claims to signify and pursue. The second episode of the play complicates the theme of linguistic dispossession considerably, as Pierre and Guillemette use words and playacting to divest Guillaume not only of coins and cloth but also of the truth of his own experience and his status as a victim. Returning home, Pierre narrates and acts out his grift for Guillemette and then convinces her to join him in staging another theatrical scene. When the merchant arrives at their home, she is to inform him that her husband is mortally ill, has not left his bed for


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weeks, and therefore could not possibly have purchased cloth at the market. To lend credence to her story, she must tremble with grief as she tells it and must implore Guillaume to respect the dying man by lowering his voice. Although Guillemette worries that “justice” (473) will eventually catch up with her husband and land him in the pillory (where he once spent a Saturday enduring the jeers of the crowd), she agrees to help him: “J’en feray trop bien la maniere” (“I will play my part perfectly”; 471). True to her word, she soon turns her words to untruth: putting on an extravagant display of grief, she laments the suffering of her “povre martir” (“poor martyr”; 497) of a husband and responds to Guillaume’s repeated demands for money by screaming at him to keep quiet. When Pierre appears in response to the commotion, he, too, plays his role to the hilt, feigning delirium, uttering nonsense words, and pretending to see demons swarming around him, as if he were truly in extremis. Guillaume now comes to doubt what he directly witnessed at the marketplace and so returns there emptyhanded. As for Pierre and Guillemette, they are left to celebrate their victory and justify their actions to one another. Not surprisingly, their moral logic is as slippery as their theatrical tricks: they seem to have convinced themselves that it is they who are the martyred victims of a crime and that their swindle enacts the very “justice” they seek to elude. Indeed, the language they adopt suggests both moral outrage and religious condemnation: surely, a man as “tresmescre¨ant” (utterly incredulous/irreligious/idolatrous/heretical”; 727) as Guillaume, says Pierre—a man who “ne donnoit rien / ne pour feste ne pour dimenche” (“never gave to charity, neither on feast days nor on Sundays”; 732–33), says Guillemette—deserves to be demeaned and defrauded. Pierre goes so far as to invoke the Passion in order to justify the requital, using an analogy that risks installing malice, revenge, and bad faith within the inner sanctum: “Il est en lui trop mieulx se¨ant / qu’ung crucefix en ung monstier” (“It [our act of revenge] is better suited to him [Guillaume] than a crucifix to a church”; 728–29). The work of profanation is just getting started, however; for in the second half of the episode, Pierre supplements his performance of deathbed madness with a stunning exhibition of glossolalia that makes a travesty of Pentecost itself. Back at his stall, Guillaume comes to his senses and concludes that Pierre is not a moribund invalid but a trickster who plays people “pour guillaumes” (“for fools”; 756). Unaware that he has articulated the very verbal trap in which he will soon be caught, the merchant storms back to the house, denounces Pierre for offering him mere “motz” (“words”) in exchange

A Justice to Come


for his “drap” (“cloth”; 783), and demands the coins he was promised instead. Pierre once again makes a guillaume of him, however, proffering a series of speeches in “divers langages” (858), none of them intelligible to the clothier: Limousin, Picard, Flemish, Norman, Breton, and Latin. Once again, Guillaume is paid not in coins or a` son mot but with a useless, vacuous blathering that leaves the merchant himself incapable of coherent thought or speech. After muttering an apology to the couple for intruding on their misery (“Pour Dieu, qu’il me soit pardonne´” [956]), he beats a hasty retreat, lamenting as he goes that he finds himself more “confused” than ever: “ebaudeluy” (960), from the Latin balbus, meaning “stammering, stuttering, or lisping.” Indeed, Pierre seems to have caused language itself to stumble and fall: deceptive half-truths and scandalous untruths have devolved into a Babelian confusio linguarum or a senseless aer percussus, words that strike, abuse, and confound the listener rather than informing, orienting, or enlightening him. At the same time, he seems to have short-circuited any attempt to locate ethics and justice in the play: he evades debt, judgment, and the pillory; he earns an apology in God’s own name from the very victim he has defrauded; and he symbolically recreates and desecrates the Pentecostal epiphany. Speaking in “divers langages” and echoing the Apostles’ “divers tongues” (Acts 2:4), he gives voice not to “the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:11) but to diabolical acts of treachery. By the end of the scene, Guillaume is convinced that it was not Pierre but “deable en lieu de luy / [qui] a prins mon drap” (“the devil in his stead who stole my cloth”; 961–62). In fact, he is terrified to the point of giving the cloth away, “pour Dieu, a quiconques l’ait prins” (“in God’s name, to whoever may have taken it”; 966). If he seems to gesture vaguely in the direction of an ethos of charity here (a giving to and forgiving of the enemy), it soon becomes clear that he is every inch the mescre¨ant Pierre and Guillemette have made him out to be. Mindful only of profits and losses, he loudly preaches the gospel of Mammon as he makes his way back to the market: “Chascun emporte mon avoir, / dont je me doy forment doloir” (“Everyone takes what’s mine, and I’ve got a right to complain loudly about it”; 1032–33). Instead of countering free-market evangelism with a message of Christian redemption, the final episode of the farce once again pluralizes language in order to mock and distort juridical and theological modes of truth. As Leupin notes, it does so by means of a formal transposition: Pierre’s “Babelized proliferation of many languages” undergoes a “minimalist inversion” (199), shifting our focus back to the word word and from there to a word that may not


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be a word at all so much as an animalistic bleating. When Guillaume returns to his market stall, he encounters his shepherd, Thibault Aignelet (a diminutive of agnel, or “sheep”), whom he has accused of massacring and eating his livestock. Fumbling for his words (presumably out of fear), Thibault reveals that a thuggish police sergeant, “tout desvoye´” (“all bent out of shape”; 1047) and wielding an officer’s baton that the shepherd describes as a “fouet sans corde” (“cordless whip”; 1048), has accosted him, made “une grant levee . . . du bouglı¨er” (“a great show of force”; 1057–58), and ordered him to face charges before a judge that very afternoon. He meekly proclaims his innocence and implores his master not to prosecute, no doubt terrified at the penalty he might receive. The first offense of theft was typically punished by the loss of an ear or an eye; but in certain traditions of customary law, firsttime thieves could be hanged if the stolen property exceeded a value of twelve pence (Geremek 16). Unfortunately for Thibault, Guillaume coldly denies his appeal for clemency, forcing the shepherd to seek legal counsel from Pierre. Thibault frankly admits to his attorney that he killed and ate a slew of his master’s sheep over a period of many years. He implies, however, that he did so out of poverty and hunger rather than avarice and gluttony: “Mon doulz mestre . . . me payoit petitement. / Diray je tout?” (“My dear master paid me but little. Need I say more?”; 1109–13). If Thibault is cagey and laconic regarding the injustices of peasant life and the exploitative greed of the merchant class, he is explicit about compensation for his lawyer, who will be paid “en bel or a la couronne” (“in fine gold crowns”; 1151). Much like Guillaume, whom he now starts to resemble, Pierre is seduced by the mere mention of gold and promptly agrees to take the case, not thinking that an avowed thief and supposed pauper is unlikely to make good on his promise to pay. Paradoxically, the advice the wordsmith offers his client is that to prevail in court, he must avoid articulate speech altogether: “Se tu parles, on te prendra / coup a coup aux posicı¨ons” (“If you speak, you’ll be caught on each and every charge”; 1184–85). He must therefore adopt a defense strategy that amounts to a single, monosyllabic, and nonsensical word: to every question, no matter who poses it, even if it is Pierre himself, he is to cry out like a lamb: “Dy be[e]” (“Say baa”; 1198). Pierre will pretend to be in court on another matter and not to know Thibault. He will then spontaneously volunteer to represent him and will argue for acquittal on the basis of mental incompetence: “Il est nipce,” he will declare to the judge; “il cuide parler a ses bestes” (“He’s a moron who thinks he’s talking to his beasts”; 1198–99). Pierre asks only to be

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well compensated, and, needless to say, Thibault swears to pay him “a vostre mot” (1221). In the courtroom scene that closes the play, this by now familiar pun is drawn to its logical conclusion: Thibault, the new trompeur et demi, outwits his employer and his barrister, offering them the word bee in lieu of the money he owes and making a mockery of justice in the process. As the bigger idiot, the clothier is, naturally enough, the first victim—and a defenseless one at that, as his attorney is delayed by another case and leaves him to represent himself alone. When Guillaume sees Pierre in court rather than on his deathbed and hears his shepherd bleating maniacally, he finds himself incapable of pleading his case intelligibly and so muddles together the slaughtered sheep, the nine yards of fabric, and the six gold crowns. Himself a kind of lost lamb, he goes astray in a field of signifiers and finds no shepherd to guide him home and no savior to render him justice. Certainly, the judge fails to offer him succor. Citing Pierre’s claim that Thibault is a “fol naturel” (“naturalborn imbecile”; 1422), and perhaps also believing Pierre’s allegation that Guillaume, who has raised Thibault since childhood, “s’estoit joue´ / a le tenir sans alouer” (“amused himself by keeping him in service without paying him a salary”; 1277–78), the judge rebukes the merchant and prohibits him from ever reopening the case. He thus implicitly confirms Pierre’s mastery of both advocasserie and tromperie. This triumph is short-lived, however, as Pierre is betrayed by the very language he has put into motion to deceive Guillaume. Although he told the judge he would defend Thibault for free and “pour Dieu” (1405), he never considered that anyone might hold him to his word. And yet once the trial is over and judge and plaintiff have left the courtroom, the shepherd does just that. Each time Pierre demands his gold, Thibault bleats defiantly in his face, as if to say that the lawyer must accept his mot as payment rather than payment a` son mot, and must stay true to his word, providing his services pro bono et pro Deo just as he said he would. In the end, what can we make of bee, this nonword word? With each reiteration, it becomes clearer that it is not in fact senseless noise. On the contrary, bee plays numerous semantic, conceptual, and social functions. It serves as a placeholder for all that is lacking in discourse, be it coins or sheep, reality or justice. It offers a warning that a language vitiated by lack will betray those who believe too readily in their ability to control its meaning or grasp its truth. It reminds the audience of humanity’s seemingly inexhaustible capacity to perpetrate acts of fraud and crime. And finally, it serves to flatten seemingly inflexible social and class distinctions: not only does it enable a


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shabby shyster to defeat a well-heeled merchant on behalf of his plebeian client; it also compels the self-proclaimed “maitre / Des trompeurs d’ici et d’ailleurs” (“master of tricksters from hither and yon”; 1611–12) to admit that a mere “berger des champs” (“shepherd of the fields”; 1616) has surpassed him. After all, Thibault, too, has paid his debts with language, has deferred an accounting until the “jour du jugement” (1615), and has left his creditor, Pierre, stammering impotently: “Paye moy” (1580); “me paye” (1582); “penses de me payer” (1585); “paye” (1587); “tu me payeras” (1589); “et me paye” (1596). Indeed, the clearest sign of the defeat Pierre has suffered lies in his refusal to accept it: exactly like Guillaume, whom he now fully resembles, he threatens to call for “un bon sergent” (1621) and to pursue justice against the shepherd. This threat can only be taken as more futile, percussive speech, however: Thibault’s every action and word have been dictated by Pierre, who can hardly accuse Thibault now of swindling his attorney out of the fee he charged to help his client thwart the rule of law. The trickster is thus undone by his own trick, the wordsmith by his own word; and glossolalia yields to palilalia: the inane and utterly ineffectual repetition of a performative demand for payment. As for justice, it seems to have vanished altogether in a morass of equivocal signifiers, alternative meanings, and dishonest claims. Even the defeat of the exploitative merchant fails to register as a moral victory; for it would seem that everyone must take his turn as victim in this farce and that nothing is ever truly done pro bono or pro Deo. Far from it: goodness and godliness, charity and faith have gone missing in the very discourses that name them; and we could be forgiven for concluding that, with no secure foundation for ethics and justice in language, there will be no end to depravity and injustice in the world.

Sacred Parody Given its endless recycling of victimization and betrayal, and its lack of any sort of aphoristic or reparative denouement, it is not surprising that many critics have interpreted Pathelin as either an immoral or an amoral play. According to the former reading (which is rooted in moral Romanticism but survives in criticism today), Pathelin is the epic of “an age of scoundrels” (Michelet 74), a play that takes pleasure in the “degradation of human nature” (Renan 314) and that ridicules moral duty to the point of eradicating

A Justice to Come


“all ethics” (E´vrard 99). According to the latter reading, it constructs a “closed universe” that lacks “the slightest opening onto an ideal” (Frappier, Moyen Aˆge 250) and aestheticizes human treachery without “a hint of reticence, contestation, or condemnation” (Mazouer, Moyen Aˆge 348). To give these readings their due, it is certainly difficult to imagine a hopeful or redemptive outcome to the play’s iterative agon. If Guillaume and Pierre are harbingers of things to come, Thibault, too, will soon take on the role of oppressive mestre, only to be unseated by an even more devious trompeur. Indeed, the closing line of the play implies that such a reversal is already visible on the horizon. When Pierre threatens to call for “un bon sergent” to imprison Thibault, the latter responds not with the trump word bee but with words of absolution, presumably uttered with haughty defiance: “S’il me trouve je lui pardonne” (“If he finds me, I will pardon him”; 1623). Suddenly heedless of Pierre’s warning that to speak real words is to be caught “coup a coup,” Thibault assumes the role of one who has the performative power to acquit, spare, or forgive: a judge, a priest, or (since he is, like Christ, both berger and aignelet) a messiah. Even his claim that he will be hard to find could be said to have perverse messianic resonance, evoking the “hidden God” of Isaiah (45:15) and the “non est hic” (“he is not here”) of Quem Quaeritis, and making of Thibault a false prophet of an impossible salvation. Of course, if one were looking for the farce to point a moral (as Heers and Knight would urge us to do), one might discern an implicit reference to Proverbs here as well, and a tacit warning of the spiritual repercussions of hubris and greed: “Pride goeth before destruction,” so “better to be humbled with the meek than to divide spoils with the proud” (16:18–19). And yet this intertext does little to extricate us from the play’s moral problems. For Pathelin not only unseats the proud and debunks their claims to mastery; it also demonstrates that the roles of proud and meek, mestre and berger, victimizer and victim are fundamentally and endlessly interchangeable. Given half a chance, the peasant, like the shyster or merchant before him, will exploit his opponent and rob him blind, one trompeur displacing the other, only to be displaced in turn. An obvious (if deeply unsatisfying) conclusion would be that social struggles are not resolvable or progressive but recurrent and inevitable, and that ethical fulfillment is a fool’s paradise—a flimsy, farcical illusion that even the dopiest guillaume would dismiss out of hand. In order to complicate this conclusion, I propose to turn now to the uses of sacred parody in Pathelin: the ways in which the play conjures up biblical narratives and sacred truths only to find humor in distorting and diminishing


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them. Following Linda Hutcheon, I hold that parody is both etymologically and pragmatically ambivalent: it is, on the one hand, a form of stylistic confrontation and literary challenge (from para-, “counter,” and oide, “song”) and, on the other, a perpetuating, authorizing, and sometimes even reverential mode of imitation (para-, “beside”) (32). Parodic gestures are thus characterized by ironic double coding: they shuttle erratically between similarity and difference, continuity and change, opposition and accord; and in so doing, they mark a “patent refusal” of both “semantic univocality” and “structural unitextuality” (54). This refusal produces in Pathelin what Hutcheon would call a “range of pragmatic ethos” (37): the play simultaneously pursues a desacralization and resacralization of scripture, even as it posits a relationship, both in biblical narrative and on the farcical stage, between unclosed meaning and ethical inquiry. Unlike conventional satire, which (for Hutcheon) “tends to defend norms” and “ridicules in order to bring deviation into line” (79), Pathelin eschews representational modes that claim to repair moral and social brokenness even as they suppress difference and dissent.5 Instead, it asks its audience members to consider the injustices of their social institutions, specifically the marketplace and the law court, in view of a divine justice that remains indefinitely on the horizon. That justice can be fulfilled only at history’s end, and therefore figures in the play as a kind of cruel or calculated joke. At the same time, however, the projection of a future, messianic justice would have enabled audiences to contemplate their world from what Theodor Adorno calls “the standpoint of redemption”: “Perspectives must be fashioned that displace and estrange the world, [that] reveal it to be, with its rifts and crevices, as indigent and distorted as it will appear one day in the messianic light” (247). With Adorno’s words in mind, let us consider how Pathelin’s use of sacred parody may suggest an ethics (and eventually also a politics) of futurity. Such an ethics would reveal the urgent need for, and scandalous lack of, justice in our present moment. It would also expose our inability to grasp, without at the same time betraying, the ethical imperatives of Holy Writ. Indeed, Pathelin consistently associates the New Testament’s messianic and eschatological themes with perversity, subterfuge, and wrongdoing. In the opening scene, Pierre conjures up the “jour du jugement” to justify a debt he plans never to repay—or rather to defer negotiation until the day when Christ will call his soul to account. He thus finds in eschatology less a portent of eventual reckoning and eternal ruling than a rationalization of sin and an indefinite postponement of its temporal consequences. Of course,

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Pierre does not manage to avoid a settling of accounts for long; but so, too, the reckoning he faces implies a distortion of scripture rather than a fulfillment of divine law. The solemnity and clarity of Judgment Day are deflated into the sleaziness and confusion of Guillaume’s day in court, with its absurd, faithless testimonies and its seemingly irreparable travesty of justice. On this particular “jour du jugement,” we do not contemplate the pure presence of the divine Word (John 1:1), which, for Augustine, is “silent . . . in eternity” (251) and utterly unlike the “clatter of syllables” (Confessions 249). Instead, we witness an outpouring of increasingly boisterous, barbarous, and depraved forms of verbal repetition: from Guillaume’s stuttering and cluttering to Thibault’s ovine bleating to Pierre’s money-grubbing palilalia. Then, with its closing line, the farce allows the all-too-human shepherd—really, a wolf in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15) and therefore a type of the Antichrist —to mimic and supplant the Lamb of God, the Good Shepherd, and perhaps even Saint Francis, who was said to bleat like a sheep when preaching about the Christ Child.6 Far from taking away “the sin of the world” (John 1:29), as Christ promised to do by making “the Word . . . flesh” (1:14), this false prophet has only his own needs at heart and is willing to lie, cheat, and steal to fulfill them. And far from separating “the sheep from the goats,” as the Son of Man will do when he returns to occupy “the seat of his majesty” (Matt. 25:31–32), this “berger des champs” blurs the boundary between innocence and guilt, making it impossible for a human judge to distinguish between them and to pronounce a verdict that is actually truthful speech. How, then, should we interpret these gestures of parodic distortion and deflation, and what kind of pragmatic ethos do they set in motion? Noting the ubiquity of sacred parody in farce, Mazouer argues that its humor was addressed to plebeian spectators who had never been fully evangelized and jibbed at the ascetic and penitential demands the clergy placed upon them (Moyen Aˆge 353, citing Delumeau). If social elites were willing to tolerate farce’s iconoclasm, it was only because performances were confined to bounded, periodic moments of popular release and because, as Paul Zumthor would have it, the genre worked to “adulterate,” “domesticate,” and “canalize” the people’s “latent violence” (Moyen Aˆge 354, citing Zumthor, Masque 132). I expressed my reservations about this sort of structural functionalist argument in the preceding chapter and shall simply observe here how illequipped it is to explain the place Pathelin occupies in its manuscript matrices. How indeed could a functionalist reading of sacred parody explain the


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devotional and meditative uses to which elite readers put Pathelin in the Recueil Bigot? Likewise, how could it account for the dialectic of piety and depravity, hope and cynicism that the Manuscrit La Vallie`re anticipates staging? Do these textual witnesses not suggest that Pathelin was perceived as a work of great ethicoreligious profundity by a variety of audiences, and was inflected by both desacralizing humor and resacralizing ambivalence? This codicological evidence certainly chimes with Bakhtin’s account of the uses of parody in carnivalesque culture: “Degradation digs a bodily grave for a new birth; it has not only a destructive, negative aspect, but also a regenerating one. To degrade an object does not imply merely hurling it into the void of nonexistence, into absolute destruction, but to hurl it down to the reproductive lower stratum, the zone in which conception and a new birth take place” (Rabelais 21). If Pathelin digs a grave for scripture itself, it surely also emulates and perpetuates the themes of death and resurrection, abjection and holiness that pervade the New Testament, including most obviously Paul’s Letter to the Romans: “For we are buried together with [Christ] by baptism unto death, that as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life” (6:4). Can we not say, then, that the ironic double coding inherent in parody enables the farce to reaffirm the sacred status of scripture even as it signals the susceptibility of all textual truths to repetition and difference, authorization and transgression? Read from this perspective, Pathelin makes a travesty of biblical prophecy in order to stimulate the forms of social reflexivity and renewal that Bakhtin associates with Carnival: “the chance to have a new outlook on the world, to realize the relative nature of all that exists, and to enter a completely new order of things” (Rabelais 34). Admittedly (as we saw in Chapter 1), passages like this one have often been marshaled as evidence of Bakhtin’s naı¨ve utopianism—an “optimistic populism” (9) that, for Peter Stallybrass and Allon White, blurs the line between idealized projection and historical description to the point that it is rendered “unusable as an analytic tool” (10). As Michael Gardiner insists, however, Bakhtin never mistook Carnival for a “total” utopia, meaning one that seeks “to contain the world within an homogeneous conceptual whole, to impose order and system-ness upon a messy and recalcitrant reality and to thereby exclude difference and diversity” (24). On the contrary, he saw it as a “critical utopia” (22), meaning one that is entirely “bound up with antagonistic social and political forces” (23) and that knowingly projects “a transformed social world . . . that can only be completely realized at the risk of its own negation” (37). I would argue that

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Pathelin, despite (or, rather, because of ) its inexorable dismantling of secular optimism, imagines the festive moment of its own staging as just this sort of critical utopia. On the one hand, the play degrades and ridicules eschatology by conflating the “jour du jugement” with the miscarriages of justice that were ever present in secular law courts and weighed especially heavily on the poor. On the other hand, it asks us to read its courtroom scene as a figuration of the eschaton—as the expectation of a divine justice that will repair the injustices of our world by bringing it to an end, and that in the meantime works to estrange that world by exposing and ridiculing its inequities. To take the argument a step further, we should consider that, even as Pathelin ridicules the idea of moral progress, it uses judicial language and themes to invite the audience to pose questions about the justness or unjustness of the actions they have witnessed, to confront the impossibility of an adequate or definitive response, and to recommit themselves to a future justice by reckoning with its elusiveness in the present. This antinomy is nowhere more evident than in the utterly inscrutable gesture of absolution with which Thibault closes the play: “S’il me trouve je lui pardonne.” Roger Dragonetti rightly construes these words as a “challenge” to spectators, who will themselves “merit pardon” if they can manage to decipher the “arcane tricks of language that make up the play’s advocasserie,” its putting into movement of language (275). The fact that no one could possibly achieve such a feat (grace is, after all, a spontaneous and unmerited gift from God) does not exempt us from struggling over the questions Thibault’s words elicit, and finding other questions in the process. Perhaps most fundamentally, we must ask who this mysterious, protean character is, and by what right he claims to issue pardons. In fewer than six hundred lines, Thibault has shifted erratically among a number of strikingly incompatible roles, none of which is entirely convincing or secure: shepherd and lamb, innocent and criminal, victim and victimizer, lunatic and trickster, judge and priest, messiah and devil. If we cannot claim to know the most basic things about Thibault, how can we judge the virtue of his character, the justness of his actions, or his right to confer forgiveness on others? Is he fully guilty of the crimes of which his master has accused him? Or do Guillaume’s voracious greed and Thibault’s apparent status as an impoverished and unfree worker justify, whether in whole or in part, the slaughter of his master’s sheep? While few medieval ethicists were willing to justify the theft of food in situations other than widespread famine, they could not possibly have denied the precarity of life for the working poor, who suffered from


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chronic under- and malnourishment even as their employers profited handsomely from their misery (Mollat 111, 194–95). Is this not a terrible injustice, and one that must be adjudicated and remedied if it is to be forgiven? Of course, we must not forget that Pierre has made this case for Thibault in court; and his skillful, in some sense even principled, defense of his client suggests yet another legitimate grievance: has the lawyer not earned his salary, and is it not unjust of Thibault to withhold it from him? Perhaps. And yet there is a certain justice, poetic and otherwise, in repaying Pierre’s deception with deception. Does the shyster really deserve to profit twice from the clothier’s foolishness? If not, could we imagine that the shepherd has, in however limited a sense, put matters to rights? If, moreover, Thibault pays his lawyer a` son mot, in what sense has he actually lied or committed fraud? By allowing Pierre to speak for him in the courtroom and by avoiding articulate speech altogether, he manages to avoid bearing false witness or providing testimony of any kind. Who has committed the greater crime, then—the wordless accused or the thousand-tongued lawyer, who cries out for truth and justice but ensures that neither will be fully articulated? Finally, let us consider the judge’s verdict. If it falls into the trap of Pierre’s lies and appears to make a travesty of justice, does it not also have a ring of truth about it, in that it uncovers how Guillaume abuses his workers and, more generally, how the merchant class subjects the urban labor force to hideous forms of mistreatment? The play begs the question of what forgiveness would mean in a situation of such grave inequity, and in a legal system that tends to favor the powerful over the powerless, retribution over restoration, an eye for an eye (or an ear for a sheep) above turning the other cheek? Obviously, there can be no simple or complete answers to these questions, though this is precisely my point. By denying the audience a satisfying judgment or a definitive unmasking in a play that is all about adjudication and masquerade, Pathelin invites us to speculate on the contingency, relativity, and unfinalizability of juridical and moral situations and discourses. Indeed, in spite of the fact that Pathelin’s characters can easily be reduced to standard types and that its plotline adheres to simplistic, repetitious patterns, the play works hard to blur the distinction between truth and deception, face and mask, innocence and guilt, virtue and vice. To use the language of contemporary situational ethics, it manifests the irreducible specificity of even the most typological moral situations and the challenge of determining an equitable judgment through the application of the law. Appearances are always deceiving in this play, and we can evaluate the validity of a particular

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claim or the integrity of a particular character only by first acknowledging that a standard moral and juridical vocabulary fails to account for the intricacy of context. As in casuistry, the ancient and medieval method of casebased moral and legal reasoning (Jonsen and Toulmin), Pathelin emphasizes the opacity of human events, the incompletion of all representational acts, and the boundless nature of interpretive and ethical engagement. Or as Andre´ Jolles notes of the narrative casus, “a weighing occurs but not its result”; questions are begged but “without the possibility of a response” (151). There is perhaps more at stake here, though, than the slipperiness of applied ethics. Given how accustomed medieval audiences were to the use of sacred parody in farce, they would likely have construed Thibault’s closing gesture of absolution as a kind of imitatio Christi and a perverse commemoration of the scriptural foundations of Christian ethics: the remission of sin through grace, Christ’s forgiveness of his persecutors, and the Messiah’s anticipated return on Judgment Day. Needless to say, the audience would never actually mistake Thibault for a true deliverer or even a type thereof. Having massacred Guillaume’s herd, he resembles “the thief [who] cometh not but for to steal and to kill and to destroy” more than “the good shepherd [who] giveth his life for his sheep” (John 10:10–11). Yet Thibault does pretend— convincingly, from the judge’s perspective—to embody pastoral innocence. Speaking for his client, Pierre reinforces this misperception: the shepherd is the blameless victim of an unscrupulous merchant who, not unlike a latterday Pharisee, hypocritically demands adherence to a body of law he himself blatantly contravenes. At certain points, Pierre even employs a devotional, homiletic register that recalls the pathos of the Passion and the stripping of Christ’s body in anticipation of the Crucifixion: Ne soyez pas si rigoreux au povre bergier douloureux qui est aussi nu com voyez. (1488–90) Don’t be so severe with this poor, suffering shepherd who is, as you can see, poorly clothed [or, literally, stripped naked]. Finally, as I suggested above, it seems reasonable to interpret Thibault’s cunning reiteration of bee (which is itself linked to the word mot and is, as Leupin notes, “assonant with bieu,” which functions as a paronym for Dieu [202]) as an oblique reference to the “Word . . . made flesh” (John 1:14),


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especially in that it is here used to humble the exalted, as with the Incarnation, and to exalt the humble, as with the Resurrection. Born into poverty, Thibault abases himself yet further by passing himself off as a simpleton or madman. He then raises himself up, demonstrating his sovereignty by vanquishing the proud and forgiving his persecutors. Indeed, there is something distinctly messianic in Thibault’s anticipation of his own arrest, which he will not resist but will instead repay with benevolence and magnanimity. Does this not distinctly recall the episode, recounted in all four Gospels, of Christ’s arrest by temple guards and the pacifism and forbearance Christ displays in the face of persecution? Certainly, Thibault’s wily performance offers a suitable reminder of the elements of contingency—one might even say, theatricality—inherent in the Parousia, or Second Coming: the fact that the Messiah’s return will be veiled in enigmatic signs; that it will take by surprise even those who are expecting it; and that it will find rivals in the form of simulated miracles and false prophets. No doubt many spectators would recall from Mark’s version of the Olivet Discourse that the Second Coming is a mystery even to Christ: “But of that day or hour no man knoweth, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but the Father” (Mark 13:32). When it does come, the Parousia will be perilously difficult to recognize and will be fully distinguished from deceptive illusions and bogus deliverers only once it has occurred. Before Christ returns to earth, false prophets will perform miracles and produce illusions designed to mislead humanity, including even those who have been chosen by God (Matt. 24; Mark 13). Although the eventual return of the Messiah is the most crucial article of faith for Christians, scripture makes clear that the capacity of human beings to perceive that return or to distinguish it from mere masquerade is anything but assured. On the contrary, Jesus prophesies that when he does finally come to separate the nations, he will steal in like a thief in the night (Matt. 24:44; Luke 12:39), and that only those who are constantly watchful will avoid being burgled. Naturally, scripture intends this parable to signify the unexpectedness of Christ’s return rather than true larceny. Yet in literalizing the figure of speech, in transforming the Messiah into an actual thief, Pathelin is not merely deriding Holy Writ. It is also evoking the indeterminacy, unknowability, and doubt that are so crucial to the messianism of the Gospels. The play here seems to suggest that there can be no toehold for moral or ontological certainty in the theological doctrine of the Parousia. Quite the opposite: the coming of Judgment Day depends upon its mysteriousness and susceptibility to theatrical counterfeiting. In other words, the

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auguring of the last moment in history, when theft and deception will be either redeemed or condemned in perpetuity, is less a moral teleology than an anticipation of the unanticipatable: an arrival that can be grasped only after it has arrived, a justice that will be made known only after humanity has already been judged. Viewed from this perspective, Pathelin does not imagine a future of endless deceit and betrayal, as has so often been supposed; rather, it casts ethics itself as an unimaginable future contingency. What, the play seems to ask, can ethics be, or what could it become, if morality were understood as a kind of performance or masquerade, if social relations were understood as fundamentally inauthentic, and if knowledge were subject to constant destabilization? Ethics would perhaps begin—this is certainly how Pathelin ends—by recognizing its failure to find stability and truth in signs and values. All moral beliefs, like all signifiers in Pathelin, would be other with respect to an ultimate Reality or Truth. Moreover, ethics would understand the world itself as a set of relationships between others, and moral reflection on the world as an interminable questioning. A central tenet of the Sermon on the Mount is that ethics depends upon a boundless responsibility to forgive: “I say not to thee till seven times, but till seventy times seven times” (Matt. 18:22). If Thibault’s last words seem to echo Christ’s own, then perhaps the shepherd speaks—very much in spite of himself—about the recurring need for forbearance in a world where true morality and final justice are fundamentally lacking. In essence, I propose that Pathelin’s repetitive structure evinces more than the vicious cycle of crime and retribution encapsulated in the proverb of the deceiver deceived. It also points to an alternative, far-reaching ethical structure predicated on another form of circularity: he who is pardoned will be asked to pardon, and will himself inevitably require pardon again. That circularity is not confined to the world of the play but expands outward to include the audience as well. With his repeated evocations of Judgment Day, Pierre reminds spectators that all humanity will be subject to a true accounting at the end of time and, regardless of their actions in life, will require God’s forgiveness. In the meantime, the irreconcilable difference between the immediate and the transcendent—the local magistrate and Christ the Judge, a devilish shepherd and the Shepherd of Souls—might yield an ethics in which true justice and moral resolution are lacking, in which human justice and morality are nothing more than parodies of their sublime counterparts, and in which salvation therefore depends upon a


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willingness to forgive: “For if you forgive men their offences, your heavenly Father will forgive you also your offences. But if you will not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive you your offences” (Matt. 6:14–15). The fact that the characters in Pathelin show little interest in this foundational teaching is not a reason to conclude that the play’s very structure is immoral or amoral, that it degrades human nature or abandons ethical ideals. On the contrary, I would submit that, by denying the spectator a singular perspective on the events it stages, by rejecting any sort of fully coherent moral system (one in which there would be no competing demands, no internal conflicts, and no interpretive contingencies), Pathelin suggests that the structuring or delimitation of ethics as deontology is itself unethical, that legal judgments constitute an inevitable betrayal of true justice, which is found only at the end of history and beyond the world. This is nothing like the nihilism of Ionesco’s farces tragiques. It is instead an ethics in which moral meaning is subject to constant disruption and transformation even as it heralds a justice to come.

From Ethics to Politics It should be clear by now why I asserted at the start of this chapter that Pathelin’s premodern, messianic ethics shares much common ground with the postmodern, deconstructive one espoused by Harpham. Both ethics are predicated on the primordial, linguistic otherness of diffe´rance and the absolute, irreducible otherness of le tout autre: a “wholly other” who, like the Messiah, makes insistent demands upon our consciences but is otherwise unreachable. Similar though they may be to each other, these ethics are radically different from a classical ethics of rules, virtues, or duties. Indeed, John Caputo argues that a postmodern ethics may not be an ethics, properly speaking, so much as a “poetics of obligation”: an incessant deconstruction of moral and legal discourses that aims at social transformation but excludes all forms of foundationalism, rationalism, or universalism (Against 35). Of course, Caputo does not mean that we ought to suspend the enforcement of norms, rules, and laws; nor does he assert, like the critics of Harpham’s Theoretical Era, that ethics is an ideological mystification we should strive to transcend. Rather, he insists we recognize that there can be no secure conceptual foundation for judgment that is not itself endlessly subject to contestation and revision; that “the premises invoked in ethical theory always come

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too late, after the fact” (More 172), only to encounter situations “outside the horizon of foreseeability” (173); and that we therefore can “never say a law or a principle is just, for that would be too sweeping and pretentious, the manifestations of its injustice being right around the corner” (174). For Caputo (citing Derrida), the very notions of diffe´rance and le tout autre oblige us to affirm that “justice is always to come, is always structurally to come, so that there will forever be a structural gap between the present and justice” (177). Like Anselm’s theology of God as “that than which no greater (majus) or better (melius) can be conceived,” ethics must be “internally structured to point to [its] own inadequacy” and to show us that what it strives to signify and enact always “exceeds our grasp” (180). Or to remain within the realm of puns (dear to postmodernists as much as farceurs), we must understand ethical fulfillment as an avenir, or “future,” that is always a` venir, “to come,” meaning it will never be present, even in the future.7 Like the jam the White Queen promises Alice in Through the Looking Glass, or like iam/ jam in Latin, which means “now” but only when referring to the past or future, justice is promised for tomorrow but never arrives today (Carroll 196). A key corollary to this argument is the move from ethics to politics, from the elusiveness of justice in absolute terms to an urgent call for social justice in the present moment. As Derrida puts it, “Everything would . . . be simple if [the] distinction between justice and droit [law or right] were a true distinction, an opposition whose functioning was logically regulated and permitted mastery. But it turns out that droit claims to exercise itself in the name of justice and that justice is required to establish itself in the name of a law that must be ‘enforced’ ” (“Force” 959–61). If deconstruction is obliged to confront the aporias inherent in this relationship of supplementarity, it offers us no excuse for shrinking away from the “ordeal of the undecidable” (963): “That justice exceeds law and calculation, that the unpresentable exceeds the determinable cannot and should not serve as an alibi for staying out of juridico-political battles. . . . Left to itself, the incalculable and giving (donatrice) idea of justice is always very close to the bad, even to the worst for it can always be reappropriated by the most perverse calculation. It’s always possible. And so incalculable justice requires us to calculate” (“Force” 965, 971). For Derrida, if justice claims to be detached from the world and its struggles, it will amount to precisely the sort of ideological fiction the Theoretical Era decried. Likewise, if politics and law do not aspire to justice, they will be nothing more than the exercise of power—and therefore a kind of totalitarianism. We are obliged, then, to “calculate, negotiate the relation between the


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calculable and the incalculable,” even as we “reconsider,” with “each advance in politicization,” how we ought “to reinterpret the very foundations of law such as they had previously been calculated or delimited” (“Force” 971). For Caputo, this means that the ultimate responsibility of a postmodern ethics is not simply to affirm that justice is always to come, as if it were “a distant horizon,” but to insist that it is urgently “needed here and now”: “We may be sure, in virtue of diffe´rance, that justice in itself is always delayed and deferred, but nonetheless justice cannot wait” (Against 105). A postmodern ethics must therefore engage itself in a principled, vigorous, and unwavering critique of injustice, which has its own disgraceful form of perpetuity: “Injustice, like the poor, we always have with us, and we can always count on the fact there will be more than enough examples of injustice to assure us that the present cannot lay claim to justice. . . . By insisting that justice is always to come, our aim is to expose the present to the white light of an absolute scrutiny which has zero tolerance for injustice, for injustice is all around us” (More 177, 178). Simply put, if, like the Messiah or the White Queen’s jam, justice always arrives tomorrow, never today, our ethics must be coupled with a politics of incessant contestation and endless expansion. I believe we can identify a similar move from ethics to politics in Pathelin —a move, that is, from sacred parody and religious laughter to a critique of the marketplace and courtroom as sites of social precarity, irresolvable struggle, and outrageous injustice. As Louis Cons argued nearly a century ago, Pathelin seeks to expose the inequities and abuses of merchant capitalism, which weighed especially heavily on peasants and the poor. In his view, satire (rather than parody) is the play’s principal weapon against mercantile ideology; yet the play has little to do with classical or neoclassical notions of satire as moral corrective. There are, Cons explains, two different but “concentric” forms of satire at work in Pathelin: human satire, which is “inspired by motives of religion,” and social satire, which is “inspired by motives of ‘class’ ” (44–45). On the one hand, injustice is a condition of lapsed humanity, an irremediable deficiency caused by the Fall, and a universal failure to live up to Christian virtue as it is preached in the Gospels. On the other hand, injustice is a material, lived reality—a form of class violence that flies in the face of Christ’s message of social equality and that works to indemnify a predatory bourgeois elite and to pauperize and subjugate vast segments of the population. Thus, even as Pathelin uses human satire to affirm that true justice is found only on a distant horizon, it uses social satire to expose the flagrant injustices of the here and now and to call for meaningful change.

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I would hasten to add that the farce also uses sacred parody to remind spectators that their most authoritative sources of ethical and spiritual wisdom enjoin the persecuted to “hunger and thirst after justice” (Matt. 5:6) and may therefore be read as political discourses. If Pathelin mockingly literalizes such hunger by conjuring images of Thibault devouring scores of stolen sheep, and if it twists and distorts biblical justice by granting the thieving shepherd a triumph on the “jour du jugement,” it may also point to a radical politics in the Gospels, one that elevates the lowborn and weak and denounces the structural inequalities that bring about their subordination. Indeed, if we look closely, we can see that the play exhibits what Jelle Koopmans calls the “situational” and “polemical” character of medieval festive parody (“Parodie” 94), which served not only to imitate and ridicule a “given textual structure” (87) but also to enact pragmatic effects within a “performantial situation” (89), moving “from parody to satire, and from inversion to subversion” (98). Unfortunately, any attempt to define Pathelin’s situational character almost immediately encounters obstacles. Scholars have long disagreed about the play’s origins; and in any event, it circulated so widely beyond them that we can hardly speak of its performantial situation in the singular. That said, we can certainly get a sense of the “range of pragmatic ethos” in Pathelin (to recall Hutcheon’s phrase) by shuttling between a close reading of its words, in all their calculated and provocative ambiguity, and a sociohistorical analysis of the worlds in which it was likely performed. Let us speculate, for instance, about what it might have meant, politically speaking, for an urban audience to imagine Thibault forgiving a policeman hired by Pierre to imprison him, perhaps even the same policeman Guillaume enlisted to issue him a subpoena. Is it not possible that for many city dwellers, the shepherd’s pardon would have suggested a quasi-scriptural rebuke of a justice system in which law officers worked not for universal justice and the common good but for those who could afford their services? Pierre refers to the policeman as “un bon sergent,” yet as Cons explains, audiences would almost certainly have taken this as a caustic antiphrasis: there simply “is no such thing” in medieval theater (54)—or, it would seem, in the world beyond it. As Esther Cohen attests, opposition to the police was widespread in the fifteenth century, and for good reason (34–45, 56–59). Although the sergents operated under royal auspices and judicial oversight, they often worked “at private request and in return for private remuneration” (34) and were laxly regulated and supervised in these activities. This led to frequent and infamous


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abuses of authority: arrests without warrant, violent mistreatment of prisoners, and rampant acts of extortion and collusion, most of which went unpunished. We can perhaps discern elements of these abuses in Thibault’s reference to the sergent’s “grant levee du bouglı¨er,” which I take to mean that the officer has verbally threatened or physically attacked him, perhaps with his verge, or “baton,” which was meant to be symbolic but could easily have served as a weapon—and likely did, given Thibault’s description of it as a whip. A reference to excessive force would certainly come as no surprise to urban audiences. The Parisian sergents a` verge were regularly accused of having “strangled, beaten, wounded and savagely dragged [individuals taken into custody]”; and in fact, it was “customary” for them to do so “when arresting thieves and murderers” (Beugnot 3:748, qtd. in Cohen 41). Such abuses of power “were no secret,” and “contempt for and fear of the sergeants” sometimes led to open acts of rebellion (Cohen 45). Le savetier, le sergent et la laitie`re (Tissier, Recueil 8:209–74; ca. 1480–90), a Norman farce that was directly inspired by Pathelin, makes the people’s violent antipathy toward law enforcement palpable by depicting a cobbler and milkmaid viciously assaulting a policeman who attempted to arrest them for brawling in the marketplace. It would seem that this was no mere conceit but instead a familiar reality. As Cohen notes, political opposition to the sergents was so great that passersby often chose to “intervene in favor of total strangers” who had been detained, and would assail an arresting officer “at the risk of being arrested” themselves (57). Obviously, Pathelin does not depict or foment seditious actions such as these; and yet its implicit critique of police brutality was presumably quite legible to medieval urbanites. Given the play’s density of scriptural references, moreover, audiences may well have drawn parallels between the roughing up of Thibault and the buffeting of Christ, who was likewise laconic in his response to thuggery. Such an analogy would in turn prepare them to read a political message into the shepherd’s vaguely messianic gesture of a coming pardon: the criminal will absolve his arresting officer, just as Christ will unseat the mighty and exalt the humble (Luke 1:52) and just as the first will be last and the last first (Matt. 19:30, 20:16; Mark 10:31; Luke 13:30). For Caputo, it is crucial that we see a politics of the present inherent in these prophecies of the Kingdom Come: “a politics not of sovereignty, of topdown power, but [one] that builds from the bottom up, where ta me onta (1 Cor. 1:28 [literally, ‘things that are not’; metaphorically, ‘those who are excluded and reviled’]) enjoy pride of place and a special privilege” (What

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87). I would argue that, with its closing line, Pathelin invites us to engage in precisely this sort of political reading of the Gospels and to identify a move from parodic inversion to satirical subversion. Not only does the farce perform an absurd imitation of the Gospels and an elevation of the subaltern; it also invites us to question the legitimacy of institutions that persecute the poor and deny them justice. The law courts would certainly figure among these institutions, and indeed in Pathelin the magistracy is an even more direct target for critique than the constabulary. As Maryse Forget has shown by means of an attentive analysis of medieval legal codes and the specific protocols associated with mental deficiency, the judge in Pathelin is guilty of serious derelictions of duty. Under customary law and in accordance with Roman legal principles, the insane were not only held to be incapable of testifying on their own behalf or of being found guilty of a crime (something the judge does seem to understand); they were also required to be under the custodianship of a guardian who could ensure their safety and take legal responsibility for their actions (something the judge either ignores or chooses to overlook). Presented with a defendant who is, or at least appears to be, a “fol naturel,” the judge’s obligation is not simply to dismiss the case but also, and more important, to ensure that responsibility for any infraction and for the future welfare of the defendant will be responsibly shouldered by his guardian. The fact that the judge makes no effort to secure Thibault’s well-being would have been a legal error in and of itself, argues Forget. The error is compounded, however, by the fact that Guillaume proclaims, in his self-serving but legally ill-advised testimony, that he raised Thibault since childhood “pour Dieu et en charite´” (“for God’s sake and as an act of charity”; 1265). If the lawyer for the merchant had been present, he would no doubt have warned him not to volunteer this information, which reveals him to be the shepherd’s guardian, whether de facto or de jure. This means not only that Guillaume cannot prosecute Thibault without, in effect, prosecuting himself but also that he has shown himself to be actionably negligent, and perhaps also criminally exploitative, in his custodial role. For Forget, the fact that the judge makes no effort to investigate the situation or to find a replacement for Guillaume as guardian would have struck medieval spectators, especially those with knowledge of the law, as “a truly brazen form of laxity” (33). Even those lacking such knowledge would have perceived signs of the judge’s carelessness throughout the courtroom scene. As the session unfolds, the judge twice remarks that he is obliged to expedite Guillaume’s case in


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order that he may adjudicate another one in a neighboring court (see lines 1253, 1520). And yet as he takes his leave after pronouncing a verdict, he absentmindedly reveals that this was nothing more than a pretext for rushing off to dinner (see lines 1523–24). More seriously, the judge does not ask a single substantive question of Guillaume or Thibault, allows Pierre to conduct interrogatories and arrive at a decision in his stead, and ultimately fails to recognize any of the salient facts in the case. If his verdict finds in favor of Thibault and thereby redresses the wrongs Guillaume seems to have committed against him, the farce plainly indicates that justice is largely adventitious to the courtroom proceedings, and therefore perhaps to the justice system as a whole. This was a frequent theme in political writings of the period, some of which explicitly indicted judges for denying the poor their legal rights, subjecting them to unjust oppression, and compromising justice itself through the careless or irregular enforcement of the law (Denis-Morel 152– 60). To be fair, Thibault benefits enormously from the judge’s incompetence and is anything but an innocent victim, falsely accused. And yet by the same token it would be easy for us to conclude from the play’s final scene that an indigent peasant can prevail over a wealthy merchant in court only as a result of the indifference of judicial authorities. Those who lack the resources to hire barristers and sergeants do not enjoy the full protection of the law, are left vulnerable to a variety of social abuses (including unfree labor), and are obliged to fight injustice and exploitation by means of imposture and subterfuge. Thibault’s strategies are not entirely indirect, however, nor is the play’s political satire. On the contrary, I would argue that, by bleating dementedly throughout the courtroom scene, Thibault overtly (if not explicitly) denounces a social order that seeks to dehumanize him and all those of his ilk. Regularly depicted as brute and inarticulate animals, medieval peasants were almost literally treated as chattel, and in actual practice were often denied rights accorded to them under the law (Freedman, Images 133–73). As historian Michel Mollat notes, shepherds in particular were singled out for mistreatment. In reality, many were mentally disabled (as Thibault pretends to be) and were actively “despised” for their disability (240). Moreover, the fact that “their work required little physical effort” opened them up to accusations of laziness and was used to justify the unlivable wages they received (240). Having earlier declined to say everything (“Diray je tout?”) about his exploitation at the hands of his “doulz mestre,” Thibault now gives full voice to an animalistic cry that in some sense fills in the blanks for the audience.

