Cent Ballades


Cent Ballades
   by Christine de Pizan
(1399–1402)
   Throughout her lifetime, CHRISTINE DE PIZAN (ca. 1364–ca. 1431) composed hundreds of BALLADES and other short poems, especially between 1393 and 1412. A major collection, her Cent Ballades (One hundred ballades),written between 1399 and 1402, appeared in 1402 as part of her Livre de Christine, perhaps under the influence of the admired and publicly highly esteemed poet Eustache DESCHAMPS, who had also written a collection of Cent Ballades. Another collection with the same title by the poet Jean le Sénéchal seems to have provided an additional model. Christine focused on specific themes such as widowhood, the development of a love relationship as seen from a woman’s perspective, debates between man and woman, moral and ethical instruction through the utilization of ancient mythology, accusation of false lovers, criticism of current political events, or praise of patrons. In ballade no. 50, in which the purpose of her poetry is identified as esbatement (“entertainment”), Christine explicitly distances herself from the poetic “I” in her other poems, emphasizing the fictional nature of this pronoun and the literary sources from which she drew her material for her love poetry.
   By contrast, the opposite seems to be the case in many of her other ballades. In her various poems on widowhood, for example, the autobiographical element emerges quite clearly because she strongly foregrounds her personal suffering resulting from a great loss in her life, the death of her husband, Etienne de Castel, in 1389. This finds additional confirmation in her L’Avision-Christine (Vision of Christine, 1405), where she reflects upon her life and emphasizes that she used her poetry to console herself in her early widowhood. In many other ballades Christine deals with the unfortunate ending of love relationships, either because the man proves to be unfaithful, or because of his death. Fortune itself, as a force of nature, plays a major role in Christine’s work, obviously as a result of her close study of BOETHIUS’s CONSOLATION OF PHILOSOPHY (ca. 523). In a number of her poems Christine indicates her intellectual interests, especially her reading of Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the history of the Trojan War in one of the many medieval renderings.
   Christine’s later fame heavily rests on her active participation in the acclaimed intellectual debate about the role of women within courtly society, in which she sharply defends women’s individuality and innocence against the vicious misogyny formulated in JEAN DE MEUN’s continuation of GUILLAUME DE LORRIS’s ROMAN DE LA ROSE (ca. 1370–80). This interest in women’s rights is already noticeable in her early ballades.
   In one poem Christine appeals to the duke of Orleans to find a place in his household for one of her sons, Jean. In another case, the poet laments the April 1404 death of Philip the Bold, duke of Burgundy, who had commissioned her to write his brother’s biography, Faits et Bonnes Meurs du Sage Roi Charles V (The deeds and good character of King Charles V). In other poems Christine experiments with formal elements, such as in her Ballades d’Estrange Façon (Ballades in a curious form), varying verse and stanza structures. At other times Christine allows her humor to come through, such as in Jeux a vendre (Songs for sale), or she reflects on moral teachings, as in Enseignements (Instructions). In her later ballades, Christine experiments with traditional love relationships involving figures such as a wooing young man, a jealous husband, and the lady herself. In these poems, although the wife wants to grant the lover his wishes, eventually gossip forces the man to depart from the court and to leave his lady behind, which makes him complain bitterly about his loneliness. Christine also reflects her solid education in the classics, as documented by her reference to Ovid (no. XLII). In her final ballade, no. 100, Christine underscores her authorship of all of these poems and incorporates an anagram of her name in the refrain.
   Bibliography
   ■ Cent Ballades d’Amant et de Dame. Edited by Jacqueline Cerquiglini. Paris: Union générale d’ éditions, 1982.
   ■ Laidlaw, James C. “The Cent ballades: The Marriage of Content and Form.” In Christine de Pizan and Medieval French Lyric, edited by Earl Jeffrey Richards, 53–82, Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1998.
   ■ The Selected Writings of Christine de Pizan. Translated by Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski and Kevin Brownlee. Edited by Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski. New York: Norton, 1997.
   Albrecht Classen

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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