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Not only does his ovine bleating signal that he is a mere work animal to his master, a mechanistic and disposable part of a system of production that accords him little agency or value. It also reminds us that in medieval political theory and practice, humans alone were held to be capable of articulate speech, yet not all humans were entitled to use that faculty freely. Women were to fulfill their subservient nature by remaining silent (Aquinas, Commentary 68, 73), an issue I return to in Chapter 4; and peasants were to serve as a kind of living tool, ruled over by their masters (Freedman 83), whose speech was said to create the polity itself (Aquinas, Commentary 6, 17). Like women, peasants were regularly enjoined to hold their tongues and to allow others to speak for them. Moreover, when they did speak out of turn, or when they dared to question or oppose their subordination, they were said to bray like asses, low like oxen, grunt like pigs, and (yes) bleat like sheep (Bardsley 33). The repeated cries of bee can be taken as a subversive reappropriation of this dehumanizing rhetoric, which Thibault knowingly uses to hoodwink the judge, to quash Guillaume’s case, and to seize the title of maitre des trompeurs from Pierre. Far from allowing his avocat to speak for him, Thibault proves that he, too, can put language into motion, including the specific vox that Pierre claims as his intellectual property but that is nothing more than the wavering cry of a commodified animal. Just as no one can own language, so, too, no one can fully own a peasant, exclude him from speech, or deny him his humanity. That said, the victory Thibault gains is a decidedly Pyrrhic one. Even as he denounces his exclusion from public discourse and reclaims the right to represent and speak for himself, he also capitulates to the image society has created of peasants in order to tyrannize, marginalize, and silence them. He thus remains bound to the ta me onta to whom Christ promised the kingdom, and his prophecy of future rights and dignities (the pardon to come) goes unfulfilled. Although Pathelin may here seem to lapse into brooding pessimism, I would insist that it still manages to anticipate a more ethical and just future by reminding spectators of the language they will need to redress social ills. This begins with the Word of God, which (for Augustine) is in its essence “charity” or “love” (Christian 30–33), and which (for Saint Peter) must be construed as “mutual charity” and ungrudging “hospitality” if humanity is to make ready for “the end [that] is at hand” (1 Pet. 4:7–9). Of course, these virtues are strikingly absent in the world of Pathelin; and the characters who claim to possess them (Pierre and Guillaume) do so as part of a ruse that will advance their self-interests. And yet the play somehow


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still manages to proffer signs of the affirmative presence of God in discourses that seem to scorn him and in places he seems to have abandoned. This includes even the marketplace, which many medieval observers held to be incapable of creating or fostering justice on its own (J. Davis 34–136). A final textual example will serve to illustrate how charity, if not justice, is able to survive even in this most unholy and unloving place. Although Guillemette declares at the start of the play that her husband has “ne denier ne maille” (“neither a penny nor a halfpenny”; 70), we soon discover that this is not entirely the case. When Pierre arrives at Guillaume’s stall and declares his interest in purchasing cloth, he offers up a denier a` Dieu, a small oblation used to initiate bargaining and intended for the benefit of religious orders or the poor (Collingwood 67–69). As he makes his offering, Pierre declares, Dieu sera paye´ des premiers, c’est raison: vecy ung denier; ne faison rien qui soit ou Dieu ne se nomme. (226–29) God shall be the first to be paid, that’s just: here’s a penny, let’s do nothing whatsoever without naming God. To my mind, it is far from coincidental that the one piece of actual currency in the play—not just a mot but a real denier that the actor drops into an alms box ready at hand—should be explicitly linked to God and should be associated with charitable giving in his name. Indeed, the playwright makes clear that the gesture is an entirely superfluous, and therefore deliberately calculated, one. As Pierre later puts it to Guillemette, he could easily have adopted a different custom—for instance, “la main sur le pot” (388), a ritual in which merchant and customer each place a hand on a cup of wine. It seems Pierre chose the denier a` Dieu instead so that Guillaume and God could share his last coin: Car aultre chose n’en aront: ja si bien chanter ne sc¸aront, ne pour crier ne pour brester. (393–95) For they won’t have anything else, no matter how much they sing, cry, or scream about it.

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Naturally, Pierre’s intention is to defraud Guillaume by making a show of largesse when in fact Pierre has no other money to spend. The gesture is, moreover, blasphemous in multiple ways: God’s name and Pierre’s oblation are used to commit fraud rather than to offer relief to the needy; Pierre reduces God, the Verbum Caro itself, to the status of a pathetic, screeching guillaume who lacks the words he needs to compel repayment of a debt; and a slip of the ear readily transforms the denier a` Dieu (or denier Dieu, as it was sometimes called) into de´nier a` Dieu, to deny something to God, or even de´nier Dieu, the denial of God that is indelibly associated with Pierre’s apostolic namesake (Dufournet 193). Indeed, such a denial seems to be what Pierre has in mind for the “jour du jugement,” when he will attempt to cancel the debt he has deferred, no matter what God has to sing, cry, or scream about it. And yet perhaps Pierre’s false gesture of altruism, like his words mot and bee, contains meanings he does not intend, including the message of divine immanence and charitable care that surfaces again and again in the farce, notably when its characters proclaim (or bleat) their devotion to selfishness and greed. God’s name is repeatedly uttered in Pathelin even as it is shockingly profaned; and in the market scene, charity—for Paul, the greatest of the theological virtues, greater even than faith and hope (1 Cor. 13:13)—is acted upon even as its meaning is contravened. True, God’s name cannot guarantee the validity of the transaction it serves to initiate; and there is little sense that Pierre’s philanthropy in deed somehow compensates for his fraudulent intent. Still, his gift to the needy may do more than make a mockery of the spiritual works of mercy. It also serves as a reminder that God’s existence is real in a way that no material, pecuniary reality could ever be; that harbingers of divine justice can be discerned even in places where human justice has been flagrantly miscarried; and that final, divine judgment is the inevitable fulfillment of human history, though we can never grasp it. Indeed, even as it stages its various travesties of justice, Pathelin asks us to imagine what true, biblical justice might look like. Utterly unknowable to us, this is a justice to come whose persistent futurity reminds us of the egregious injustices of the present for which we alone are responsible. How might we shoulder that responsibility other than keeping our gaze on the horizon and waiting for a savior to redeem us? The farce offers no clear answers to this question, though I am convinced it uses the intricacy and difficulty of its linguistic and representational games to stir audiences out of complacency and to inspire them to reflect on and give shape to their future. Pathelin


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seems to tell us that if we wish to earn forgiveness for ourselves one day, we must strive to understand the troublesome language through which forgiveness is signified and enacted in the here and now. There could be no better place to begin than with the shepherd’s final but unfinalizable utterance: “S’il me trouve je lui pardonne.”

Pathelin’s Afterlife Since I have argued that the provisional and suspended nature of Pathelin’s fictional closure calls out for ethicoreligious and ethicopolitical engagement, it is appropriate to conclude this chapter by considering what we can know about how contemporary audiences may have received the play. Certainly, Pathelin’s popularity is beyond doubt. As Rousse notes, it is attested not only by a remarkable number of print editions but also by passing references in two late fifteenth-century plays: Le vendeur de livres, a farce in which a peddler hawks copies of Pathelin (among other works) in the streets, and Coppieurs et lardeurs, a sottie from the 1480s in which a bookseller recommends Pathelin to actors seeking a fashionable (if, by that period, apparently too often produced) crowd-pleaser (Rousse, “Pathelin” 18–19). Unfortunately, there are no attestations of a staging from the period, which leaves us to speculate about performance practice and audience reception on the basis of ancillary forms of evidence, including (for Rousse) the apparent repertorial design of the Manuscrit La Vallie`re. Fortunately, the supply of such evidence is vast and includes a proliferation of allusions, citations, imitations, translations, and continuations in the learned and popular cultures of the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Some of these reprises are prestigious and widely recognized, notably those found in Rabelais, who is said to have committed Pathelin to memory, to have molded Panurge in the image of Pierre, and to have drawn on the latter’s linguistic games to elaborate an ironic ethics of Christian charity (Hayes 120–24). Other reprises may seem derivative by comparison, and more than one critic has spoken of a pattern of plagiarism in the tradition (Aubailly, “Farce” 5; Petit de Julleville, Re´pertoire 245): a theft of words that could easily be justified as a riposte in the game of payer a` son mot but has not always been viewed as a creative act of elaboration. Given Pathelin’s own reliance on parodic repetition, however, and the dialectic of imitation and confrontation that parody implies, we should not be too quick to dismiss the restaging of familiar characters, discourses, and scenarios as a

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failure of understanding or imagination. On the contrary, it may indicate a calculated response to the iterative and insuperable challenges posed by the play—ethicoreligious and ethicopolitical challenges that cannot be resolved and must therefore be confronted again and again. In my view, we find precisely such a response in two anonymous sequel plays that were composed not long after Pathelin and were sometimes published along with it to form a trilogy: the Parisian farce Le nouveau Pathelin (Tissier, Recueil 8:15–123, ca. 1474–85) and the Norman farce Le testament Pathelin (Tissier, Recueil 8:125–208, ca. 1470–75).8 Although both plays (especially the former) are guilty of plagiaristic cribbing, they also offer an expansion of Pathelin’s messianic and eschatological themes, with a crucial pivot away from the external forum of trials and tribunals toward the internal forum of conscience and penance. Indeed, in each case the lifting of theatrical material, which sometimes amounts to verbatim duplication, precedes a turn toward sacramental parody, which involves extensive ironic double coding and encompasses (as Hutcheon would have it) a “range of pragmatic ethos.” Shuttling between perverse and pious forms of verbal repetition, the sequels consider how—or even, scandalously, whether—sacred rituals might repair the moral failures that pervade social existence and seem to arise unbidden in language, including the penitential dialogue itself. The performative language of forgiveness is crucially at stake in Le nouveau Pathelin, though the farce insistently emphasizes the potential for sacraments to succumb to the disruptive effects of human fallibility and verbal repetition (a theme we encounter in Chapter 3 as well). The first half of the play belies its title and prepares the audience to reflect on citationality by blandly restaging the market scene from Pathelin. On a penitential feast day (presumably Lent), Pierre heads to the marketplace with the intention of buying fur linings for his robes “sans deslier bource” (“without opening my purse”; 21). Other than the substitution of a furrier for a clothier, the scene proceeds exactly as we might expect from its model, and concludes with the merchant exchanging his wares for a single “denier a` Dieu” (269) and the promise of a rich meal—in this instance, a Lenten eel rather than a roast goose. The farce achieves innovation only in the second half, which moves from the marketplace to a church and uses puns, malapropisms, and misconstructions to draw troubling parallels between the two institutions. First, Pierre dupes the furrier into believing that the merchandise he has haggled for is not meant for him but for a wealthy cure´, who will expedite payment (despecher)


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once he has finished ministering to his congregants. Pierre then hoodwinks the cure´, who is in reality a low-ranking, impecunious, and embittered vicar, into shriving (despecher) the merchant, whom he presents as a deranged but harmless madman. Since the vicar considers the sacrament “ung mestier trop penible” (“an unbearable office/business”; 448) and administers it “envis” (“grudgingly”; 447), he takes a good bit of convincing. He finally agrees, however, when Pierre offers him lavish remuneration: enough silver to pay for a dozen high masses and a fine meal to be served at the local tavern. As Pierre, furs in hand, makes his getaway on the pretense of preparing a table for his guests, the merchant and vicar begin a dialogue de sourds in which discourse itself seems intent on confounding God with Mammon, Christ with the moneychangers, and divine service with commercial exchange. Thus, when the furrier invokes the “marche´” (“bargain”; 546) the vicar is meant to settle, the latter understands him to mean the lucrative agreement he has struck with Pierre and reveals the extent to which the care of souls has been tarnished by economic imperatives. Similarly, when the vicar instructs the furrier to kneel before him so that he may “compter son cas humblement” (“humbly give an account of his sins”; 552), the furrier believes he has been invited to reckon up his money and proposes claiming “quelque autel” (“some altar”; 556) as a counter. Taking the merchant’s subsequent demands for payment as the ravings of a lunatic, the vicar attempts to catechize him back to sanity, “pour l’amour du beau Seigneur / que je represente en ce lieu” (“for the love of the good Lord whose role I perform in this place”; 613–14). The lesson he offers, however—that the church is a place to “prier” (620) rather than “marchander” (622)—merely draws our attention to his hypocrisy. Moreover, as the misunderstanding between the two men grows, so, too, does the lack of distinction between them. When, toward the end of the play, the exasperated merchant starts insulting and threatening the vicar, the latter responds in kind; and far from trying to reconcile his penitent to the church and rescue him from damnation (as his sacramental role prescribes), he threatens to expel him violently from the building and tells him to go to hell. At this point, the furrier’s vilification of the vicar as a “symoniacle” (“simoniac”; 770) does not seem terribly wide of the mark, and is in many ways confirmed by the play’s denouement. When the merchant heads to the tavern to find Pierre, vowing to return for vengeance if it turns out the vicar has deceived him, the vicar responds with a version of Thibault’s closing line that erases and even repudiates its ironic message of forgiveness: “Qui m’y trouvera, si me preigne!” (“Whoever finds me here, let him seize me!”; 806). Although the “berger des champs” has been supplanted by a real shepherd of

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souls, pardonner degenerates into prendre, as if to imply there is no room for mercy in a world of theft and violence, not even in a church. Indeed, much like the “temple of God,” which Christ found filled with buyers and sellers at Passover, this “house of prayer” seems to have been transformed into a “den of thieves” (Matt. 21:12–13). Worse, it is now to be abandoned, at Lent no less, by the very priest responsible for watching over it, a man who has already blurred the boundary between a legitimate prebend and outright simony.9 Much like its source play, however, Le nouveau Pathelin is intent on reminding us of the aspirations of sacred discourse even as it shows us how easily those aspirations can be betrayed by a perverse homo loquens. Thus, Pierre’s pun on despecher profanes the sacrament of penance even as it induces the furrier to abandon the marketplace for the church and to appeal insistently (if also unwittingly) for a penitential unburdening. Admittedly, the merchant kneels in prayer before the vicar only to sully the sacrament by entreating him for money rather than salvation. Even so, we might interpret his actions as a collective, if implicit and imperfect, form of confession: an acknowledgment that the merchant class has given in to material excess and cries out for pastoral care without consciously avowing its own need. Of course, the vicar is hardly free from the sins he is meant to absolve. On the contrary, his flawed vocation suggests the notorious shortcomings of a church that fulfills its pastoral obligations on the backs of a dubious clerical underclass: vicars, rectors, and chaplains who were so poorly paid that they often placed monetary gain ahead of sacred obligation (Lynch and Adamo 306). And yet to be fair, there is no denying that the vicar dutifully and even doggedly attempts to shrive his penitent. He adheres scrupulously to the penitential formularies, carefully explains them to the merchant in an attempt to earn his trust, and successfully brings him to his knees—as if symbolically obliging a godless, grasping bourgeoisie to genuflect before Christ and his sacraments. When the furrier fails to recognize the opening prayer of the Gallican rite of penance, which the priest recites quite accurately (Legg xvi), the vicar calmly explains that it contains a promise of truth and reconciliation in language: “Mon amy, je ne dis pas fables; / C’est une benediction” (“My friend, I tell you no lies; this is a blessing”; 726–27). That promise will soon be betrayed, as gentle catechism gives way to noisy dispute. And yet by citing the liturgy, the farce reminds us that all liturgy is citation, as therefore is salvation itself; that liturgical language is subject to both repetition and difference, desacralization and resacralization; and that the very possibility of moral and spiritual healing arises within and responds to the lability of discourse.


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In short, Le nouveau Pathelin presents a renewal of the ethical challenge I have identified in its source play: the audience must strive to earn a forgiveness that is simultaneously lodged in and betrayed by language itself, that is always impending but never present, and that is therefore a source of unending struggle but also hope. Le testament Pathelin drives this point home by reminding spectators that farce’s seemingly endless cycle of deception cannot forestall death and judgment, and that the liturgy it profanes may one day prove to be humanity’s only chance of regeneration and redemption. As in Le nouveau Pathelin, hackneyed material seems calculated to draw attention to citationality and the ethicoreligious challenges it presents. Thus, the farce begins with a retread of Pathelin’s own opening scene and uses reiteration to pose questions about how one might defend or redeem a lost cause, be it a court case or a human soul. A now elderly (and perhaps also senile) Pierre laments the ongoing decline of his professional career and argues with his wife over who has misplaced a satchel full of pending legal cases that he hopes will resurrect his career: “le sac a` mes causes perdues” (10). After a lengthy fracas (none of it terribly original or funny), Guillemette locates the satchel for her husband, who then heads off to court to find his clients. He is obliged to turn around mid-route, however, as he is suddenly stricken with a debilitating and deranging illness. Returning home, he takes to his bed, begins to rave like a madman, and orders Guillemette to fetch an apothecary and a priest without delay. The play then stages a version of the delirium scene from Pathelin, with the difference that Pierre’s mind is now actually addled by disease, apparently a mortally serious one. The apothecary is unable to restore his mind or body, and so steps aside to allow the priest to administer last rites. What follows is a deeply sacrilegious, parodic treatment of traditional deathbed rituals. When the priest asks Pierre to remember and confess his sins, he mocks penance and charity alike by claiming to have given his sins away to those who have none. He then mangles his penitential prayers, scandalizing the priest by misconstruing “Dominus” for “nulz” (“nothing”; 330–31) and rhyming “sainctz” (“saints”) with “sains” (“breasts”; 360–61). When the priest presses Pierre to offer a full accounting of his sins, he reports only acts with which we (and the priest) are already entirely familiar, as if he has led a blameless existence since stealing Guillaume’s cloth and miscarrying justice in Thibault’s name. Eventually, Pierre satisfies the priest by imploring God’s mercy and that of the heavenly host. Tellingly, though, the priest calls for “absolution” (424)

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without actually pronouncing it, and thereby leaves the fate of Pierre’s soul quite ambiguous. The last testament that follows certainly suggests that Pierre remains the most hopeless of his own “causes perdues.” When he is asked to name his heirs, he takes a page from Villon and makes bequests that mock testamentary literature and the religious devotion that inspires it. He bestows sexual pleasure on monks, nuns, and beguines; a set of old, and presumably stolen, clothes on a local charity hospital; and his wife’s ass cheeks on the priest, because “cela est honneste” (“that’s the decent thing to do”; 485). He then expires, leaving the three surviving characters to prepare his body for burial and to chant prayers for his salvation. Those prayers are delivered with considerable attention to liturgical detail and seem designed, as in Pathelin and Le nouveau Pathelin, to confront an aesthetic of discursive and moral errancy with an ethos of hope and redemption. On the one hand, Pierre embodies, even at the moment of his death, a blasphemous denial of Christ. Indeed, his final delirium impels him to conflate divinity with nullity, sanctity with lechery, and charity with wickedness. On the other hand, once Pierre is gone, the farce uses his death to remind the audience that, with faith in Christ and his sacraments, it is possible for the most sinful past to be overcome and a future salvation to be secured. Thus, the priest proclaims, Le remede est prier pour luy, Et requiescant in pace! Oublier fault le temps passe´. Riens n’y vault le desconfort[er]. ... Dieu luy soit misericors! ... Jesus luy soit misericors, Et a` tous ceulx qui sont en vie! Adieu toute la compaignie. (541–44, 549, 558–60) The only remedy left is to pray for him, and so may the dead rest in peace! We must forget the past. There is no reason to despair. May God have mercy upon him! May Jesus have mercy upon him, and on all those who are still alive! We bid you farewell, our audience. These entreaties are echoed by the apothecary and Guillemette, and are perhaps meant to involve the entire “compaignie” as well. There is certainly an


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emphasis on liturgical unity and accord throughout. The quotation from the RIP prayer is conjugated in the plural, presumably to remind us that it applies not only to Pierre but to all the departed, and eventually to us as well. The vernacular translations of the Kyrie prayer likewise suggest that we shall all require divine forgiveness one day, and must therefore hope that God’s mercy will prove greater than any individual cause perdue. This pious, preachy tone may seem to betray the very spirit of farce, as if Le testament seeks to kill jokes that have been told too many times and have left the old scoundrel of a trickster with no “remede” other than his mourners’ prayers. And yet I would argue that the playwright knows exactly what the tradition he borrowed from is about and has something quite different in mind. He understands that the liturgy’s performative utterances, which are used to implore and enact forgiveness, are encumbered by the possibility of misfires and abuses and inevitably signal their own seemingly endless capacity for defeat. At the same time, he suggests that the threat of performative failure is no cause for despair—the spirit of cynicism that scholars have mistakenly associated with farce for centuries. On the contrary, he uses that threat to sharpen the edges of farce’s parodic humor, using laughter and ridicule to spur ethical reflection and spiritual renewal. Taken as a trilogy, Pathelin and its sequels imagine a future that is always to come—and is therefore utterly imbued with contingency and possibility. Like Saint Paul, the authors of these plays find hope and even salvation in their apparent negation: “For we are saved by hope, but hope that is seen is not hope. For what a man seeth, why doth he hope for?” (Rom. 8:24).

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Sacraments and Scatology, Faith and Doubt Andrieu de La Vigne’s Myste`re de Saint Martin and Its Farces

Religions often sacralise the very unclean things which have been rejected with abhorrence. We must, therefore, ask how dirt, which is normally destructive, sometimes becomes creative. —Mary Douglas The ritual that performs an infringement of the liturgy may still be the liturgy, the liturgy in its futural form. . . . A certain performative force results from the rehearsal of the conventional formulae in nonconventional ways. —Judith Butler

As we saw in Chapter 2, Maistre Pierre Pathelin, far from being an amoral, nihilistic diversion or a moralizing, pragmatic satire, is instead pervaded by ambivalent ethical, religious, and political gestures. It mocks the inexorable failures of morality and law while imagining a more equitable justice to come, and it parodies Christian messianism and eschatology while throwing their social ramifications into sharp relief. In this chapter, I extend my ethicoreligious and ethicopolitical reading of farce to encompass two later examples of the genre, both written as interludes for a large-scale mystery play. I use these works to show that farce participated actively in, and responded thoughtfully


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to, the thriving cultures of lay devotion and religious innovation typical of French cities and towns at the turn of the sixteenth century. As before, my focus is on sacred parody: I show that farce uses ludic imitation, citation, and substitution to reflect on the spiritual and social power of sacerdotal rituals, their theatrical qualities and speech acts, their promise of a necessarily deferred redemption, and their potential for appropriation, adaptation, and abuse. Farceurs habitually distort or disrupt sacraments in which the priest, acting in persona Christi, is meant both to signify grace and to confer it. In doing so, they demonstrate the extent to which those rituals entail theatrical techniques and effects, including presentational display (donner a` voir) and the suspension of disbelief (donner a` croire). Equally, they conjure up the possibility that devotional acts may achieve meaningful, if not salvific, results even when they have been theatrically falsified—when, say, a sacrament is administered in a fraudulent manner, by an unauthorized agent, for illegitimate purposes, or without the requisite expertise or sincerity. Such ambiguities of action, authority, intention, and meaning not only reveal the theological sophistication of plays long dismissed as irreverent or blasphemous pap; they also allow us to perceive with special acuity the tensions, antagonisms, and instabilities that imbued popular devotion at the dawn of the Reformation. Although there have been few satisfying readings of religious humor in farce, examples of the phenomenon itself are ubiquitous. Some plays meld otherworldly truths with worldly depravity, Holy Scripture with unholy chatter. Thus, in the Parisian farce La re´surrection Jenin a` Paume (Koopmans, Recueil de Florence 709–20; early 1520s), a simpleton who has escaped hell through a mysterious resurrection devotes himself to rowdy carousing in honor of Baboyn, the patron saint of drunkards and an irreverent avatar of the apostles themselves, who were accused of intoxication as they “babbled” about the Resurrection at Pentecost. Other plays conflate the formularies of sacred worship with the gratification of sinful appetites. Thus, in Le chaudronnier, le savetier et le tavernier (Tissier, Recueil 2:187–227; date and origin uncertain), a coppersmith and cobbler perform a macaronic Drinker’s Mass (in which rotgut substitutes for consecrated wine) and a burlesque Rogation liturgy (in which the men pray for tall crops, not to feed the hungry, but to conceal their own philandering). Still other plays ridicule ministerial duties, including solemn observances for the sick and dying. Thus, when the gouty but otherwise healthy protagonist of the Norman farce Mimin le goutteux et les deux sourds (Tissier, Recueil 5:59–104; 1534?) asks his deaf servant to fetch

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a doctor, he ends up receiving “last rites” from a “priest” instead—in reality, a deaf hose maker who measures the invalid’s aching feet for stockings and, in a parodic version of the sacrament he does not know he is delivering, unites him with Christ’s suffering and prepares him to be measured by God in the afterlife. Unquestionably, though, the most consistently suggestive forms of religious humor in farce target penance, a ritual that all spectators would have known (in 1215, Lateran IV made it a yearly requirement for Catholics) and that was ideally suited to the stage. As Sarah Beckwith argues, penance is a kind of “sacramental theater” that manifests “how theology and theater work through each other” (90–91). After all, it consists of a dialogue in which at least one of the participants is playing a part (the persona Christi) and reciting lines (most crucially, “ego te absolvo”); and in the period prior to the adoption of the confessional box (the late sixteenth century in France), that dialogue was most often staged publicly, in a crowded church at Lent, and could therefore be said to have had spectators. For John Parker, moreover, this imbrication of theater and penance suggests the mimetic perversity they share: just as stage plays allowed spectators to enjoy the enactment of wrongdoing under the guise of moral and spiritual instruction, so auricular confession asked penitents to believe that the narration of their sins to a priest could rid them of guilt (“Faustus”). Taken together, then, “both confession and theater gave people a means of relishing evil, of bearing witness to moral degradation without having to suffer any guilt, for the simple reason that in both theater and confession mimesis seemingly released them from the world of consequence” (47). Indeed, farceurs seem determined to show not only that theater can profane sacred rituals but also that profanity is embedded within ritual language itself. This is rather obviously the case with confession in French, as the verb confesser contains con (“cunt”), fesse (“buttock”), and fesser (“to fuck”; Bidler 149–50) and offers farceurs seemingly endless and irresistible occasions for blasphemy. Farce does not exploit penance purely for the sake of desecration, however. On the contrary, its sacramental parodies are never far removed from the modes of ritual participation and spiritual revival that we find in sacred theater. Moreover, when farces are performed as interludes within mystery plays, the resulting intergeneric dialogue directly implicates them in projects of religious instruction and inquiry. My claim in this chapter is thus that early French farceurs engaged in highly inventive ways with the theological debates, conceptual impasses, and ideological struggles that Slavoj Zˇizˇek calls “the perverse core of Christianity”


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and that are equally present in mystery, miracle, and Passion plays. Even a cursory glance at the numerous shriving scenes in farce reveals that, far from being a theatrical conceit, confession is a matter of concern in its own right, and one that is treated with considerable sensitivity to its ethical, political, and religious ambiguities. Farceurs and their audiences were clearly preoccupied with the priest’s power to hold (or betray) the penitent’s trust, to judge (fairly or unfairly) the morality of human actions, to restore (or weaken) social and spiritual bonds, and to offer remission of guilt (properly or improperly) on Christ’s behalf. They were equally fascinated by the rituals and speech acts that were said to constitute the sacrament’s potency and by the ways in which those rituals and speech acts could go awry, notably through the failure of what J. L. Austin dubs “felicity conditions” (How 12–24). Thus, in the Picard farce La confession Rifflart (Droz and Lewicka 55–62; late fifteenth or early sixteenth century), a penitent seeks out a deaf priest, mutters nonsense instead of reciting his sins, and does his best to steal absolution (a rifflart is “a thief”). In La confession du brigand au cure´ (Koopmans, Recueil de Florence 173–79; date and origin uncertain), a highway bandit fails to extract money from a supposedly penniless priest, asks to be shriven instead, and then picks the priest’s pockets while he receives God’s gift of absolution for his sins. In the Parisian farce Ribaud Marie´ ou Malgre´ Jalousie (Koopmans, Recueil de Florence 55–72; early 1500s), a nosy laywoman masquerades as a priest and confesses her neighbor, only to learn that he has deflowered her daughter. Finally, in La confession Margot (Tissier, Recueil 6:367–422; date and origin uncertain), a lustful confessor grants heavenly glory to a woman who has fornicated with monks and priests, but he stipulates the condition that she must continue her “charitable work” in the future. He thus leads her to compound her properly confessed sins by asking her to believe that they constitute their own restitution. If these botched confessions are obviously facetious jokes, they are also sophisticated thought experiments—hollow, void, and theatrical performatives that, as Jody Enders argues in a brilliant revision of Austin, matter both in theory and in practice.1 Indeed, farcical confessions are not far removed from the theoretical and practical content of penitential literature, which obsessively tests its theological claims using a wealth of examples, counterexamples, and ludic examples, pondering at length the ways in which normative guidelines might succeed or fail as they are implemented in practice. Thus, like La confession Rifflart, Godescalc Rosemondt inquires whether confession

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to a hearing-impaired priest can be considered valid (his answer is no; Tentler, Sin 126); like Ribaud Marie´, Albertus Magnus asks under what circumstances a woman might administer absolution (in cases of dire necessity, he says, though few experts agree with him; Lea 1:222); and like La confession Margot, a plethora of bishops and theologians consider what risks are associated with sexual arousal or solicitation during confession (nothing short of “mass abstention from the sacrament,” it seems, and therefore the endangerment of unshriven souls and sacerdotal authority; Haliczer 3). Just as penitential theologians use problematic cases to test the limits of rules and norms, so, too, do farceurs ridicule, disrupt, and distort penitential practices in order to ask audiences to think carefully—if also playfully and perversely—about the nature, function, and efficacy of rituals of forgiveness. To echo Steven Justice’s work on miracles, sacraments, and doubt (“Did”; “Eucharistic”), farces awaken skepticism in order to unsettle and revitalize iterative practices of faith. And like the Antichrist plays John Parker has studied (Aesthetics), farces are immersed in the inner dialectics of Christian theology and ideology, including the interweaving of orthodoxy and blasphemy (without which neither could be what it is) and the mimetic degradation of sacred histories and rituals (which anticipates an eventual revelation and redemption). The evidence of festive comedy and related cultural forms suggests that sacramental theology had more than a few cracks, that apprehensions about efficacy were widespread, and that many Catholics suspected that the church, its rituals, and its theology were drawing uncomfortably close to their own contradiction, with charity slipping all too easily into betrayal, justice into tyranny, atonement into crime, and spiritual quest into worldly ambition. Keeping this proximity of antitheses in mind, this chapter turns to the two farces composed as interludes for Andrieu de La Vigne’s Myste`re de saint Martin, a three-day-long mystery production staged in October 1496 in an outdoor, purpose-built theater in Seurre (Burgundy) with the goal of glorifying the city’s patron saint.2 The mystery play itself depicts Martin’s journey from pagan convert to confessor of the faith. On day one, Martin struggles to assert his Christian beliefs against his parents’ stern objections, experiences visions that inspire his baptism, and is received by Saint Hilary as an acolyte. On day two, he proves his sanctity by converting pagans, refuting heretics, and resuscitating the dead but also wearies of the world and seeks refuge from it at the Abbey of Liguge´ (Poitiers). His reputation for piety soon spreads, however, and he finds himself tricked into assuming the archbishopric of


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Tours, which he holds for the rest of his life. On day three, he defeats diabolical adversaries and performs miraculous conversions, cures, and resurrections before succumbing to death himself. His soul is then borne aloft as Tourangeaux and Poitevins dispute who has the more legitimate claim on his relics and shrine. In keeping with tradition, the afternoon of the third day was set aside for farcical insertions, as this was the moment when attendance would typically dwindle and the need to attract spectators would increase (Hamblin, Saints 16).3 The Myste`re de saint Martin is well known thanks not only to the fame of its author, who figured among the third generation of the Grands Rhe´toriqueurs, but also to the proce`s-verbal that accompanies the manuscript, Paris BnF fr. 24332, and provides detailed information about the production.4 Although the farces are usually read in isolation from the mystery play, I consider all three works in their intended and actual performance contexts and reject the conventional assumption that the farces’ irreverent, impious laughter is somehow incidental or subordinate to the devotional, didactic content found in the mystery play. I take as my point of departure a set of observations Beckwith has made with regard to English cycle drama: first, that “the theatricalization of liturgy, far from being an emptying out of liturgy’s content, may be a way of examining the very conditions under which it can be efficacious” (115); and, second, that those efficacy conditions are as contingent, uncertain, and open to contestation as the performing conditions for festive drama itself, which could be disrupted by anything from bad weather to an unexpected audience response (115–16). Following Beckwith, I argue that in the Myste`re de saint Martin and its farces, “emptying out” and “examining” are fully coefficient procedures, by which I mean, first, that confession’s promise of justification, reconciliation, and redemption is bound up with the sacrament’s susceptibility to misfires and abuses, anxieties and doubts; and, second, that performative failure has the potential to expand or transform the meaning of ecclesiastical rituals and of theological accounts of guilt, remorse, forgiveness, and freedom. Indeed, La Vigne calls attention to penitential rites not as a mechanical operation whereby priests consecrate visible signs in order to enact invisible grace but instead as a ritual performance in which it can be difficult to distinguish between felicitous and infelicitous practices, real and simulated identities, sanctifying grace and mere theater. In this regard, they are typical of a society that witnessed a massive rise in both lay devotion and spiritual uncertainty. As Jacques Chiffoleau argues, rapid urbanization and mass migration

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in this period destabilized familial, communal, and ancestral models of solidarity and gave rise to compensatory but equivocal forms of religious practice—the obsessive accumulation of Eucharistic, penitential, and hagiographical pieties that, in their sheer excess, manifested the inseparability of faith and doubt. In much the same way, religious drama seeks to solidify ties between humanity and God even as it transforms believers into spectators and arouses fears of an unbridgeable gap between this world and the beyond. Although farce is not penitential theater in any strict sense, it is my contention that many examples of the genre—certainly the two I examine here— attest to an immense dissatisfaction with notions of faith as unthinking adherence and to a rise of novel forms of religious inspiration, dissent, and choice. Farceurs used the contingencies of performance, infelicities in performative ritual, and the sheer provocations of the lower body to put pressure on ecclesiastical authority and to bring blasphemy and heterodoxy into play as the irrepressible others of sacrament and dogma.

The Fundaments of Penance Although the two farces La Vigne composed for his Myste`re de saint Martin may at first seem to be little more than burlesque sketches used to leaven the play’s mournful conclusion, in fact they present unconventional and even deviant readings of Catholic practices, beliefs, and institutions and establish a richly ambivalent dialogue with the surrounding mystery play.5 La Vigne meant Le meunier de qui le diable emporte l’aˆme en enfer (Tissier, Recueil 4:167–243), which is based in part on Rutebeuf ’s fabliau “Le pet au vilain,” to be inserted into the action of the mystery play just before the last rites of the saint, in the midst of a speech in which he announces his imminent death to his followers. As the proce`s-verbal establishes, however, a rainstorm on opening day forced the company to postpone the production and, when there was a break in the storm, to perform the farce separately in order to dissuade out-of-town visitors from returning home. La Vigne then composed a second farce to take the first one’s place: L’aveugle et le boiteux (Tissier, Recueil 11:291– 342), which consists of five episodes drawn from the life of Saint Martin in The Golden Legend. These episodes were interpolated into the final scene of the mystery play, which depicts the saint’s funeral procession and the rancorous disputes between Tours and Poitiers (Duplat 45–48; Tissier, Recueil 11:298–306). As if to highlight the marginal or peripheral nature of farce as a


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genre, the manuscript includes Le meunier and L’aveugle et le boiteux as appendices and provides an indication of where the latter was originally meant to have been performed (s.d. 559). We can learn a great deal about the religious and sacramental significance of farce by resituating these two plays within the performance contexts planned for them. If Le meunier had been staged as intended, it would have offered a vivid study in contrasts. After repulsing Satan, who has emerged from the hell mouth to tempt and torment him, Saint Martin receives extreme unction and Communion while encircled by weeping acolytes. Then, in what must have been a superb feat of stagecraft, engineered by a “maistre des secretz” (“special effects master”; 118) brought in from nearby Autun, an angelic host wings down from heaven to claim Martin’s soul, offering visual proof of his blessedness and of the potency of the sacrament he has received. By contrast, the miller, who suffers from an agonizing and apparently lethal case of indigestion, must endure the verbal taunts and physical abuses of a faithless wife and the inept ministrations of a scoundrel priest. The priest initially enters the home not to tend to the bedridden miller but to seduce his wife, who has shared her affections far and wide but has a particular weakness for the priest. When the miller spies the lovers embracing and celebrating his imminent demise, the priest is forced to don laymen’s clothes, pose as the miller’s cousin, and console his ailing “kinsman.” Although the miller is unconvinced by the charade, he slyly plays along for the pleasure of discomfiting the priest by forcing him to hear his own sins confessed to him in the guise of a cuckold’s lament. Mortal fears soon return, however, and the miller exhorts his supposed cousin to fetch the priest so that he may receive last rites without delay. Changing back into clerical garb, the priest returns to shrive the miller, which he does with remarkable carelessness. As for the wife, she makes little effort to conceal her disgust for her husband and her delight at getting rid of him. Rather than bid him farewell, she demeans him cruelly, asking him to extend his ass over the side of the bed: “Par la` s’en peult vostre ame aller” (“Your soul can take its leave that way”; 443). She may be insinuating that the miller is as loathsome as Judas Iscariot, whose soul was said to have been expelled through his entrails, as something so foul could not possibly pass lips that had kissed Christ.6 The wife also presumably wishes to prevent her husband from soiling the mattress: having earlier declared her intention to jump into bed with the priest as soon as her husband could be “en terre perche´” (“settled in the ground”; 121), she is plainly ready to make good on her word now.

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The scandal of the farce is not, however, the wickedness and hypocrisy of the wife and priest alone but also the theological complications inherent in the deathbed scene and its excremental outcome. Although the henpecked husband obeys his wife and defecates over the side of the bed before expiring, it is unclear what happens to his soul in the aftermath. Initially, all signs point to immediate, inescapable damnation. A callow but enterprising young demon named Berith has been lurking under the bed throughout the confession scene, waiting, as Lucifer told him he should, to take possession of the soul when it emerges from the miller’s “fondement” (“fundament”; 358). No guardian angel has appeared to contest the devil’s claim, as the ars moriendi tradition would lead us to expect (Arie`s 106–10; Chiffoleau 144–48; Gurevich 186–87); and the outcome of the death struggle therefore appears to be a foregone conclusion. Seeing the miller’s ass protruding above him, Berith extends his sack, captures his quarry, and then rushes off to the hell mouth to present it to his master. Unfortunately, the demon inadvertently obtains along with, or perhaps in place of, the miller’s soul a load of what the stage directions call “bran moulle´” (s.d. 239), which can be translated either as “molded shit” or as “milled bran,” the latter perhaps being the substance used to make a fake turd look real to the audience. When Berith proudly offers up his tribute to be stewed in a cauldron, the stench of the turd (or is it the soul?) is so overpowering that Lucifer commands that the gates of hell be thrown open to allow fresh air to penetrate to every corner of his realm. The infernal host then turns on Berith, beating him savagely for polluting hell’s already fetid atmosphere, which the audience was likely able to smell, thanks to the common use of sulfur in pyrotechnical displays (Seiler). The demons relent only when Berith falls to his knees, begs Lucifer for “mercy” (476), and vows never to bring “ame de munyer ne munyere” (“the soul of a miller or milleress”; 480) through the hell mouth again. The farce then concludes with Lucifer granting his flunky “grace planyere” (“complete forgiveness/a plenary indulgence”; 482) and making his vow law: millers’ souls will henceforth be barred from hell, for they are nothing but “bran et ordure” (“shit/bran and muck”; 490). With its provocative use of irony and puns, this scene conveys a number of the farce’s theological aberrations. To begin with, Lucifer appears, or at least claims, to exercise discernment in matters of eternal punishment and therefore to occupy a position from which to oppose, or accidentally derail, God’s soteriological plans. Like the miller (or Christ himself ), Lucifer


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winnows and sifts his crops, and apparently also reserves the right to reject whatever portion of the harvest offends his delicate sensibilities. We may legitimately wonder, then, whether he could refuse to burn up the chaff at the end time (Matt. 3:12; Luke 3:17), and by that means diminish Christ’s majesty through his own capacity for judgment and choice. While there is more than a whiff of heretical dualism here (evil as an independent, legitimate existence), there is an even more problematic form of dialectical entanglement: evil that resembles, imitates, and is internal to the good.7 How are we to distinguish the faithless priest, who mishandles the miller’s last rites in his haste to fornicate with the widow, from the dutiful Berith, who hopes to rectify his inadvertent error by imploring his lord’s forgiveness on bended knee? And what should we make of Lucifer’s allocation of “grace planyere” to a minion, an apparent allusion to the papacy’s practice of granting (and selling) remission of the poenae owed to God for mortal sins, and sometimes also of the culpa associated with those sins? La Vigne may well be insinuating, as did many of his contemporaries, that indulgences commingle God and Mammon, the Treasury of Merit and worldly gain. Given the state of French relations with the Holy See at the time (C. Brown, Shaping 9–36), he may also be indirectly accusing the notorious Alexander VI of venality, simony, and diabolical evil. In the process, however, he makes Lucifer appear magnanimous, compassionate, and even Christlike in his bestowal of “grace” and “mercy” as free and spontaneous gifts. More than just a gibe at papal greed and corruption, Lucifer’s speech endows hell with a kind of moral and spiritual legitimacy of its own, and establishes the relationship of good and evil as enmeshment and interpenetration rather than binary opposition. Even more than demons and devils, though, it is feces and defecation that are endowed with theologically destabilizing power. Like an indulgence, albeit one that circumvents Christ and his church altogether, the turd affords the miller remission of the eternal penalty for sin, if not the guilt attached to it. Moreover, in an impious parody of Christ’s substitutionary atonement, the excremental suffering and death of the miller (his passio, as it were) eliminates the consequences of sin for his entire ilk, allowing all subsequent millers and milleresses to evade damnation—a boon for the wife in particular, since, awkwardly enough, she may be obliged to seek absolution for her sins from the very man with whom she committed them. Finally, the turd plays havoc with the doctrine of salvation itself. If millers and their wives are to be spared hell’s eternal punishments, and if their actions cannot earn them heaven’s

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rewards or purgatory’s refining fire, where will their souls go after death? Rutebeuf speculates that they will either move to the swamps to sing with the frogs (perhaps because croaks sound like farts) or will journey to Cocuce, a scatological otherworld where people shit in their hats and souls are alleviated of the burden of penance (lines 72–76).8 By contrast, La Vigne offers no clues about the miller’s afterlife. We are therefore left to imagine the possibility that the stench of the bran—or perhaps of the ame—may hinder the claims of both heaven and hell, dismantling the moral and metaphysical binaries that structure salvation and enabling a multitude of souls to float free of penitential constraints. Not all of Le meunier’s theological provocations are so speculative and abstract, however. La Vigne also focuses attention on practical issues regarding sacramental efficacy and pastoral care—issues that, as I suggested earlier, arise repeatedly in the penitential literature of the time. Thus, the confession scene evokes the concern, apparently widely shared, that the integrity of penance might be compromised by clerical ignorance, indifference, or insensitivity (Lea 1:241–50). As soon as the priest reenters the room, dressed this time as himself, he scolds the dying miller for lying prone on the bed. Presumably he wishes to humble his penitent by forcing him to kneel, and in so doing to reassert his power after the humiliation of the previous “confession” scene. The miller skillfully defends himself, however, insisting on the gravity of his condition, telling the priest where to sit, and reminding him of the core principles governing the penitential dialogue: Munier:

A la mort me convient estandre. Avant que je parte d’icy, Pourtant je crie a` Dieu mercy, Devant que le dur pas passer. Sur ce poinct, mectez-vous icy, Et me veillez tost confesser. Cure´: Dictes. Munier: Vous devez commancer, Me disant mon cas en substance. Cure´: Et commant? Je ne puis pencer L’effect de vostre conscience. Munier: A! cure´, je pers pascience. Cure´: Commancez tousjours, ne vous chaille; Et ayez en Dieu confience.


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Or c¸a` doncques, vaille que vaille, Quoy qu’a` la mort fort je travaille, Mon cas vous sera relate´. (384–99)


It’s fitting that I should lay myself out to die. And for this reason, before I leave this place, before I pass on from this world, I implore God to grant me mercy. So, hurry up, sit down here, and confess me right away. Speak. You’re supposed to start by telling me the gist of my case. But how? I can’t know what troubles your conscience. Ah, priest! I’m losing patience. Begin anyway, don’t worry, and have faith in God. All right then. For what it may be worth, and though I am toiling toward death, I will tell you my case.

Priest: Miller: Priest: Miller: Priest: Miller:

The miller initiates confession more or less as he should here, with an urgent appeal for God’s mercy as it is dispensed through the sacrament; and although he rightly questions the confessor’s integrity, he seems, at least at first, to trust in confession itself. He has good reason to do so, since the church actively sought to reassure penitents that their very willingness to avow their sins to a priest would suffice to raise bare attrition (imperfect sorrow motivated by a reason other than love of God) to the status of contrition (justifying sorrow motivated by the selfless love of God). By the rather loose, largely attritionist standards of the fifteenth century (Spykman 88–89; Myers 22–26), the miller is guaranteed, ex pacto divino, the remission of his guilt and an infusion of grace. The only conditions are that he must freely confess his mortal sins, do his best to merit grace (facere quod in se est), and not place obstacles in the way of absolution (non ponere obicem). By all indications, he is extremely eager to offer confession; and despite his obvious, and perfectly justifiable, frustration with the priest, he soon discloses two mortal sins: habitual drunkenness and the pilfering of his clients’ “bran et faryne” (“bran and flour”; 426). If we leave aside operis satisfactio (“the satisfaction of works”), which is precluded by death itself but can be fulfilled in purgatory, the miller has thus fulfilled the duties required of him. The validity of the sacrament is called into question, however, by the priest’s careless performance, which stands in stark contrast to the miller’s insistent pleading for pastoral care, not to mention the multiple, detailed

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liturgical reconstructions found in the mystery play (about which more later). With his imperious, absurdly laconic “dictes,” the priest omits all of the usual opening protocols, which are designed to elicit a good confession and full absolution, and are therefore particularly crucial when the penitent is dying (Tentler, Sin 82–85). This includes the specific ritual the miller seems to be asking for: a preliminary accounting of his “cas” that is meant to prepare the confessor to ask pertinent questions during the ensuing dialogue. When the miller complains about the oversight, the priest misunderstands him. Apparently construing “cas” as “transgression” rather than “situation” or “estate” (Dictionnaire s.v. “cas,” defs. D2, B4a), the priest dismisses the request as irrational and blandly advises the miller to have faith in God. Although the miller agrees to proceed, his language suggests that his faith has faltered rather seriously. It is not simply that he mistrusts his hypocritical, corrupt confessor, whose own cas is all too well known to him and who has sullied the very bed in which he is lying. He is also now suspicious of the sacrament itself, at least as it is being administered to him: “vaille que vaille,” “for what it may be worth” (Dictionnaire, s.v. “valoir,” def. B1). The miller’s misgivings are certainly borne out by what follows. To begin with, the priest fails to engage him in any sort of casuistic inquiry. Passing directly from the recitation of sins to the words of absolution, the priest makes no attempt to inquire into the details and circumstances of the miller’s offenses, as canon law and penitential manuals emphatically require (Lea 1:367–78; Tentler, Sin 88–95). Indeed, the sacrament was held to be incomplete without this dialogue, and to exclude it entirely was a mortal sin for the confessor (Lea 1:370–72). Far more seriously, the priest omits the indicative, illocutionary formula of absolution, “ego te absolvo,” which Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, and many late medieval authorities construe as the very “form of the sacrament,” in that it alone can “apply the passion of Christ to the forgiveness of the guilt of sins” and thereby “produce grace” (Tentler, Sin 24).9 Instead, the priest adopts an outmoded subjunctive, perlocutionary formula that eliminates his causal role and, in the view of some theologians (Tentler, Sin 281, 288–90), jeopardizes absolution: Celuy qui e`s haulx [cieulx] domine Et qui les mondains enlumyne, Vous en doint pardon par sa grace! (427–29) May he who rules over the high heavens and illumines those of this world grant you forgiveness by his grace!


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The final dereliction by the priest occurs when the miller abruptly dismisses him from the room as his bowels start to yield and he loses control over his own body: Mon ventre trop se determine. Hellas! je ne sc¸ay que je face. Ostez-vous! . . . Ostez-vous, car je me conchye. (430–33) My belly has too much a mind of its own. Alas, I have no idea what I’m doing! Get out, get out before I shit myself ! The priest makes little effort to comfort the miller but rather exclaims in disgust at the stench and promptly retreats from the scene. His farewell bid, “A! sauf vostre grace!” (“Ah, save your grace!”; 432), encapsulates the miller’s spiritual predicament but does precious little to resolve it. In short, this confessor bears no resemblance whatsoever to the “discreet,” “cautious,” and “skilful physician” who is instructed by Canon 21 of Lateran IV to use all the “different experiments” at his disposal “to heal the sick one” (Schroeder 260).

Ritual, Doubt, and Embodied Devotion Of course, it is hardly surprising to learn that a lecherous priest, the ultimate stock character in medieval satire, also happens to be a lousy confessor. We should also be careful not to overstate the farce’s challenges to religious dogma; for as Frantisˇek Graus reminds us, the focus of medieval anticlericalism was typically not “the ideas and the teaching of the church,” which “form the foundation for all criticism,” but rather the priests, monks, and nuns who failed to conform to those ideas and that teaching (70). And yet La Vigne goes well beyond anticlerical cliche´s here, using misexecutions of procedure to reveal flaws in penitential theory and practice, and using scatological humor to reimagine the lower (and lower-class) body, its filth, and its lack of voluntary control as the gateway to spiritual emancipation. The struggle between miller and priest in the confession scene turns on issues of ritual efficacy and control, implicitly posing questions about performance, performativity, and power. What disposition is necessary for the penitent to be

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granted the remission of sins? Who is responsible for creating that disposition, and by what means? And finally, how is the juridical and salvific force associated with absolution to be negotiated between priest and penitent? By emphasizing the capacity of the sacrament to convert the sinner’s fear of damnation into sanctifying sorrow, attritionist theology aims to ease concerns about efficacy, effectively transferring the burden of justification from penitent to priest (Myers 15–26; Oberman 146–50). By insisting, moreover, that absolution is achieved ex opere operato (“by the work worked”) rather than ex opere operantis (“by the work of the worker”), attritionism strives to assuage fears and resentments of clerical hypocrisy and corruption. The confessor speaks and acts exclusively in persona Christi, making his personal sanctity irrelevant to the penitent’s salvation (Tentler, Sin 22–27). And yet the confession of the miller, administered as a demon lurks menacingly under his bed, suggests that the work of the sacrament could easily—and catastrophically—misfire as a result of the worker’s incompetence. If penitents are allowed to abdicate much of the responsibility for achieving sorrow for their sins, can they count on a poorly executed sacrament to supply what is missing? If the priest omits casuistic inquiry or the correct formula of absolution, will fear convert into sorrow, and will sorrow allow for salvation? If so, why is sacerdotal confession, with its onerous intrusions into the internal forum, necessary in the first place? If not, how much trust can one have in a sacrament that is administered in persona Christi and yet is perilously vulnerable to human error? Needless to say, there are many good answers to these questions, which perturbed theologians at least as much as anyone else. And yet those answers were incapable of resolving the questions themselves, which became even more pressing with the “pan-European . . . upsurge” in neo-Donatism in the fifteenth century—the so-called “problem of ‘the wicked priest’ ” that presented “one of the most important . . . theological challenges to the medieval Church” (Oberman 221). Traditional theological defenses of the power of the keys were not capable of eradicating the problem but may have exacerbated it instead. Penitents were asked to believe in the privileged, quasi-magical power of the priesthood to personify Christ and confer grace on his behalf; but they were also instructed to overlook or work around their priests’ obvious moral and ministerial failings, which were anything but Christlike. When read through the lens of these theological debates and controversies, it quickly becomes clear how assiduously Le meunier seeks to conjure up sources of deviation and doubt internal to penitential theory and practice.


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Perhaps the most telling detail is that even though the miller conducts himself more or less as confession manuals advise under the circumstances (he shuts his eyes to his priest’s derelictions and adheres to sacramental protocol [Lea 1:249–50]), the ritual seems to achieve nothing for him. It certainly does not cause God to act, despite the fact that in the originally planned staging, he and his celestial court would likely have observed the events of the farce from paradise as they prepared for Saint Martin’s death and spiritual ascent. It may seem reasonable to blame the confessor rather than confession for this infelicitous outcome, since the priest carelessly bungles absolution. This, however, leaves us with a purely formalistic and legalistic version of the sacrament that blocks God from rectifying an improper or inept use of the keys. Perhaps, then, it is the miller who is at fault: it is possible he does not merit forgiveness, whether because of an inadequate degree of sorrow, an immediate intention to commit a mortal sin, or a deliberate omission from the recitation of his cas. And yet this reading is incompatible with his apparently serious attempts to earn God’s mercy before he dies. It also erodes the sacrament’s pastoral qualities, negating its power to instill contrition in the barely attrite and shifting the burden for achieving justification back onto the penitent. A third, related possibility is that God withholds grace because he lacks the depths of mercy necessary to countervail the miller’s sins. Pilfering and drunkenness are hardly unpardonable offenses, however, and this reading not only empties Christ’s earthly ministry and sacrificial death of their meaning; it also risks promoting forms of scrupulosity that verge upon despair, precisely the outcome attritionist theology seeks to preclude. In sum, no matter how we read the confession scene in Le meunier, it insists on the “theological and doctrinal confusion” of late medieval penance (Myers 26), which gave rise to a dizzying array of practical and theoretical difficulties and left the sacrament vulnerable to the challenges of polemicists and reformers. Given this confusion, it makes sense to inquire whether farce’s impious humor signals the exhaustion and degradation of medieval Christianity, as E´tienne Vaucheret would have it, or manifests the recalcitrance of a population that has never been fully Christianized, is hostile to institutional and doctrinal authority, and is prone to iconoclastic thinking, as Jean Delumeau has argued.10 No doubt audience members who were ill disposed toward the church would have found grist for their mills in Le meunier’s anticlerical satire and sacramental parody. Beyond that, however, Vaucheret and Delumeau’s claims are not well supported by the evidence in this case. Indeed, Le

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meunier was supposed to be performed at the culmination of a three-daylong mystery play devoted to the evangelical ministry of “Martin, le bon catholique,” as he is eulogized by the angelic host (10232). Moreover, La Vigne uses Martin’s spectacular heavenward ascent to signify the rewards granted to those who abide by Catholic teachings and partake of the sacraments. Of course, the farce was ultimately staged separately from the mystery play and therefore without Martin’s edifying example to counterbalance its theological aberrations. And yet those aberrations do not appear to have raised concerns about public morals or religious integrity. Rather, as the proce`s-verbal reports, Le meunier thoroughly satisfied everyone: “Chascun s’en contentit entierement” (120). Nor does the farce seem to have interfered with the mystery play’s raison d’eˆtre: “la louenge, gloire, honneur et exaltacion de Dieu, de la Vierge Marie et du tresglorieux patron de ceste ville de Seurre, Monseigneur sainct Martin” (“the praise, glory, honor, and exaltation of God, of the Virgin Mary, and of the most glorious patron of this city of Seurre, my lord Saint Martin”; 117). On the contrary, after the farce was performed, the entire theatrical company processed to the church, where they implored the Virgin to restore clement weather so that they could “excecuter leur bonne et devoste entencion en l’entreprise [du] mistere” (“execute their good and devout intention in the undertaking of the mystery play”; 120). When the production got under way again the next morning and the actor playing Satan was accidentally burned by pyrotechnic effects, the performers briefly gave in to superstition and foreboding. But the proce`s-verbal reports that the first day was then successfully completed thanks to the saint’s own intercession and that the company again processed to the church, where they sang another Rosary hymn, thanking God for his favor. The remainder of the production was performed “tryumphamment, aultentiquement et magniffiquement, sans faulte quelle qu’elle fust au monde” (“triumphantly, perfectly, and magnificently, without the slightest fault in the world”; 121). This includes the second farce, which is hardly free of theological provocations. Although the proce`s-verbal is admittedly a public transcript and cannot account for the full complexity of theatrical intentions and reception, it offers precious little evidence of religious exhaustion or recalcitrance. I would argue instead that it reflects the aspirations and contradictions inherent in what Chiffoleau calls “la religion flamboyante”—a devotional culture that replicates the very crises it strives to remedy and responds to concerns about what, whom, and how to believe with a compensatory and seemingly insatiable


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appetite for ritual (167–69). Is it possible that religious mockery and parodic sacraments were an integral part of the mystery play’s “bonne et devoste entencion”? Could the farce’s anticlerical humor and deviant rituals have functioned as a necessary element of skepticism in the project of spiritual revival that prompted the staging of a mystery play? Finally, what does the perverse blending of mystery and farce, which is utterly typical of the aesthetics of medieval theater, tell us about the devotional and ritual culture of the age, notably insofar as penitential theory and practice are concerned? To be sure, the idea of dogmatic adherence is foreign even to the mystery play, which (as we shall see) exposes weaknesses and contradictions within performative rituals even as it aims to manifest their miraculous fulfillment. There is, moreover, nothing terribly unusual about a simultaneous emphasis on ritual skepticism and ritual faith. As Thomas Greene notes, critiques of ritual as “external, empty, [or] inessential” were often accompanied in this period by expressions of longing for “the performative, efficacious sign” (181). Thus, in Erasmus, “a nostalgia for magic” (190) coexists with “scorn for ecclesiastical ‘ceremoniolae,’ rendered by [Michael] Screech as ‘trivial little ritual nonsenses’ ” (181; citing Screech 119). And in Rabelais, one discerns both “a felt need for ritual participation” and “the author’s scorn for liturgical futility” (190–91). Although Greene does not say so, this ambivalence is closely tied to the epistemological and religious shifts brought on by the triumph of nominalist philosophy and mystical devotion in the fifteenth century. These were both movements that challenged the Thomistic synthesis of reason and faith on the grounds that fallen humanity was incapable of rationally discerning or effectively signifying divine perfection (Renaudet 53–67, 90–114; Langer 3–24; Randall, Building; Dull 41–100; Dominguez, Sce`ne 171–230). On the one hand, William of Ockham’s critique of Aquinas’s analogical, realist metaphysics inspired a rising trend in French universities toward pure logic and empirical science. On the other hand, this dry, dispassionate scholarship precipitated what Augustin Renaudet calls “une re´volte de la sensibilite´” (67), a culturally pervasive revolt of feeling that emphasized intuitive, affective, and embodied forms of mystical devotion. Although nominalism and mysticism may seem like odd bedfellows, as mismatched as either one would presumably be with farce, late medieval theologians certainly found ways of synthesizing them, notably Jean Gerson (Oberman 323–60; Randall, Building 15–22). Gerson places strict limitations on humanity’s ability to rationally understand and describe God, even as he champions a mystical return to him. That return is propelled, moreover, by

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rapture so intense that its closest analogue is also its antithesis. Divine love, which causes one to forget the world, is single-minded, intoxicating, and irrational in precisely the same ways as worldly love, which causes one to forget God. Indeed, the one love often masquerades as, or collapses into, the other: “Amor spiritualis facile labitur in nudum carnalem amorem” (“Spiritual love easily turns into purely carnal love”; Gerson qtd. in Huizinga 228). Gerson’s synthesis of nominalism and mysticism and his daring (if tormented) analogy of carnal and spiritual desire herald many of the innovations of French literary aesthetics in the latter half of the fifteenth century. Specifically, Gerson anticipates the Grands Rhe´toriqueurs’ use of analogical inversion to demonstrate the failure of rational cognition to apprehend celestial realities and the muddling of those realities with worldly ones in human perception. As Michael Randall argues (Building; “Poe´sie”), authors like George Chastelain and Jean Molinet tended to both refute and regret analogical realism and used carnivalesque inversion to illustrate the lack of unified, synthetic, and analogical truths in the fallen world. They present their readers with the sorts of analogies between creation and Creator that, in a realist framework, would make theological conversation about God possible, only to upend and carnivalize those analogies: divine, perfect analogates are shown to resemble or are used to explain earthly, imperfect analogues; and participatory analogies are overwhelmed by eccentric and even sacrilegious images. Thus, in Chastelain’s Entre´e en nouveau re`gne de Louis XI (1461), Christ’s Nativity encodes present, political realities rather than transcendent, divine ones; in Molinet’s Le chappelet des dames (1478), Mary of Burgundy serves as an exemplar of the Virgin herself; and in Molinet’s Chroniques (1486), Christ and Maximilian of Austria are shown to participate equally in the qualities of goodness and justice (Randall, “Poe´sie” 246–49; Building 49–57). Perhaps the most telling example, however, and to modern readers the most shocking, is found in Molinet’s Le romant de la rose moralise´ (1500), a de´rimage of an episode from Gui de Mori’s remaniement of the Roman de la rose in which Amours describes the rewards he offers to his followers.11 Those lovers who have served him most faithfully will be granted possession of the beloved’s body, including “tout ce qui est dessoubz la ceinturelle” (“all that is beneath the belt”; 97). They must renounce “la valee” in favor of “la montaigne,” however, meaning they must take their pleasures with the beloved’s arms, breasts, and face only (97). Although Amours’s account of “l’acomplissement du fait” (“the committing of the deed”) is metaphorical to the point of obscurity, Molinet insists that its terms are “gros et ouvers” (“coarse and


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overt”) and in need of the moralizer’s “art d’alquemye” (“art of alchemy”; 100). He therefore analogizes the lover’s arousal at the sight of his beloved’s nakedness to the “grant compassion” (“great compassion”) and “plaisir inextimable” (“inestimable pleasure”) that “[les] vrays contemplatifz” (“true contemplatives”) experience while gazing upon Christ’s tortured and crucified body (102). Pleasure soon yields to a combination of marvel and disgust, however, when those “contemplatifz” peer beneath Christ’s own “ceinturelle” (103). There, they behold a moralized but also anatomized landscape that evokes spiritual realities without shedding the memory of carnal ones. “La montaigne” is rendered as five “plaisans mottelettes” (“pleasing hillocks”) that served as sites of divine revelation: Sinai, Quarantania, Tabor, Zion, and Calvary (103). And yet the word mottelettes draws us uncomfortably close to la motte, or “pubic mound,” and the erotic pleasures it affords.12 Even more suspicious is the rendering of Christ’s vallis femorum as a vaginal (or perhaps anal) netherworld: a “miserable valee mondaine” (“miserable worldly valley”) that lacks any sign of virility and, like the pit of hell itself, is filled with “ordure puante” (“stinking filth”), “vieulx pechez” (“ancient sins”), and “viles corruptions” (“vile corruptions”; 103). Deviant as Molinet’s “alquemye” may now seem, its function is not, however, to defile or debase sacred realities. Rather, as Randall argues, it is to demonstrate the inaccessibility of those realities in a postlapsarian world, where difference prevails over unity, and rhetorical tropes are endlessly susceptible to degeneration. “Tainted by imperfection,” tropes “turn in on themselves,” trading an ineffable, Christological signified for “phantasmagorical,” bewildering, and even disgusting signifiers (Building 38). Those signifiers “can shock and bewilder, . . . but they cannot be construed as actually describing a truly higher meaning. They remain outside the interior space in which the true spiritual experience takes place” (38). I believe we can make similar assertions about the merging of sacrament and scatology in Le meunier de qui le diable emporte l’aˆme en enfer. Just as the unfulfillable quest for a more immediate experience of divinity leads Molinet to find “ordure puante” beneath Christ’s own “ceinturelle,” so the miller’s fear of damnation prompts La Vigne to associate foul-smelling effluvia with the salvific power of the keys and the Resurrection itself. Thus, when the miller’s bowels spasm and release, they seem to mimic the church’s authority to bind and loose. Moreover, the stench of “bran et ordure” performs the

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work of penance on the priest’s behalf: it eliminates the penalty of sin, if not guilt itself, and compels the belly of hell to loosen its claim on the miller’s soul, which miraculously escapes the second death by being regurgitated out of the hell mouth. The miller’s turd could perhaps also be taken as a literalization of Christ’s parable of the fruitless fig tree (Luke 13:6–9), which illustrates the need for atonement and regeneration by calling for a dunging of the fields—the dung signifying, according to Augustine and many other religious authorities, “sordes utiles poenitentis” (“the profitable squalid state of one repenting”; Expositions 389; cf., Patterson 165; Morrison 41–42). Certainly, the stench of the miller’s dung proves more powerful than the gates of hell, echoing Christ’s prophecy to Peter that those gates “shall not prevail” against his church (Matt. 16:18). By compelling Lucifer to air out the netherworld, the stench even mimics the triumph of the resurrected Christ, who, in the Gospel of Nicodemus and numerous mystery plays, forces hell to puts its gates asunder and liberate the just (Dominguez, Sce`ne 153–56). Likewise, by exempting all future millers and milleresses from infernal punishment, the stench manages to qualify the claim that there can be no deliverance from sin and its consequences outside the one true church—a claim that is enshrined along with the injunction to confession in the canons of Lateran IV (Theisen 1–36). Finally, the farce allows us to imagine that deliverance from those consequences, if not from sin itself, may well lie within the fundament—a word that, as Jeffrey Masten has shown, can signify both lowliness and profundity, disease and health, abjection and holiness, the sacrum and sacrality, the “ass(hole) and the church’s foundation” (133).13 The unpredictability of the “fondement” (both word and thing) and its emissions (both shit and soul) suggest a nominalist’s awareness that the foundations of faith and ritual practice are an insecure footing based on conventional and probable assertions rather than immediate and fully reliable perceptions. Shaped by the same historical and cultural exigencies that gave rise to nominalist theology, Molinet and La Vigne make no attempt to insulate sacred subject matters from the realities of the fallen world and its fallen bodies. On the contrary, they intensify those realities and exalt those bodies, even while acknowledging that they are utterly, and laughably, incommensurable with celestial ones. Thus, sexual pleasure and mystical devotion merge in Molinet’s description of Christ’s wounded body, even though, as Randall notes, “the transfer from carnal to spiritual” functions “only in a limited way” (Building 35). When taken seriously as analogy, these tropes refer back to


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their own artifice and invert the quest for higher meaning. Despite the lurid anatomical reference of the “miserable valee mondaine,” the pleasures of mystical contemplation remain “inestimable,” unfathomable, and ineffable. Taking flamboyant rhetoric to a farcical extreme, La Vigne elevates an equally foul-smelling orifice to the level of analogical equivalence with Christ and church. In the process, he reveals that a sacrament erected on apparently solid scriptural foundations—a fondement de pierre, to cite Christ’s own pun (Matt. 16:18)—is, in exegetical and liturgical practice, an unstable edifice plagued by insecurity, infelicity, and doubt. After all, Peter’s faith is anything but rocklike, a failing Jesus himself repeatedly observes (Matt. 14:31, 26:33–35; Mark 14:29–31; Luke 22:33–34; John 13:36–38). Doubt does not destroy Peter’s faith, however, but rather reinvigorates it, as Peter’s threefold declaration of love for the resurrected Christ attests (John 21:15–17). Similarly, what may appear to be impudent challenges to spiritual devotion in farce may well be its preconditions—an element of resistance that makes belief different from empirical perception or intuitive cognition. What Steven Justice has argued with regard to Eucharistic miracle tales holds true for Le meunier as well. Spiritual and epistemological difficulties are “constitutive, not adventitious: [they make] the sacrament what it is” by denying believers the comforts of unquestioning obedience and blind faith (“Eucharistic” 312). If the farce reveals aporias in penitential theory and practice, it also reminds spectators of the unruly emotions and desires at the sacrament’s core: fear of damnation and longing for forgiveness; apprehension that the ritual as it is devised and delivered by imperfect human agents may be inadequate to the tasks it sets out to perform; resentment of the burdens and intrusions of confession; and perhaps also feelings of powerlessness in the face of an attritionist doctrine that purports not only to forgive penitents their sins but also to make them sorry for having committed them in the first place.14 True, the spiritual freedom the fundament achieves for the miller and his ilk is nothing like the salvation promised by the Gospels, nor can it do more than approximate the state of worldly detachment that mystics call freedom. Still, I would argue that the playful deflation of sacred rituals and beliefs serves as a strategy for unsettling conventional, mechanical pieties and awakening religious sentiments, however contaminated they may be by the filth and stench of the world. Spilling over its boundaries, the miller’s fundament defiles all that is transcendent and pure, even as it reinvigorates spiritual longing by questioning the power of signs, rituals, and performances to make God’s forgiveness and grace present in the world.

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Mistere and Faintise, Sacrement and Semblance Given the extent to which laughter and mockery are yoked to faith and doubt in Le meunier, it is crucial that we examine how the surrounding mystery play negotiates its relationship with farce—and, more generally, the relationships between theatrical illusion and didactic intent, visible signs and invisible grace. Far from circumscribing or neutralizing farce’s theological provocations, Le myste`re de saint Martin enhances them, boldly exposing fault lines within performative rituals and supernatural marvels, and merging truth with pretense, the sublime with the grotesque. The farce composed to replace Le meunier plays a crucial role in this regard. Rather than a proper interlude, L’aveugle et le boiteux is fully integrated into, and comments ironically upon, the mystery play’s rather disgraceful—we might even say farcical—final scenes, in which the conniving canons of Tours steal Martin’s body out from under the sleeping monks of Liguge´. By contrast, the farce’s titular characters, a pair of impious and devious beggars, one blind and the other lame, do all they can to outrun the saint’s corte`ge and the wonders it performs. They are ultimately unable to avoid a miraculous cure, however, and lose their livelihoods along with their disabilities. While the blind man recovers his faith along with his sight and implores Martin’s absolution for his sins, the lame man curses the saint before launching into a monologue that effectively closes the mystery production: using theatrical artifice, he will reverse the saint’s miracle, restore the appearance of his infirmity, and extract charity from gullible passersby. Farce and mystery play do not simply work in concert here but actually merge: both genres stage miracles and hoaxes, muddling the distinction between signs that execute God’s will and those that simulate or distort it; both suggest the regenerative and degenerative power of sacred signs, which save and deceive, reward and punish in unexpected ways; and both serve to conceal and reveal the conceptual, semiotic, and performative weaknesses underlying sacred rituals and theatrical representations. Looking closely at the liturgical episodes that punctuate the mystery play, we soon discover that they attentively reconstruct ritual procedures even as they use verbal and nonverbal gestures to highlight the mutual entanglement of sacrament and artifice. This includes the word mistere itself, which can signify “divine intervention, sacred rite, hidden meaning, or theatrical illusion,” as in a mystery play (Dictionnaire, s.v. “myste`re”). After early instruction in the Christian faith against his parents’ wishes and in defiance of a pagan empire, Martin seeks out baptism in response to a direct command


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from God. The priest who administers the sacrament adopts an authentic, if somewhat abbreviated, version of the liturgy, including a French translation of the prescribed indicative formula of consecration: En nom du Pere tretout premierement Et de son Filz ou tu as t’amour myse, Du Sainct Esprit aussi semblablement, Devostement, Martin, je te baptise. (2016–19) In the name of the Father first and foremost, and of the Son in whom you have placed your love, and likewise of the Holy Spirit, I devoutly baptize you, Martin. Concerned that his catechumen may mistakenly perceive the liturgy in ludo, the priest adds that Martin must guard carefully against mistaking this mystery for fiction, sham, or ruse (“ne tenez pas ce mistere a faintise” [2020]), must obey God as a good Catholic (“envers Dieu soyez bon catholique” [2027]), and must avoid deadly sins.15 Given the inherent ambiguity of the word mistere, however, and the theatrical context in which it is uttered, the priest’s words also highlight the difficulty of distinguishing authentic practices and interpretations from inauthentic, ludic, and perverse ones. For that matter, if Martin’s baptism is to promote the audience’s belief in sacramental efficacy, it must be taken both as “mistere” (an orthodox ritual that has been properly performed and has therefore purified him of sin and infused him with grace) and as “faintise” (a mimetic, sham ritual used to illustrate the formulary for baptism and its invisible effects). Indeed, if the “mistere” were not performed and construed as “faintise” here, it would amount to a sinful or heretical act of rebaptism. The priest’s catechismal language thus perversely threatens the very confusion of truth and pretense, orthodoxy and heterodoxy, good and evil that it purports to obviate. Similar problems of authenticity attend the scene of Martin’s ordination as archbishop of Tours, an office he repeatedly refuses, preferring to avoid a “degre´ seigneurı¨al” (“seigneurial rank”; 6403) that would leave him vulnerable to “l’Ennemy” (6404). When the Tourangeaux fail to persuade him to abandon the cloister out of love (“puisqu’amour ne le peult avoir” [“since he cannot be had/duped by love”; 6495]), they decide to “ouvrer par force” (“use force”; 6496) instead. Although their methods are certainly coercive, they are

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also largely about the melding of liturgy and drama, Christian love and theatrical fraud. First, the Tourangeaux devise an “entremetz” (6473) to deceive Martin, an “interlude” in which Le Rustault de Ville, an urban hick and gifted actor, plays the role of a distraught husband seeking spiritual succor for his moribund wife. When Martin gives in to this false appeal for “charite´” (6531) and rushes off to tend to the woman’s spiritual needs, he finds himself surrounded by aldermen and clerics, who use the sacrament itself to bully him into acceding to their demands. Drowning out his protests with an ordination hymn, they punningly impose upon him the “tresdigne degre´” (“most worthy rank”; 6644) he would not accept “de . . . gre´” (“by choice”; 6646). In keeping with the prescribed liturgy, the cathedral dean anoints Martin’s forehead, vestments, crozier, and miter. He then borrows an indicative formula from the sacrament of confirmation to ordain him, perhaps so that illocutionary force will compensate for his lack of vocation:16 De l’onction je vous conferme En ce mistere seullement, Aussi du tressaint, sacre´ cresme Dont chascun est oinct au baptesme Pour vaincre du deable les tours, Affin que soyez tousjours ferme Et vray arcevesque de Tours. (6664–70) I confirm you in this mystery only—and also anoint you with the most holy, sacred chrism with which everyone is anointed at baptism to vanquish the devil’s tricks—so that you may always be the steadfast and true archbishop of Tours. As in the baptismal scene, the language and conduct of the liturgy suggest both an instantiation and a vitiation of its performative effects. The audience is given to understand that the sacrament has been felicitously performed and is all that is required to enact ordination and confer the special grace God allots his ministers. This message is confirmed by what all Seurrois would have known about their city’s patron (who was, in reality, the “ferme et vray arcevesque de Tours”) and by the fact that, immediately after ordination, Martin acknowledges his error in having resisted God’s will and “l’estat mondain” (“the worldly estate”; 6706). At the same time, however, the phrase “en ce mistere seullement” suggests that the performative succeeds only insofar as


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it is simulated within a theatrical fiction, and only because the Tourangeaux, like the devil himself, are willing to resort to tricks (“tours”) and theater (“entremetz”) to manufacture an intention that has not arisen naturally. In other words, the sacrament as they administer it relies on precisely the sorts of deceitful machinations and counterfeit spirituality that it repudiates as diabolical and purports to vanquish through ritual. Martin’s subsequent encounters with demons demonstrate how easily sacred rituals and discourses can be appropriated and perverted through disguise and playacting, and how difficult it can be to distinguish theatrical “mistere” (with its “bonne et devoste entencion”) from diabolical “tours” (which confuse reality and artifice, good and evil). Appearing to the saint in the guise of a king and claiming to respond to his pleas for divine protection against the devil’s power, Satan praises Martin for his “sainctete´” (9467), “devocion parfonde” (9468), and “parfaicte charite´” (9469); offers to help him withstand the temptations of “l’Ennemy” (9480); and asks in return only to be worshipped as “Dieu de paradis, / Pere de la divine essence” (“God of paradise, Father of the divine essence”; 9500–501). Unlike with Le Rustault de Ville, Martin immediately sees through Satan’s ruse, though his clearsightedness is based on rather flimsy evidence, namely, the demon’s sumptuous robes and crown. On the one hand, it makes sense that Satan’s splendor should give him away. When Martin first encountered Christ, it was under the guise of a naked beggar, who implored him for alms on the streets of Amiens. Not realizing the beggar was the divinity himself, Martin shared half his cloak with him and was later rewarded with a manifestation of “Jhesus en propre figure” (“Jesus in his own guise”; 3133), wearing the torn cloak as a covering. On the other hand, the mystery play suggests how difficult it would be for anyone less saintly than Martin to distinguish a fraudulent divinity from the real one or diabolical pretense from theophanic “figure.” To begin with, God is repeatedly described in the play as the King of Heaven, and the actor who played him was likely adorned in luxury and seated throughout the production on a throne of glory above the stage. The copresence of the two actors—the one playing God, the other playing the devil playing God— would implicitly have posed the question of how we are to distinguish salutary uses of illusion that inspire conversion from malevolent ones that cause perdition. Moreover, if we compare Satan’s paean to Martin’s holy virtues in this scene (9458–501) with God’s tribute to the saint not long afterward (9760–83), we soon perceive how skillfully the devil has devised his parodic travesty, making himself both visually and rhetorically interchangeable with

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the deity.17 The obvious conclusion is that a mystery play cannot fully distinguish theophany from devilry, truth from falsehood, but actively works to entangle them. It is perhaps inevitable that dilemmas such as these should lead eventually to the Eucharist, the sacrament in which appearance and reality are most crucially at stake, and most strikingly at odds. As Sarah Beckwith argues, the Mass’s performative claims (its simultaneous speaking and making of Christ’s body and blood) are inseparable from, and constituted by, its underlying risk: “The doctrine of transubstantiation claims the greatest allegiance and the maximum faith from participants in the mass precisely because of its flagrant transgression of the evidence of the senses” (61). It is clear, moreover, that in medieval settings “the sacramental relation between form and grace [is] best realized in theater,” in that, first, “sacraments are best understood as actions and not things”; and, second, the use of performing bodies to reenact mysterious events is “the perfectly consonant form for the religion of incarnation” (59). And yet if Satan can credibly act out and embody the “divine essence,” then the sacramental relation is a scandalously tenuous one that must struggle endlessly to stabilize itself. As Dallas G. Denery II notes, the constitution of the Eucharist as a ritual in which “there could be no room for deception . . . [or] falsity” (130) presented theologians like Ockham with a rather “obvious” “practical challenge” (131): “The body of Christ is not seen in the sacrament of the altar, it is only understood” (Ockham, qtd. Denery 131). For Ockham, the most viable response to this challenge lies in divine revelation and apostolic succession: “No one would hold that the body of Christ really is contained under the appearance of the bread were it not for the authority of the Savior and of the Church” (qtd. in Denery 131). And yet that authority does not resolve the difficulties of the Eucharist, in that it fails to explain how nonsaintly believers are to discern the difference between a legitimate authority in which there is no room for untruth and fiendish abuse that appears as true as God himself, between a pious theatrical reenactment of the mystery of the Eucharist and a diabolical illusion that causes perdition. Far from illuminating that difference, the two instances of Holy Communion in the Myste`re de saint Martin muddy the waters even further by confusing sacramental and theatrical forms of mistere.18 In the first instance, Martin declares his intention to perform “une messe auctentique” (7842), meaning “an authentic, exemplary, or efficacious mass,” or one that is performed “with all due ceremonial” (Dictionnaire, s.v. “authentique”). The stage directions provide abundant detail regarding how authenticity is to be


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constructed and how the audience’s perceptions of it are to be managed using visual signs: Icy doibt avoir ung aultel bien acoustre´ de toutes choses, auquel sainct Martin viendra pour chanter messe. Lors on le revestira et fera on ne plus ne moins qu’a ung arcevesque. Il pourra dire la messe toute, mais il ne consacrera point. Puis quant se viendra a la levacion du corps de Dieu jusques a la poitrine seulement, il doibt venir dessus son chief ung tourbillon de feu subtillement fait sans toucher a sa teste et y demeurer une petite espace de temps, radiant et esclairant, puis s’en aller et perdre par subtil moyen. Et sainct Martin qui fait semblant de ne le voir poinct, achevera le residu de sa messe. (s.d. 473) Here, there should be an altar furnished with all the things necessary, and Saint Martin will approach it to say Mass. Then [his acolytes] will change his clothes and do for him no more and no less than they would for an archbishop. He will be able to say the entire Mass, but he will not consecrate. Then when it comes to the elevation, he will raise the body of God to the chest only, and a whirling flame, subtly crafted, should appear above his head without touching it and should remain there for a short span of time, radiating and illuminating, then should go away and disappear by subtle means. And Saint Martin, who pretends not to see it, will complete the remainder of his mass. Twice invoking subtilite´ (meaning “finesse” and “ingenuity” but also “ruse”), La Vigne calls upon his “maistre des secretz” to use tricks of verisimilitude to suggest the truth of the doctrine of the Real Presence and to recall the fiery visitation of the Holy Spirit to the apostles at Pentecost. To ensure the audience receives these messages, he has the archangel Gabriel appear to Martin immediately following Mass to inform the saint of what he could not see himself: Le Sainct Esprit tresdigne, precı¨eux, En espece de feu t’est venu voir Ainsi qu’il vint ses appostres revoir. (7859–61)

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The Holy Spirit, most worthy and precious, came to see you in the form of fire, just as he reappeared to his apostles. Yet even as the spectacle manifests and announces the sacrament’s mysterious efficacy and Martin’s apostolic sanctity, it offers clear indications that this “messe auctentique” is not at all what it purports to be—and must not be mistaken for real if the sanctity of Eucharist and the ministerial privileges of the clergy are to be protected. As with the saint’s baptism and ordination, his mass can be read in two contradictory ways at once. On the one hand, the character effects the imperceptible transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, who should be understood to be as fully present on the altar as he was to his apostles at Pentecost. On the other hand, the actor’s failure to perform the consecration and elevation stands as a visual reminder that the wafer is not actually “le corps de Dieu” but remains bread; that “sainct Martin” is neither saint nor archbishop but an actor “qui fait semblant”; and that to perceive things otherwise would be to allow Eucharistic devotion to collapse into idolatry: the worship of bread. La Vigne was clearly apprehensive about these possibilities, as he sought to guard against them by manipulating the gestural semiotics of the Eucharistic service. According to Miri Rubin, the liturgy of the pre-Tridentine Mass included stipulations for avoiding “the difficulties and potential abuses of ritual practice” (95). Specifically, priests were instructed “not to elevate the host before ‘hoc est corpus meum’ since it was not yet Christ’s body” (95). Drawing on this tradition, La Vigne instructs the actor playing Saint Martin to raise the host “jusques a la poitrine seulement.” The fact that he never raises it above his head reminds the audience members that they are not witnessing an authentic ritual, that no change of substance has occurred, and that they must not worship the host for fear of idolatry. Even as La Vigne bows to such concerns, however, safeguarding doctrinal orthodoxy by demonstrating that what is called a “messe auctentique” is nothing of the sort, he uses words and gestures, flaming secretz and subtils moyens to convince spectators that they are witnessing both a real sacrament and a sacramental miracle. Thus, in the Mass as in the mystery play, the commitment that sustains belief arises from its most vulnerable claims: the yoking of invisible, incorporeal, transcendental truths to visible, corporeal, factitious ones and the simultaneous reliance upon and discrediting of sensory perception. In keeping with Octave Mannoni’s psychoanalytic account of belief as Verleugnung (the concomitant embrace and denial of imaginary representations), Eucharistic faith


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must here “survive its refutation, even if it thereby becomes impossible to grasp and one can see nothing but its utterly paradoxical effects” (82).19 And in keeping with Bert States’s account of theatrical perception as “binocular vision” (8), the mystery play asks the spectator to perceive the host through multiple lenses simultaneously—as a wafer that becomes Christ by dint of ritual efficacy, as an iconic substitute for such a wafer, and as a noniconic substitute for Christ himself (who is man and God simultaneously but is certainly no wafer).20 These paradoxical effects are nowhere more evident than in the scene of Martin’s last rites, which emphasizes both the authenticity and the theatricality of sacramental signs, notably viaticum: Eucharist offered to the sick in the hope that they will either recover from their illness or be resurrected with Christ after death. La Vigne indicates with precision how Communion should be administered and how its results should be depicted. Martin’s disciples process ceremoniously to his bedside bearing the reserved host in a reliquary. The cathedral dean then offers him the host, saying: Cecy en la bouche vous boute, A celle fin qu’il vous deboute De ceste dure enfermecte´, Ou qu’es haulx cieulx il vous reboute Coste sa digne mageste´. (10078–82) I am placing this in your mouth to this end: that [Our Lord] will rid you of this harsh misery, or return you to the high heavens, and seat you next to his worthy majesty. As if in reply, God soon asks for Martin’s soul, and a host of angels and virgins descends to earth to take possession of it, probably (as was customary) in the form of a child, dummy, or cloth dove. As the host makes its way back to heaven, angels and virgins sing a rondeau extolling the saint’s virtues and proclaiming the rewards he will receive for his devotion to the church: De Martin, le bon catholique, Emportons l’ame magnifficque En la gloire sempiternelle, Laquelle de joye eternelle Sera comme nous paciffique.

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Sa vie fut si auctentique Que nous disons ce doulx cantique Maintenant a mode nouvelle. De Martin le bon catholique Emportons l’ame magnifficque En la gloire sempiternelle. (10232–42) Let us bear the magnificent soul of Martin the good Catholic into sempiternal glory, a soul that, like us, will be at peace in eternal joy. His life was so exemplary that we now sing this sweet hymn in the latest fashion. Let us bear the magnificent soul of Martin the good Catholic into sempiternal glory. Apparently, Martin has been so faithful to ecclesiastical tradition that the mystery play can now depart from it: the hymn bows to contemporary tastes by adopting a “mode nouvelle,” presumably a reference to FrancoBurgundian polyphony, as opposed to monophonic plainchant.21 The rondeau nonetheless manages to harmonize (and rhyme) with “la gloire sempiternelle,” suggesting that the saint’s death and transfiguration have allowed time and eternity, song and faith, signs of grace and grace itself to be tuned together perfectly. And yet it can hardly be said that La Vigne uses this scene to cultivate settled or mechanical forms of religious faith. For even as Martin’s pneumatic ascent signifies the smooth fulfillment of sacramental promises, it points insistently to the cognitive dissonance inherent in Eucharistic devotion and theatrical illusion, both of which are predicated upon the simultaneous embrace and denial of visible evidence. La Vigne is clearly uneasy with the possibility that spectators might overlook or seek to attenuate this dissonance, as he makes evident in various ways that visible and invisible realities, true belief and make-believe must be held in permanent tension with one another. Thus, even as the stage directions insist on lifelike reconstructions of the liturgy and miraculous signs of its efficacy, they also twice clarify that “le Corpus Christi” has not been “sacr[ee]” (“consecrated”; s.d. 565, 566) and is therefore not what it is called. Since the actors cannot communicate the wafer’s status to the audience using gestures (within the theatrical fiction, it would have been consecrated at an altar, and therefore offstage), La Vigne must have them break the stage illusion with an ad spectatores speech. Le Messaigier du Jeu, an emcee-like character who is otherwise responsible only


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for announcing the start and end of performance segments, gestures toward the cathedral dean and declares: Messieurs, pour le vray vous produyre, Ce qui est de ses mains tenu, Ainsi que voyez nu a nu, Pour debouter ydolatrie, Quoy qu’en honneur soit maintenu, Le corps Jhesucrist n’y est mye. Pour tant, mon amy et m’amye, Ne vous bougez, faictes scilence; Ce n’est, affin qu’on le vous dye, Que du sacrement la semblance. (10037–46) Gentlemen, to tell you the truth, that which he holds in his hands, as you can see quite nakedly, to prevent idolatry, and even though it is being treated with honor, the body of Jesus Christ is not there at all. My dear friends, don’t move, keep silent for this reason: so that we may inform you that it is only the semblance of the sacrament. On the surface, the aim of this speech, which is the only one of its kind in the production, is to distinguish the phenomenal reality of the performance from its mimetic field.22 The gesture is necessitated by the fact that in theater, props are usually interchangeable with the things they signify, while in Holy Communion, the visible attributes of the wafer remain materially unchanged even as the substance transforms into “le corps Jhesucrist.” Le Messaigier must therefore explain that the host in this case is bread that has been depicted as a consecrated wafer for aesthetic and didactic purposes rather than bread that has been converted, in its essence if not its accidents, into Christ’s own flesh. At the same time, however, the speech exacerbates the epistemological and theological problems it purports to resolve. It does so, first, by calling to mind the kinds of skepticism that plagued the contemporary cult of the Eucharist and, second, by suggesting the inextricability of “sacrement” and “semblance” in that cult. According to Chiffoleau, nominalist anxieties regarding the imperceptible and unprovable nature of transubstantiation, coupled with spiritual anxieties about “being always too far away from God”

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(122), explain the rise in late medieval France of a compensatory, intensely spectatorial relationship to the Eucharist. The laity’s “irrepressible need to see the host” (121), a need that arose from the very hiddenness of God, could no longer be fully satisfied by the elevation and therefore spurred the growth of paraliturgical forms of devotion, notably those focused on monstrances. Of course, what the devout beheld in a monstrance was not visible evidence of the Real Presence but an empirical reality that belied it entirely. Belief in transubstantiation could therefore be maintained only through what Steven Justice calls “a discipline of fidelity”: the practice of “undertaking and maintaining commitment to a series of putatively true propositions: the content of the commitment is cognitive—one commits oneself to the position that the propositions are true—but the mind encounters the commitment itself as something alien, peremptory, and rebarbative” (“Did” 12). Something similar can be said of theatrical “semblance” in the viaticum scene: the wafer must be conditionally accepted as a true “sacrement” if the play is to illustrate ritual efficacy but must also be recognized as fictional if the audience is once again to avoid the threat of “ydolatrie.” More than illuminating this paradox, however, Le Messaigier gets mired in it. He urges spectators to behold the “naked” reality that the host is merely bread and not to believe naively in the theatrical pretense of Eucharistic adoration (“honneur”). Yet this means they must verify the truth about a simulated Communion ritual by trusting the very faculty of vision that proves so unreliable in the case of an actual Communion ritual. Simply put, the Eucharist, whether mimetic or transubstantiated, does not merely survive being refuted by the evidence of the senses but is constituted by that refutation. And in this respect, the mistere of the Mass is wholly bound up with theatrical faintise: it acquires its meaning and achieves its effects by calling upon beholders to both believe and disbelieve what they see, to make themselves wrong so that they may have faith in, and be saved by, a ritualized truth that is fundamentally in conflict with their experience.

Belief and Struggle That said, there is little reason to assume, as scholars often have (e.g., Jungmann 67; Thomas 36), that the constitution of lay believers as spectators in this period entailed their docility and precluded them from the critical evaluation of liturgy and theology. On the contrary, there is strong evidence suggesting that the laity participated actively in Eucharistic rituals and even


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appropriated them for their own spiritual and political purposes. Virginia Reinburg argues that, although the medieval Mass was designed to maintain the clergy’s control over consecration (which was performed silently with the priest’s back turned) and Communion (which was regularly withheld from ordinary parishioners), the laity was offered a generous share of ritually necessary actions. Indeed, while “lay people had no theologically prescribed role in the mass, . . . the conduct of liturgical business relied on [their] gestural assent,” notably to consecration itself (541–42). Moreover, if Reinburg holds that the social function of lay participation in the Mass was to cultivate “social and spiritual solidarity among God, the Church, and the lay community” (542), other scholars attest to the prevalence of opposition and even revolt in popular devotion. Eamon Duffy invokes the 1381 Corpus Christi revolt of tenant farmers against the Abbey of Saint Albans to argue that lay believers had the “theological resourcefulness” (65) to reinsert themselves into the liturgy when they felt they had been excluded from its sacred and social power. By breaking up and dividing confiscated millstones as if they were blessed bread, the rebels gave dissident expression to “the victory and freedom celebrated in the Mass” (63). And as Steven Justice argues, the rebels also laid claim to the sacrament by “emphasiz[ing] the agricultural work without which [it] was impossible (no mass without bread)” (Writing 169). While open rebellion such as this was admittedly intermittent, it was nowhere near as rare as is commonly assumed (Cohn) and found parallels in everyday acts of religious dissent. For Larissa Taylor, urban preaching afforded ample opportunities for theological debate, with listeners responding contentiously (and also, often, ludically) to the doctrinal content presented to them. Thus, as the preacher Jean de Monluc asserts, “There are many who are moved to study and to go to sermons out of a contentious spirit, to be able to speak about the diversity of opinions” (qtd. in Taylor 33); and Gerson complains that women were especially active in this regard, seeking “to speak and dispute about theology more than many a great theologian” (qtd. in Taylor 173). If Le Messaigier’s speech suggests the prevalence of this kind of noisy dispute among both male and female spectators (“mon amy et m’amye, faictes scilence”), it does a remarkably poor job, with its twisted logic and conspicuous aporias, of resolving the theological problems that it imagines prompting an audience outcry. It seems highly unlikely that La Vigne intended for the speech to promote quiescence, given how assiduously he courts controversy by distorting or otherwise disrupting the sacraments. A more plausible reading is that, as the mystery production draws to its close,

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he seeks to remind the audience to look for and respond to aesthetic and theological ambiguity and to be critically and even skeptically engaged with the sacred events and rituals depicted on the stage. As we have seen, Le meunier uses unhappy performatives to prod spectators into reflecting upon the hazards of the prevailing penitential system, which asks them to cede control to a sacerdotal clergy whose power to absolve sin is not reliably matched by its fitness and integrity. The original plan to place the miller’s last rites side by side with the saint’s (a mere 150 lines later) would have allowed spectators to draw perverse analogies between the saint’s branless, lily-white ostie, which allows him to enter heaven by dint of ingestion and the mouth, and the miller’s “bran moulle´,” which allows him to escape hell by dint of digestion and the anus.23 From there, it would be natural enough to ask questions about the wholly ambiguous and unstable relationships, in both the mystery play and the sacramental system, between pollution and purity, sin and redemption, incontinent bodies and sacred ones.24 Above all, we should note that the production ends, not with Martin’s apotheosis or a kerygmatic lesson, as it so easily could have, but rather with a series of unsavory struggles centered around the saint’s cult—struggles that complicate hagiographical devotion and theater by merging miracles with hoaxes, acts of God with playacting, spiritual regeneration with degeneration, and, of course, mystery with farce. These struggles begin almost as soon as Martin’s soul has ascended to heaven. The monks of Poitou assert their rights over Martin’s body, demanding that the canons of Tours relinquish it for burial at Liguge´, and a remarkably puerile debate between secular and regular clergy ensues. In rebuffing the Poitevins, the Tourangeaux reveal just how right Martin was to suspect them of blurring the boundaries between spiritual leadership and secular power: “Jamais n’en aurez la regence,” asserts the cathedral dean defiantly to the Poitevins, “Car c’est nostre propre seigneur” (“Never will you have [this holy man] under your rule, for he is our very own lord”; 10321–22). Not only do they view relics as a tool for enhancing the worldly power that Martin himself associated with “l’Ennemy”; they are also prepared to defend their claim on those relics by means of dirty “tours” that distinctly recall the “deable” himself. The dean invites the Poitevins to join his canons in sitting vigil over the corpse so that together they may all pray for the saint to reveal where he wishes to be buried. When, however, the Poitevins succumb to sleep, the Tourangeaux decide not to wait for a miraculous sign. Instead, the cathedral judge, who shows little concern for fairness, asks the canons to steal the body;


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and the dean entreats them to do so “sans grant kyrielle” (10393), meaning “quietly” but also (since the Kyrie is an appeal for mercy) “without asking for forgiveness.” On one level, the treachery of the Tourangeaux may justify God’s decision to grant them Martin’s body, for they are obviously in greater need of spiritual renewal than the indolent but honest Poitevins—a common if rather strained rationale for the translation of holy remains (Vauchez 432–33). Indeed, in the Middle Ages, the theft of relics (furta sacra) was often considered a virtuous act, one that was carried out with the saint’s complicity in order to achieve righteous ends (Geary). It would, however, be difficult to overlook the ways in which La Vigne associates Tours and its clergymen with deception and fraud, and thereby reminds spectators that deviance, doubt, and derision are unavoidably associated with the veneration of saints in this period (Goodich). The Seurrois audience likely had more than a few misgivings about the Tourangeaux as custodians of Martin’s remains and curators of Martin’s miracles. Some may even have had unspoken qualms about the saint himself, who was the object of fervid devotion but who seems to have rewarded a cunning band of thieves with one of Europe’s most lucrative holy places. The treachery of the Tourangeaux is especially glaring when compared with the calm acceptance of the Poitevins, who swiftly redeem their sloth by humbly accepting the loss of the relics and solemnly joining the saint’s corte`ge. The moral and spiritual ambiguities of Martin’s cult, and of the mystery production that glorifies him, are neatly captured by this rather odd procession: humble, obedient dupes are led down a path by covetous, grasping priests, the latter bearing the body of a saint whose selfless piety they acknowledge, exploit, and pervert. These ambiguities are considerably enhanced by L’aveugle et le boiteux, the five episodes of which are interleaved into the final scene of the mystery play. When the Poitevins fall asleep, two beggars appear on stage, each bemoaning his fate: the blind beggar has no one to lead him, the lame beggar can barely walk, and both plead for charity from passersby. Encountering one another, they agree to join forces, with the lame man guiding the blind man’s steps while mounted on his back. The lame man soon emits a disgusting fart, however, and must excuse himself to defecate. While he is gone, the Tourangeaux abscond with Martin’s remains, apparently so furtively that they go unnoticed by the blind man. The lame man then returns to report news he has overheard while moving his bowels: a saint has died, and the people are broadcasting the power of his relics to heal disease. Although the blind

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man longs to join the throng and regain his sight, his companion convinces him that this would be no cure at all: Quant seray gary, je mourray De fain, car ung chascun dira: “Allez, ouvrez!” (130–32) If I were to be healed, I would die of hunger, for everyone would say to me, “Get a job!” Swearing that the devil alone could force him to join Martin’s corte`ge, the blind man agrees to do his best to outrun it. In his haste, however, he trips and falls, and the lame beggar declares that only one option now remains: they must hide in a stairwell and hope the dead saint will fail to “see” them there. As the procession passes by, now with the Poitevins in tow, the beggars are spontaneously cured. Awed by the light after a lifetime of darkness, the blind beggar humbly offers his thanks to God and begs the saint’s pardon for having rebelled against him. As with the blind man healed by Christ, who proclaims the “light of the world” in the face of the Pharisees’ doubts (John 9:5), cure and conversion are accomplished simultaneously: Le grant bien ne sc¸avoye Que c’estoit de voir clerement. Bourgoigne voys, France, Sc¸avoye, Dont Dieu remercye humblement. (216–19) I didn’t know what a great good it was to see clearly. I see Burgundy, France, and Savoy, and for this I humbly thank God. By contrast, when the lame man recovers the use of his limbs, he curses Martin as a “filz de putain” (“son of a whore”; 211), sends him and his followers to the devil, and begins devising a strategy for returning to panhandling. A master of deception, he will extort alms from the pious by feigning a “grant extorcion” (“great torsion”; 254) of his limbs and invoking Christ’s own suffering to make a spectacle of his own: “En l’honneur de la Passion, / Diraige, voyez ce povre homme” (“ ‘In memory of the Passion,’ I will say, ‘behold this poor man’ ”; 252–53). As the mystery production closes, the lame beggar


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begins to construct his character and rehearse his act: he will pose as a Holy Land pilgrim who has fled prison in Acre, has been disfigured and lamed by ergotism, and is heading to Saint Fiacre’s shrine to pray for a cure. Far from “walking and leaping and praising God” like the paralytic healed by Peter and John (Acts 3:8), he abandons himself to sin, faking a disability and concealing his deceit beneath a cloak of heroic piety. The profoundly ambiguous, nearly incoherent nature of this conclusion should not be minimized. Martin’s posthumous miracles are unasked for and unmerited, and therefore difficult to justify on moral or theological grounds. The blind man’s cure is perhaps not totally unorthodox, in that it leads to conversion, redounds to the glory of God, and therefore corresponds to certain Scholastic criteria for discerning miraculous events (Vauchez 496–97). It does, however, transform Martin’s relics into a kind of fetish or charm, one that heals magically and mechanically, without regard for the invalid’s intentions or merits. As for the lame man’s cure, it can scarcely be called a miracle at all, given that it conspicuously lacks utility and utterly fails to strengthen faith. The beggar’s monologue announces, moreover, how easy it would be to use theatrical techniques—what he calls “la grant pratique” (241)—to simulate, reverse, or pervert mysterious or unfathomable occurrences; and, therefore, how inseparable thaumaturgical faith (which the saint uses to bring about conversion and salvation) is from theatrical illusion (which the beggar uses to defraud fellow Christians and thwart norms of piety and industry). Although many scholars would presumably agree with Andre´ Vauchez that “ordinary people” in the Middle Ages were “easily deceived and inclined to detect the hand of God in every apparently inexplicable fact” (494), La Vigne’s mystery production suggests otherwise. Indeed, it depends for many of its effects on the audience’s deep suspicion of healers and priests, saints and relics, miracles and sacraments—and on the “reactive intellectual energy” that, for Steven Justice, is a corollary to the medieval “formulary of belief” (“Did” 13) and that may even encompass “the possibility [of] a deeper skepticism, tacit and pervasive and so diffuse as to elude useful formulation or response” (21). In closing the mystery production with a farce, La Vigne dashes any hope that the problems of faith and representation raised throughout will somehow get resolved. On the contrary, he uses L’aveugle et le boiteux to demonstrate how difficult it is to distinguish between beggars who strive to thwart miracles and priests who steal them; between sinners redeemed by an act of God and sins that reveal God’s complicity with thieves; or (recalling an earlier episode) between the naked beggar of Amiens, who pleads for

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charity in Christ’s name and is in fact Christ, and the lame beggar of Tours, who tricks gullible believers by pretending to suffer for Christ even as he makes a mockery of Christian charity. The farce is not, therefore, a satire of “a society readily duped by its parasites,” as Andre´ Duplat has argued; nor does it illustrate “the deep conviction that no one can escape God’s designs” (57). Rather it reflects a culturally pervasive fascination with the merging of theater and life; with the inherently opaque and falsifiable nature of “God’s designs”; and with the noble and ignoble desires God and his saints inspire in Christian believers. There are, I would argue, few truly firm convictions here, only performances of belief and struggle, faith and doubt, mystery and farce that suggest how inseparable and mutually constitutive those paired terms are.25

Mysteries and Margins The question I wish to pose by way of conclusion concerns genre and ideology: What aesthetic and ideological functions does farce play in the context of a highly ritualized devotional drama like Le myste`re de saint Martin? A number of answers to this question have been proposed, though none that entirely satisfies me. Noting that “the idea of playing a farce for the death of a saint may be surprising to [modern readers],” Jelle Koopmans invites us to “understand [Le meunier] as an opposition between the saint of the mystery play and the miller who dies (a bit like the kind of racy illustrations found in the margins of certain books of hours). There is, therefore, juxtaposition rather than exclusion” (The´aˆtre 218). Commenting on comic interludes in the fifteenth-century Passion de Semur, Ve´ronique Dominguez takes this argument a step further. Since the Middle Ages did not oppose sacred and profane registers as starkly as modernity does, the poetics of medieval theater should be understood as “combinatorial” (“Myste`re” 24), meaning mystery plays use both serious and comic characters to advance “the same ideological aim, Christian spiritual meditation” (39). Finally, in her study of “implicit” religion in farce, Florence Bouchet offers a fully uniaccentual account of the genre, arguing that “Christian ideology,” which inhabits “all medieval consciousnesses,” continues “to act upon the perception of spectators even when that is not expressly the goal” (63). That ideology is so entrenched and internalized that it can withstand the “comic degradation” (63) of a genre like farce, which “relies upon the complicity of a duly catechized audience” and


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is largely “devoid of subversive intent” (64). For Bouchet, “the most we can say” about religious subversion in farce is that spectators must have enjoyed a momentary liberation from “a dogmatic authority that is not contested (indeed that must be accepted in order for farce’s carnivalesque irreverence to manifest itself )” (64). As should be clear by now, I am averse to any claim that farce represents a temporary opposition or burlesque inversion of an otherwise unchallengeable, fundamentally singular, and internally consistent ideology, whether Christian or otherwise. But I am equally opposed to readings of mystery plays that overlook the enmeshment of mistere with faintise, theophany with devilry, and heaven with hell. To arrive at a more nuanced account of medieval theatrical genres and religious ideologies, we must begin by considering how both mystery plays and farces seek to expose the elements of ludic, parodic, and subversive repetition inherent in sacred histories, theological truths, and performative rituals. The staging of sacraments in Le myste`re de saint Martin and its farces suggests that La Vigne is determined to show us that the church’s rituals acquire illocutionary, and therefore theological and ideological, force through speech acts that must be cited in order to signify and through acts of impersonation in which the priest must deliver his lines as Christ himself. Moreover, by consistently blurring the boundaries between sacrement and semblance, La Vigne reveals that performative rituals are also performances, and are liable to the specific failures of felicity that J. L. Austin associates with theatrical speech acts, which are “hollow or void” because they are “used not seriously, but in ways parasitic upon [their] normal use” (How 22). Or as Jacques Derrida would have it, in his famous revision of Austin, the supposedly exceptional status of theatrical speech acts is the condition of a “general iterability” that applies to all performative uses of language: “For, ultimately, isn’t it true that what Austin excludes as anomaly, exception, ‘non-serious,’ citation (on stage, in a poem, or a soliloquy) is the determined modification of a general citationality—or rather, a general iterability—without which there would not even be a ‘successful’ performative? So that—a paradoxical but unavoidable conclusion—a successful performative is necessarily an ‘impure’ performative” (“Signature” 17). From this perspective (which La Vigne would seem to share with Derrida), real, “serious” uses of sacramental language, which are endowed by the church with mysterious, transformative, and salvific force, are subject to the same citational and representational conditions that characterize fictional, “non-serious” performances.

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Thus, a priest who acts in persona Christi to absolve penitents and consecrate the Eucharist cites sacramental formularies from a pure and inerrant divine source; however, the earthly power that accrues to those sacraments by means of their unearthly origins is anything but pure and inerrant. Rather, it is constituted by means of linguistic and mimetic signs that are subject to misquotation, misexecution, and misuse by corrupt or flawed human agents. I entirely agree with Koopmans that Le meunier, with its focus on the lability of penance in the hands of a wicked priest, is marginal with respect to the devotional context of the mystery play. Indeed, the farce is quite literally marginal, in that it is reserved for an appendix in the manuscript, as if the scribe wished to contain its filth with some sort of cordon sanitaire. And yet Le myste`re de saint Martin is itself fascinated with the lability of sacramental performatives, which enforce Christian dogma even as they reveal that dogma to be a discursive practice susceptible to infringement and failure. This preoccupation with the lability of the sacraments does not emanate exclusively from marginal, “non-serious” genres like farce but is central to the mystery play itself and to the “serious” culture it represents. As Susan Smith argues, invoking precisely the sorts of lewd manuscript images Koopmans has in mind, “In the margins, the church wrestled with its demons,” showing readers all the ways in which official culture worked “not only to promote but also to contest official ideologies” (17). This includes the “spiritual restlessness that was part of the laicization and privatization of religion in the late Middle Ages” and that was especially visible, as Claire Sponsler notes, in books of hours (Drama 111). Indeed, it would be difficult to see Le myste`re de saint Martin and its farces as securing “Christian ideology,” even by means of a demonic mimicry that promotes doctrinal truth by temporarily inverting or distorting it. On the contrary, these three plays present an aggressive critique of priestly corruption and sacramental power, even as they attest to a desire to think, both seriously and playfully, reverently and subversively, about the theories and practices of devotional life. In Le meunier, the margins of the body (the miller’s fundament) and the pollution associated with them (his turd) are used to demonstrate that, as Mary Douglas would have it, “any structure of ideas is vulnerable at its margins” (121) and is subject to twisting, reshaping, and renewal. Blasphemies are therefore not incidental to or exceptional in devotional culture, nor are they simply juxtaposed with or opposed to the pious materials they profane. Rather, they are inseparable from the production of religious truths by means of performative citation and theatrical


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impersonation. Farce does not simply foist its rowdy exuberance, gaudy rhetoric, and leaky bodies onto otherwise solemn performances. It also, and far more importantly, draws our attention to sources of representational, conceptual, and ideological instability within sacred rituals and doctrines, and to the discipline required to stabilize belief in the face of Christianity’s inherent weaknesses and the church’s internal corruption.

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Making History Misbehaved Women, Well-Behaved Women, and the Sexual Politics of Farce

Well-behaved women seldom make history. —Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Readers encountering the corpus of early French farces for the first time cannot help but be struck by the genre’s obsessive focus on rebellious, faithless, and misbehaved women. Far more than stock characters, these “women on top,” to borrow Natalie Zemon Davis’s famous phrase (124–51), are perhaps rightly understood as the very essence of the genre. Certainly, this is how Christopher Lucken sees them: obstreperous and mutinous, the typical farce wife (for most women in farce are married) not only rules her husband and home; with her shrill voice and insolent demeanor, she also “rules the stage and proves to be the foundation and the emblem of a poetics that plays on her noise” (152). Lucken puts the case simply, if a touch hyperbolically: “Without her, there would be no play” (162).1 Although few would disagree that women on top are key to the poetics of farce, there is little agreement about what their strident rebellion can tell us about the genre’s sexual politics. Lucken minimizes politics rather severely, arguing that the farce wife transcends any “simple expression of a misogynistic tradition” and serves principally as a metaphor for communicative failure “in a world where the Fall has put an end to the Word of God” (173). By contrast, Konrad Schoell holds that misogyny is both medium and message in farce, which uses cross-dressed male actors to portray women as cheats


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and scolds and offers real women few opportunities to respond to their defamation—if, that is, they were able to leave their housework long enough to attend plays (82–93). In an altogether more nuanced reading, Davis insists that the woman on top was a “multivalent image” (131): although it was “often used as an excuse for the subjection of [real] women” (126), it also lent itself to appropriation, on the one hand “widen[ing] behavioral options for women within and even outside marriage” and on the other “sanction[ing] riot and political disobedience for both men and women in a society that allowed the lower orders few formal means of protest” (131). More recently, Lisa Perfetti has sought to move beyond the subversion-containment debate by theorizing that the “pleasure” associated with women on top derives “not so much from promoting or contesting existing hierarchies as it does from being able to stand back at a distance and see how they operate. In this detachment, . . . seemingly pervasive and controlling social forms are shown to be mechanisms that could be otherwise” (16). These forms are subject, in other words, to social reflexivity and semantic contingency. Like Davis and Perfetti, I believe we can only begin to understand the sexual politics of farce once we acknowledge that its misogyny emerges within heterogeneous, contested, and dynamic social and hermeneutic fields. While it is true, as Schoell observes, that women were discursively and politically constrained by a culture that regularly denied them theatrical roles, guild memberships, and other forms of public expression and power, it would be naı¨ve to assume that they simply “accustomed themselves to their role in society,” busied themselves with domestic tasks, and passively accepted being demeaned as shrews, scolds, and sluts (84). It is likewise doubtful that female spectators, whose attendance at plays is confirmed by, among other things, ad spectatores speeches that address or refer to them (Tissier, “Public” 155– 56), would have shared Lucken’s view of the farce wife as an allegory of incommunicability. Those speeches often make misogyny explicit by degrading and ridiculing women in the audience, while at the same time confirming the reality of female resistance by urging husbands to silence and subdue their unruly wives (Perfetti 174–75). This was easier said than done, however; for as Davis points out, ordinary women were frequently involved in smalland large-scale popular protests: “[They] turn up telling off priests and pastors, being central actors in grain and bread riots in town and country, and participating in tax revolts and other rural disturbances” (146). If women on top were used to remind male spectators of their obligation to impose discipline on their wives, their ubiquity in festive culture must also have suggested

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the resilience of oppositional femininities. Given, moreover, that the relation of wife to husband was used in this period to signify “the relation of all subordinates to their superiors” (N. Davis 127), those desires and subjectivities would have linked women on top to dissent of all kinds. Thus, as Marie Bouhaı¨k-Girone`s has shown, an all-male guild like the Parisian Basoche— which was called “la bande des femmes,” likely because its members carried out “subaltern tasks” and portrayed female characters on the stage—could use the theme of uxorial rebellion to covertly express their longing for “social revenge” (Clercs 234, 235; cf. Koopmans, “The´aˆtre”). My goal in tackling the sexual politics of farce is not, however, to rehearse classic arguments about women on top or to test those arguments against theatrical evidence. Instead, I aim to queer the farce wife by demonstrating how she works to disclose the tenuous relations, cultural anxieties, and ideological fissures at the heart of late medieval heterosocial regimes, whether she submits to their dictates or repudiates them. As Robert L. A. Clark and Claire Sponsler argue, medieval drama, in which boys and men regularly took female parts, was highly amenable to the torsional effects of queer performativity and was actively involved in “the testing and contesting of conventional social roles and cultural categories” (319).2 Supported by Galenic theories of sexual difference, which held that male and female anatomies were homologous and fungible (Laqueur 25–62), and by physiques that likely differed less by sex than modern Western ones do (Sidhu 207), actors used costumes, body manipulations, and prosthetic devices to demonstrate that gender was constituted through performance as much as somatic structures. As talk of staging a “vieille farce” (“old farce”; 140) in the Sottie des coppieurs et lardeurs (Droz 147–83) establishes, male beauty could appear feminine with little effort or alteration. Thus, a “valleton” (“young man”; 199) with “le corps tant faictifz, / Les yeulx rians, le nez traitifz, . . . La belle foussette au menton, / Les yeulx verds . . . / et la maniere tant doulcette” (“a very well-proportioned body, laughing eyes, a well-formed nose, a beautiful dimple in the chin, and an exceptionally sweet manner”; 187–88, 200, 202) could convincingly portray a woman, provided he knew how to use his falsetto a little bit: “ung peu faindre [la voix]” (197). That said, the aesthetics of the cross-dressed stage depended as much on self-conscious theatricality as persuasive verisimilitude; and the merging of the “real” gender of an actor with his character’s fictive one was often used to expose the stylized, illusory nature of identity categories and to reimagine rigid social arrangements as supple and amenable to change (Normington


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55–70). Consider, for instance, the barber’s apprentice Lyonard, whose star turn as Saint Barbara in Metz in 1485 inspired a love-struck canon to fund his education, eventually enabling his social advancement in the form of his own canonship at Aix-la-Chapelle (Enders, Death 29–42). Consider also the mid-sixteenth-century farceur Martinville de Rouen, whose cultural influence, the envy of humanist snobs (Gre´vin 52), was greatly enhanced when he performed the role of a sexually curious adolescent girl while sporting a full, black beard (Du Fail 310)—a sign of the actor’s abiding virility (as in the colloquial phrase avoir de la barbe, “to have a full beard”), of the character’s budding sexual maturity (avoir le con barbu, “to have a bearded cunt”), and of the transferability and ambiguity of gendered attributes (Fisher). Consider, finally, the many farces in which the blurring of sexual difference is linked to the reconfiguration of domestic and social authority. In the Picard farce Un amoureux (Tissier, Recueil 4:85–109; 1530?), the unchaste housewife Alison prepares for sex with her lover by stripping naked and urinating into a bottle—an unlikely feat for a woman and one that would have evoked (or perhaps exhibited) the actor’s penis, even as it signaled the character’s undermining of her husband’s phallic authority (V. Scott 66–67). In the Norman farce Le galant qui a fait le coup (Tissier, Recueil 6:309–66; before 1535), Oudin’s lust ends up feminizing him when he gulls his wife, Crespinete, into believing she has impregnated him and must avert dishonor by having him transfer the child from his “ventre bende´” (“tautened belly/erect womb”; 317) to the maid’s. And finally, in Maıˆtre Mimin qui va a` la guerre (Koopmans, Recueil de Florence 83–95; date and origin uncertain), Lubine manifests the phallic potency of the womb by dressing as a soldier, frightening off the battalion that has enlisted her son, and exposing the lack inherent in the officers’ macho swagger: “Ou sont ces grans vanteurs coule´s / Qui contrefaisoient les vaillans?” (“Where have they snuck off to, those great braggarts who counterfeited courageous men?”; 304–5). These cases suggest that actors, playwrights, and audiences were fascinated not only by the instability and malleability of sex and gender but also by the socially transformative potential of performance and performativity. If a beard could constitute and materialize both masculinity and femininity, if men could have uteruses and women penises, if the womb could grow erect like a penis and the penis receive like a womb, then why could effeminate apprentices not ascend to the canonry, farceurs not rival humanists, and doting mothers not trounce military recruiters? As Peter Stallybrass argues, we cannot assume “a natural connection between inversions of status and inversions of gender” (“World” 206), for “politics is precisely the work of making

Making History


such connections, not the reflection of a social order that is already known” (217). By the same token, however, “it was virtually impossible in early modern [or, for that matter, late medieval] Europe to conceptualise the redistribution of political power without figuring it in an explicitly gendered language” (206). Indeed, one of the central assertions of this chapter is that the proliferation of queer bodies and women on top on the festive stage is bound up with a politics of social, historical, and especially domestic change: attempts to put pressure on sexual difference in order to imagine and enact innovative reconfigurations of marriage, family, and household. Another of the chapter’s assertions is that female characters in farce can put pressure on gender through acts of both rebellion and compliance, and that it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish the one from the other. Thus, Lubine is an adoring mother who seeks to preserve the patriline at the expense of her own safety; yet she is also a devouring tyrant with immense, phallic teeth who emasculates her son (and supplants his father) by demanding he lay down his arms and return home. Likewise, Crespinete reveals herself to be a submissive fool who is easily manipulated by a rakish husband; yet she also symbolically displaces him as head of household by exhibiting far greater devotion than he does to bourgeois respectability and the privileges of trade, law, and property for which it was an essential condition. There are numerous other farce wives to set alongside these: the feisty but loyal Tivena in the Savoyard farce Le curia (Montaran n.p.; date uncertain) defies her obtuse, pigheaded husband in order to protect his claims on her chastity; the irascible but diligent wife in the Norman or Parisian farce Arquemination (Picot, Farce; 1500?) harshly reproves her infantile, asinine husband in order to prevent him from ruining himself and his household; and the quite literal fishwives in L’ante´christ et trois femmes (Brunet 1:77–95; 1508?) use their barbed tongues and clenched fists against anyone they perceive as a threat to their market stalls and implicitly, therefore, to the economic stability those stalls represent for their husbands and families. To what extent, then, and by what standards should these women be considered either well-behaved or misbehaved? The paradox that a woman could comply with and deviate from regulatory norms at one and the same time suggests a weakness inherent in heterosocial regimes, which, for Judith Butler, inevitably fail “fully to legislate or contain their own ideals” (Bodies 257) and thereby render “the very social life of gender . . . malleable and transformable” (Undoing 216).3 As scholarship in women’s and family history has demonstrated, social transformation was far more than a theoretical abstraction in the period under study here—an era that witnessed both the expansion of women’s


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domestic authority and an escalation of reactive masculinity. Citing the work of historical demographers, Mary S. Hartman notes that the “northwestern European family pattern,” which took hold among common folk in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and was distinguished by late marriages and transient nuclear households, granted women a degree of mobility, responsibility, and independence unheard of in early-marriage societies. In those latter societies, household codes and socioeconomic structures typically required women to marry men chosen for them, to produce male heirs as quickly as possible, to live in single-sex spaces within highly stable, multigenerational households, and to fulfill gender-exclusive social roles. By contrast, in latemarriage societies, men and women led parallel, reciprocal, and overlapping, if manifestly unequal, lives. Adolescents of both genders were obliged to leave their parents’ homes and enter domestic service before they could afford to create households of their own. And because women were emancipated long before marriage, they usually chose their husbands for themselves, were jointly responsible after marriage for generating and managing household capital, and were granted extensive property rights as widows. Most crucially, late-marriage households were not large or stable enough to “uphold the strict gender boundaries characteristic of early-marriage households” and therefore enabled, or more precisely required, “day-to-day boundary crossing” (48). Hartman does not naively argue that the porousness of the gender divide brought about a “golden age” for common women, nor does she imagine a smooth or complete transition from hierarchical to companionate marriage. She concedes Martha Howell’s influential claim that the move from medieval customary systems (in which women were perceived as reliable “creators of property”) to early modern contractual ones (in which they were often treated as unreliable “carriers of property”) entailed substantial losses of economic, legal, and social autonomy for women (Howell 233). She explains escalating antifeminism differently, however, viewing it as part of a larger compensatory response to new demographic and social realities, to the implicit challenges posed by women as domestic partners and deputy husbands, and to the loss of a secure anchoring for masculine identity in the household. In Hartman’s analysis, the woman on top figure is thus mimetic more than phantasmal, and her function cannot be limited to “an ecstatic experience” of social inversion that serves to “bind the community” and motivate “a sober return to normal social life” (207). Increasingly, “normal social life” placed women in positions to test and contest masculine authority; and the woman on top’s inversion rituals were therefore just as likely to inspire “serious questioning

Making History


of the social order” as to “confirm the belief in the rightness of women’s subjection” (206–7). Given that women were often required to serve as independent agents, and were greatly resented for that fact, there is good reason to suppose that it was not simply misbehaved women who performed contestatory roles in late-marriage societies but also well-behaved women—think of Lubine, Crespinete, and their ilk, who serve heterosocial ideology even as they undermine its foundations. Kathryn Schwarz has recently sought to explain why the “curious pattern” of “women [who] pose a threat when they willingly conform to social conventions” was so culturally compelling in early modern England (2). Her answer is that it brought to light contradiction and fragility at the heart of patriarchy, which must perpetuate itself by means of the very thing it strives to restrict: self-governing feminine will. Women’s selfregulated cooperation in “chastity, marriage, and patrilineal succession” was socially necessary but often appeared in cultural representations as “work, in which feminine subjects play[ed] intentional parts. Rather than liberate women from repressive dictates, this compromised mode of self-direction alter[ed] the meaning of compliance,” demonstrating that “acquiescence” was “deliberate and transactional rather than innate” and that “feminine will” was the very “means of social contract” (3). Although feminists have often interpreted depictions of women’s spontaneous consent as indicative of the effective imposition of male sovereignty, Schwarz argues that exaggerated acts of intentional virtue uncover the actual instability of patriarchy, which would collapse altogether if women were unwilling to perform the roles assigned to them. The “intentional paradox” (7) inherent in volitional surrender can put pressure on heterosocial contracts, demonstrating that they are instituted and enforced not through pervasive, inflexible forms of control but through the negotiation of “livable space”: a shifting equilibrium made up of “networks of functional accord,” “a condition of interdependence,” and “workable accommodations” (3). Operating within such a moving equilibrium, the farce wives I examine in this chapter make history as much by adhering to heterosocial norms as by impeding them, as much by binding themselves to husband and home as by forging strategic alliances with their husbands to defend the household against external threats. Although these actions do not reveal female characters to be (in Schwarz’s words) “unfettered agents, liberated from doctrinal imposition,” neither should they be mistaken for “automata on the assembly line of authorized narratives” (27). On the contrary, they work to orchestrate


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deviant theatrical plots, to complicate cultural fictions of subordinate and insubordinate femininity, and to transform heterosexual marriage into a queer form of reciprocal engagement. Thus, Serre Porte et Fin Verjus (Koopmans, Recueil de Florence 461–78; aka Le savetier, le moine et la femme) demonstrates that a shrew can be a staunch ally to the husband she humiliates and rebukes, enabling him to gain the upper hand in his struggles with other men by dressing him in her frock and teaching him how to wield the phallic power of the woman on top. Likewise, the absurdly obedient milleress in Le poulier a` six personnages (Tissier, Recueil 1:305–94; aka Les deux gentilshommes et le meunier) deploys a ruse that allows her husband to obtain mastery over his abusive landlords and to wield power across the class divide, even as it demonstrates the extent to which the husband needs his wife to rescue him and cannot entirely control her even when she has voluntarily submitted to his hegemony. These farces can hardly be said to shy away from the constitutive inequalities inherent in the late-marriage household. At the same time, however, they give us reason to doubt, along with Hartman, the notion of households as “permanent sites of women’s oppression” (11). In the hands of these farceurs, households instead appear as privileged venues for performative disruption and social experimentation, and as vantage points from which historical change could be perceived, imagined, and pursued.

The Indomitable Woman on Top Serre Porte et Fin Verjus, which emanates from either Paris or the Loire Valley and likely dates from the early 1520s, is in many ways a conventional domestic farce—one that pits an indolent drunk against his shrewish wife, who must in turn fend off a lecherous monk.4 If it stands out in the corpus, there are two main reasons: first, the action takes place largely outside the usual spheres of feminine influence (house, shop, stall), in homosocial settings where women’s latitude would have been strictly limited; and, second, it features unusually disruptive games of role switching—theatrical tricks that efface, and overtly fail to reinscribe, the boundaries between masculine and feminine. In fact, the play seems to be utterly committed to the project of disrupting the spatialized ideologies of late medieval and early modern patriarchy, which sought to limit women’s freedom of movement and stigmatized those who, like beguines or prostitutes, traversed urban spaces unescorted or unsuitably attired (Hanawalt 70–87; Jones). While the wife in Serre Porte et Fin Verjus

Making History


is neither a celibate nor a whore, she, too, seeks to evade the strictures placed upon her mobility, autonomy, and power, and does so by subverting relationships among spatial exclusions, sartorial codes, and gender hierarchies. Caught up in the scheming of her husband, the cobbler Fin Verjus, and her would-be confessor, the monastic priest Serre Porte, she circumvents them both despite finding herself in spaces where she has little room for maneuver. Not only does she manage to neutralize clerical and marital tyranny, she also demonstrates that the fragile, collective sovereignty of the bourgeois household depends upon what kink theorists call “power exchange”: a dynamic, negotiated, and ludic surrender of subordinate to dominant that grants willful control to both and enacts weaknesses within, and alternatives to, social, institutional, and gendered forms of domination (Call; Freeman). The play’s opening scene immediately alerts us to an overarching concern with impaired and aggrieved masculinity. The penniless, alcoholic, and all-too-sober Fin Verjus wanders through the streets in search of a patsy to buy him drinks. He soon stumbles upon his friend Pierre Serre Porte, who has just returned after a dubious period of absence, apparently for imprisonment or exile. It seems Fin Verjus was one of the few people to defend him against his accusers and is now owed a debt of gratitude, which he expects to be repaid in wine. A series of insinuations and asides soon reveals, however, that far from being fast friends, the two men are consumed with mutual suspicion and dislike. Fin Verjus, whose name refers to a sour cooking juice made from unripe fruit, is embittered at finding himself saddled with the humblest of urban trades (Pinet, “Cobbler”) and denied the privileges enjoyed by members of the educated elite like Serre Porte. For his part, the monk, whose name translates as “latch or bolt,” can barely conceal his disdain for the cobbler, whose debauchery and indolence have closed the door on a university diploma and social distinction. In an attempt to compensate for this lack, Fin Verjus hails the monk in Latin, boasts of his many victories over the city’s university students, and proclaims that if he had only applied himself, he, too, could have matriculated at “Logeotruie” (50), a spoonerism that disparages (and emasculates) the Faculte´ de The´ologie as a loge aux truies, or “sow sty” (Koopmans, Recueil de Florence 463n25; Enders, Farce 447n18). Serre Porte jeers in return that he remembers his friend taking his qualifying exams “a Petit Pont” (57), a site where one would be just as likely to hear fishwives insulting one another as students debating theology (Le Happe`re; Koopmans and Verhuyck 159–60). When the two men repair to the monastery’s tavern to drink, Fin Verjus


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escalates the game of one-upmanship, this time boasting of the pleasures he derives from his new wife, who is as malleable as “sire” (“wax”; 112) and sexually uninhibited to the point of recklessness. She kisses him fervidly in front of everyone, or so he claims, and worships him like Christ’s own body during the Mass: “Oncques Dieu ne fut en Eglise / Ainsi festoye´ que je suis” (“Never has God been venerated in church the way my wife feasts on me”; 129–30). Titillated by this description and groaning under the burden of his chastity vow, Serre Porte implores Fin Verjus to allow him the pleasure of kissing his wife. The cobbler agrees but lays a trap for the monk by convincing him to exchange clothes, “de peur que ne vous escondisse” (“for fear that she may refuse you”; 138). The cobbler’s trick establishes a pattern for the remainder of the play, in which masculine pleasure is predicated on feminine supplication, but in which identity (eventually including gender) is obscured and disrupted by impersonation and disguise. As the audience soon learns, the description Fin Verjus gives of his wife is itself a ludicrous charade, one that gains in complexity and ambiguity as she gets dragged into the struggles between her husband and the monk. When the scene shifts to her home, we find her searching for her husband, then cursing his name when she discovers he has yet again abandoned “ouvrage” (“work”; 152) and “office” (“duty”; 191). Far from molding herself to his will or worshipping his godlike virility, she bitterly denounces his laziness and profligacy, which have left them destitute. Boldly stepping into the role of woman on top, she vows to confront him at the tavern, where she will either impose matriarchal rule or die trying: Saint Jehan, se je ne le gouverne Au gre´ de la fille ma mere, Je pry Dieu que la mort amere Enfin sans peche´ si me tienne. (158–61) By Saint John, if I don’t govern him as best suits my mother’s daughter, I pray God that bitter death may seize me at last without sin. As in many farces, however, uxorial revolt is complicated by its motives and outcomes. Even as the wife flouts the household codes that require her to submit to her husband as to God himself (e.g., Eph. 5:22), she strives to uphold bourgeois ideology by imposing norms of industry on her insecure

Making History


and disgraced me´nage. Moreover, even as she supplants her husband’s authority by shouldering the burden of ideological enforcement, her selfassertion ends up restoring his status by injuring and humiliating his rival and wreaking havoc on the institution that signifies the monk’s superior rank. Thus, in the next scene, the wife bursts into the monastery tavern with a spectacular display of aggression and contempt. First, she treats the gatekeeper as a criminal when he tries to bar her entry and claims not to know her drunkard husband: “Vous ne sc¸avez vostre gibet!” (“You wouldn’t know the hangman’s noose [when they put it around your neck]!”; 180). Then, when she enters the tavern and herself fails to recognize Fin Verjus, she assaults Serre Porte in his stead, reviling him as “le plus doulant / Qui fut oncques en vostre lignaige” (“the most wretched man ever to spring from your lineage”; 206–7). Finally, she apologizes to her husband for the ruckus, mistaking him for a “bon seigneur” (“good lord”; 205) worthy of “honneur” (204). Even though her insults are meant to diminish the family patriarch and the patriline itself, she unwittingly rectifies her own rebellion by enacting her husband’s social resentments on his behalf and symbolically restoring his lordship. Fin Verjus is quick to acknowledge, in an aside to the audience, the virtues of his wife’s unruliness, which in this instance redounds to his glory. By turning her “deux mains” (“two hands”; 246) against his rival, he reclaims some of the power and dignity he previously lacked and proves his cleverness by pulling off “le meilleur tour du monde” (“the finest trick in the world”; 245). In sum, then, the tavern scene shows us not only that the woman on top’s aggression has its own legitimacy (in that she uses her “mains” to secure a precarious and mismanaged household) but also that it can be harnessed to other ends (in that she unwittingly uses those “mains” to grant her husband the upper hand against a potent enemy). Although the success of his trick depends on exploiting his wife as a passive, unknowing instrument, the cobbler will soon discover that he can obtain even more impressive results if she is conscious of her actions and able to help him direct his. Indeed, in the second half of the play she devises a trick for them to put into practice together—a tour that defeats the monk once and for all and demonstrates that the working-class household can defend its collective sovereignty most effectively when spouses play dominant and subordinate, brains and brawn, husband and wife a` tour de roˆle. The need of the couple to renegotiate and reaffirm their alliance arises in response to Serre Porte’s attempts to exact revenge on Fin Verjus by making his wife into a sexual target. The monk pretends to ally himself with the cobbler


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against his wife and proposes that they join forces to punish her for her insolence. Fin Verjus will reveal that she has assaulted a clergyman and will order her to appear at the monastery for confession. Serre Porte will then give her “tel penitance” (“so harsh a penance/so hard a fuck”; 256) that she will return home to beg her husband for “mercy” (257). The veiled obscenity on donner la pe´nitence (Bidler 495), which Fin Verjus misses but which the audience could hardly have failed to hear, colors all subsequent references to confession and establishes the play’s political focus on the potential for tyranny inherent in sacerdotal propitiation. Although penance is meant to reconcile sinners with Christ and church, it serves here, as it sometimes did in reality, as a pretext for sexual abuse and a tool for ideological domination. According to Stephen Haliczer, archival evidence shows that confessors often used penance to seduce, coerce, and even rape vulnerable women and that “distrust of the clergy, specifically in sexual matters,” was one of the principal reasons for abstention from the sacrament (3). More generally, penance was one of the key mechanisms by which the church sought to subjugate the laity, to naturalize inequality, and (in the vulgar idiom of farce) to fuck over the Third Estate. Not only did “the priest’s power to grant or withhold absolution, to levy and control penance, and his superior education and social status [make] the confessional relationship inherently unequal”; it also served “to inculcate, maintain, and extend the system of values that supported constituted religious and political authority and the prevailing distribution of wealth and power” (8). If Fin Verjus’s joke about Logeotruie prepares us to see theology as a cover for piggish abuses, it is through the wife that we discover the play’s more focused critique of sacerdotalism. As the cobbler reveals to the monk, his wife has always defied the jurisdiction of the clergy over her moral and spiritual health: “Il n’y eut onques confesseur / Qui luy sceust par bieu faire dire” (“There has never been a confessor who knew how to make her speak for God’s sake”; 262–63). Invoking canon law, the monk assures the cobbler that his wife will have no choice under the circumstances: assault on a monk or priest is a reserved sin that earns excommunication latae sententiae (“sentence already passed”), meaning the pope alone can offer remission unless the confessor can find some sort of reasonable exemption. In actual practice, such exemptions were easy to find. According to one penitential manual, a woman who strikes a cleric must appeal to Rome only if the injury is “atrocious” and the pilgrimage will not be “prejudicial”; another reduces the penalty if the cleric was not “recognizable as such” (Kelly 249). Clearly, though, Serre Porte

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has no interest in the proper administration of the sacrament, only in what it can procure for him, namely, revenge against his enemy and gratification of his lust. And since, as a monastic priest, he operates with relative independence from diocesan oversight, he can exert immense discretionary power over adjudication and can use it to coerce the wife into submission. None of this surprises the wife herself. When she learns from Fin Verjus that she has unknowingly brutalized a monk who swapped clothes with her husband in order to steal a kiss from her, she instantly realizes that she has been ensnared by a couple of wily tricksters, and indeed by the sacrament itself: “Et par bieu, vecy bonne farce! / Je suis donques excommuniee!” (“Dear God, what a farce! Just like that I find myself excommunicated!”; 320–21). The harm she faces is no joke, however, and leaves her little recourse: she is unlikely to find another confessor to absolve her, as she has long abstained from the sacrament; she cannot go to Rome, as the cost would be prohibitive, to say nothing of the dangers of the trip; and she cannot prevent the monk from telling his tale, damaging her reputation, and eroding the already weakened moral, social, and economic standing of her household. Exploiting her fear that “la chose” (“the thing”) will be “publiee” (“made known”; 322), the cobbler takes the opportunity to force her into obedience. He commands her to kneel before Serre Porte, to confess her sins to him, and to implore him for absolution. Since Fin Verjus knows what monks are capable of when faced with a vulnerable woman on her knees, he adds that she must beware Serre Porte’s “tours” (329) and report back immediately if he should “prier d’amours” (“pray for love”; 330) rather than salvation. While she agrees to this demand, she makes clear that her submission is temporary and circumstantial. She pertly dismisses her husband’s prediction that she will soon return home begging him for forgiveness: “Mieulx aimeroye / Vous veoir bouter en terre basse” (“I would rather see you buried deep in the ground”; 346–47). Enraged, he responds with a sexist gibe, though one that acknowledges her unruly power and the impossibility of subduing it: “fiere et rebelle” (“proud and rebellious”; 355), she instills terror in Chicheface, a mythical beast whose diet consists of obedient wives but who “n’a garde de vous menger” (“does not dare eat you”; 353).

Corrupt Monasteries and Queer Households As it happens, neither spouse will be buried, devoured, or domesticated by the other. Rather, as the plot develops and the wife’s situation becomes


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increasingly precarious, the couple responds by experimenting with new forms of mutuality, borrowing, and role-play. In so doing, they queer the household itself and specifically “three common figures” that, for Frances Dolan, characterize marriage in the period and reveal its inherent violence: a religious figure that depicts husband and wife as “one flesh”; a juridical figure that depicts them as “one legal agent”; and a comic figure that “assigns [them] similar claims on wit, desire, authority, and material resources” but also “compels [them] to war for mastery within their marriage and household” (3). When “taken together,” these figures “suggest that marriage is an economy of scarcity in which there is only room for one full person” (3) and in which conflict can be resolved only when one spouse, usually the husband, “absorbs, subordinates, or eliminates the other” (4). Clearly, the cobbler and his wife wage just such a war for mastery in the first half of the play, with Fin Verjus redirecting the violence such that it lands on Serre Porte’s head rather than his own and such that his wife must bear responsibility for it rather than he. In the second half of the play, however, husband and wife jointly turn their aggression against their common enemy and use marriage itself to defend their shared interests against ecclesiastical intrusion. As Emma Lipton argues, this was not an unusual maneuver in the literature and theater of the period. Since the sacrament of marriage required no clerical officiation and could be sanctified by the speech acts pronounced by the couple itself, it was often used to defend and elevate lay status and to challenge the social superiority accorded to clergymen on the basis of celibacy. English narrative works like The Book of Margery Kempe and plays like the N-Town Cycle “did political work by teaching this theology in vernacular forms,” highlighting “its unorthodox implications” and using the “partnership between husband and wife . . . to level the hierarchy of the three estates” (9). In similar fashion, Serre Porte et Fin Verjus orients itself toward a denouement in which husband and wife resolve, or at least temporarily abandon, their marital conflicts in order to forge an alliance in opposition to the tyrannical power exerted over them by the monk. The point does not seem to be, however, that an external threat allows them to form a homogeneous solidarity in which all difference has been collapsed. On the contrary, they enact a distorted, parodic, queer version of Dolan’s figures of unity and scarcity: rather than becoming one body or agent, they become one another’s bodies and agents; and by alternating the roles of husband and wife, they show that the defense of the working-class household against the abuses of

Making History


ruling elites requires that neither role be sacrificed to the other and that both be imaginatively redeployed. We can discern the ideological nature of the couple’s struggle against Serre Porte in the fact that the target of their aggression is both the monk himself and the monastery he inhabits—an institution that is founded on the exclusion of women and preclusion of marriage, and that will soon reveal itself to be an emblematic site of feminine victimization. When the wife appears there to implore Serre Porte for absolution, he subjects her to leering forms of gallantry before making it clear that her entire fate, both spiritual and social, lies in his hands. Unless she is prepared to travel to Rome and plead for forgiveness from the Holy See, she must return that night to his “estudie” (“study/cell”; 396), where he keeps the penitential manual he must study in order to find her a dispensation. When she (implausibly) objects that her husband would beat her if she dared, the monk retorts that she will endanger her own salvation if she refuses. He then reassures her, in obvious bad faith, that she has nothing to fear from him. He has absolved “mainte femme / Et mainte notable bourgoise” (“many a woman and many a reputable bourgeoise”; 406–7) under the same circumstances. The word estudie, which Serre Porte chooses instead of the more normal celle or chambre, conflates academic instruction with devotional space and reminds the audience that both can be used as instruments for denying the laity self-determination. Here, they are quite literally used to drive the wife into a corner, paradoxically obliging her to sacrifice her chastity in order to secure her reputation and salvation. In effect, she has no good options at her disposal. She cannot go to Rome or another priest, but nor can she return to the monastery by night without jeopardizing her reputation and safety. As Barbara Hanawalt has shown, moralists in this period “constantly warned that if women went out alone they would lose their honor”; and “when women did move out of their space, they had to do so with proper escort or risk humiliation or even rape” (84). In fact, gang rape was a common crime and was encouraged by sermon writers, many of whom were monks, as an expected and even legitimate response to women traveling alone at night (Rossiaud 151–52; K. Phillips 113). Even if the wife were to arrive safely at the abbey, she would have to allow Serre Porte to serrer la porte behind her, leaving her vulnerable once again to coercion or assault. Indeed, there can be little doubt that the monk intends to seize what is not offered to him willingly. Once the wife has left the


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monastery, he congratulates himself on the “beaux baratz” (“fine tricks”) that will allow him to clasp her “entre mes deux bras” (“in my two arms”; 415–16). And as he insinuates to the gatekeeper, whom he enlists to sneak her into his cell, confesser is code for con fesser, “to fuck a cunt” (Bidler 149–50). To complete the picture of monastic depravity and female vulnerability, the gatekeeper, who is likely a monk himself (Kirsch), agrees to allow the wife entry into the monastery and swears by “saincte Avoie” (431), the patron saint of misguided souls (Koopmans, Recueil de Florence 472n93; Merceron, Dictionnaire 977–79), that he will light her path toward Serre Porte’s cell. As he will later reveal, however, he does this only so that he may detain and molest her on the way out: “Jamais vous n’eschapperez / De ceans se ne faulx a traire” (“You’ll never escape from this place unless I fail to grab you”; 500–1). This threat reminds the audience once again that in this play, masculine desire is predicated upon the hindering of feminine mobility and choice. The threat also corroborates the widespread, and apparently well-founded, belief that friars were hypocrites who served themselves while pretending to serve the weak, and that friaries were vice-ridden institutions that insulated their inhabitants from detection and prosecution for a range of crimes, including violent and sexual offenses (Geltner 81–102).5 As the wife will soon prove, however, she is a far greater master of monastic space than the monks who inhabit it and is able to use theatrical techniques to translate feminine vulnerability into violent aggression and ideological disruption. As she leaves the monastery to return home, she asks Serre Porte to reveal his name and the location of his cell. The answers she receives serve to sharpen the play’s attack on monastic abuses: La Femme:

Puis qu’i fault que g’y voyse, Ou est vostre chambre, dictes moy! Le Moyne: Je le vous diray tot droit: Il est a ung degre´ de pierre. La Femme: Comment av’ous nom? Le Moyne: Frere Pierre Serre Porte, foy que doy Dieu. Ne cuydez pas que ce soit jeu. (408–13)6 The Wife:

Tell me where your cell is, since I’m obliged to go there!

Making History


The Monk: I’ll tell you straightaway: it’s the one with the stone step. The Wife: What’s your name? The Monk: By the faith I owe God, it’s Brother Peter Door Latch. And don’t go thinking that’s a joke. The “degre´ de pierre” toward which he gestures stands out as a purely superfluous, and therefore highly calculated, piece of scenery. On the one hand, it suggests the solidity of the monastery’s stone architecture and the rigidity of the hierarchical distinctions—or degre´s—that give it its ideological footing. On the other hand, the makeshift scenery of a theatrical staging would simply have called attention to the fragility of the monastery’s foundational principles, most notably the vow of chastity. The infelicity of that vow is encapsulated in the threshold itself, which is used to welcome the wife rather than exclude her. If the costume change in the farce’s tavern scene recalls the familiar proverb habitus non facit monachum (“the habit does not make the monk”), the present scene ironizes its coda, sed professio regularis (“rather the profession of the rule”). As we discover here, the professio regularis can be every bit as labile and misleading as the habitus; and the degre´ that separates the First Estate from the Third is therefore utterly arbitrary and unstable. What’s more, the nonstoniness of the stone stair along with the punning rhyme on Pierre’s name suggest that the monk’s derelictions of duty undermine the very cornerstone of ecclesiastical authority: the pierre on which Christ built his Church and the power he confers on Saint Pierre to serrer and de´serrer the portes du Paradis (Matt. 16:18–19). Ludic rather than lithic, a flimsy “jeu” rather than a sturdy “pierre,” the monk’s “foy” demonstrates how easily the apostolic succession and its pastoral obligations and privileges can lapse into rank corruption and exploitation. Fighting “jeu” with “jeu,” a dirty trick with a theatrical ruse, the wife is subsequently able to thwart the monk’s lechery and denounce his hypocrisy. By involving Fin Verjus in her scheme, moreover, she enables her husband to acquire the firmness of purpose he previously lacked and to overcome the indolence and passivity that have precluded him from social advancement. If, in the process, the cobbler moves to center stage and largely supplants his wife, she nonetheless continues to figure as an exemplar of determined opposition and effective leadership. Indeed, it is clear that she alone is capable of devising a scheme that can erode the monastery’s spatialized ideology. When she returns home from her meeting with Serre Porte and reveals that


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he has blackmailed her into visiting his cell alone that night, Fin Verjus can do little more than utter hollow curses and make vain threats: Ha, dame! Que la malle fouldre Luy puisse relier la teste. Il ne fut oncques a tel feste Se je le tenoye, par ma foy. (452–55) Ah, what to do! May deadly thunderclaps strike him in the head. By my faith, if I had him in my clutches, it wouldn’t be much fun for him. Cast entirely in subjunctive and hypothetical moods, the cobbler’s anger is little more than bluster—or as his wife would have it, “esmoy” (456), meaning consternation, fear, or even (etymologically) infirmity. By contrast, she adopts a commanding, indicative tone and outlines a concrete plan for defending her chastity and guaranteeing her husband’s sovereign claims over it: N’en soiez de rien en esmoy: J’ay trouve´ trop bonne fac¸on Pour le pugnir. ... Ma robe je vous vestiray. Quant ainsi habille´ serez En sa chambre vous en yre´s. Je sc¸ay de vray, quant vous verra Ainsi habille´, il cuydera Que se sois-je, j’en suis certaine. Pour Dieu, serrez luy bien la vaine Si tresasprement qu’i s’en loue! ... Faictes bien ce que vous ay dit Et contrefaictes bien la femme! (456–58, 460–67, 470–71) There’s no need to panic about it. I’ve found a really good way to punish him. I’ll put my frock on you. When you’re dressed up that way, you’ll go to his cell. I know for a fact that when he sees you

Making History


dressed like this, he’ll think it’s me; actually, I’m certain of it. For God’s sake, make sure you throttle him so violently that he will boast of it later! Be sure to do what I tell you and play the role of woman/wife to the hilt! As if to ratify the sovereign force of her commands, the stage directions stipulate that Fin Verjus should now respond to his wife as a wife: “en femme” (s.d. 473), meaning presumably in falsetto, though obviously intonation would be only one of many elements involved in the cobbler’s simulation of femininity. His words, too, suggest gender transformation and subordination. Thus, he replies to his wife’s orders by declaring, “Si feray je, par Nostre Dame / Je sc¸ay tout ce qu’il en peult estre” (“I will do as you say, by Our Lady. I know all there is to know about it”; 472–73). It seems the wife has at last made good on her promise to impose matriarchal rule on her household, with the Mother of God herself serving as the guarantor of male femininity and servitude. If we assume the couple has exchanged clothes (a likely mise en sce`ne, as Fin Verjus must wear the same dress as his wife if he is to be believable in his role), then the new arrangement will be self-evident, as the wife will literally be wearing the pants in the family. For that matter, the cobbler seems to ratify his subservience as an existing state of affairs rather than one newly imposed upon him. While his claim to know “tout ce qu’il en peult estre” can be taken as the boast of an overweening trickster confident in his acting skills, it can also be read, as Jody Enders neatly observes, as the admission by a henpecked husband that “he plays [his wife’s] role all the time at home” (Fart 450n52).

Boundary Crossing and Cross-Dressing Our understanding of what it means to play or be a wife gets further complicated when Fin Verjus appears at the monastery and, paradoxically, assumes the husbandly defense of his household by obeying his wife’s orders and depicting himself as her. He certainly seems to have immersed himself into his character, which he embodies so convincingly that the gatekeeper and monk instantly recognize him as his wife, the latter on the basis of his “philosomye” (“physiognomy”; 507). The fact that neither of them ever suspects that the cobbler might be a man in disguise seems doubly significant when we consider that his contrefac¸on de la femme gradually evolves from deference


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to defiance, vulnerability to violence—as if his goal were to show that gender identity is constituted through imitation, appropriation, and deviation, and that its various expressions lend themselves to specific tactical ends. Thus, when he enters the monastery and finds the gatekeeper blocking his path, he uses a show of ladylike courtesy, modesty, and reserve to sidestep the monk’s advances: Le Portier: Le Savetier: Le Portier:

Le Savetier: Le Portier:

Venez c¸a, ma doulce amye, Ung baiser pour commencement! Dea, j’ay bien autre pensement, Car maintenant il n’est pas heure. Il convient que je vous labeure, Puis que avons temps et espace; Il sera fait! Sauf vostre grace, Tirez-vous ung peu plus la! Et comment? Dea, esse cela? Par sainct Jehan, par la passerez Et jamais vous n’eschapperez De ceans se ne faulx a traire. (490–501)

The Gatekeeper: Come over here, my sweet beloved; let’s start things off with a kiss! The Cobbler: Oh dear, but I have a very different intention in mind, and now isn’t the right moment. The Gatekeeper: We’ve got the time and the space, and it’s only right that I work you over but good; this is going to happen! The Cobbler: With all due respect, draw back a bit over there! The Gatekeeper: How now? What’s this? By Saint John, you’ll have to pass this way again, and you’ll never escape from this place unless I fail to grab you. The gatekeeper’s astonishment that a mere woman has managed to escape his clutches suggests how convincing Fin Verjus’s performance of feminine vulnerability is—and how useful the pose can be in evading an aggressor. It makes sense, then, that he would retain this skittish tone when Serre Porte corners him in his cell and demands a kiss. At first, he cries out in protest

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(perhaps with a high-pitched squeal to signal feminine fragility) and entreats the monk to leave him alone: “Hee, laissez-moy!” (510). When that strategy proves ineffective, he resorts to a language of moral reproach but continues to signal vulnerability, as if he were a high-minded de´vote whose only defense is remonstration and rectitude: Le Savetier: Le Moyne:

Le Savetier:

Le Moyne:

The Cobbler: The Monk:

The Cobbler:

The Monk:

Et comment? N’av’ous point de honte? Regardez bien que vous fere´s! Par saint Pere, vous couchere´s Ennuyt ceans et au matin, Je vous bailleray sans hutin Vostre absolution planiere. Et comment? Esse la maniere, Se je vien par devotion Demander absolucion De tenir femmes en ostage? Ouy, vrayement, c’est mon usage. (512–22)

What’s this? Have you no shame? Just consider what you’ll be doing! I swear by the Holy Father himself that you will sleep here tonight, and in the morning, I’ll grant you your plenary absolution without an argument. What are you saying? Is this any way to behave, to hold women hostage when I come to you out of devotion to seek absolution? Yes, that is truly my custom.

Serre Porte is at this point so barefaced in his villainy that we might expect Fin Verjus to respond in kind, unmasking himself as an injured husband entitled to revenge. Instead, he throws himself even more fully into his role, becoming the woman on top and illustrating, much as his wife did in the tavern scene, the capacity of the feminine to express moral outrage and phallic aggression. Wielding a rod that he has presumably concealed in the folds of his wife’s skirt, he bludgeons the monk while railing against his victimization of women and his desecration of not one but two sacraments, marriage and penance:


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Le Savetier:

Le Moyne: Le Savetier: Le Moyne: Le Savetier: Le Moyne: Le Savetier: Le Moyne:

The Cobbler:

The Monk: The Cobbler: The Monk: The Cobbler: The Monk: The Cobbler: The Monk:

Ha, sire, vous n’estes pas saige! Vous en aure´s de ce baston! Voullez vous mectre dissension En mariage? Ouy, vrayement, c’est nostre usage. Vous en aurez sur le visage, Par le sang bieu, frere frapart! Ha, que le grant diable y ait part! Quelle femme j’ay si trouve´? Mon baston sera esprouve´ Sus vostre dos. Taste se il blesse! Je croy que c’est une diablesse! Oncques je ne fuz si infames! Confessez-vous ainsi les femmes? Et puis se les voullez absouldre? Ha, ma dame, que male fouldre Vous puisse relier la teste.7 (523–39) Ah my lord, you are not wise! You’ll have a taste of my rod! Do you want to cause dissension in marriage? Yes, that is truly our custom. By God’s blood, you’ll take some in the face/ass, you lecherous prick of a friar! Ah, may the devil take you! What kind of woman have I found here? My rod will be tested on your back/backside. Feel how that hurts! I think she’s a devil-woman! I’ve never been so humiliated! Is this how you confess/fuck women? And then how do you go about absolving them afterward? Ah, my lady, may deadly thunderclaps strike you in the head.

There is obvious hypocrisy in Fin Verjus’s vitriol: he is the cause of his own marital discord, which can hardly be blamed on Serre Porte; and the plots he

Making History


stages with the monk to ensnare his wife and with his wife to ensnare the monk prove how little concern he has for the sanctity of confession. But true to generic expectations, the farce does not aim at moral clarity and religious orthodoxy here. Rather, it tries to imagine what social effects might be achieved when irony is used to collapse ideologically weighted distinctions between wrongdoing and repair, reality and illusion, masculinity and femininity, clergy and laity. Thus, when Serre Porte pretends to administer confession in order to commit rather than remit sins, he exposes egregious flaws in the sacrament of reconciliation even as he inadvertently reconciles Fin Verjus with his wife. The fact that the bitterly divided couple’s concerted opposition to the monk’s tyranny miraculously effaces the most basic, embodied differences between them in turn allows us to shift our attention from the degradations of the sacrament to the opportunities of the household. Whereas Serre Porte tests the legitimacy of the all-male apostolic succession by bartering absolution for sex in the name of the “saint Pere” himself, the domestic household seems poised to reinvent and reassert itself, and to do so through alliances that cross and even blur gender lines. Here, too, irony plays its role: Fin Verjus disguises himself as a remorseful pe´nitente in order to perpetrate the very reserved sin he asks to be remitted, and does so in a way that greatly exacerbates the offense and amplifies the canonical need for papal intervention. He is seemingly unconcerned with the spiritual and social ramifications of his actions, however, and thus enables the audience to focus instead on the strengths and capabilities of his “baston,” which he uses to overturn pastoral jurisdiction and to claim self-rule for the lay, subaltern subject. Of course, there is no denying that he asserts himself as someone else here and expresses phallic sovereignty in ways that inflect it with effeminacy and homosexuality. Yet the farce seems determined to show us that such queer performances can enable subordinate groups to oppose or reorganize the ideological norms that justify their subordination. By becoming his own wife and a woman on top, the cobbler reverses the very structure of donner la pe´nitence, such that it is the laity that demands confession from priests and imposes discipline upon them; such that it is the con (or a queer likeness thereof ) that gets to fesser the confesseur; and (noting the conspicuous repetition at lines 452–53 and 538–39) such that it is the despotic monk rather than the impoverished craftsman who must plead with the heavens to strike his enemies down with “male fouldre.”


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Male Femininity and Feminism Having said all that, we must wonder to what extent the cobbler’s (and the play’s) defense of “les femmes” is an authentic conviction or an opportunistic pose. Given that the tactics Fin Verjus and his wife adopt to bring about hierarchical inversion require the collapsing of difference between them, it is certainly conceivable that the farce radicalizes class politics while confirming the ideal of unified personhood that, for Dolan, works to remystify and reimpose patriarchal domination. As Natalie Zemon Davis argues, moreover, surrogacy and substitution were among the main tactical functions of the woman on top character and did not always work in the interests of actual, living females. Since women were not held legally “responsible for [their] actions” to the same extent and in the same way as men, husbands “sometimes thought it safer to send their wives out to do the rioting alone” (146). Likewise, when male actors depicted unruly women, they did so to acquire the “dangerous and vital power” that was associated with “defiance of natural order” and at the same time to find safety behind a mask (140). Is it possible, then, that Serre Porte et Fin Verjus promotes an agenda of female exclusion while simultaneously using transvestism to dismantle forms of institutional gatekeeping that feminize and disenfranchise male subalterns? Certainly, Fin Verjus appropriates his wife’s role in precisely the ways Davis describes: first he tricks her into waging class warfare by proxy, then he uses gender masquerade to assault the monk under her guise, leaving her yet again responsible for his actions. Although she orchestrates the latter maneuver herself, it lends itself well to a masculinist reading. By enacting a twisted version of a patriarchal rescue fantasy, the cobbler allows us to conclude that a man can perform femininity (and feminism) at least as skillfully as a woman and can turn even effeminacy into a sign of heroic virility. Such a reading is worth taking seriously; for as Davis reminds us, women “had less chance than men to initiate or take part in their own festivals of inversion,” were regularly denied membership in the confraternities that produced plays, and had few festive organizations of their own (140–41). If we look closely, however, we can see that in this instance, irony subjects sexual difference and conjugal relations to a dialectic so unstable that it refutes the very possibility of synthesis. Thus, if Fin Verjus remedies his impaired masculinity by simultaneously posing as and subordinating himself to his wife, he demonstrates that he can only reclaim the phallus by first acknowledging that she holds claims to it as well and that it therefore floats

Making History


free of sexual determination. Likewise, if the wife must cede her role to her husband to the point that she fails to appear again in the play, we can hardly say that she has been removed from the plot, which she has devised herself and which can only be brought to fruition by means of her character. Nor is she entirely exiled from the stage, since that character continues to be impersonated for us, albeit by a different actor. Of course, the fact that both husband and wife were likely performed by male actors means there may be a more profound form of appropriation at work here, as if the farce were implying that men can enact femininity more skillfully than women and (to quote Pauline Kael’s critique of Sydney Pollack’s Tootsie) that “it [takes] a man to be tough and forthright enough to speak up for women’s rights” (qtd. in Garber 7). The problem with this conclusion is (to quote Marjorie Garber’s retort to Kael) that it tends to “erase or look through the cross-dresser” (7) and to deny his/her power, which inheres precisely in “blurred gender” and an “enabling fantasy” that cannot be dismissed as “merely a joke or a parody” (6). By looking at rather than through the farce’s various cross-dressers and women on top (and recalling that all the actors on stage would have been engaged in some ironic form of drag—a habitus that does not make the identity it signifies), we can see that they acquire their power and allure through disruptive and even diabolical forms of indeterminacy: “Quelle femme j’ay si trouve´? . . . Je croy que c’est une diablesse!” Much like the drag queens and trans people Butler describes, these farce characters “enter into the political field” by dismantling assumptions about “what is real, and what ‘must’ be,” and by showing, first, “how the norms that govern contemporary notions of reality can be questioned” and, second, “how new modes of reality can become instituted” (Undoing 29). This includes, for Butler, experimental forms of bodily expression and experience—situations in which “the body is not understood as a static and accomplished fact” but instead as “a mode of becoming that, in becoming otherwise, exceeds the norm, reworks the norm, and makes us see how realities to which we thought we were confined are not written in stone” (29). Serre Porte et Fin Verjus shows us that, far from being an immovable, lithic foundation, those realities are theatrical and ideological fictions written in the false stone of Pierre’s degre´ de pierre. They are, therefore, flimsy, permeable, and highly susceptible to subversive repetition. Given the play’s fascination with the power of performance and performativity to transgress and erode the most sacrosanct boundaries, it is not surprising to find that it blatantly exposes the ambiguities inherent in its own


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strategy of closure. Indeed, the de´nouement makes no attempt to reimpose a gender binary, to neutralize the threat of homosexuality, or to attenuate the critique of hegemonic masculinity. On the contrary, Fin Verjus remains a hybrid, aberrant figure until the very end, and uses the demonic, queer power of the woman on top to emasculate sexual predators, to assail the institution that exempts them from liability, and to reimagine the religious norms and practices that form that institution’s foundation. With Serre Porte wounded and humiliated, we turn our focus to the gatekeeper, who hears the shouts emerging from the monk’s cell, mistakes them for cries of passion, and gleefully anticipates satisfying his own lust with “celle gouge” (“that slut”; 543). When the cobbler exits the cell and finds the gatekeeper once again blocking his path, he does not entirely discard his tone of ladylike decorum but instead melds it with phallic violence: Le Portier: Le Savetier: Le Portier: Le Savetier, en frapant: Le Portier: Le Savetier, frape:

Le Portier: Le Savetier: Le Portier:

The Gatekeeper: The Cobbler:

Ho ho, je vous deffens l’aller, Car il fault vous-m’entendez-bien. Dea, je ne vous demande rien! Laisser-moy aller mon chemin. On me tiendroit bien pour Jenyn Se vous m’eschappiez en ce point. Je vous pry, ne m’arrestez point, Il m’en fault aller tout batant! Et, par bieu, j’en auray autant Que frere Pierre, c’est raison. Et par saint Pierre, s’aurez mon: Servi serez tout d’ung potage Tous deux. Esse davantage Que vous en faictes tel largesse? Quant femmes viennent a confesse, Les doit-on arrester ainsi? Helas, dame, pour Dieu mercy. (546–62) Hey you there! I forbid you to leave, as we still have to you-know-what. Oh dear, but I don’t want anything from you! Let me follow my path.

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The Gatekeeper:

Everyone will think I’m an idiot if you escape me like this. The Cobbler, beating him: I pray you, don’t hinder me, for I must beat a hasty retreat! The Gatekeeper: And by God, it’s only fair that I get what Brother Peter had. The Cobbler, beats him: And by Saint Peter, you’ll get exactly that. I’ll serve you both the same soup/ dirty trick. The Gatekeeper: Is there so much of it that you need to dish out such generous portions? The Cobbler: When women come for confession, should they be hindered like this? The Gatekeeper: Alas, lady, have mercy on me for God’s sake. As before, irony serves to expose ideological abuses, fissures, and opportunities here. Thus, the gatekeeper belies his role, and the very function of the monastery, by preventing women from leaving rather than barring them from entering. In demanding, moreover, that “celle gouge” offer him the same treatment as his monastic brother, he unwittingly authors his own undoing, ensuring that lust will lead to agony rather than pleasure. If the scene yet again exposes monastic celibacy as a hypocritical lie, it also demonstrates how monastic corruption can be equated with, and used to warrant, a violent response. For Fin Verjus, these are one and the same “potage”; and even his victim describes the beating he receives as “largesse,” thereby paradoxically justifying it as a charitable gift to the monastery. Of course, the gatekeeper is hardly the only hypocrite in the scene, and the cobbler, too, utterly belies his role. Even as he poses as a defenseless pe´nitente and pleads with the gatekeeper not to impede his movements, he literalizes the phrase “aller tout batant” in the form of actual blows. In perpetrating the assault, moreover, he causes the gatekeeper to beg for “mercy” in God’s name, much like “[les] femmes [qui] viennent a confesse,” who seek a path back to Christ (or at least a way to evade the social consequences of sin) only to be lured into a monk’s cell and forced to plead for their own chastity. Turning the tables on the monks and their heinous “usage,” Fin Verjus makes it possible for those women to think of themselves as phallic, penitential


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agents in their own right. Following in his footsteps (which means simultaneously obeying the commands of and transforming into the woman on top), they might administer penance rather than endure it and might treat their confessors as “mainte femme” and “mainte notable bourgoise” have been treated before them—like cons to be fesse´s. Indeed, the remainder of the scene imaginatively reconfigures the sacrament so that it no longer serves as a pretext for monks to victimize women but instead ensures the monks’ submission to a defiant, phallic, queer femininity. When Fin Verjus overhears the battered gatekeeper muttering complaints about “[la] rebelle” (563) and demands an explanation, the latter instantly changes his tune, declaring, “Vous estez belle / Et bonne, par mon sacrement” (“How beautiful and good you are, by my oath”; 564–65). The rhyming of “rebelle” and “belle” reminds us that the woman on top traces a dialectic of menace and allure and that the oscillation of the dialectic aims at the disruption of ecclesiastical sovereignty, with “mon sacrement” serving to acknowledge her dominance rather than subject her to exploitation. Fin Verjus’s closing moral, which he addresses directly to the audience, ensures that that dialectic will remain permanently unresolved: “Ilz sont tresbien estrillez, se croy: / En ce point les doit on pugnir” (“I believe they have been very well thrashed, and this is just the way we ought to punish them”; 568–69). While there is no indication of whether these words are to be uttered en homme or en femme, or whether the punishment will be meted out by men or women, the difference is irrelevant, as the gender of the dress-wearing, rod-wielding cobbler remains bound to a theatrics of indeterminacy and signals just how far the play is from restoring normative order. In fact, the language Fin Verjus uses once again associates antimonastic revolt with deviant, violent sexuality. Estriller derives from estrille—meaning, literally, “curry comb” or, metaphorically, “penis”—and denotes the combing of a horse, the beating of a human, or the fucking of a woman (Bidler 248). After assaulting Serre Porte and the gatekeeper into submission, the cobbler thus brings about theatrical closure by queering the rhetoric of coercion such that he symbolically bestializes, feminizes, and fucks monastic rapists in the guise of their would-be victim.

Unruly Femininity and Female Clergie Despite this violent, perverse attack on established beliefs, rituals, and institutions by characters whose impiety and amorality could hardly be more flagrant, I would argue that Serre Porte et Fin Verjus does not lack ethical and

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religious sensibilities. On the contrary, by depicting a layman/woman seizing control of the confessional forum, it offers us a reminder, albeit an oblique one, that this period witnessed a dramatic upsurge in lay piety, in both orthodox and heretical forms; that women were often central to this new religiosity, which (among other things) helped them cope with the mobility of gender roles in the nuclear household; and that some of them actively opposed clerical jurisdiction, sought (or seized) spiritual authority, and contributed willfully (and sometimes disruptively) to religious debate (N. Davis 65–95; Hartman 210–18; Taylor 156–78, 199). As Jean Gerson rather bitterly attests, “[Women] wish to speak and dispute about theology more than many a great theologian, and wishing to judge sermons and reprove preachers, they say of one that he has told a story from the Bible badly, and of another that he is teaching heresy; and when they have an opinion fixed in their heads, nothing will get rid of it” (qtd. in Taylor 173). Many preachers sought to restrict the impact of this oppositional piety, including Gerson himself, who urged women to emulate the Virgin, claiming she had received revelation but had been too demure to speak of it to anyone (McLoughlin 114–17). Other preachers exploited women’s religious aspirations to cultivate them as followers but then used patronizing sobriquets to remind them of their subordinate, ersatz status: they were “mesdames les theologiennes, semi-theologales, and bone theologiane” but could never be true theologians (Taylor 173–74; N. Davis 76–77). By the same token, the very act of interpellating women in this way suggests that the everyday boundary crossing that took place in the domestic sphere had achieved broader social and religious effects and was able to feminize even the most masculine of social roles: le the´ologien. We have good reason to suppose, moreover, that women may have sought to reclaim demeaning labels assigned to them in order to establish new social identities and spheres of influence, and that their ingenuity in this regard may have served as a resource for dissident movements mobilized by men. Thus, the fifteenth-century popular poem Danse macabre des femmes attests to the failure of death itself to silence women’s religious voices or to suppress their theological ambitions. When La Mort, as a harbinger of divine judgment, urges La The´ologienne to account for a life spent preaching on scripture, she responds by likening learned women to codfish, which were said to have large eyes but impaired vision: Femme qui de clergie respond, Pour avoir bruit ou qu’on lescoute,


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Est des morues de petit pont, Qui ont grans yeulx et ne voient goute. (Harrison 78)8 A woman who speaks out of erudition, To acquire a reputation or be listened to, Is one of those codfish of small size/from the Petit Pont, Who have large eyes and yet see nothing. Even as she trivializes women’s erudition, however, La The´ologienne reveals that female preachers had come to occupy a recognized role in late medieval cities and had perhaps even staked out space for themselves on Paris’s Petit Pont—halfway between the Sorbonne and Notre Dame and cheek by jowl with the male preachers who were licensed to sermonize there. Moreover, despite the fact that she is literally staring death in the face, La The´ologienne is unwilling to renounce her own claims on homiletic discourse. Thus, once she has moralized her folly, she delivers a mini sermon that is as much aphoristic as confessional in tone: Sage est qui rondement si boute, Et qui trop veult savoir est beugle. Le hault monter souvent cher couste. Chascun en son fait est aveugle. (Harrison 78) Wise is the person who sets out to do something in a modest way, And the one who wants to know too much is stupid. Rising high often costs dearly. We are all blind in our own deeds. If La The´ologienne sees herself as the benighted fool who will be asked to pay for her arrogant attachment to religious learning, she does not actually say so. Instead, she insists on a message of universal blindness that sounds suspiciously like a gloss on the Sermon on the Mount: “And why seest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye and seest not the beam that is in thy own eye?” (Matt. 7:3). Armed with Christ’s critique of judgmentalism, she ensures that anyone who accuses her of blind hubris will risk appearing as a hypocrite. In fact, La Mort, who also transgresses gender boundaries in that the noun is grammatically feminine but the role is masculine (Guthke 38– 127), makes no such accusation; and it appears that even the Judgment Day

Making History


he heralds cannot prevent La The´ologienne from bucking an ideology that denies teaching authority to her sex. In her hands, then, even penitence is a form of drag: she turns her avowal of blindness and stupidity into an opportunity for rhetorical and spiritual self-assertion and dons the guise of feminine contrition and modesty in order to reclaim the power of “clergie.” We find an even more scandalous (if obviously facetious) arrogation of clerical privileges and functions in the Parisian farce Quatre femmes (Koopmans, Recueil de Florence 647–62; after 1496). Here, La The´ologienne founds a radical penitential movement by purchasing a bull from the Holy See that grants her the right to don clerical drag—“ung surplis et l’estolle” (“a surplice and stole”; s.d. 652)—and to hear women’s confessions. Although these confessions are played for laughs and confirm sexist stereotypes about women’s moral failings (promiscuity, vanity, hypocrisy), they also pointedly reveal how much better equipped La The´ologienne is than her male counterparts to restore the sanctity and efficacy of the sacrament. As her pe´nitentes complain, they have no faith in “ces theologiens crote´s” (“those filthy theologians”; 132) who proffer “estront de chien” (“dog shit”; 131) as wisdom since “ilz ne sc¸avent honneur ne bien” (“they know nothing of honor or goodness”; 134). The women are equally disdainful of “ces gros cure´s chetifz” (“those fat, immoral priests”; 255), who are so uneducated that they “ne sc¸avent ne A ne Boy” (“don’t even know their ABCs”; 446) and are so “baveurs” (“gossipy”; 447) that they regularly betray the seal of the confessional. The result is that women refuse to confess their “grans peche´s” (“great sins”; 256) and are absolved only for “les petitz” (“the little ones”; 257). Decrying the abuses of her male rivals, La The´ologienne promises to “reform[er] tout leur cas” (“reform their entire enterprise”; 452). She proves, moreover, through the conduct of confession, how well qualified she is for the task: she exhibits subtlety and skill in casuistic inquiry, condemns sin with suitable but not excessive rigor, and elicits apparently sincere expressions of remorse. If, at the end of the play, she disappoints and angers her pe´nitentes by revealing that the bull does not grant her the right to administer absolution, she vows to resolve that deficiency by returning to Rome posthaste and purchasing another bull. Spectators were no doubt meant to laugh at her quixotic plan, and yet the women take it seriously and pledge to wait for her return despite being dangerously unshriven. It would seem, then, that La The´ologienne has spawned a movement, one that not only indicts the clergy for incompetence and venality but also authorizes laywomen to stake claims on clerical power, including the right to bind and loose. Indeed, as


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the pe´nitentes prepare for their wait, they reveal claims of their own: it turns out they are “grans grammariens de Narbone” (633), a conspicuously ungrammatical masculine construction that presumably serves to unmask the actors as liberal arts students but also grants appropriative, transgressive power to the parts they play. On the one hand, they are male farceurs playing female penitents for laughs; on the other hand, they are women on top who have occupied the Colle`ge de Narbonne and seized control of the arts curriculum that serves as the gateway to theology itself. If the actors use crossdressed performance as a cover for anticlerical and antipapal satire, the pe´nitentes go further still, suggesting that it will take women disguising as men and usurping masculine roles to reform the abuses of a venal, derelict Church and to stabilize its intellectual and spiritual foundations: the trivium and the keys. While there is no comparable figure of feminine theology in Serre Porte et Fin Verjus, we can certainly point to ways in which the play seeks to reimagine penitential jurisdiction by blurring the boundaries between confesseur and pe´nitente, and to dislocate the spatialized ideology of the monastery by drawing on the concerted powers and overlapping identities of husband and wife. Indeed, there is good reason to believe that the kind of domestic and marital arrangements we see depicted in the play—arrangements that enable, or require, men and women to transgress the traditional roles and limits that defined sexual difference—was causally responsible for the dissident religious movements that arose in the sixteenth century and that pursued the dissolution of monasteries, the eradication of sacerdotalism, and the concentration of spiritual authority in the domestic household. For Mary Hartman, the currents of religious change flowed in this period as much “from households to the wider society” as the reverse (210); and this flow helps to explain why the heresies collectively known as Protestantism were able to divide Christendom, taking hold in precisely the geographical area where the late-marriage pattern prevailed (211). Hartman begins with the spiritual and psychological needs late marriages tended to create, especially the need for “a faith that explicitly bolstered parental, and especially paternal, authority” but also for “a divine authority” that could be “envision[ed] as blessing and sanctioning a multitude of choices and actions” that deviated from “long-standing habit, tradition, and custom” (211). As “a protean faith,” Protestantism was well-suited to address these needs—on the one hand, by concentrating religious authority within “a supremely powerful male godhead”; on the other, by strengthening the “portrayal of women as equal heirs

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of salvation” and presenting them with “new justification for some religious initiatives of their own,” including claims on priesthood and prophecy (211– 12). With its “sacerdotal commitments,” Catholicism “was reluctant to hallow familial authority or embrace household religion with anything approaching Protestant zeal”; and yet the Counter-Reformation was also obliged to respond to evolutions in the lay household and did so by adopting new procedures that fostered “fervor for a personal faith,” including “expanded religious instruction” for both sexes, opportunities for women to serve as teachers and catechists, and “private confessional boxes,” which granted penitents greater control over the experience of the sacrament and protected women in particular from their priests (217–18).9 There is admittedly only indirect evidence to suggest that Serre Porte et Fin Verjus anticipates these revolutionary shifts in lay religiosity, and still less that it advocates them. Unlike Quatre femmes, it is cheerfully indifferent to the spiritual operations of penance and proposes no alternatives, ludic or otherwise, for the healing of souls or the repairing of sins. Instead, it offers us a deeply cynical, purely instrumental depiction of the sacrament, showing how it can be used by sadistic confessors to gratify their lust and by embittered subalterns to inflict social revenge. By the same token, the farce begs questions about how the performative disruptions of gender that were increasingly habitual in ordinary households might transform lay religious experience if they were to play out in a larger arena and were to expose, in the process, the structural weaknesses inherent in gender and social norms. When the wife claims the right to rule her husband “au gre´ de la fille ma mere,” only to end up defending his sovereignty—or when the husband obeys his wife’s rule by agreeing to “[contrefaire] la femme,” only to use her model of unruly femininity to reclaim phallic power and masculine dignity— these characters do away with any notion of an underlying, natural, or foundational sex. Instead, they invite us to ask what is real or natural about gender in the first place—an especially urgent question in the context of a transvestite theater, in which femininity is doubly imitative and citational. As the word contrefaire suggests, Fin Verjus and his wife “unmake” or “undo” gender in much the way drag performances can—by exposing the fictional, variable, contingent, and transferable nature of the categories and attributes of man and woman, husband and wife.10 Following Butler, however, I would argue that “undoing gender” means more here than dismantling “the experience of a normative restriction” and “a prior conception [of identity]” (Undoing 1). It also means “inaugurat[ing]


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a relatively newer [identity] that has greater livability as its aim” (1), meaning it enables a subject “constituted by norms and dependent on them . . . to live in ways that maintain a critical and transformative relation to them” (3). In Serre Porte et Fin Verjus, this relation is oriented especially toward the monastic and sacerdotal ideologies that work to conceal exploitation and abuse and to exclude lay commoners from institutional, religious authority. As we have seen, it is also oriented toward the figures of unity and economy of scarcity that define marriage, ensuring domestic stability by requiring one spouse to subsume his or (more likely) her personhood to the other’s. Fin Verjus literalizes those figures by donning a dress and enveloping himself in his wife’s identity. Yet he also demonstrates that neither he nor his wife can claim the other’s personhood, or indeed any sort of secure identity, for very long. The dialectical role reversals that make the cobbler’s contrefac¸on possible thus operate much as queer spatial practices do for Elizabeth Freeman: they “open the identity-bound subject up to other coalitional possibilities, other kinds of selves, even to diagonal cuts across the social field” (38). The diagonal cut enables an uneasy, dynamic coalition between husband and wife, even as it traverses and reorganizes the public spaces of urban life. As it radiates beyond the household, marital alliance allows each partner in turn to discover the tactical possibilities of dominance and submission. It also illustrates the ways in which submission can operate as a mode of agency, one that is capable of undermining the ideological foundations of both monastery and household, penance and marriage. While the farce does not explicitly conceptualize what it would put in the place of hegemonic institutions like these, it is clear that it uses the woman on top, with her baston and robe, to pose questions regarding the nature of women and the possibility of religious reform: “Quelle femme j’ay si trouve´?” and “Quant femmes viennent a confesse, / Les doit-on arrester ainsi?” These questions—which, by going unanswered, can be endlessly reposed—invite us to consider what women might be or become, might do or achieve if their movements were in fact unimpeded and if they were able to remap gender within the home in order to achieve social, political, and religious effects beyond it.

Female Masochism and Shadow Feminism If we return now to the issues of sexual politics and historical change that I raised at the outset, we can see more clearly the extent to which the cultural

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processes that unmade and remade gender in late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century France did not always take the form of direct, concerted, and oppositional action. On the contrary, a play like Serre Porte et Fin Verjus, when read alongside long-durational histories of the household like Hartman’s, allows us to see that the social transformation of gender would largely have occurred through local, partial, simulated, and calculated acts of acquiescence. Similarly, greater livability would often have been pursued through negotiated compliance and transactional exchange. Following Jack (Judith) Halberstam, I view this sort of provisional, situational capitulation to patriarchy as a form of “shadow feminism,” meaning political and especially infrapolitical projects that do not presume “the form that agency must take” (127) and that are often “grounded in” attributes linked to the restriction or denial of female agency, including “negation, refusal, passivity, absence, and silence,” as well as “masochism” (124). Thus, a curious sort of feminism peeks out from the shadows of farcical misogyny when Fin Verjus’s wife is obliged to relinquish her identity as the woman on top and the legacy of maternal opposition it implies, only to set the stage for her husband to adopt that role in her stead and to achieve a victory for and in the mother’s line; or when the negligent husband at long last fulfills his obligations as paterfamilias, only to invert patriarchal arrangements by enfolding his identity and agency into his wife’s. In the remainder of this chapter, I take seriously Halberstam’s question of whether feminists may have become “willfully blind to forms of agency that do not take the form of resistance” (128). Specifically, I use that question to guide an inquiry into the social effects and political efficacy of female masochism in Le poulier a` six personnages, an early sixteenth-century farce that is found in the Manuscrit La Vallie`re and likely emanates from either Paris or the Ardennes.11 In this play, the uxorial role acquires its greatest potency not when two gentlewomen betray and humiliate their husbands by sleeping with their tenant miller, Lucas, but rather when the milleress offers an utterly degrading but also quite voluntary performance of service and submission to her husband. There can be little doubt that that performance grants her a commanding role in the play. Most signally, it allows her to upend the patriarchal rescue fantasy by saving her own hapless husband, and the household of which he is the head, from imminent financial ruin. The plot of the play runs as follows. We learn at the outset that one of the miller’s debtors has defaulted on a loan and denied him legal recourse by


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bribing court officials: “procureurs, advocas, / Et sergens” (“solicitors, barristers, and policemen”; 68–69). Unfazed by her husband’s tale of woe, the milleress swiftly remedies his misfortunes by devising a ruse that they can execute together and that targets the mill’s landlord cousins, MM. de La Papillonyere and de La Hanetonnyere. It seems the landlords are besotted with lust for the milleress and will therefore be easy to bamboozle. In fact, the two men have been lurking outside the mill, each doing his best to intimidate the other into leaving the coast clear for a conquest. Both eventually depart, though each man soon finds his way back again—first the superficially gallant M. de La Papillonyere, who uses the pretext of collecting the rent to implore the milleress for relief from his amorous suffering; and then M. de La Hanetonnyere, who is too crude and impulsive to make up an excuse for his visit and so begs for sex straightaway. As Lucas pretends to sleep, the milleress grants each of the gentlemen a tryst in exchange for a large cash loan. She then orchestrates their visits in such a way as to safeguard her chastity, assuage her husband’s jealousy, and terrorize the landlords into submission. She schedules them to arrive one soon after the other, such that M. de La Hanetonnyere interrupts M. de La Papillonyere’s seduction and obliges him to hide in the mill’s poulier, or “henhouse,” which seems to be located in a loft directly above the bed. She then arranges for Lucas, who is hidden outside the mill but can see and hear everything that is happening inside, to return home before things can go too far. When he bangs on the door and bellows threats, he terrifies M. de La Hanetonnyere, who swiftly joins his cousin with the hens. At this point, the miller sees an opportunity to inflict revenge upon his landlords and to seize control of the ruse from his wife. He orders the milleress to run to the gentlemen’s estates and invite their wives, first Mme. de La Papillonyere and then Mme. de La Hanetonnyere, to join him at the mill. The milleress obeys unquestioningly, and her husband soon beds each of the ladies in turn. Trapped in the poulier, the husbands listen in, powerless to do more than squawk like hens and hush one another out of fear of discovery. When Lucas has had his way with the gentlewomen and sent them home, he pretends to discover their husbands in the poulier, accuses them of unlawful entry, and threatens either to prosecute and expose them or to kill them on the spot for their crimes. The men are so terrified that they instantly capitulate to the miller, confessing their misdeeds against him, agreeing to forgive his debts, and subjecting themselves unreservedly to his will. Unfortunately, Lucas does not seem inclined to share his newfound sovereignty with his wife,

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nor does she demand that he do so. In the final scene, when she attempts to mollify his anger against the landlords and reassert a degree of control over the ruse she has devised, he orders her to hold her tongue, and she wordlessly complies. Indeed, throughout the play her daring achievements are consistently offset by her willingness to acquiesce silently to an asymmetrical distribution of power within marriage. Even as she plots to emancipate her husband and household from debt, she allows him to usurp her plot and determine its outcome. Similarly, even as she uses her powers of persuasion to lure other men’s wives into bed with her husband, she calmly endures doubts and accusations about her own conjugal fidelity. Finally, even as she ensures that the miller will have the last word in his struggle with the landlords, and that the peasantry will earn a symbolic win over the gentry, she obeys her husband’s order to shut her mouth so that he may proclaim himself the victor. How could these demeaning concessions to masculine tyranny possibly enact a feminist agenda, whether shadow or otherwise? We can begin to answer this question by considering the paradoxical forms of self-assertion made available to women through the eroticization of obedience in marital debt theory. As Sarah Salih observes, marriage in the Middle Ages (or, for that matter, in the sixteenth century) “was not an unmarked category and did not have the heteronormative privilege of being unexamined” (131). On the contrary, it was subject to an exceptional degree of ideological scrutiny, the goals of which were to police sexual behavior, to secure familial and communal alliances, and to ensure the smooth transfer of property through inheritance. Despite (or rather because of ) this disciplinary rigor, marriage was imbued with an “erotics of power” that was “rich and unpredictable” and that placed sex and pleasure in tension with obligation and compulsion (134). This is nowhere more obvious than in the ius exigendi debitum, or “right of marital debt,” which derived its authority from First Corinthians and was repeatedly ratified by canonists and theologians: “But for fear of fornication let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render the debt to his wife, and the wife also in like manner to the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband. And in like manner the husband also hath not power of his own body, but the wife” (7:2–4). While many medieval authorities (and some modern ones) see a concern for sexual parity in the imperative of mutual indebtedness, Salih astutely notes that Paul’s concern is not for “a relation of equality” but rather for “two relations of supreme inequality,” not for the


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shared pleasures of sovereign subjects but for “the raptures of total control of the other and total emptying of the self” (135). Moreover, by construing marriage as a partnership between mutually enslaved subjects, Paul points to the provisional and fungible nature of marital roles: “Slavery is not an inherent condition of the person, but a position that one must occupy for the duration of a partner’s demand” (135). Salih concludes from these dialectical reversals that the premodern theory of marital debt closely resembles Gilles Deleuze’s postmodern theory of masochistic relations: both are founded on contractual bonds and brokered submission (135); both “[set] up a utopian zone in which power is radically mobile” (135); and “by eroticizing power,” both have the capacity to “[turn] it inside out” (134), unsettling ossified social hierarchies and ensuring that the submissive partner is also entitled to be dominant (145). As Kaja Silverman warns, however, there is a danger in taking Deleuze’s “ ‘utopian’ rereading of masochism” too literally, and of mistaking a “visionary reconfiguration” for the “standard form of that perversion” (211). While the radical potential of masochistic desire derives from its repudiation of deep-seated familial dynamics and the imaginative construction of new ones, it is “as much a product of the existing symbolic order as a reaction against it,” and is therefore incapable of emancipating psychic subjectivity from ideological coercion, notably (in modernity) “the imprint of the [bourgeois] family” (213). Something similar can be said of marital debt, which rather obviously failed to disrupt the patriarchal configuration of ancient and medieval households. Elizabeth Stuart insists that Paul’s “language of mutual authority obscures notions of ownership in which the wife will always be disadvantaged because of the web of power relations she has to exist in, which cannot be conveniently unspun in a marriage bed” (125–26). Moreover, as Dyan Elliott reminds us, this ideology of male headship is repeatedly validated in the New Testament, notably Colossians 3:18–4:1, Ephesians 5:22–6:9, and the deuterocanonical pastoral epistles, which molded Christian marriage to “the contours of the pagan patriarchal family” and formed the basis for medieval household codes (Spiritual 24). As for “the apparently equitable principle of the marriage debt” (“Bernardino” 170), canonists ensured that it would be “differentially applied” by constructing double standards that privileged male bodies and desires and magnified women’s sexual availability and vulnerability (171). Thus, they “frequently deferred to the unreliability of masculine sexual performance” while denying women ritual and biological impediments to intercourse; they required menstruating and

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pregnant wives to render the debt but refused them the right to seek it; they instrumentalized and demonized female libido, which was considered salutary if it enhanced male pleasure but whorish if it was insistent or unwanted; and most tellingly, they required mutual consent for abstinence but not intercourse, and thus “covertly sanctioned masculine aggression,” including marital rape (171). The anonymous twelfth-century canonical treatise Summa “Induent Sancti” goes so far as to commend the groom who consummates his marriage by force and to reproach the bride for resisting him: “He has merely used his right (ille enim usus iure suo)” (qtd. in C. Reid 112). This pronouncement evidently provoked controversy, and Aquinas himself objects to it on moral grounds: the bride is faultless, while the groom is guilty of a mortal sin. And yet Aquinas concedes that God alone can judge the groom for his wickedness, as forced consummation is a licit use of an entitlement, not an illicit act of rape: “[The groom] has a kind of right in the betrothed (aliquod ius in sua sponsa)” (qtd. in C. Reid 113). While canonical rulings establish the extent to which the ius exigendi debitum failed to unspin patriarchal power relations, we have reason to surmise that it enabled experimentation in everyday domestic life by positing marital sovereignty as reciprocal and variable, sexual roles as extrinsic and exchangeable, and the individual subject as alternately sovereign and enslaved. As Gerard Loughlin notes, marital debt arose within a religion— and indeed an epistle, First Corinthians—that was founded on the aporias of salvation through capitulation, emancipation through bondage. Thus, Paul not only describes marriage as reciprocal servitude but also links it to a master-slave dialectic in which Christ’s sacrifice prefigures and justifies the demise of the institution of slavery: “For he that is called in the Lord being a bondman is the freeman of the Lord. Likewise he that is called being free is the bondman of Christ. You are bought with a price; be not made the bondslaves of men” (1 Cor. 7:22–23). If, for Loughlin, we “fold Paul’s notion of enslavement to Christ . . . back onto his idea of marriage as mutual authority or ownership” (181), we can begin to see that for early Christians slavery was not only a prevailing social reality but also a metaphor for radical transformation through subjective lack: a “contrary ideal” that flies in the face of “a persistent social order” (183), an “owning” that is a “disowning [of] one’s self” (181). If, moreover, Jesus’s voluntary and ignominious surrender to the cross figures as “the model of true slavery,” then “its repetition within a mutual relationship constitutes an economy in which power is constantly circulating, given away in order to return, and only returning because given away” (183).


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Granted, few premodern or early modern marriages are likely to have embraced mutuality as fully as Loughlin imagines. Even so, it is reasonable to surmise that the dialectical instability of marital debt may have enabled women to translate calculated acts of compliance and self-abnegation into oblique acts of resistance and self-assertion. Thus, for Salih, the “anticipation or endurance of marital sexual unpleasure” not only required wives to suffer a “breaching of the sense of unified selfhood” and to enact a “conservative remaking” of the self in conformity with communal norms; it also offered them a means to claim “the rewards of that conformity” (146). By performing “[ideological] operations upon themselves,” women like Alice de Rouclif and Elizabeth Paston “take ownership of what happens to them and find agency in conformity” (146), be it the social position that accrues to a dutiful wife (Rouclif ) or the anticipation of autonomy in widowhood (Paston). As for Margery Kempe, she depicts her sexual martyrdom as a stage in her “transition from wife to saint” (146) and as a “performance of conformity” that is authorized by Christ himself, who serves both as “the target audience” and “its privileged interpreter” (145). Kempe was hardly alone in this regard. As Elliott notes, a bevy of married female saints and mystics exploited the canonical merits of compliance with marital debt in order to “identify with their sinless intentions,” to immerse themselves in private suffering, and to draw closer to God in the process (“Bernardino” 175). In such cases, “enforced and multiply determined passivity and growing reliance on the internal forum [acted] as a spiritual stimulant,” such that a “compensatory act of grieving during sexual intercourse had the potential for fostering a direct communication with the divine” (175) and for “restoring the wife to a measure of the autonomy that had been so seriously eroded by solicitude for the debt” (185). Before proceeding any further, I should acknowledge the perils inherent in the claim that there are pleasures, rewards, and tactics to be found in women’s lived experience of sexual subordination and unpleasure. Most seriously, that claim risks mistaking sadistic abuse for masochistic contract, both of which undoubtedly found expression in marital debt.12 It also asks us to view women’s acceptance of, and attachment to, their own subjection as a calculated maneuver rather than ideological false consciousness—an argument that feminists have seldom been willing to accept (Desmond 1–9). And yet as Butler argues, the notion that complicity and agency could ever be fully distinct is itself a distorting fiction: the “customary model” of subjection, whereby an external discursive power induces us “to internalize or accept its terms,” fails to grasp that “the ‘we’ who accept such terms are

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fundamentally dependent on those terms for ‘our’ existence. . . . Subjection consists precisely in this fundamental dependency on a discourse we never chose but that, paradoxically, initiates and sustains our agency” (Psychic 2). Butler’s insight that the subject is formed within a masochistic field of relations (in which subjection and bondage are the conditions of possibility for subjectivation and emancipation) allows her to distinguish submission from powerlessness and to reclaim discourses of abjection (her examples are “woman” and “queer”) as a starting point for “subversive reterritorialization”: a process of exposing the contingencies internal to regulatory systems to the point that those systems can be reenacted and reembodied in new ways (100). We therefore should not exaggerate the extent to which medieval wives were able to reterritorialize patriarchal marriage by submitting to its dictates, but neither should we deny them the tactics of opposition and appropriation to which they had access. Deleuze assigns immense counterhegemonic agency and subversive humor to the male masochist, who can unmask the fragility of sovereign rule with a spontaneous erection: “A close examination of masochistic fantasies or rites reveals that while they bring into play the very strictest application of the law, the result in every case is the opposite of what might be expected (thus whipping, far from punishing or preventing an erection, provokes and ensures it). . . . The essence of masochistic humor lies in this, that the very law which forbids the satisfaction of a desire under threat of subsequent punishment is converted into one which demands the punishment first and then orders that the satisfaction of the desire should necessarily follow upon the punishment” (88–89). While Rouclif, Paston, and Kempe anatomize themselves very differently from Deleuze’s priapic and ludic flagellant, Salih is right that they can be equally (and theatrically) “heroic” in staging their submission: “Their performance of conformity is masochism as theater, a ‘lived fiction’ constructed by and starring the ostensibly dominated party. [They] invite observation of their sexual unpleasure, displaying it within the theater of the household, the family, and the neighbourhood in order to make use of it” (145–46, citing A. Phillips 19).13 The case can be made, moreover, that this theater of unpleasure is especially well suited to comedy. Thus, for Karma Lochrie (135–66), Kempe finds social and spiritual emancipation in the cultivation of derision. She immerses herself into monstrous images of bodily excess in order to contest the legitimacy of institutions whose power depends upon the repression of the female body and the exclusion of women from the sacred. Then as a mystic, she takes the scorn she has been given as a blessing: like Paul’s “fools for Christ’s sake” (1


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Cor. 4:10), she offers “a spectacle to the world” that transforms abjection into salvation (4:9).

The Theater of the Household My claim here is that the milleress in Le poulier displays a similar kind of heroic masochism and comic subversion. By embracing the subaltern roles assigned to her as woman, wife, and peasant, she is able to stage-manage the spectacle of her own compliance and to exploit to her advantage, and to the advantage of her husband and household, the comic instability inherent in embodied performances of gender and rank. Before examining the farce’s shadow feminism, then, we must first consider its fascination with the category slippages inherent in theatrical, cross-dressed performance and with the peasant household as a staging ground for those slippages. The unpredictability of gendered identities is evident even in the manuscript’s list of dramatis personae, which audiences would not have seen but which forecasts precisely the sorts of ambiguities they were likely to have witnessed in a performance: Farce nouvelle a` sis personnages, c’est asc¸avoir deulx gentilz hommes, le mounyer, la munyere et les deulx femmes des deulx Gentilz Hommes, abille´s en damoyselles (s.d. 331) A new farce with six characters, namely, two gentlemen, the miller, the milleress, and the two wives of the two gentlemen, who are clothed as ladies. The discordant pairing of a feminine noun (“femes”) with a masculine adjective (“abille´s”), along with the redundant observation that the gentlemen’s wives are dressed (how else?) “en damoyselles,” reminds us that these parts were likely played by male actors—working-class adolescent boys who donned showy dresses in order to signify their transformation into married

Making History


women of the lesser nobility (which is what “damoyselles” signifies here; Dictionnaire, s.v. “demoiselle,” def. I.A.3).14 As Peter Stallybrass argues, however, theatrical cross-dressing often betrays the partial nature of gender transformation and the lack of ontological ground in the “body beneath” the disguise (“Transvestism”). Dresses serve as prostheses of an elusive origin, compensating for the lack of a vagina or breasts but also failing to capture the social identities they can only signify metonymically, taking a part for the missing whole (or hole). Moreover, the many scenes in early modern drama (notably Shakespeare) that require boy actors to undress onstage, whether fully, partially, or notionally, suggest that audiences were often denied a “discreet effacement of the theatrical means by which gender is produced” (72).15 Instead, they were called upon to witness the simultaneous construction and deconstruction of sexual difference: “The actor is both boy and woman, and he/she embodies the fact that sexual fixations are not the product of any categorical fixity of gender. Indeed, all attempts to fix gender are necessarily prosthetic: that is, they suggest the attempt to supply an imagined deficiency by the exchange of [gendered clothes, spaces, and tasks]. But all elaborations of the prosthesis which will supply the ‘deficiency’ can secure no essence. On the contrary, they suggest that gender itself is a fetish, the production of an identity through the fixation upon specific ‘parts’ ” (77). Much like modern drag shows, then, early modern transvestite theater works to denaturalize sexual categories by demonstrating how they are enacted in the first place—as the imitation of an essential nature no one can ever fully possess but that is nonetheless fetishized as “realness” (Butler, Bodies 121–40). While we cannot know with certainty that the female roles in Le poulier were cross-cast in performance, the script certainly exhibits the “radical crossings of perspective” that Stallybrass finds in Shakespeare: on the one hand, the focusing of libidinal energy and spectatorial attention on gendered body parts; on the other, an occlusion of straightforward knowledge about the body and its putatively real ontological status (“Transvestism” 73). The play of crossed perspectives is most obvious in the scenes where the miller seduces the landlords’ wives, wearing down their comically meager resistance before luring them into his bed. A “rydeau” (“curtain”; 415) surrounds the bed, veiling the bodies of the actors, whether fully or partially, and effacing what they do behind it.16 Yet for all the discretion the curtain affords, in practice it must have also greatly enhanced the obscenity, inviting spectators to picture a


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variety of sexual scenarios based on what they could not see but could easily visualize. The scene with Mme. de La Hanetonnyere seems especially calculated to trigger perverse imaginings, in that the miller seduces the lady using language that throws her sex and gender into confusion, and his along with it.17 Lucas begins by reminding his mistress that this is not the first time he has tried to get her into bed. During a prior visit to the mill, he pressed her up against a store of grain and groped her breasts roughly: “Vos tetins ausy blans que lin / Furent garsonne´s sur le ble´” (“Your tits, as white as linen, got manhandled on the wheat”; 593–94). Although at the time she refused him further access to her body, he wagers (apparently quite rightly) that her refusal had less to do with wifely scruples than with a servant she left waiting for her outside: Y ne s’en falut guere Que je ne mise au pertuys. Sans une de deriere l’huys, J’ale´s mesler mes deulx genoulx. (597–600) I came close to putting [it] in the hole. If not for the girl on the other side of the door, I was going to join my two knees together/ involve my two knees. Since the impediment is now lacking (though a far more serious one is lodged in the poulier above), Lucas urges the lady to cure his lust by showing him her “bydault” (“pony”; 613): “Mais pour voir un peu sy resemble / A celuy de ma menagere” (“Let’s have a look to see if it resembles my wife’s”; 615–16). She succumbs to this loutish seduction with remarkable ease, and the two soon withdraw behind the curtain to copulate—noisily, it would seem, as M. de La Hanetonnyere reveals in a direct address to the audience: A! mes amys, misericors! Y soufle et pete tout d’un traint. Et fault-il que je soys contrainct De l’ouyr ainsy remuer! (643–46) Ah, my friends, have mercy! He grunts and farts without stopping. And must I listen to him thrashing about like this?

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It would be hard to exaggerate the ambiguity and eccentricity of the sexual vocabulary deployed in this scene. Consider the verb garc¸onner, which means “to handle roughly or violate,” as if one were an ill-bred garc¸on (“lackey” or “boy,” usually lower class), but more properly signifies “to treat someone else like a garc¸on” or, in its reflexive form (se garc¸onner), to disguise oneself as male (Dictionnaire, s.v. “garc¸onner”; Godefroy 4:221–22). The miller’s diction thus has the effect of mapping sexual indeterminacy and commoner status onto Mme. de La Hanetonnyere’s “tits,” an effect that would have been greatly heightened if the character had been played by a flatchested garc¸on wearing a comically overinflated prosthesis. Diction unsettles the miller’s gender as well, as he oddly chooses to conjugate priapic aggression in the passive voice (“furent garsonne´s”), allowing us to infer that the selfassertive or coercive male subject can be thwarted or even evacuated by the androgynous body he targets. That body becomes yet more unruly and unreadable as Lucas turns his, and our, attention to its nether regions: “pertuys” can mean either vagina or anus (Bidler 497); “bydault” (literally, a small horse; metaphorically, the thing between a rider’s legs; Wartburg 1:353–54) signifies the penis or, “by extension,” the vagina (Dictionnaire, s.v. “bidaut”; Bidler 70); and neither term can fully distinguish male anatomies from female ones. In fact, the ambiguities of the equestrian metaphor allow us to imagine that it may well be the lady and milleress who are the phallic riders and Lucas their bestial mount. This reading becomes even more compelling if we consider, first, that the miller’s line seems to be the only surviving attestation for “bydault” as vagina, whereas the facetious hagiography devoted to Bidault, patron saint of the penis, is widespread (Merceron, Dictionnaire 171–73); and, second, that the name Lucas is used in festive comedy to encode the female bas corporel: luc is cul, or “ass,” spelled backward, while cas means “vagina” (Merceron, Dictionnaire 266).18 Indeed, in Le poulier, the name is twice linked via end rhymes to impaired masculinity. Lucas’s lack of “ducas” (“ducats”; 165) and his failure to prevail in his legal “cas” (156) have made it difficult for him to stand erect: “Je ne me se´roys soutenir” (57). We are entitled to wonder, then, what sorts of bodies will be revealed when these characters disrobe behind the “rydeau” and whether those bodies could possibly stabilize the play’s wildly fluctuating dialectics of reality and illusion, sex and gender, identity and power. Certainly, the miller’s account of the sex acts he longs to perform fails to do this work of stabilization or to give more definite shape to the bodies


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involved. The phrase “que je ne mise au pertuys” lacks a direct object and thus places priapic masculinity under erasure yet again. As for “mesler mes deulx genoulx,” it presumably refers either to oral sex or penetration from behind—the positions that would most obviously involve the miller’s knees. This begs the question, however, of what Lucas would discover if he were to kneel before or behind his lover. Since her “pertuys” changes readily into a “bydault,” oral sex might confront him with genitals that resemble his own as much as his wife’s. And if he were to enter the lady a tergo, he would find himself subject to multiple forms of category slippage at once; for this position was held to conflate humans with animals (sicut de animalibus), to lead easily from sex “in the wrong manner” (indebitus modus) to sex “in the wrong orifice” (non in debito vase), and to pervert natural and divine law in the manner of Sodom itself (Tentler, Sin 186–208). Obviously, the audience does not actually see sodomy, in that the “rydeau” draws a veil over the actors’ bodies and the fictional sex act. But as Robert Mills argues, “seeing sodomy [in the Middle Ages] does not necessarily generate straightforward acts of looking”; and in the realm of the visual arts, “invisibility itself can be a powerful representational strategy” (14). When it comes to the performing arts, invisibility can be downright lewd. One can only imagine that the miller’s thrashing (“ainsy remuer”) must have caused the bed curtain to sway rhythmically, signaling to the audience that the actors, man and boy, were miming intercourse behind it. Likewise, Lucas’s grunts and farts must have served to narrate the sex act for the gentlemen and spectators alike, perhaps taking on speed and intensity to mark climax. Lest we forget the miller’s insistent attempts to dislocate gender from its normal corporeal markers, his farts (if they are actually his and not hers!) indicate another metonymic displacement of the “bydault” by the “pertuys,” as if the staging of sexual pleasure cannot help but grant the anus a voice and cause the penis to wander.19 Far from being hidden, then, these staged bodies brazenly expose their susceptibility to reorganization; and M. de La Hanetonnyere’s appeal to the audience seems calculated to disclose this susceptibility to us. Thus, he breaks the stage illusion and calls attention to its most salacious reality effects at the precise moment when bodies are most fully mediated and least likely to disclose their “truth.” By simultaneously revealing somatic realities and denying access to them, the play constructs theatrical bodies as ciphers that signal the evasiveness of identity and the power of performance to unmake and remake gender. Theater thus overlaps extensively with the vitium contra naturam,

Making History


which, in Alan of Lille’s classic account in The Plaint of Nature, involves an erotic, discursive, and quasi-theatrical form of gender reassignment: “Venus . . . makes he’s become she’s, and unmans men with her magical art” (23). Of course, the focus of stage magic in Le poulier a` six personnages is not gender and sexuality alone but estate and rank as well. The complex layering of theatrical representation in the play—the fact that each personnage engages in histrionic pretense of one sort or another and that the mill has been set up to accommodate overlapping and perverse acts of staging and spectating—is used to transform an impotent peasant into a cocky lord and cocky lords into squawking hens. This transformation is made especially vivid for us in the final scene, which immediately follows the seduction of Mme. de La Hanetonnyere. As the lady is leaving the mill, her husband cries out, first in rage at his wife’s treachery and then in agony when his cousin accidentally injures his manhood in an attempt to silence him: “Tu m’as afolle´ par les couilles” (“You’ve crushed my balls”; 656). Lucas pretends to notice for the first time that there is “quelque un a` nos poulles” (“someone with our hens”; 657) and declares his intention to investigate. Knowing he has a captive audience, however, he takes his time; and starting with the fortuitous rhyme on “couilles” and “poules” (399–400), he makes sure to verbally emasculate, dehumanize, and dethrone his landlords as he prepares to blow their cover and ensure his victory. First, he declares that there must be not someone but some animal with his hens: “quelque bellete / Ou beste” (“some weasel or other pest”; 667–68), the weasel being famously associated with sexual aberration and filth, notably homosexuality (Boswell 305–9). The miller then degrades the gentlemen further by using a discordant masculine plural construction implying either that the hens have turned male or that the men have turned into hens: “Car ilz caquetent tous ensemble” (“For they all cackle together”; 673).20 By the time he ascends to the coop to investigate and discovers the “galans” (678) hidden there, he has ironically revealed them to lack the very qualities that term denotes: eloquence, elegance, courage, and virility. Perhaps literally groveling before their tenant, they now address him as “monsieur le mounyer” (“my lord miller”; 681), implore his “mercy” (681) and “pardon” (700), promise unconditional forgiveness of his debts, and declare total submission to his will: “Ce qui vous plaira commander / Nous le ferons a` vostre grey” (“Whatever it will please you to command, we will do it to your satisfaction”; 703– 4). When Lucas threatens to prosecute them for theft, or (since he has caught them in the act) to slit their throats on the spot, the milleress alone is capable


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of voicing a purposeful defense: “Et non fere´s” (“You shall not do this”; 689). The miller gruffly silences her, however, and demands that the landlords confess their sins to him directly: “Taise´s-vous; je les veulx ouyr” (“Shut your mouth; I want to hear them”; 710). At first, M. de La Papillonyere attempts to prevaricate, but Lucas artfully corners him by invoking “Tibault l’apostre” (715), patron saint of cuckolds (Tissier, Recueil 1:392n), and calling for a public “debat” (716) that would broadcast the gentlemen’s misdeeds and the miller’s humiliating revenge. Left with no recourse, the landlords acknowledge their misdeeds and concede defeat by joining their voices with Lucas’s in a triolet. The miller sings the verses, using them to reprove the gentlemen imperiously for their “folye” (719, 722); the latter respond with an abashed, doleful refrain; and finally, Lucas brings the farce to a close by uttering a familiar moral, “a` trompeur tromperye luy vient” (“deception always finds the deceiver”; 730), and by calling for a song “pour resjouir nos esprys” (“to gladden our spirits”; 731). Taken together, refrain, moral, and ditty encapsulate Le poulier’s fascination with the power of language and theater to materialize one state of being out of its opposite. If the hencoop initially signals the squalor of peasant life (which typically requires cohabitation with livestock and their filth) and the miller’s compromised virility (in that it seems to house only hens), by the end of the play it reveals itself to be an instrument of hierarchical inversion: it emasculates and dethrones swaggering elites by causing them to squawk like chickens; it establishes a mere peasant as their overlord and affords him the opportunity to sermonize and reprove his betters; and it reveals that even the landlords’ names—their aristocratic noms de terre—are susceptible to subversive reterritorialization. It can be no coincidence that the surnames that signify their sovereign title to lands and mill also refer to pestilential insects capable of ruining the peasants who must eke out a subsistence living from those lands and that mill. Moths (papillons) mar the quality of milled textiles like linen and wool; maybugs (hannetons) stunt and decimate milled crops like wheat, barley, and flax; and an infestation of either insect would spell disaster for a household like Lucas’s. And yet the humiliation of the landlords at the hands of their tenant must have reminded spectators of the other implications their names hold, notably ones that suggest their vulnerability to their own ignoble proclivities and to the subordinate’s revenge. Moths and maybugs are fatally drawn to flame; butterflies (papillons) and maybugs were used to entertain children, who tethered them to threads and laughed as they tried to fly away (Nazari 228; Fe´ray 11n8); and as the folk

Making History


proverb “e´tourdi comme un hanneton” (“dizzy like a cockchafer”; Le Roux de Lincy 1:114) attests, maybugs were known for their slow, awkward flight and for colliding with obstacles while making inane noises. Much like their insect avatars, MM. de La Papillonyere and de La Hanetonnyere burn with, and are burned by, their compulsive and abusive desire for the milleress; they foolishly allow themselves to be taken hostage by the tenants they sought to plunder and denude; and in their clumsy, noisy attempts to elude their captors, they repeatedly encounter obstruction, humiliation, and subjugation. With its volatile language and unpredictable effects, the theater of the household thus enacts numerous dialectical reversals, including those that enable the heroic rise of the subaltern miller and the shameful abasement of his superiors.

Speech, Silence, and Feminine Finesse If these reversals seem to be predicated on the humiliation of effeminacy, we should not assume that the farce confers overdetermined abjection on female characters or that abjection does not offer those characters their own tactical possibilities. On the contrary, if we turn to the thematics of speech and silence, which are pervasive in the play and are overtly gendered, we soon discover the ways in which the milleress is able to exploit her debased role in the household to claim prerogatives and pleasures for herself and her sex. Those same prerogatives and pleasures are of course denied to the gentlemen themselves. Indeed, it is in the realm of voice that MM. de La Papillonyere and de La Hanetonnyere suffer their most serious forms of degeneration: a discursive and symbolic alienation from genus, gender, and class. As they morph from cocky, crowing lords into cowering, cackling hens and ungainly, bumbling insects, they may also be said to loosen their claim, as human men, on potent, efficacious speech—what Aquinas, in his Commentary on Aristotle’s “Politics,” calls loquutio, distinguishing it carefully from vox, the “natural vocal sounds” made by nonhuman animals (17). Whereas, for Aquinas (and Aristotle), vox can only express instinctive desires and aversions, loquutio allows human beings to communicate consciousness and ideation and to form and govern complex associations like households and polities. It also informs and authorizes social hierarchies of various sorts, justifying the rule of teacher over child, master over slave (or peasant), and man over woman.21 Thus, “it belongs to the character and worthiness of women to be silent,


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since it proceeds from the modesty due them. But silence does not belong to the character of men” (73). It must be said that the mill’s landlords are anything but silent in the play, especially in the last scene. Even so, their speech deprives them of the masculine, aristocratic authority it is supposed to instantiate, to the point that the milleress is forced to speak up for them when they can say nothing in their own defense. Revealingly, as the landlords loosen their grip on loquutio, the miller arrogates its power to himself, in defiance of the ubiquitous association of peasants with inarticulate, unreasoning beasts (Freedman 133–73). He imposes silent obedience on his wife, uses the threat of public exposure to compel his landlords to do his bidding, and denies them their rights as sovereign husbands, much as they sought to do to him. The gentlemen in turn offer the miller a new contract; and in vowing to do his bidding “a` [son] grey,” they resemble no one more closely than the milleress, though their performance of compliance is ultimately far more abject than hers. This comic peripeteia is redolent of masochistic fantasies and rites, which, for Deleuze, are codified by contractual agreements, are fueled by dialectical oscillations, and are subversive in the sense of subjecting the law to “the downward movement of humor” (88)—humor that not only reduces “the law to its furthest consequences” (88) but also belies its claims to operate as “a secondary or delegated power dependent on a supreme principle which is the Good” (81). Although it goes without saying that the landlords’ contract is as unreliable as the men who swear it, its function is, precisely, to illustrate how easily the lord/peasant dialectic can turn itself inside out—and how, in the process, it can disrupt identity categories, expose the contingency and mobility of social power, and subject the law to absurd, inadvertent outcomes. Lucas does not simply invert hierarchical order by compelling his abusive landlords to submit to his own tyrannical rule. He also enacts a renegade form of justice that enables him to redress personal and social grievances by threatening to expose a crime (adultery) that he has lured others into attempting and has himself committed. If this justice makes a mockery of truth and equity, it also radicalizes the law by grounding its moral authority in public disputation and its coercive power in dialectical struggle and renewal. As Lucas now realizes, what he needs is not greater access to “procureurs” and “advocas,” who, in any event, serve their own moneyed interests rather than “the Good.” Instead, he needs a new approach to the role of victim and a new stage on which to perform it. By threatening a “debat” rather than a “cas,” he suggests that peasants might well bypass the courthouse in favor of the court of public opinion, might relocate justice from

Making History


bench and bar to the festive stage, and in so doing might acquire greater access to loquutio, human distinction, and manly dignity. But where does this leave the milleress, who has engineered these dialectical reversals on her husband’s behalf, only to hear him deny her the right to speak about them? What recognition does she receive for playing sexual target in order to rescue her husband from ruin, for acting as a procuress in order to bring off his revenge plot, or for sacrificing the expectation of conjugal fidelity that he would never willingly forgo? At first blush, she seems to receive precious little for her troubles—not only by comparison with the miller, who seizes the spoils from her ruse and orders her to shut her mouth, but also by comparison with the landlords, who are brought down by the ruse but hardly silenced or sidelined by it. On the contrary, they chatter throughout the second half of the play, then confess their sins histrionically before melding their voices with the miller’s in song. As if to suggest that the homosocial continuum can harmonize class conflict as long as it assures the exclusion of the feminine, the miller uses the first verse of the triolet to blame the landlords’ actions on love and therefore, implicitly, on women: “L’homme amoureulx faict maincte folye” (“A man in love commits many a folly”; 719). M. de La Papilonnyere soon echoes him with an avowal of frailty that indirectly confirms men’s innate potency and rationalizes its loss as a temporary aberration: “Quant amour un homme follye, / Y pert sc¸avoir et contenance” (“When love drives a man mad, he loses understanding and selfcontrol”; 725–26). We may wonder (with a nod to Tina Turner) what love’s “got to do with it, got to do with it”—and the answer, of course, is nothing at all. The landlords admit as much before their caper gets under way, with the one hypocritically denouncing the other for pursuing a sadistic conquest that will bring about “[le] desplaisir d’aultruy” (“the suffering of others”; 7). The closing scene, however, lends credence to their attempts to salvage their dignity by blaming its loss on the woman who now stands mutely before them. The scene also grants the miller the last word in the play and thereby ensures that he, too, will have a claim on the authorizing power of loquutio. Voicing a humble brag to the audience, he echoes M. de La Papillonyere’s aphorism (“un homme y pert sc¸avoir et contenance”), replaces it with a new one (“mon sc¸avoir contient”), and proclaims himself the master deceiver and the bearer of the play’s wisdom: Je prens conge´ de l’assistence. Sy peu que mon sc¸avoir contient,


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[Je] dictz pour toute recompence Qu’a` trompeur tromperye luy vient. (727–30) I take my leave of the audience. For as little as I can claim to understand, let me tell you this as a reward: deception finds the deceiver. Needless to say, Lucas makes no mention of his wife or her own estimable skills in “tromperye.” As for the milleress, she obeys her husband’s orders scrupulously and does not utter another word in the play. If the miller feels entitled to appropriate her achievements as his own and to silence her so that he may pronounce moral and theatrical closure, she plays along, marking herself out as the very epitome of modest, compliant, laconic femininity. If we look closely, however, the farce shows us other ways to read silence, which can indicate “sc¸avoir et contenance” as much as acquiescence and surrender. As James C. Scott reminds us, subalterns often choose silence as a tactical maneuver in power-laden situations where their voices are subject to strict limitations (Domination 3, 206–7). Those limitations are made explicit in the first scene between the miller and his wife. The latter enters singing a lighthearted ditty celebrating herself—“O, va! la mounyere; o va!” (“There goes the milleress, there she goes!”; 50)—but is soon interrupted by her husband, who rebukes her for her gushing good humor and bemoans the anxieties that weigh on him as head of household: Tousjours tu trouveras maniere De chanter sans prendre soulcy. Ma foy! sy je faisoys ainsy, Tout yroit sen devant deriere. J’ey soulcy de faire et deffaire, J’ey soulcy d’aler et venir: Je ne me se´roys soutenir. Que mauldict soyt la trumeliere! (51–58) You’ll always find a way to sing without worrying about a thing. By my faith, if I were to do the same, everything would be turned backward. I worry about doing and undoing, coming and going, to the point that I can barely hold myself up. A curse on the gadabout! When Lucas explains that the cause of his ill humor is his failure to make his own voice heard in the legal case against his debtor, the milleress proposes to

Making History


remedy his defeat by making a voluble entry into the public sphere. She will accompany Lucas to the courthouse, will join her voice with his to demand justice, and if necessary will bury his adversary in words: Y fault que l’un de ces demains Que vous et moy nous y alons Et que fermement nous parlons Aulx juges et a` l’asistence. Et sy vostre partye me tence, Je luy saray bien que respondre. Je le feray par de moy fondre Dens la terre, fust-il regent. (71–78) One of these days, you and I will have to go there together, and we will speak firmly to the judges and their advisers. And if your adversary scolds me, I’ll know just how to respond. I’ll make him shrink into the ground right in front of me, no matter how great a master he is. As the miller points out, however, the court would likely refuse to hear their complaint: “On ne plaide poinct sans argent” (“You can’t plead/speak at all without money”; 79). And indeed, he has a point: restrictions on forensic speech were highly formalized and worked to hinder, if not entirely block, access to justice by women and the poor. Indeed, the courts “gave women’s testimony equivalent status only to that of criminals or minor children, and male parties occasionally attempted to have evidence thrown out on the grounds that it came from women” (Schneider 24). It is no wonder, then, that the miller refuses to take his wife seriously or to believe that she could help him raise a legal voice against his adversary. And yet as it turns out, the solution to his quandary lies not in greater access to the courts but in the embrace of his wife’s leadership, which entails calculated, ludic uses of both speech and silence. Invoking the Virgin Mary, whose cult was associated with mediating discourse and mystical reserve, legal pleading and majestic stillness (Giraud), the milleress proposes her scheme for extracting money from the mill’s lascivious landlords: La Mounyere: Nostre Dame! laise´s moy faire; J’aray de l’argent promptement.


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Le Mounyer: De l’argent? La Mounyere: Voyre! finement. Il n’est finesse qu’on ne face. Le Mounyer: Et! belle dame, que je sache Comme argent pourie´s atraper. Je sere´s tant aise de veoir De l’argent, pour a` mon cas pourvoir Des escus vingt, trente ou quarante! La Mounyere: Nous en aurons plus de cinquante, Ausy rouges que seraphins. Mais y fauldroict que fusions fins Et que ne disions mot de rien. ... Les maistres de nostre moulin Sont fort amoureulx de mon corps. Sy vous faignye´s aler dehors Envyron vingt jours ou un moys, Nous aurions des escus de poys En leur faisant la ruze acroyre. Et puys revene´s sur vostre erre, Quant de l’argent sere´s muny. Jamais un regnard prins au ny Ne fust sy peneulx qui seront. Posible qui nous donneront De nostre moulin les louages, Aveques tous les arierages Qu’on leur debvons du temps pase´. (85–97, 102–15) The Milleress: By Our Lady, let me take care of everything; I will have money for you straightaway. The Miller: Money, really? The Milleress: Yes, by means of cunning! There’s no trick we won’t try. The Miller: Do tell, beautiful lady, how you plan to get this money. I’d sure like to have some so I can lodge my case, maybe twenty, thirty, or forty crowns! The Milleress: We shall have more than fifty of the purest gold. But we shall have to be cunning and not say a word

Making History


about anything. The masters of our mill are greatly enamored of my body. If you pretend to absent yourself for twenty days or maybe a month, we will obtain fully weighted ducats by making them believe in the ruse. And then you must return quickly once I have the money in hand. No fox caught in his lair will be as distressed as they. It’s even possible they’ll cover the rent on our mill along with the back rent we’ve owed them for so long. “On” and “nous” imply a concerted effort, and indeed the milleress cannot pull off her “ruze” alone without sacrificing the chastity she so assiduously protects. Once Lucas agrees to help, however, she reveals that it is she who will perform discursive “finesse,” while he will be obliged to hold his tongue, take to his bed, and play the role of heedless, feckless spouse he formerly assigned to her: “Dorme´s vous et me laise´s faire. / Je suys de langage pourveue” (“Go to bed and let me handle it. I am armed with language”; 118–19). True to her word, the milleress uses speech to defend her husband’s domestic rule even as she pretends to flout it. In fact, she is so agile with her “langage” that she is able to address different audiences and achieve divergent effects simultaneously. In her initial scenes with the landlords, she uses this agility to heighten their passions while at the same time reminding her husband, who pretends to sleep as he listens intently behind the “rydeau,” that she is a dutiful wife who works tirelessly to advance his interests. Thus, when M. de La Papillonyere arrives at the mill to collect rent, finds the miller in bed, and takes advantage of his sleep to make a pass at his wife, the milleress rebuffs him with a stunningly artful maneuver: Se me seroyt une laidure Et une honte difamable Que d’estre trouve´e variable, Au desonneur de mon mary. (144–47) It would be a disgrace and a reprehensible shame for me to be found unfaithful, and thereby cause my husband dishonor. On the one hand, the milleress clearly intends for her mistrustful, irascible husband to take her at her word; and whatever suspicions he may have, the


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audience is likely to find her claim to constancy a credible one. On the other hand, she needs the landlord to think she mainly fears getting caught (“estre trouve´e”) and is therefore more sexually pliable than she lets on. By performing resistance to his seduction, moreover, she fans the flames of his ardor even as she prepares him to accede to the demands she will make on her husband’s behalf—concessions that will help ease Lucas’s suspicions with an abundant supply of gold. Granted, her strategy is only partially effective, in that the miller’s jealousy soon turns menacing. She is, however, wholly successful in netting M. de La Papillonyere, whose lust reaches such a fevered pitch that he agrees to loan his tenants anything they might need. Utterly besotted, he fails to notice that the milleress offers him little if anything in return: Prester nous fault argent a` force. Et puys apre`s, que l’en s’eforce Faire de moy se qu’on poura. (161–63) Someone needs to loan us a great deal of money. And then that person should endeavor to do what he can with me. Even as she appears to agree to his demands, she uses impersonal constructions to avoid naming him as a party to the agreement. She stipulates, moreover, that her willingness to serve as a sexual object (“faire de moy”) is contingent upon her would-be lover’s ability to overcome her determined resistance to conquest (“se qu’on poura”). Finally, she completes the strategy by ensuring a similar contingency will apply to her pact with M. de La Hanetonnyere, who also offers a sizable loan in exchange for sexual favors. Once again, the milleress willingly accepts the terms she is offered but only after adding a rider whereby the gentleman pledges to preserve her reputation in whatever ensues. Since the miller has furtively witnessed the negotiations, the agreement cannot be acted upon without violating this stipulation. The milleress thus exploits the contextual slipperiness of language to bind herself to a self-canceling contract, one that betrays her husband’s rule in order to guarantee it. Even that guarantee is subject to slippage, however; for just as the milleress rescues Lucas’s sovereignty by pretending to compromise it, so her husband is able to reclaim sovereignty only by performing passivity at her instruction and allowing her to seize control of speech: “Dorme´s vous et me

Making History


laise´s faire. / Je suys de langage pourveue.” He must then endure her rebukes as she performs the role of nagging, disloyal wife for the landlords’ benefit. After brokering her deal with M. de La Papillonyere, who is anxious to displace Lucas as soon as possible, she joins her voice with his and orders her husband out of the bed she ordered him into in the first place: Le Premier Gentil Homme: Deboult! mounyer. La Mounyere: Deboult! Lucas. Dormyre´s-vous toute ajourne´e? Le Premier Gentil Homme: Or sa`! mounyer, une fourne´e D’argent, je vous feray quictance. Le Mounyer: Tousjours survyent quelc’un qui tence Et se monstre mon ennemy. La Mounyere: Il est encor tout endormy Et a faict un terible somme. (166–73) The First Gentleman: The Milleress: The First Gentleman: The Miller: The Milleress:

On your feet, miller! On your feet, Lucas! Will you sleep the daylight away? How now, miller! I’m about to entrust you with a tidy sum. Someone’s always coming along to scold and confront me like an enemy. He’s still fast asleep and has had an awful dream.

In an attempt to renegotiate class relations within a framework of theatrical make-believe, the milleress ends up renegotiating domestic relations as well. By mimicking M. de La Papillonyere’s haughty decree (“Deboult!”), she shows that she can inhabit the role of lordly despot just as easily as will-less helpmeet. And by reproaching Lucas for his indolence, she obtains requital for his unjust attack on her frivolity in the previous scene. His initial response to this simulated reality is hostile but equally contrived: pretending to be in the grips of a dream, he rises from his bed, denounces the “ennemy” who accosts him (be that his landlord or his wife), and obliges the milleress to rationalize his belligerence as some sort of hallucination. When she reminds him, however, of the money he stands to gain from playing along, he soon returns to the role of pliable dupe she has assigned


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him. And once M. de La Papillonyere has departed, he reveals that, much like a masochist, he derives feelings of gratification, pleasure, and even love from his own degradation: Sa`! de par Dieu, j’ey cent escus! Cent escus d’or! mort bieu, je t’ayme. Tu es de finesse la crayme Et subtille par desus tous. (212–15) By God, this is amazing! I have a hundred crowns! A hundred crowns of gold! ’Sdeath, I love you. As tricksters go, you are the cream of the crop and exceed them all in cunning. If love will later serve as a pretext for the victimization and silencing of women, here it is awakened by female defiance and forms of role-play that pleasurably disrupt gender and class hierarchies. That pleasure is, moreover, both reciprocal and cumulative. Thus, the milleress responds to Lucas’s praise by boasting gleefully of her discursive mastery and issuing several more imperious commands. This includes an injunction for Lucas to keep silent and heed her word: Ce n’est encor rien. Taise´s vous, Dorme´s vous, faictes bonne myne. Je suys pour mesieurs ase´s fyne. Mot! voecy l’aultre qui revyent. Vous ore´s de moy le maintient, Mais ne sonne´s mot quoy qui soyt. (216–21) You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Shut your mouth, go lie down, and try to look the part. I’m clever enough for these lords. Silence! Here comes the other one, back for more. Just listen to me and you’ll know what to do. But don’t say a word, no matter what. Although there is no longer an audience to justify the performance, the milleress continues to play the woman on top and adopts even more fully the discursive authority the role confers. As she becomes increasingly despotic, moreover, Lucas falls swiftly in line. He offers no retort to her commands but instead complies wordlessly with them, no doubt with the expectation of

Making History


the profits and pleasures he stands to earn. The faculty of speech thus dislocates rather than stabilizes gender roles in this scene. It enables the milleress to claim the role of head of household and to demote the miller to the status of self-effacing, biddable, taciturn wife. When M. de La Hanetonnyere enters the mill, the scene with his cousin more or less repeats itself. This time, however, the tenants are even more fully committed to the roles of idler and virago and produce, as a result, even more dramatic shifts in domestic power relations. From the start, the milleress takes a scornful tone with her husband: Il est confict Ceste journe´e sy a` dormir. ... Vous ne pove´s lever la teste! Tant dormir se n’est pas sancte´. (274–75, 278–79) He’s dedicated himself to sleep today. You can’t even lift your head! Sleeping so much can’t be healthy. Lucas in turn sharpens his tone of indignation and condemns his wife as an insolent shrew: “Tu me faictz tout le sang fremir! / Comme ceste sy me tempeste!” (“You make my blood curdle. Just listen to how this woman shrieks at me!”; 276–77). As soon as the landlord is gone, however, the miller again commends his wife for her performance. Just as he has amplified his rhetoric of blame, so he now generalizes his rhetoric of praise, extending it to include all women: Sa`, sa`! j’ay de l’or a` plain poing. Femmes sont fines a` merveilles. Quant l’homme faict grandes oreilles, Il ne luy en peult que bien prendre. (308–11) It’s amazing! I’ve got a fistful of gold. Women are marvelously cunning. When a man is all ears/listens docilely, he can take only good from it. We can safely assume the miller does not entirely believe what he is saying; after all, he has just witnessed, and profited from, the losses his landlords


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incurred from attending to his wife’s duplicitous voice. Perhaps realizing as much, he soon changes his tune. First, he warns the milleress of the injuries he will inflict on any man he finds naked with her. Later, as he spies on her trysts from his hiding place outside the mill, he threatens to murder her if she should betray his trust: “Par la mort bieu, sy je n’enclave / Ma dague dedens vostre sain!” (“By God’s own death, I’ll thrust a dagger into your breast [like a key into a lock]!”; 350–51). For now, however, the milleress successfully repels his attempts to claim proprietary rights over her body. Refusing to countenance his suspicions, she declares that that body is her own asset as much as his: J’aymeroys mieulx estre a` la mort Que fise de mon corps ofence. Mais aye´s en vous la science De survenir bri[e]f apre`s eulx. Se que je faictz c’est pour le myeulx. Ainsy vous le debve´s entendre. (322–27) I would rather die than have someone commit a transgression against my body. But have the wisdom to know you must reenter [the mill] soon after them. What I do is for the best. You must understand this. Discrediting the notion of masculine ownership implicit in his jealousy (and its metaphor of lock and key), the milleress reminds her husband that the danger she faces arises not from her failure to value or defend her honor but rather from the predatory aggression of the landlords and their own perverse sense of ownership, which extends from the mill to the peasants who occupy it. She concedes that she cannot pull off her ruse alone and that Lucas must play his part if she is to avoid being raped. At the same time, however, she insists that he must believe in, and adhere to, her leadership if he wishes to ensure her safety, secure his household, and achieve “le myeulx” for them both. In short, he can fulfill his duties as paterfamilias only by relinquishing that role to her. This arrangement works for a time, as the artful milleress is able to orchestrate her ruse, assuage her husband’s jealousy, and dodge the landlords’ advances with remarkable dexterity. When M. de La Papillonyere tries to lure her into bed, she stalls by proposing that they first eat the fine foods he has

Making History


brought her for a postcoital meal. The arrival of his cousin then enables her to hustle him into the poulier. When she tries the same trick with M. de La Hanetonnyere, however, she discovers that he is a far more aggressive lover. After he repeatedly presses her to satisfy his lust, she is obliged to feign desire in return, thereby triggering in Lucas an awareness of incapacity and loss: “A! je n’en puys endurer tant. / J’en pers sens, memoyre et la voys” (“Ah, I can’t take it anymore! I’m losing my mind, memory, and voice”; 427–28). Indeed, he has been so captivated by the spectacle of her seduction that he has forgotten his promise to rescue his wife and must swiftly leap into action and speech. Feigning drunkenness and giving voice to very real indignation, he hammers on the door, literally screams bloody murder (“ilz seront esgorge´s” [“I’ll slit their throats”; 432]), and obliges the horrified M. de La Hanetonnyere to hide in the hencoop. When Lucas gains entrance to the mill and finds his wife alone, he continues to perform the loutish drunk, presumably in order to terrorize the landlords further. He also clearly wishes to give his wife a taste of his anger, however, and to signal his recuperation of sovereign “voys.” First, he demands to be received as if he were a conquering hero: “Je veulx pomper” (“I want to strut about/be feasted”; 449). Then, when he spies the provisions the landlords have brought, he leaps upon them greedily, asking, “Or sa`, mon petit con dore´, / Qu’as-tu acoustre´ a` repaistre?” (“Now then, my gilded little cunt, what have you prepared for me to eat?”; 452–53). This crude moniker could be taken as a term of endearment, perhaps a winking acknowledgment of the milleress’s skill at acquiring gold. Yet it more plainly suggests contempt for a woman whose body has been claimed, if not actually seized, by gilded aristocrats. Certainly, little if anything remains of the gratitude, affection, and respect Lucas expressed for his wife when she used the lure of her “con” to line his pockets. He makes no move to include her in his feast but instead issues a peremptory command: she is to fetch Mme. de La Papillonyere so the lady can “avec moy faire chere” (464), a phrase that means “to share a meal” but also carries distinct erotic overtones (Dictionnaire, s.v. “chere,” def. C3c). The fact that the milleress instantly complies with this degrading task suggests that there may now be little room for her to negotiate or resist. Indeed, even her swift compliance does not seem to satisfy Lucas’s lust for power. As she moves toward the door, her husband issues yet another haughty command: “Mais, says-tu bien, / Ne me cesse pas de courir” (“And you know what? Run, don’t walk”; 466–67). If he intends his sexual innuendos and bullying manner to unnerve the landlords, he succeeds brilliantly.


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M. de La Papillonyere frets and fulminates over the injury that will be done to him through his wife, while his cousin strives to muzzle him, warning that if the truculent miller overhears them, “Il abaisera nostre ton” (“He will lower our voices for us”; 473). Lucas seems to be just as intent on silencing and humiliating his wife, however; and like M. de La Hanetonnyere, she seems to grasp that she is now in no position to talk back. Reduced to the status of a commodified object by both her husband and her landlords, the “petit con dore´” has now been conscripted to serve as the passive instrument of a revenge plot that itself entails the reification, circulation, and exploitation of women. As Lucas puts that plot into motion, he reveals the extent to which the farce requires feminine submission and silence in order to bring its narrative arc to completion.

“O, va! la mounyere” Even within the bounds of such an oppressively patriarchal plot structure, however, the milleress is able to realize a remarkable degree of agency and to extend elements of that agency to the landlords’ wives. True to form, she achieves these feats by means of both speech and silence, resistance and compliance. On the one hand, she tacitly obeys the orders Lucas gives her, serving as his procuress without a word of jealousy at his betrayal or anger at his hypocrisy. On the other hand, she shows how a messenger can deftly appropriate her message and turn it to other ends. Thus, when she appears at Mme. de La Papillonyere’s estate, she immediately goes off-book. Embellishing and rewriting Lucas’s crude metaphors, she uses her rhetorical flair to symbolically elevate her own social status: Il ne vous desplaist pas, s’y j’entre Et que je face a` l’arrive´e, Ma Damoyselle, la prive´e? Lucas a` vous se recommande Et vous prye d’une amour grande Que vous en vene´s quant et moy. (482–87) Will it displease you if I enter here and comport myself as your intimate friend, even though I have just arrived? Lucas commends

Making History


himself to you and implores you out of great love to come away with me now. If her tone suggests the respectful gallantry of an aristocratic lover, she is equally adept at quashing the married lady’s resistance by means of courtly indirection. When Mme. de La Papillonyere timidly asks where they are to go, the milleress responds suggestively but suavely and avoids any mention of the mill, which would evoke the class divide: “Aveques moy, / Plaisanter et mener le´esse” (“With me, to find pleasure and be transported by joy”; 488–89). As Mme. de La Papillonyere remains skittish, the milleress allays her fears by euphemistically promising release from “melencolye” (493) and “danger” (491). She then clinches the deal by agreeing to watch the time and ensure that the lady, who fears being “tence´e” (“scolded”) by “monsieur mon mary, mon maistre” (“my lord and husband, my master”; 496–97), will make it home before he does. Given the milleress’s tactical and verbal ingenuity, it is difficult to grant Andre´ Tissier’s claim that “the miller definitively calls the tune” here, whereas “his wife contents herself with obediently executing his orders” (Recueil 1:370n). On the contrary, the milleress is obviously determined to bend Mme. de La Papillonyere to her will, and we should consider what ulterior motives she may have for doing so. Certainly, by playing the courtly lover, she elevates herself discursively, demonstrating her ability to transcend her subaltern status by adopting aristocratic idioms. In some sense, she may also prove the superior strength of working-class morals by showing how easy it is to convince noblewomen to commit acts that she deems “une laidure / Et une honte difamable” (144–45). Her subsequent visit to Mme. de La Hanetonnyere merely exaggerates the moral contrast, as the lady leaps at the chance to dine with the miller and rather suggestively proclaims her desire to reward him for servicing her: “Je ne le se´roys guerdonner / Du grand service qui me faict” (557–58). Although the milleress can hardly claim virtue in the role of pander, there is certainly power to be found in pimping out the wives of men who sought to exploit her poverty and strip her of honor and choice. Lucas seems to assume that the injury has been done exclusively to him, but clearly his wife disagrees and longs for redress as much as he does. If she tries to moderate his more extreme threats against the gentlemen, she is just as ruthless in pursuing social equalization and retributive justice, and in proving how fully she can bend her superiors to her will. She does so in part by convincing the aristocratic ladies to share their elite spaces and shameful


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secrets with her (faire la prive´e) and by inducing them to sully themselves in ways she would never tolerate for herself: “J’aymeroys mieulx estre a` la mort” (322). And yet here, too, the victimization of women may conceal a surprising degree of female agency and solidarity. Both ladies long to be relieved from the obligations and liabilities marriage places upon them, and this is precisely what the milleress offers them: freedom from “danger,” which means not only “risk” or “peril” but also “a situation of constraint, submission, or dependence,” notably that found in marriage (Dictionnaire, s.v. “danger,” def. A3). Of course, the “grand service” the ladies receive is also a great betrayal and causes them to expose their disloyalty to their husbands without their knowledge. And yet we should remember that the milleress has engineered the ruse in such a way that the landlords cannot tencer their faithless wives without revealing their own sexual transgressions and their humiliating confinement in the poulier. They are, in effect, deprived of the faculty of speech that is their birthright as aristocratic men, as well as the right of rebuke they are accorded as sieurs, marys, and maistres. The milleress’s doublecrossing of the ladies should therefore be balanced against the victory she achieves over their husbands and over marriage itself—a silent contestation and subversion of male headship that, on the surface, appears to be a surrender to it. It is telling that the gentlemen are unable to hold their tongues throughout their ordeal and are defeated in the end by their failure to understand what the milleress knows quite well—that silence can be immensely powerful in situations of exceptional “danger.” Having emasculated themselves by taking refuge in the hencoop and cackling like hens, the landlords will now be obliged to keep their silence despite knowing that their wives have defied and humiliated them in the most injurious way imaginable. The greatest victory of the milleress can be glimpsed here: not only is she the only subject capable of consolidating and defending the peasant household against an abusive landed gentry; not only does she reorganize her own domestic situation, acquiring paradoxical forms of agency and speech by acceding to her husband’s supposedly greater claims on both; she also imagines and creates situations of greater livability for other women, ensuring, if only provisionally and situationally, that Mmes. de La Papillonyere and de La Hanetonnyere will be released from the constraints of marriage and that those constraints will now apply to their husbands instead.

Making History


In short, the milleress offers us a vision of marriage as an institution imbued with all the ironic tensions and dialectical reversals that animate Paul’s theory of marital debt as mutual enslavement, Deleuze’s theory of masochism as brokered submission, Butler’s theory of subjection as the ground of agency, and Halberstam’s theory of shadow feminism as willful passivity and tactical surrender. The wild and even lurid gyration of these dialectics in Le poulier suggests that farceurs and their audiences were readily able to conjure up queer visions of the body as a site of fetishized, prosthetic realness; of heterosexuality as a fluid set of identifications, desires, and acts; and (recalling the claim I made at the outset of this chapter) of the workingclass household as a privileged venue for performative disruption, social experimentation, and historical change. Admittedly, in one reading of the play, there is little positive change for its female characters, including the milleress. While she enters the stage brashly proclaiming her identity in song—“O, va! la mounyere”—and uses theatrical tricks to humble her husband and her would-be seducers, by the end of the play she is reduced to a state of wordless submission and is obliged to listen dumbly as the male characters sing a triolet that blames their folly on her. By the same token, we can certainly read these closing gestures as the play’s attempts to compensate for the historical reality that men were increasingly dependent upon their wives, that they could not sustain and defend their households without collaboration across gender lines, and that common women could, and often did, claim the status of domestic partners and deputy husbands. We might therefore take the miller’s encomium of female duplicity and his call for male docility as an alternative, buried moral for the play and a revelation of its shadow feminism: Femmes sont fines a` merveilles. Quant l’homme faict grandes oreilles Il ne luy en peult que bien prendre. Lucas here offers a counterpoint to his own closing aphorism, which makes no mention of the milleress’s gift of “tromperye,” and allows us to see that in fact (as Christopher Lucken suggests of farce generally), “Without her, there would be no play.” Far from being obstreperous and mutinous, shrill and insolent, however, the wife in Le poulier rules the stage not by defying her husband but by


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obeying him. In so doing, she displays a remarkable degree of tactical agency in a variety of realms: finance (“des escus de poys”), discourse (“je luy saray bien que respondre”), theater (“en leur faisant la ruze acroyre”), and of course the household itself (“nostre moulin,” which she saves by obtaining forgiveness of “les louages” and “les arierages”). For Lucas it is in his own interests to exploit her remarkable “finesse” in these realms, and once he has used her skills to his advantage, he demeans her rather viciously. And yet there is no denying that to achieve his final victory, he has been obliged, if only temporarily, to surrender his power and dignity and to allow his wife to act out alternatives to the supposedly inevitable situation of male headship in marriage.

Room for Maneuver It is in light of this sort of power exchange—a brokered, ludic surrender of subordinate to dominant that exposes the dialectical, transactional, and mobile nature of domination itself—that we should rethink the relationship between obedient and disobedient femininity in Serre Porte et Fin Verjus and Le poulier a` six personnages. We find a striking encapsulation of the gender trouble these plays sow in Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s popular feminist slogan, which I have cited as an epigraph: “Well-behaved women seldom make history” (“Vertuous” 20). Ulrich is a women’s historian of colonial America, and the slogan was originally a passing claim in a 1976 journal article devoted to feminine virtue in Puritan funeral sermons. The claim first entered popular culture in 1995 as the epigraph to a mainstream book on women’s history, was swiftly adopted as a rallying cry by feminist activists, and now (thanks to an enterprise known as one angry girl designs) can be found emblazoned on T-shirts, posters, buttons, magnets, mousepads, and bumper stickers throughout the English-speaking world (Ulrich, Well-Behaved xii–xxxiv). This rather astonishing trajectory points to the latent forms of opposition that often lurk within apparent quiescence. As Ulrich puts it, in a recent book that elaborates on what it means for women to make history, her “simple [we might say ‘well-behaved’] sentence . . . sat quietly for years in the folds of a scholarly journal,” only to reemerge twenty years later as a cri de coeur that “honks its ambiguous wisdom from coffee mugs and tailgates” and gives rise to interpretations and appropriations Ulrich could scarcely have imagined when she penned the words themselves (Well-Behaved xxvii). Divorced from

Making History


their original context, those words have been used to celebrate insubordinate femininity: misbehaved women who changed the course of history by defying norms of obedience, containment, and silence and who offer models of direct, vocal action against patriarchy. In fact, however, Ulrich originally argued something different, namely, that well-behaved women—the pious matrons whom Cotton Mather dubbed “the hidden ones” and who had long been overlooked or crudely caricatured by historians—achieved a remarkable degree of social and historical agency by means of the deputy husband role they were obliged to assume within their late-marriage nuclear households (“Vertuous” 20, citing Mather 31). That role enabled them to assert themselves in a variety of unexpected ways—by writing poetry, teaching theology, and even investing and managing capital in their husbands’ names. If these compliant women did not make history, the reason is less, for Ulrich, “because gender norms . . . constrained the range of female activity” and more because “history hasn’t been very good at capturing the lives of those whose contributions have been local and domestic” (Well-Behaved 227). Or as Ross Chambers might argue, these women made history not by advocating for “radical, universal, or immediate change,” actions that would have made them visible but would also have placed them at tremendous risk (xi). Instead, they implemented “local and scattered [changes]” that granted them “room for maneuver” in their highly regimented lives, that introduced “play” and “leeway” into “ ‘given’ situation[s] of power,” and that rendered “systems of control . . . vulnerable to disturbance,” including mass transformations of the sex-gender system itself (xi). The parallels between “the hidden ones” and the “simple sentence” that deplores their fate should be clear. Even as Ulrich, who was still a graduate student in 1976, quietly respected the protocols of academic decorum, she insistently exposed the gestures that the leaders in her field, nearly all of whom were men, had long used to render common women invisible to history. Her words in turn galvanized a movement of brash, honking, angry activists who entirely misconstrued her argument even as they illustrated a crucial corollary: a quiet, unobtrusive practice of contestation can sometimes motivate and enable a louder and more conspicuous one. Indeed, Ulrich’s point is not simply that feminists ought to recuperate the contributions well-behaved women have made to historical change. She also argues, as I do in this chapter, that we must altogether rethink gendered categories of compliance and defiance, which are nowhere near as transparent or mutually distinct as they may appear, especially when we are examining


Chapter 4

cultural artifacts from the deep historical past. As the role-playing and roleswitching games in Serre Porte et Fin Verjus and Le poulier a` six personnages illustrate, women could find self-expression and self-actualization in selfsuppressing roles, and could thwart heterosocial regimes as much by surrendering to their norms as by transgressing them. Thus, when the cobbler’s wife makes a man of her husband by enabling him to rescue her from the lascivious monk, she does so by ordering him about and effacing any clear differences between them. Similarly, when the milleress heeds the demand by her husband that she show more concern for household affairs, she does so by consigning him to a role of passive witnessing that enacts her own claims on discursive power—a power she retains even while performing wifely servility. Maneuvers such as these challenge the very presumption of difference between masculinity and femininity or between well-behaved and misbehaved women. At the same time, they offer feminine characters access to agency in contexts where open defiance of masculine authority would not be worth the risks. If we return to the question of how to interpret the sexual politics of farce, then, it should be easy to discern that the farce wife cannot simply be reduced to a metaphor for postlapsarian linguistic brokenness (as Lucken proposes) or to a transvestite embodiment of feminine vice that is used to silence real women (as Schoell would have it). On the contrary, the farce wives I have examined above are agents of queer disruption who expose the contested nature of sexual difference and who reveal the feminist infrapolitics that often lurks within the shadows of patriarchy. Lisa Perfetti is quite right to argue that farce exhibits social reflexivity through its heroines and demonstrates that “seemingly pervasive and controlling social forms . . . could be otherwise.” She would no doubt also embrace the claim I advance here, namely, that farce heroines made history by embodying the full range of oppositional practices that real women used to push back against normative limits and restrictive identities and to make their lives more livable in the process.


Against Protoforms

Only that historian will have the gift of fanning the spark of hope in the past who is firmly convinced that even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins. —Walter Benjamin

As I was completing this book and teaching a graduate seminar devoted in part to materials from Chapter 4, I received an inquiry from a student asking for clarification on critical terminology. The student, Sarah Eddings, who is pursuing a doctorate in medieval English literature, had frequently encountered the word “protofeminism” in scholarly publications and wanted to know what its specific valences were. Is “something that is protofeminist designated ‘proto-’ only because it comes before the twentieth-century feminist movement?” Or does the prefix instead indicate “a sort of imperfect gesture toward feminism,” a failure to conceive of sexual equality and difference in ways that today’s feminist scholars would consider intellectually legitimate and politically efficacious? Sarah further asked whether “the approach of our seminar,” which was devoted to counterideological performances of femininity in the premodern and early modern periods, was “feminist” or “protofeminist,” or whether this was “even a distinction worth thinking about.” In fact, these questions struck me as exceptionally worthwhile and have been on my mind ever since. Eventually, they led me to the realization that my book had all along aimed at a critique of what the Marxist political philosopher Cedric J. Robinson calls “proto-forms” (16): emancipatory social movements of the deep past that scholars have diminished and displaced in



order to grant superior historical literacy and vision to the present and to locate the fulfillment of history—its ultimate aim or form—in the future. I shall therefore use this afterword to formulate a polemical response to Sarah’s questions and to suggest how premodern and early modern source materials, including farces, might be used to cast doubt on protoforms and to revise the conception of history they imply—a conception that obviously also undergirds the distinctions among premodern, early modern, and modern. Thanks to keyword searches on Google Books and JSTOR, I soon discovered how right Sarah was about the ubiquity of “protofeminism,” which seems to be the most common of the protoforms and has truly massive historical reach, encompassing ancient philosophers and playwrights as well as modern radicals like Olympe de Gouges, Nicolas de Condorcet, Mary Wollstonecraft, the Grimke´ sisters, Sojourner Truth, and Ida B. Wells. Although the term seldom gets interrogated or defined, for the most part it does not seem to function as a value-neutral reference to temporal sequence. Rather, protofeminists are typically said to have forecast, with varying degrees of insight, a more liberated modernity they did not live to witness, and to have served as critical observers of a past we should feel fortunate to have left behind. Tellingly, scholars of the premodern and early modern periods are themselves occasionally labeled protofeminists, as if their focus on bygone eras had the effect of dislocating them in time and weakening their claim on politically engaged scholarship. No doubt, the protoform is meant to be an intellectually and politically responsible gesture: it aims to avoid anachronistically mapping the present onto the past, even as it valorizes historical figures who staked out new territory for us moderns to inhabit. The gesture poses immense problems of presentism, however, in that it is predicated upon teleological and progressivist conceptions of history; it neglects the political and infrapolitical tactics women have used to resist patriarchal domination; it fails to consider that women’s relative inconspicuousness in historical sources does not mark their absence from history itself; and it misrecognizes, in part by exaggerating the reach of, modern solidarity, emancipation, and direct-action movements. In order to see the presentist bias of the protoform more clearly, we might turn to archival studies that seek to challenge the traditional master narratives and terminological distinctions of women’s and working-class history. Thus, as we saw in Chapter 1, Samuel Cohn’s recent work on medieval social revolt has demonstrated that collective and coordinated resistance



movements were quite common in France, Flanders, and Italy between 1200 and 1425. These movements were often directed at expanding liberty and political participation, were sometimes cooperative and peaceful in nature, and frequently ended in negotiated settlements and political concessions rather than violent suppression. This evidence flies in the face of familiar claims that medieval revolts were impulsive, reactive, and reckless in nature and neither aimed at nor achieved the forms of class consciousness, mass mobilization, and social change that we find in modern revolutions. It would therefore be a mistake to label them protorevolutionary—or “hardly revolutionary,” as S. H. Rigby describes the 1381 English Peasants’ Revolt (323; qtd. in Cohn 248n19). Not only would the prefix (or Rigby’s qualifier) trivialize the social and political effects medieval subalterns achieved through collective action, it would also empty the word revolution itself of its meaning. After all, as Cohn notes, the modern events that most frequently fall under that rubric were themselves imperfectly revolutionary and in need of qualifiers. Thus, the French and Russian Revolutions “hardly swept aside all residues of previous anciens re´gimes in terms of institutions or personnel” (248n19). As for the involvement of women, Cohn finds scant evidence to support the traditional claim that they regularly appeared in the vanguard of medieval food riots and other popular uprisings (130–35). And yet as Sylvia Federico has shown, women were active participants in (and victims of ) the English Peasants’ Revolt, serving “as independent leaders and maintainers of rebel bands, as instigators of others’ violence, and as accomplices with their family members in criminal acts” (159). If, moreover, female rebels most often performed auxiliary functions, this was equally true of their male comrades and hardly diminishes the tactical efficacy and historical significance of their actions (167). Although there is “no evidence of the parceling out of women’s versus men’s interests in this context” (182), and therefore no signs of a coordinated effort to challenge masculinist domination, the English Peasants’ Revolt is also the wrong place for us to look. As Mary Hartman has argued, women’s resistance to, and transformation of, patriarchy occurred within the household first; and the well-documented participation of women in early modern social revolts reflects the forms of prior agency they had already begun to secure in the domestic sphere. By what standards would we deny the ordinary women who pursued greater autonomy and agency by working the weaknesses in the norms that bound them to husband, children, and home the right to be called feminists rather than protofeminists? And what



would those standards reveal about our own historical situatedness and privilege, to say nothing of the concessions to ideology that we, too, must make in our everyday lives? Given the evidence historians have assembled of women’s political and infrapolitical contestations of patriarchy, we would be wise to join Judith Bennett in rejecting the tendency, all too prevalent in contemporary women’s studies, to view the past as “a wretched abyss from which today’s feminists have luckily escaped” (39). We should instead attend to the remarkably stubborn persistence of what Bennett calls the “patriarchal equilibrium”: “Despite many changes in women’s experiences over the centuries, [their] low status vis-a`-vis men has remained remarkably unchanged” (4), a fact that is forcefully attested by the wage gap in England, which is nearly identical in the years 1363 and 2002 (82–83)! By shifting our focus to such long-durational continuities, we can begin to perceive the protoform not as the unfulfilled promise and dire warning of the past but as a mode of innovation—including sometimes radical innovation—within deeply entrenched historical and ideological conditions. Thus, for Robinson, the orthodox and heterodox Poverty Movements of later medieval Christianity should be considered—and called—socialisms, in that they entailed class consciousness and struggle and aimed at “the ultimate Marxian objective, the recovery of human life from the spoilage of degradation” (1). Indeed, they might also be called feminisms, in that, for Caroline Walker Bynum, they enabled pious women to “[appropriate] the vita apostolica with a vengeance” and to use their “sheer number and charismatic force” to present themselves, and be construed by men, as “an alternative to and a criticism of wealth, power and office” (Robinson 50, 51; citing Bynum 194–95). For Robinson, histories like Bynum’s show us that we must revise a Marxism (or, I would add, a women’s movement) that crafts a “pedestal for itself by transmuting all previous and alternative socialisms [or feminisms] into poorly detailed blueprints or dead-end proto-forms of itself” (16). Or put another way, we must always suspect the protoform of aiming at a reification and falsification of the past and a legitimation and mythologization of the present. The reasons for rethinking the protoform are thus not simply historical and intellectual but ethical and political as well. As Margaret Ferguson argues, the attempt to fix our “objects of study . . . in one time” (11)—and therefore the need to deny that “feminism,” as a nineteenth-century coinage, could possibly apply to a medieval author like Christine de Pizan—may put us “ ‘in sync’ with many pedagogical and disciplinary conventions” (12). And yet the



gesture also prevents us from seeing that time simultaneously folds and unfolds, as evidenced by the fact that our “postmodern university culture” includes “numerous [typically unrecognized] sites of ‘premodern’ misery right in its geotemporal midst” (16). Some of those sites are proximate—think of the staggering rates of food and housing insecurity at American public universities, especially among racial minorities and first-generation students (Crutchfield and Maguire). Other sites are farther removed from us and yet touch our lives (and bodies) directly. Ferguson asks us to consider the women who work in the maquiladoras of northern Mexico and make much of the clothing on our backs (16). Those women endure forms of social precarity and sexual violence that their medieval counterparts would easily have recognized; and yet they also serve an ideology of “global capital” that is purveyed to American consumers as “a ‘progressive’ temporal phenomenon” (17) used to extend security and prosperity beyond our borders. We therefore share the present (and the future) with workers for whom “historical process (as progress)” is an outrageous and oppressive lie (17), specifically with “women for whom feminism, in its ‘old’ Enlightenment sense of equal rights, may not come in time—may not come, that is, in our time, which is also theirs” (25). How, then, shall we begin to think our way around the reactionary presentism that so often inhabits the protoform? We might begin, as Ferguson suggests, with Christine de Pizan’s La cite´ des dames, which attests to currents of feminine dissidence and discontent lurking within, and sometimes emerging out of, the shadows of medieval courtly culture. Pizan launches this work by lamenting the loss of a chivalric ethos that formerly sought to shield defenseless women from slander but is now in steep decline. It seems unlikely, however, that she believes in her own nostalgic vision of the past; for she soon uses the loss of chivalry as a pretext for imagining a new, and far more radical, social movement that will enable women to defend themselves by narrating their own histories and disrupting historical teleologies. The plot of the text is well known: Pizan’s fictional avatar, Christine, is guided by a glorious female triarchy (Lady Reason, Lady Rectitude, and Lady Justice) as she transforms the annals of women’s history into the building blocks of an allegorical fortress and forges an all-female polity that will shoulder the task men now shirk: the safeguarding of women’s claims on education, virtue, equity, sovereignty, and sanctity. Ferguson finds in this “utopian vision of a female-ruled convent-empire . . . an alternative to [the oppressive] social arrangements” of both “past and present” (10), and therefore proposes that we consider Pizan “a feminist rather than a protofeminist thinker” (9).



She does not mean this as an ahistorical gesture, one that would “locate feminism in a hypothesis of timelessness or eternal return” (9). Instead, her aim is to challenge the assumption that “feminism has a single, linear history” (8) and that “it is not possible for a fifteenth-century woman to conceive something we might recognize as new” (11). Ferguson is not simply referring, here, to the innovations Pizan achieved in her own time and with respect to the hidebound traditionalism that is so often associated with the Middle Ages. She is also suggesting that by locating the city of ladies outside time and space—neither in the past nor in the present, “neither on earth nor in heaven but in discourse” (10)—Pizan exposes us to the novel intellectual and political possibilities of temporal “looping” (12), which can be used to undermine both medieval “providential thinking,” in all its ideological and patriarchal overdetermination, and modern “evolutionary historicist claims,” including the protoform itself (10). If there is anything I hope to have achieved in this book, it is to have shown that similar forms of ethical, political, and religious novelty abound in farce, a genre that has often been consigned to the trash bin of history but that displays an uncanny ability to challenge cherished conceptions of modernity as rupture and to make a repudiated past live again. There is indeed something radically innovative—if also entirely medieval—about the revelation in Andrieu de La Vigne’s Myste`re de saint Martin and its farces that a culture of fervid, obsessive belief generates its own antitheses, and that ritual pieties do not allay doubt but instead reinstall it at the very heart of religion itself. It is revealing, moreover, that this insight should come to us through subaltern figures who both reflect and refract the hallowed image of the saint, as well as our own modern fascination with medieval “credulity”: a dyspeptic miller who cannot seem to achieve forgiveness and freedom through the church and its sacraments but finds them flowing out of his own asshole instead; a devious beggar whose squandered miracle and contrived martyrdom remind us that the message of Christian charity is regularly betrayed by the individuals and institutions that preach (and profit from) it. These characters and the perverse perspective on religion they embody are not “deadend proto-forms” of modern secularism, materialism, or atheism. Rather, they attest to the fact that, in the fifteenth century, as in the Enlightenment for Alan Charles Kors, “It is a believing culture that generates its own antithesis, disbelief in the principles of its own belief” (79). The Myste`re de saint Martin and its farces may also show us the extent to which the disenchantment that supposedly characterizes modernity is anything but pure (Saler).



Rather, it is haunted by the very magical influences that it claims to have discarded (Josephson-Storm) and that often take the form of popular, selfreflexive spectacles that (not unlike Martin’s “messe auctentique”) ask spectators simultaneously to believe what they are told and to seek out the mechanisms used to cultivate their belief (Cook). To my mind, there is something equally radical at work in Serre Porte et Fin Verjus and Le poulier a` six personnages, which use the counterfeiting of identity that is the very essence of theater (especially in its cross-dressed traditions) to expose the contingency and mobility of gender and power and to enable women to exploit the tactical possibilities afforded them by the latemarriage household. On the one hand, it may seem outrageous to confer the label feminist on these farces: the one traffics in the stereotype of the shrew and at least initially takes pleasure in mocking and thwarting her selfassertion; the other stages the abject humiliation of a woman who must play the pawn in her husband’s sadistic and misogynistic game of class revenge. And yet I see no grounds for considering these plays antifeminist, nor does the term protofeminist do justice to their daring experimentation with gendered power exchange. Serre Porte et Fin Verjus assigns phallic authority to the cobbler only after repeatedly denying it to men generally, and only on the condition that he will use it to become a woman himself and struggle for the freedom and dignity of “his” sex. The protoform also fails to encapsulate the “shadow feminism” we encounter in Le poulier—a play in which gender is repeatedly dislocated from the body, in which agency is claimed most powerfully through “feminine” silence, and in which “masculine” hegemony can be restored only within the working-class household and only once the wife has established that the household’s very survival depends upon her tactical “finesse.” Together, these farces do not simply reveal an unsuspected truth about the past—namely, that “the household . . . was the single most important institution for realizing whatever measure of equality women in northwestern European-based societies have come to possess” (Hartman 273). They also show us a truth we may not fully recognize in our own world—that social contestation and change often take unobtrusive, invisible, and infrapolitical forms. Indeed, we have only to think of the uses of graffiti art and guerrilla horticulture in our increasingly gentrified and unlivable cities: unauthorized and typically authorless acts of creativity that are performed under cover of darkness and enable feminists, queers, the homeless, the undocumented, the invisible, the excluded, and the oppressed to announce their presence, protest their displacement, and claim their space (Marche; Baudry).



As James Scott argues, these defiant but discreet artists and gardeners are the heirs to medieval Carnival revelers, using their anonymity as a “channel for venting socially or politically disapproved views” in contexts where more direct action would be too risky (“Infrapolitics” 115). They are also heirs to my two farce wives, who are often obliged to lurk in the shadows and are denied the right to sign and profit from their own work, yet somehow also manage to perform queer acts of self-assertion and defiance. Finally (and appropriately, since it is the one acknowledged masterpiece of the farce genre), we might consider the remarkable novelties that arise in Maistre Pierre Pathelin—a play that is imbued with both grinding cynicism and perennial hope in a future justice. Living as we do an era when hope is thin on the ground, how salutary it is to encounter a play that simultaneously dismantles the prospects of human justice and articulates an ethics and politics that vitally depend upon it. This is not unreasoned belief—the blind trust in Providence that scholars have long linked to the credulous denizens of the so-called Age of Faith. It is, rather, an acknowledgment that hope is a form of labor—a strenuous, volitional practice that must constantly struggle to overcome misgivings, doubts, and defeats. As I have argued, the ethics of Pathelin has much in common with Jacques Derrida and John Caputo’s postmodern ethics, specifically the notion that justice is always to come and will always escape our grasp, yet demands that we hold ourselves accountable for our failure to achieve it. Pathelin’s ethics is not, however, a “poorly detailed blueprint” for postmodernity, nor should we think of the justice it demands as exclusively future oriented. Rather, to echo Walter Benjamin, who did not live to see the defeat of the fascists he could not escape and would not be surprised to see their resurgence throughout the world today, justice is a demand that the dead, too, be protected “from the enemy” (255). Or as Ferguson argues, herself citing Benjamin, “Hope belongs to the past as well as to the future” (14). We must therefore defend the students, workers, peasants, clerks, women, queers, and subalterns of all sorts who came before us—and consider how they defended and projected themselves on the festive stage in now-repudiated and unloved theatrical genres. These long-dead people—and their theater, which is still so full of life—may be able to guide us and reinvigorate our efforts as we struggle for hope and justice in our own time.


introduction Epigraph: Havel 109. 1. Farce is also associated with the Feast of Fools, though Max Harris urges us to distinguish carefully between the Feast’s orderly, sanctioned liturgy and disruptive performances staged outside the church (Sacred). 2. Christopher Pinet has hypothesized that printed farces were used to teach the illiterate to read and were a key tool in the rise of vernacular literacy in the early sixteenth century, especially among children, women, and the poor (“French”). 3. Symes notes that, although Habermas’s model of the public sphere “has been criticized and expanded many times,” and although “Habermas himself has modified his former conclusions, the central premise—namely, that the public sphere is the product of modernity—has held firm” (“Out” 280).

chapter 1 Epigraphs: Qtd. in Scott, Domination v; de Certeau 176. 1. The British Museum copy indicates that it was printed in Rouen by Jehan le Prest, who is known to have been active in the 1540s and 1550s (Tissier, Recueil 245). Citing August Beneke, Halina Lewicka assigns the play to the early sixteenth century (140), though Beneke indicates that this is a guess based on linguistic and stylistic clues (48). As Yan Greub has shown, the regional attribution is far more certain: the play emanates from High Normandy, and most likely from the present-day department of Seine-Maritime (247–49). 2. On Aristotle’s “vampirizing” of theatrical liveness, see Dupont. On the history of catharsis as a critical tool, see Guynn, “Translating.” 3. As Herman Pleij has shown, medieval accounts of the earthly paradise are characteristically negative and often include lists of human failings and forms of suffering that do not exist there. 4. For a recent history of the Basoches, see Bouhaı¨k-Girone`s, Clercs. On forensic rhetoric and the theater of the Basochiens, see Enders, Rhetoric 129–61. As Bouhaı¨k-Girone`s notes (27–28), Howard Graham Harvey’s classic study The Theatre of the Basoche is no longer fully reliable. 5. Bouhaı¨k-Girone`s offers an edition of the transcript as an appendix in “Proce`s.” Parenthetical citations refer to page numbers in that edition.


Notes to Pages 36–65

6. Estradeurs is paired with multriers (“murderers”) in the Burgundian Myste`re de saint Adrien. See Dictionnaire, s.v. “estradeur.” 7. Lave´ant cites a Dutch study that I am unable to read: Van Bruaene 252–55. Parsons and Jongenelen’s Comic Drama in the Low Countries contains one of the plays in question, along with a detailed analysis of its polemical content (246–77). 8. Portions of this section appear in Guynn, “Translating,” published by D. S. Brewer. 9. Jacques Ellul distinguishes between “integration propaganda,” which reinforces existing norms in the name of social conformity, and “agitation propaganda,” which subvert those norms in the name of social disruption. He believes, however, that propaganda was invented by technological modernity and did not exist in the medieval and early modern worlds. For a critique of this claim and an expansion of Ellul’s framework based on the Wakefield Cycle of mystery plays, see Szanto 94–144. 10. Parenthetical citations refer to line numbers in Alan Hindley’s edition of the Jeu, which is based on one of two surviving early print editions: BnF Re´s. Ye 1317. This text was likely published in 1512, soon after the stage premiere, by Pierre Le Dru, who was a frequent collaborator of Gringore’s (Hindley, “Introduction” 13). Hindley notes evidence that the Jeu was enduringly popular among Parisian readers. It appears in an inventory made in 1522 after the death of printer Jean Jehannot, who at the time held a stock of 750 copies. Hindley thinks this figure indicates not poor sales but rather a substantial print run of 1,200 to 1,250 copies. Less popular works received print runs of five hundred (14–15). 11. Louis was in residence in Blois at the time, making a visit to the capital unlikely (Hindley, “Introduction” 47n64). On elements of carnival ritual in the Jeu, see Hindley, “Pierre.” 12. I am grateful to Cynthia Brown for her assistance with this translation. 13. On Saint Balletrou, whose name is assigned to Panurge’s penis in Rabelais’s Pantagruel, see Merceron, Dictionnaire 160–61. Hindley suggests Balletreu may have worn a costume to signify his “priapic nature” (“Pierre,” 195). 14. Louis was, however, far less tolerant of open rebellion. See Koopmans, “University” 66–67. 15. Francis once declared, “In times of necessity all privileges cease, and not only privileges but common laws as well, for necessity knows no law” (qtd. in Knecht 360). His conception of necessity seems, moreover, to have been enormously flexible and self-serving. 16. According to tradition, the salamander could enter flames without being burned and could extinguish them at will. See Knecht 6–7. 17. I cite the poem, which is entitled “De Jehan Serre, excellent joueur de farces,” by line numbers in Ge´rard Defaux’s edition (Marot 107). 18. Not coincidentally, Gringore made the same move at around the same time and presumably for the same reasons. Koopmans speculates that Gringore, Jean Seroc, Jacques le Bazochien, and Jean du Pont-Alais all belonged to the same theater troupe; that the troupe responded to royal coercion by disbanding and selling its repertory to a publisher; and that the contents of that repertory form the compendium we now know as the Recueil de Florence (22–23). 19. Parenthetical citations refer to line numbers in Picot, Recueil 3:45–77. On the attribution of the play to the Conards, see Petit de Julleville, Re´pertoire 237; and Beck 54–55. 20. Parenthetical citations refer to line numbers in Beck’s edition. See The´aˆtre 125–44. 21. In later writings, Bourdieu responds to this sort of critique: “I do not see how relations of domination, whether material or symbolic, could possibly operate without implying, activating resistance. The dominated, in any social universe, can always exert a certain force, inasmuch

Notes to Pages 66–112


as belonging to a field means by definition that one is capable of producing effects in it (if only to elicit reactions of exclusion on the part of those who occupy its dominant positions)” (Bourdieu and Wacquant 80).

chapter 2 An early version of this chapter was published in Theatre Survey. See Guynn, “Justice.” Epigraph. Derrida, “Force” 971. 1. On dating Pathelin, see Tissier, Recueil 7:139–44; on debates surrounding the play’s authorship and origins, see 7:151–65. Andre´ Tissier believes the playwright was either a Parisian writing for a Norman audience or a Norman writing for a Parisian one (7:164). By contrast, Bruno Roy holds that the play is Angevin in origin and was likely written for the court of Rene´ d’Anjou by his fool Triboulet. Yan Greub’s lexicological study of the Manuscrit La Vallie`re (BnF fr. 25467) confirms an Angevin origin, though the play was soon reworked in a Norman dialect, specifically that of the present-day department of Seine-Maritime (295–302). The attribution to Triboulet is enticing if not fully convincing. 2. Darwin Smith’s study relies on an ingenious piece of detective work: Smith discovered that one of the extant manuscripts of Pathelin, Paris BnF 15080, which had been thought to postdate the earliest print editions, originally belonged to Paris BnF 1707, which can be securely dated to 1475–78. If the two manuscripts in fact form a whole (and the evidence for that claim is utterly compelling), this version of Pathelin would be one of the earliest and would reveal the “spirit” in which the play was “copied, read, and received in a period close to, or even contemporaneous with, its creation or staging” (11). 3. BnF fr. 25467 ought not to be confused with BnF fr. 24341, the Manuscrit La Vallie`re that I discuss in my Note on Sources, above. The two manuscripts were owned by the same eighteenth-century bibliophile, the Duke of La Vallie`re. They are otherwise unrelated, however, and are separated by some one hundred years. 4. Parenthetical citations refer to line numbers in Darwin Smith’s diplomatic edition of the Bigot manuscript. See Maistre 163–221. 5. For a divergent view of satire, see Parsons. 6. See, for instance, this passage from Thomas of Celano’s Life of Blessed Francis: “Frequently too, when he wished to call Christ Jesus, [Francis] would call him simply the Child of Bethlehem, aglow with overflowing love for him; and speaking the word Bethlehem, his voice was more like the bleating of a sheep” (Habig 301). On the many implicit references to Francis and the Franciscans in Pathelin, see Roy 19–31, 53–62. 7. This pun is everywhere in Derrida and Caputo. See especially Derrida, “Force” 971 (which is the source for my epigraph, above); and Deconstruction (which features a lengthy interview of Derrida by Caputo). 8. On the dating of the two sequels, see Tissier, Recueil 8:30–32, 136–39. 9. The distinction was admittedly a hazy one; see Aquinas, Summa 2a 2ae, q. 100, art. 2.

chapter 3 Epigraphs: Douglas 160; Butler, Excitable 147. 1. Austin remarks that performatives uttered on stage are “in a peculiar way hollow or void” (How 22) and are not “seriously meant” (Philosophical 241). Enders counters that theatrical utterances and actions can hardly be said to lack serious, performative, and intentional


Notes to Pages 113–130

force: “If an utterance and, more important, an action during a play is meant as anything at all, that is because it is both meant and performed by someone and understood by someone else. It is an example of neither ‘intentionless meaning’ nor intentionless action” (Murder 9, citing Dowling). 2. Throughout, I distinguish between “mystery play” and “mystery production.” By the latter, I mean Le myste`re de saint Martin and its farces as they were executed on stage, along with the various rituals and customs that attended that staging and that are described in a proce`s-verbal included with the manuscript. 3. On the embedding of farces and jongleries in mystery plays and on the blending of sacred and profane in medieval festive and theatrical cultures, see Dominguez, “Myste`re”; Knight, “Sacred”; Longtin, “Myste`re”; Merceron, “Couple”; and Rousse, “Jongleries.” 4. On mystery play manuscripts (including this one), see Hamblin, “Performing.” On the evidence for staging practice found in the proce`s-verbal, see Runnalls. 5. Parenthetical citations of the mystery play refer to Duplat’s edition and cite either line numbers (for speeches) or page numbers (for stage directions and the proce`s-verbal). Duplat does not include the farces, which I cite from Tissier, Recueil. 6. This story, which derives from the Glossa Ordinaria, offered mystery play authors spectacular opportunities for depicting Judas’s death. See Dominguez, Sce`ne 161–62, 188; Bayless 124–28. 7. As E´lyse Dupras has shown, mystery plays strive to avoid Manichaeism by demonstrating that devils are subject to God’s will (265–78). However, the rise of demonology in the late Middle Ages can also be linked to a resurgence of dualist tendencies that were suppressed in earlier periods by the triumph of Anselmian theodicy (Boureau 68–92). 8. Cocuce is ruled over by Audigier, whose father died on a dunghill and released his soul through his asshole (Conlon 34–35). 9. Versions of the indicative formula can be found in La confession du brigand au cure´ (Koopmans, Recueil de Florence 173–79, at line 175); La confession Rifflart (Droz and Lewicka 55–62, at lines 188–90); and L’abbesse et Soeur Fessue (Tissier, Recueil 11:235–89, at line 343). 10. Delumeau’s claim has been hotly contested, notably by Aron Gurevich: “Those who speak of an ‘incomplete’ Christianization or even of an ‘unchristianized’ Europe at the end of the Middle Ages obviously proceed from an implicitly assumed model of ‘pure religion.’ But there are certainly other, more historically reliable conceptions of Christianity, including an ‘impure’ religion, not devoid of ambiguity” (220). 11. For analyses of this passage, see Randall, Building 34–35; and Regalado 114–15. For Gui de Mori’s original text, see Valentini 108–14. 12. Molinet makes much of la motte as a sexual metaphor in his parodic sermon Saint Billouard (Koopmans, Recueil de sermons 105–32). Sexually active women often shaved their genitals in this period, which would have made the pubic mound especially prominent. See the Sermon joyeux des barbes et des brayes (Koopmans, Recueil de Sermons 77–101), especially lines 81–82. 13. Masten treats English sources only, though his argument could easily be extended to French ones. On the fundament in Rabelais, see Hampton (with the proviso that I disagree with several of Hampton’s claims). On the salutary and salvific effects of excretion in French medicine, theology, and theater, see Persels. 14. As Tentler notes, the relative ease of penance under an attritionist regime does not diminish its ideological force: “A more flexible discipline . . . makes the institution viable and more likely to succeed in influencing behavior” (“Summa” 113).

Notes to Pages 131–147


15. The in ludo concern arises regularly in sacramental theology, notably with regard to baptism. See Colish 91–226 (on “Fictive Baptism”). 16. Holy Orders focuses on gestural rituals and consecratory prayers. See Villien 235–75. 17. On the devil as “God’s Ape,” see Clark 80–93. 18. There is a third celebration of the Mass prior to the insertion point for Le meunier, but the liturgy is interrupted before Communion can occur. 19. See also Soule, who asserts that mystery plays involve the spectator in “a divided awareness, a sufficient shifting of disbelief from the foreground of awareness to allow for a pretended belief to occur simultaneously” (220). 20. See also Sofer, who discusses the semiotics and phenomenology of theatrical properties in relation to Catholic and Reformed theologies of the Mass (31–60). For a reading of special effects, especially pyrotechnics, in light of States’s theater phenomenology and Bruno Latour’s “flat” metaphysics, see Guynn, “Binocular.” 21. To the best of my knowledge, none of the music for the mystery production has survived, though there was apparently a great deal of it. The proce`s-verbal indicates that the production called for a vast array of instruments: “trompetes, clerons, bussines, orgues, harpes, tabourins et aultres bas et haulx instrumens” (120). 22. Although extradiegetical speeches are rare in Saint Martin, they are common in the theater of the period, as are various other methods for breaking stage illusion. See Diller 109–59; Enders, Murder 163–83; Longtin, “Prompting.” 23. Medieval theologians insisted that the Eucharistic wafer be produced from the whitest flour available, in part because they worried believers would imagine that the ingestion of the host caused it to commingle with the filth of the gut. This was a heresy known as stercoranism. See Rubin 38–42, 101–2 (on wafer production); 25, 37–38, 328, 337–38 (on digestion). See also Camporesi; Morrison 79–82; Persels. 24. For Kathleen Biddick, the Eucharist was not only the guarantor of the medieval symbolic order and “a ‘classical’ body in the Bakhtinian sense” but also a wholly ambiguous symbol of the corporeal grotesque: “a body which upset any fixed gender binary, a fluid body that troubled any container” (410). Claire Sponsler makes a similar observation about the tortured and crucified body of Christ in English mystery cycles: “No longer pure and intact but now sullied and open,” “Christ’s violated body” “becomes a possible source of pollution and danger, and, like the violence to which it is prey, it becomes difficult to control or contain” (Drama 149). 25. The question of generic attribution has sometimes been raised with regard to L’aveugle et le boiteux: is it a farce or a morality play? Louis Petit de Julleville finds hints of “irreverence and unbelief” (Come´die 103) in L’aveugle, speculates that it was meant to “ridicule the miracles of Saint Martin” (Histoire 2:73), and concludes that it is a farce used to entertain the rabble, who must then be saved by compensatory gestures of faith. Countering this claim, Alan Knight argues that L’aveugle is a morality play in which the beggars stand as allegories of spirit and flesh: “The blind man is the human soul untouched by grace, yet having a natural inclination toward the light. The cripple is the physical body unwashed of its sins, with its natural tendency to avoid spiritual things. When the grace of God strikes, like the lightning on the road to Damascus, the soul welcomes it with joy, but the body resents the loss of its sinful pleasures” (Aspects 8). Knight then uses this reading to assert that comic theater “was not opaque to the transmission of serious doctrine; it was a clear medium through which the community could see and experience its values” (8). While I share his view that comic genres were heavily inflected by religious doctrine, Knight is in my view too quick to allegorize “irreverence and unbelief”


Notes to Pages 148–191

out of La Vigne’s play, to assign transparency to stage fictions, and to neutralize the threat embodied by the lame beggar, who reminds the audience how easy it is to mistake fraud for holiness. Obviously, I also endorse Petit de Julleville’s claim that L’aveugle et le boiteux is a farce.

chapter 4 Epigraph: Ulrich, “Vertuous” 20. 1. Given that many farces feature no female characters at all, the woman on top is more ne plus ultra than sine qua non. 2. In fact, women appeared more frequently on the early French stage than Clark and Sponsler allow. On female performers in medieval France, see L. Muir, “Women.” 3. On undoing gender in late medieval French and English texts devoted to marriage, see Burger. 4. Enders has prepared a brilliant, stage-worthy English adaption of this play. See Farce 279–310 (“Monk-ey Business, or, A Marvelous New Farce for Four Actors, to Wit, the Cobbler, the Monk, the Wife, and the Gatekeeper”). 5. Serre Porte is not explicitly identified as a mendicant and certainly fails to show any attachment to poverty. He almost certainly is one, though, given his lack of spatial confinement, his habitual role as confessor, and his claim on the authority to forgive reserved sins. 6. There are several lacunae in the original text, which I have emended with guidance from Koopmans, Recueil de Florence 471n90, and Tissier, Recueil 9:180n. 7. As I have tried to indicate with my translation (drawing inspiration from Enders, Farce 308–9), the passage is rife with sexual, and especially homoerotic, innuendo. Baston and frapart are metaphors for the penis (Bidler 58, 305), visage and dos for the buttocks (637, 212). A frere frapart is an abusive or dissolute monk (306), presumably one who misuses his member. 8. I have punctuated the original text for readability and, with guidance from David Hult, have modified the translation. Harrison takes “petit pont” to mean the bridge that connected the Latin Quarter to the ˆIle de la Cite´; however, it could also refer to the point, or “size,” of the fish—small, like a woman. 9. On the confessional box, see Haliczer 100. On women’s claims to spiritual autonomy, see Ranft. On the religious and primary education of girls, see Carter 172–97. 10. Enders has extensively studied the term contrefaire, its rich semantic field, and its use for theatrical metacommentary. See especially “Dramatic.” 11. Mario Longtin and Richard J. Moll have published (and staged) a fantastic English translation of this play. 12. Deleuze argues that sadism and masochism must not be conflated, as their relationship is “one of analogy only” (46). 13. Psychoanalytic theory has often been unwilling to fully acknowledge female masochism, because it has perceived women’s subordination as socially normative and has been reluctant to grant them the perverse but heroic forms of abdication it assigns to men. For Theodore Reik, the female masochist is a “Ganymede” and is capable only of “anemic” or “attenuated” fantasies (216). By contrast, the male masochist has “the wildness of the chained Prometheus” (216) and is “a revolutionist of self-surrender. The lambskin he wears hides a wolf. His yielding includes defiance, his submissiveness opposition. Beneath his softness there is hardness; behind his obsequiousness rebellion is concealed” (156).

Notes to Pages 192–226


14. The discordance is unlikely to be a transcription error, as it is repeated in the cast list for another play in the Manuscrit La Vallie`re, the Monologue de Me´moire (Tissier, Recueil 1:331n). 15. Stallybrass cites Antony and Cleopatra 5.2 (in which Cleopatra nurses an asp), Cymbeline 2.2 (in which Iachimo glimpses a mole on Imogen’s breast), and Othello 4.3 (in which Emilia “unpins” Desdemona, who then refuses a nightgown). We can add to these the many medieval cases Clifford Davidson has documented. Davidson discusses how nudity was simulated and assumes naked bodies were rarely shown onstage. I would agree with Stallybrass, however, that the question of what audiences actually saw in disrobing scenes is less significant than the ways in which simulated nudity “required [them] to speculate upon a boy actor who undresses, and thus to speculate upon the relation between the boy actor and the woman he plays” (“Transvestism” 64). 16. Sex behind screens seems to have been fairly common on the early French stage. On the simulation of intercourse in farce, see Tissier, “E´vocation.” 17. On the reterritorialization of bodies in farce and fabliau, and the ways in which feminine bodies manage to speak out against masculine appropriation, see Burns 27–70. 18. Bidler notes that cas can also refer to the penis (107–8); however, to disengage the obscenity from the name requires an act of discursive severing that evokes castration, as in Be´roalde de Verville: “Frere Lucas . . . avoit mal au chose, et on le luy coupa, si que le cas lui estant oste´ il n’est plus que frere Lu” (“Friar Lucas had a disease in his thing, so they cut it off, such that, with his cas removed, he was no more than Brother Lu”; Verville 164, qtd. in Bidler 401). 19. On the ways in which the anus proliferates sexual and social differences in early modern English comedies, see Stockton. 20. On the emasculating effects of excessive speech in Renaissance literature, see P. Parker. On Caquette, the patron saint of garrulous wives, see Merceron, Dictionnaire 354–57. 21. Aquinas does not explicitly mention peasants, though Freedman notes “a certain resemblance to classical slavery in [his] thoughts concerning the peasants of his time” (83).

afterword Epigraph: Benjamin 255.

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absolution, 53, 83, 87, 89, 96, 105, 106, 111–13, 118, 120, 121, 123, 124, 131, 143, 149, 162, 163, 165, 171, 173, 181 absurdists, 70 actors, 12, 18, 33–41, 52–58, 73, 100, 102, 125, 133, 134, 137, 139, 151–54, 174, 175, 182, 192– 93, 196, 233n15 Adorno, Theodor, 28, 84 Ahearne, Jeremy, 65 Alan of Lille, 197 Albertus Magnus 113 allegory, 67, 152, 223, 231–32n25 Un amoureux, 154 L’ante´christ et trois femmes, 155 Aquinas, Thomas, 99, 126, 189, 199, 233n21 Arquemination, 155 Augustine, Saint, 85, 99, 129 Austin, J. L., 112, 148, 229–30n6 Bakhtin, Mikhail, 24–26, 29, 74, 86, 231n24 Balletreu, Saint, 228n13 Basoche/Basochiens, 33–34, 39, 41, 51, 56–58, 153, 227n4 Baude, Henri, 52 Beam, Sara, 8, 29, 36, 53, 57, 58 Beaumarchais, Pierre, 22 Beck, Jonathan, 64 Beckwith, Sarah, 111, 114, 135 Beneke, August, 227n1 Benjamin, Walter, 226 Bennett, Judith, 222 Biddick, Kathleen, 231n24 blasphemy, 101, 107, 110–15, 149–50 Bocquemont, Guillaume, 36 Bouchet, Florence, 147–48 Bouchet, Jean, 51 Bouhaı¨k-Girone`s, Marie, 8, 33–34, 36, 37, 153, 227n4, 227n5

Bourdieu, Pierre, 65, 228–29n21 Bristol, Michael, 28 Brown, Cynthia Jane, 42, 48, 50 Brown, Pamela Allen, 7 Brussels, 39–40 Burgundy, 36–38, 113 Burke, Peter, 9 Butler, Judith, 155, 175, 183–84, 190–91, 193, 215 butterflies, 198 Bynum, Caroline Walker, 222 canon law, 121, 122, 129, 162, 173, 187–90 capifol, jeu du, 59–64 Caputo, John, 72, 92–97, 226, 229n7 Carnival, 1, 8, 16, 24–33, 40–51, 57–59, 74, 86, 127, 148, 226, 228n11 Catholicism, 39, 60, 61, 70–71, 111, 113, 115, 125, 132, 183, 231n20 Celano, Thomas of, 229n6 censorship, vii, 11, 13, 30, 32, 34–35, 40, 56–59 Chambers, Ross, 217 Charles VII, 34–36, 38 Charles VIII, 52 Chartier, Roger, 27, 55 Chastelain, George, 127 Le chaudronnier, le savetier et le tavernier, 110 cherubs, 1, 4–5 Chiffoleau, Jacques, 114–15, 125–26, 140–41 Chomsky, Noam, 11 Clark, Robert L. A., 153, 232n2 clergie, female, 18, 178–84 Cohen, Esther, 95–96 Cohn, Samuel, 29–30, 220–21 colle`ges, repression, 53, 57 Conards, 30–31, 58, 59, 228n19 confession, 105, 106, 111–30, 162, 163, 166, 172–73, 176–84, 186, 198, 201, 232n5, 232n9



La confession du brigand au cure´, 112, 230n9 La confession Margot, 112, 113 La confession Rifflart, 112, 113, 230n9 Cons, Louis, 94, 95 Coppieurs et lardeurs, 102, 153 costumes, 30–31, 153, 167, 228n13 Counter-Reformation, 183 Crespin, Jean, 62 cross-dressing, 17, 151–53, 169–73, 175–76, 182, 184, 192, 193, 225 Cruche, Monsieur, 52–54 Le curia, 155 Cusa, Nicholas of, 28 cynicism, 5, 7, 27–28, 86, 108, 183, 226 Dagobert I, 37 Danse macabre des femmes, 179–81 Darnton, Robert, 26 Davidson, Clifford, 233n15 Davis, Jessica Milner, 9–10 Davis, Natalie Zemon, 8, 151–53, 174 deceiver deceived, 13–14, 21, 22, 62–63, 74– 82, 91, 198, 202 de Certeau, Michel, 15–16, 23, 27, 32, 65 Deleuze, Gilles, 188, 191, 200, 215, 232n12 Delumeau, Jean, 124, 230n10 demons, 78, 117, 118, 123, 134, 230n7 Denery, Dallas G. II, 135 Derrida, Jacques, 69, 93–94, 148, 226 devils. See demons Dijon, 33–40 Dolan, Frances, 164, 174 Dominguez, Ve´ronique, 147 Douglas, Mary, 149 Dragonetti, Roger, 87 Duffy, Eamon, 142 Duplat, Andre´, 147 Dupras, E´lyse, 230n7 Eagleton, Terry, 25 Eco, Umberto, 25 effeminacy, 154, 173, 174, 199 Elliott, Dyan, 188, 190 Ellul, Jacques, 228n9 Enders, Jody, 8, 9, 13, 14, 19, 112, 169, 229n1 England, 36, 157, 222 Epiphany, 39, 79; plays, 53, 57 Erasmus, 28, 126 eschatology, 5, 16, 69–108 passim, 109 Eucharist, 17, 115, 116, 130, 135–42, 149, 231nn23–24

executions, 61–62 extradiegetical speeches, 231n22 faith, 5, 11, 28, 62, 67, 70, 73, 82, 90, 101, 107, 181–83, 226, 231n25; doubt and, 15, 109–50 Faivre, Bernard, 48 farts, 4–5, 19, 22, 24, 67–68, 119, 144, 196 Feast of Fools, 227n1 Federico, Sylvia, 221 femininity, 23, 153–60, 165–73, 181, 199–212, 216, 218; male, 174–78; unruly, 178–84 feminism, 15, 17, 157, 174–78, 219, 222, 224, 225; antifeminism, 156; protofeminism, 219–23, 225; shadow, 184–92, 215, 225 Ferguson, Margaret, 222–26 Fiske, John, 10, 11 flatus. See farts fools’ play. See sottie Forget, Maryse, 97 forgiveness, 87–92, 102–4, 106, 108, 113, 114, 118, 121, 124, 130, 163, 165, 216, 224, 232n5 Foucault, Michel, 65–67 Francis I, viii, 18, 33, 51–63, 228n15 Francis, Saint, 85, 229n6 Freeman, Elizabeth, 184 Gal, Susan, 65, 67 Le galant qui a fait le coup, 154, 155 Ganay, Jean, 41 Garber, Marjorie, 175 Le garc¸on et l’aveugle, 12 Gardiner, Michael, 86 gender, 1, 17, 43, 44, 151–218, 225, 231n24, 232n3 Le gentilhomme et Naudet, 16, 19–27, 55, 66 Gerson, Jean, 126–27, 142, 179 Glossa Ordinaria, 230n6 The Golden Legend, 115 Gospel of Nicodemus, 129 Gospels, 7, 74, 90, 94, 95, 97, 130 graffiti art, 225 Graus, Frantisˇek, 122 Greene, Thomas, 126 Greub, Yan, 18, 227n1, 229n1 Gringore, Pierre, 16, 18, 33, 41–51, 66, 228n18 guerrilla horticulture, 225 guerrilla theater, 56 Gui de Mori, 127 Gurevich, Aron, 230n10 Habermas, Ju¨rgen, 11, 75, 215, 227n3 Halberstam, Jack (Judith), 17, 185, 215

Index Haliczer, Stephen, 162 Hall, Stuart, 7 Hanawalt, Barbara, 165 Harris, Max, 32, 34, 227n1 Hartman, Mary S., 17, 156–58, 182–83, 221, 225 Havel, Va´clav, 7, 10 Hayes, E. Bruce, 9, 26–27 Heers, Jacques, 70–72, 83 Henry VIII, 56 heresy, 57, 59, 61–62, 113, 118, 132, 179, 231n23 Herman, Edward, 11 Hindley, Alan, 228n10 Hobbes, Thomas, 28 Hochner, Nicole, 41 Holy Communion. See Eucharist Holy Orders, 231n16 household, 151–218; codes, 156, 160, 188; early marriage, 156; head of, 17, 155, 185, 188, 202, 209, 214, 216; late marriage, 156–58, 182, 217; northwestern European family pattern, 156–57, 225; queer, 17, 155, 158, 163– 69, 173, 215, 218, 225 Howell, Martha, 156 Hutcheon, Linda, 84, 95, 103 Infanterie Dijonnaise, 1–5 infrapolitics, 15, 32, 65, 67, 220, 222, 225–26; festive stage and, 33–40 Ionesco, Euge`ne, 70, 92 Italian Wars, 33, 40–51 Jacques le Bazochien, 53–55, 228n18 Jameson, Fredric, 10, 72 Jolles, Andre´, 89 Judgment Day, 7, 47, 73, 84–95, 118, 180 Julius II (Pope), 42, 43, 45 justice, 7, 14, 16, 28, 48–50, 52, 54, 69–109, 127, 146, 200, 203, 213, 226 Justice, Steven, 113, 130, 141, 142, 146 Kael, Pauline, 175 Kempe, Margery, 164, 190–92 Kempis, Thomas a`, 28 Kinser, Samuel, 29 Knight, Alan, 71, 72, 83, 231–32n25 Koopmans, Jelle, vii, 8, 9, 12–15, 18, 32, 95, 147, 149 Kors, Alan Charles, 224 Lave´ant, Katell, 8 La Vigne, Andrieu de, 16, 109–50, 224–25, 231–32n25


law/law enforcement, 18, 25, 29, 34, 49, 74, 75, 80, 82, 87–89, 92–98, 109, 155, 191, 196, 200, 228n15. See also canon law Le Goff, Jacques, 30 Le Vasseur, Girard, 54 Lewicka, Halina, 227n1 Lipton, Emma, 164 literacy, 33, 37, 38, 220, 227n2 liturgy, 6, 17, 39, 105–10, 114, 132, 133, 137–42, 227n1, 231n18 Lochrie, Karma, 191 Loughlin, Gerard, 189, 190 Louis XII, 33, 41–44, 50–52 Louise of Savoy, 54, 56 Lucken, Christopher, 151, 152, 215, 218 Lutheranism, 57, 60, 61, 63 Macherey, Pierre, 10 Maistre Pierre Pathelin, 7, 8, 16, 28, 69–109, 226, 229nn1–2 Maıˆtre Mimin qui va a` la guerre, 154, 155 Mannoni, Octave, 137–38 Manuscrit La Vallie`re (BnF fr. 24341), vii, 58, 59, 185, 229n3, 233n14 Manuscrit La Vallie`re (BnF fr. 25467), 73, 86, 102, 229nn1, 3 Mardi Gras. See Carnival marital debt, 18, 187–90, 215 Marot, Cle´ment, 54 marriage, 31, 37, 50, 151–58, 164–65, 171, 184, 187–91, 214–15, 225 Martinville de Rouen, 154 martyrdom, 62, 78, 190, 224 masks, 1–5, 7, 14–15, 24, 30–31, 38 masochism, 191, 200, 208, 215, 232n12; female, 184–92, 232n13; male, 232n13 Masten, Jeffrey, 129 Mather, Cotton, 217 maybugs, 198, 199 Mazouer, Charles, 26, 85 La Me`re Folle de Dijon. See Infanterie Dijonnaise messianism, 4, 5, 7, 69–109 Mills, Robert, 196 Mimin le goutteux et les deux sourds, 110–11 Le Ministre de l’Eglise, 16, 59–67 misogyny, 43, 151–52, 185, 225 Mitchell, Timothy, 65, 67 Molinet, Jean, 127–29, 230n12 Mollat, Michel, 98 Monluc, Jean de, 142



moralite´, 5, 23, 34, 41, 42, 45–49, 52, 53, 59–67, 71, 73–74, 231n25 morality plays. See moralite´ moths, 198 Muir, Edward, 29 Myste`re de saint Adrien, 228n6 Myste`re de saint E´loi, 35 mystery plays, 5, 17, 35–38, 109–50, 224, 228n9, 230nn2–7, 231nn19, 21, 24 Nicholls, David, 61, 62 Le nouveau Pathelin, 16, 103–7 Ockham, William of, 28, 126, 135 Parker, John, 111, 113 parody, 15, 16, 24, 39, 74, 84, 86, 94, 95, 102; sacred, 16, 71, 82–95, 103, 110, 118, 124 Parousia. See Second Coming Passion de Semur, 147 Paston, Elizabeth, 190, 191 Paul, Saint, 60, 61, 63, 86, 101, 108, 187–89, 191, 215 Payen, Jean-Charles, 22 peasants, 20, 22, 24, 30, 42, 45, 50, 60, 67, 80, 83, 94, 98, 187, 192, 198–200, 210, 214, 221, 226, 233n21 penance, 17, 103–6, 111, 115–22, 124, 129, 149, 162, 171, 178, 183, 184, 230n14 Perfetti, Lisa, 152, 218 performatives, 47, 112, 133, 143, 148, 149, 167, 229–30n1 Peter, Saint, 99, 129–30, 146, 167 Petit de Julleville, Louis, 54, 231–32n25 Philip II, 39–40 Philip the Bold, 37 Philip the Good, 36, 38 Pinet, Christopher, 227n2 Pizan, Christine de, 222–24 Pleij, Herman, 227n3 Pont-Alais, Jean du, 54–55, 228n18 popular culture, 7, 9, 10, 24, 27, 29, 52, 102, 216 Pougin, Arthur, 69 Le poulier a` six personnages, 17, 158, 185–87, 192–218, 225 propaganda, 32, 33, 40–51, 228n9 protofeminism. See feminism Quatre femmes, 181, 183

Rabelais, Franc¸ois, 9, 29, 102, 126, 228n13, 230n13 Rabustel, Jehan, 35–36, 38 Randall, Michael, 127–29 rape, 162, 165, 189, 210 Rawls, John, 75 rebellion, 6, 12–14, 22, 23, 29–30, 50, 96, 142, 151–55, 161, 221–22, 228n14, 232n13 Recueil Cohen. See Recueil de Florence Recueil de Florence, vii–viii, 9, 18, 228n18 Recueil du British Museum, vii, viii, 19, 227n1 Recueil Trepperel, vii–viii Reformation, 16, 39, 61, 62, 110 Reid, Dylan, 30–31 Reik, Theodore, 232n13 Reinburg, Virginia, 142 Renaudet, Augustin, 126 La re´surrection Jenin a` Paume, 110 revolution. See rebellion Rey-Flaud, Bernadette, 69, 70 Ribaud Marie´ ou Malgre´ Jalousie, 112, 113 Rigby, S. H., 221 risus paschalis, 6 ritual, 4, 17, 23, 25, 29–32, 40, 41, 61–62, 100, 103, 106, 110–15, 121–41, 143, 147, 148, 150, 156, 178, 188, 224, 228n11, 230n2, 231n16 Robinson, Cedric J., 219–20, 222 Rouclif, Alice de, 190, 191 Rousse, Michel, 73, 74, 102 Roy, Bruno, 229n1 sadism, 183, 190, 201, 225, 232n12 safety valve theory, 12, 25 Saint Billouard, 230n12 salamander, 52, 228n16 Sales, Roger, 25–26 Salih, Sarah, 187–88, 190, 191 satire, 15, 16, 18, 24, 26, 28–30, 33, 34, 39, 48, 51, 55, 60, 66, 71, 74, 84, 94, 95, 97, 98, 109, 122, 124, 147, 182, 229n5 Savenot, Jehan, 36–37 Le savetier, le sergent et la laitie`re, 96 Schechner, Richard, 56 Schoell, Konrad, 151–52, 218 Schwarz, Kathryn, 157 Scott, James C., 15–16, 23, 31–32, 38, 40, 65– 67, 201, 226 Screech, Michael, 126 Second Coming, 90 Sermon joyeux des barbes et des brayes, 230n12 Sermon on the Mount, 91, 180

Index Seroc, Jean, 53–55, 228n18 Serre, Jehan. See Seroc, Jean Shakespeare, William, 193, 233n15 Silverman, Kaja, 188 slavery, 67, 188, 189, 199, 215, 233n21 Smith, Darwin, 73, 229n2 Smith, Susan, 149 Les sobres sotz, 58 Sottie des coppieurs et lardeurs, 153 sotties, vii, 23, 34, 41–45, 48, 49, 52, 53, 58, 102, 153 Sponsler, Claire, 149, 153, 231n24, 232n2 Stallybrass, Peter, 25, 86, 154–55, 193, 233n15 States, Bert, 138 Stuart, Elizabeth, 188 Summa “Induent Sancti,” 189 Symes, Carol, 11–12, 227n3 Taylor, Larissa, 142 Le testament Pathelin, 16, 103, 106–8 Textor, Ravisius, 53 La The´ologienne, 179–82 Third Estate, 33, 41, 42, 44, 46–47, 51, 59–64, 162 Tilly, Charles, 65, 66


Tissier, Andre´, viii, 48, 213, 229n1 transcripts: aggregation and transcription, 63–68; hidden, 23, 24, 35, 37, 47, 52, 58, 63, 67, 68; public, 23, 35, 37, 40, 52, 125 transvestism. See cross-dressing Treaty of Arras, 36 Triboulet, 229n1 Les triomphes de l’Abbaye des Conards, 30, 31 Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher, 216–18 Valcke, Juliette, 4 Vaucheret, E´tienne, 134 Vauchez, Andre´, 146 Le vendeur de livres, 102 Verville, Be´roalde de, 233n18 Vesoul, Girard de, 36 War of the League of Cambrai, 41 Wars of Religion, 62 White, Allon, 25, 86 women on top, 17, 151–53, 155–58, 160, 161, 171, 173–76, 178, 182, 184, 185, 208, 232n1 Zˇizˇek, Slavoj, 111–12 Zumthor, Paul, 14, 85


I wish to express my obligations to a long list of scholars and institutions that have helped me to bring this project to fruition. The research and writing took far longer than I could have ever imagined, and I am therefore tremendously grateful to the American Council of Learned Societies for awarding me a yearlong sabbatical fellowship in 2012–13. I am appreciative as well of my colleagues in the Department of French and Italian at the University of California, Davis, who shouldered heavy burdens of teaching and service while I was on leave. Many other scholars, both at UC Davis and beyond, have offered me intellectual and professional support and are owed a debt of thanks. Larry Bogad introduced me to the work of James Scott and the theory and practice of “radical ridicule.” Cynthia Brown offered expert advice on how to decipher the cryptic language of Pierre Gringore. Glenn Burger and Fran Dolan inspired and guided my research on women, marriage, and the household. Sarah Eddings and Margie Ferguson prompted me to reflect on the uses (and abuses) of protoforms. Sarah-Grace Heller helped me understand the semiotics of clothing in images of La Me`re Folle. John Parker and Maggie Solberg were ideal interlocutors on topics of religion, laughter, and perversity. Scott Shershow kindly shared his thoughts on the relationship between elite and popular cultures. Seeta Chaganti and Claire Waters were unflagging sources of wisdom, inspiration, and friendship and regularly brought my attention to scholarship I might not otherwise have known. Finally, Julia Simon read every page of this book with stunning generosity and discernment. I shared portions of the manuscript with audiences at numerous conferences and venues, including the American Comparative Literature Association, the American Society for Theatre Research, the Camargo Foundation, the International Congress on Medieval Studies, King’s College London, the



Renaissance Society of America, Stanford University, UC Berkeley, UC Merced, UCLA, the University of Southern California, and the University of Virginia. I am grateful for the warm welcome and rigorous feedback I received on these occasions and wish to recognize the following individuals for stimulating questions and helpful suggestions: Susan Amussen, Kathleen Ashley, Sara Beam, Karl Britto, Katie Brokaw, Bill Burgwinkle, Emma Campbell, Robert Clark, Marilynn Desmond, Paola Di Giuseppantonio Di Franco, Mary Franklin-Brown, Marisa Galvez, Jane Gilbert, Miranda Griffin, Bruce Hayes, Bruce Holsinger, Lynne Huffer, Omotayo Jolaosho, Sarah Kay, Catherine Keen, Sharon Kinoshita, Katell Lave´ant, Mario Longtin, Samuel Mareel, Peggy McCracken, Deborah McGrady, Robert Mills, Maura Nolan, Nick Paige, Ryan Perry, Jeff Persels, David Rollo, Debarati Sanyal, Helen Solterer, Zrinka Stahuljak, Luke Sunderland, Gordon Teskey, and Caroline Weber. I would like to thank Darwin Smith for inviting me to a journe´e d’e´tudes at the Bibliothe`que nationale de France and for introducing me there to a number of French theater specialists I had long admired from afar. Among these, I should single out Marie Bouhaı¨k-Girone`s and Jelle Koopmans, whose work has been a source of profound inspiration for me and is amply cited in this book. Professor Koopmans may not remember this, but a casual conversation we had over lunch that day made a crucial contribution to my thoughts about theater in service to royal power. On its journey from manuscript to book, this project benefited from the advocacy and assistance of several key players. First and foremost, I wish to thank Jerry Singerman of the University of Pennsylvania Press for showing faith in an intellectually eccentric project, for skillfully guiding me in preparing the manuscript for review, and for locating two superb readers for it: Simon Gaunt and Lisa Perfetti. I am glad to be able to acknowledge these readers by name and to thank them for their penetrating insights and invaluable suggestions. My book is far stronger as a result of their interventions. No doubt all books contain mistakes, though this one has far fewer than it might thanks to the diligence and meticulousness of a gifted medievalist graduate student, Kirstie Zehring, who verified the accuracy of all bibliographical citations and quoted material. In closing, I wish to acknowledge two esteemed mentors and University of California colleagues: David Hult of UC Berkeley and Jody Enders of UC Santa Barbara. Professor Hult’s impact is perhaps less obvious in this book than in my previous one, though it is nonetheless very real. David has many times helped me to discern my subject more clearly, to refine and expand my



scholarly vision, and to avoid philological errors. As for Professor Enders, anyone who knows her groundbreaking work on early French theater will see signs of its influence on every page. This book was first conceived when Jody took seriously my initial, as-yet-unformed thoughts about Maistre Pierre Pathelin as an ethical play. Not only did she guide me as I refined those thoughts into an article, but she has remained a vital source of advice, support, inspiration, and good humor ever since. It is no exaggeration to say that Pure Filth might not exist at all without her intellectual generosity and the example of her scholarship. I hope she will find it a worthy companion to her brilliant and riotously funny series of farce translations for the University of Pennsylvania Press.