The ballade was one of the major fixed forms of late medieval French lyric poetry. The name seems to have come from the Old Provençal ballada, which was a dance song. Guillaume de MACHAUT is generally credited with inventing and developing the form, which became popular in the 14th and 15th centuries in France as well as England. Typically the ballade consisted of three stanzas of the same rhyme scheme, usually with three rhymes. Each stanza ends with an identical line, which acts as a refrain. For Machaut, the ballade was not only a poetic but also a musical form (see Laidlaw 54–57). Machaut’s ballades had seven or eight lines, and each stanza was divided into three parts. A two-line opening (the ouvert) was answered by a two-line close (the clos), both sung to the same short musical phrase, so that the first four lines of each stanza rhymed abab. The rhyme scheme shifted with the continuation of the stanza (the outrepassé), which was also sung to a different musical phrase and might be two or three lines long. A concluding refrain provided a general focal point for the poem and the individual stanza. Thus the final lines of the ballade might rhyme cbc, or perhaps cbcb. After Machaut, the ballade became more exclusively a poetic rather than a musical form, but the stanzas kept their three-part structure, although the outrepassé sections of many French ballades became longer. Eustache DESCHAMPS generally used at least a four-line outrepassé, but at times he used an outrepassé up to 10 lines. Another later development in the ballade was the use of an envoi, a concluding address that summed up the poem or dedicated it to someone. The envoi was usually a truncated final stanza appended to the three stanzas of the ballade proper, and usually addressed directly to a “prince” or “princes.” This seems to have been a development that occurred during literary competitions (called puy) at which the presiding judge was addressed as “Prince.” Some envois might be addressed to a literal prince, the poet’s patron.
   Deschamps and Jean FROISSART popularized the ballade form in the late 14th century, and CHRISTINE DE PIZAN and CHARLES D’ORLÉANS perfected the form in the early 15th. It reached its culmination in French poetry with the lyrics of François VILLON later in the 15th century. Ultimately the most common ballades in French poetry consisted of octasyllabic lines arranged in three eight-line stanzas with a four-line envoi, rhyming ababbcbC ababbcbC ababbcbC bcbC, where the capital C represents the refrain.
   The ballade also became a popular verse form in late 14th-century courtly poetry in England, and was used by both GOWER and CHAUCER. Many of Chaucer’s lyric poems are ballades, though he does change the lines to decasyllabic and often uses a complete final stanza as an envoi. Chaucer’s philosophical poem Lak of Stedfastnesse might serve as an example of an English ballade.The first stanza reads
   Somtyme the world was so stedfast and stable
   That mannes word was obligacioun,
   And now it is so fals and deceivable
   That word and deed, as in conclusion,
   Ben nothing lyk, for turned up-so-doun
   Is al this world for mede and wilfulnesse,
   That al is lost for lak of stedfastnesse.
(Benson 1987, 654)
   The ababbcc rhyme scheme is clear (the same scheme that Chaucer uses for his RHYME ROYAL stanza), and one can see three basic parts to the stanza: the two-line ouvert talks about how people used to be faithful and reliable, and the clos, which spills over into the fifth line, contrasts those times with the contemporary world, where there is no relation between word and deed. The outrepassé generalizes that the world is now turned upside down, and the refrain, which reappears at the end of the following two stanzas, declares that all is lost through lack of steadfastness.
   The poem’s envoi is addressed to a real prince— in this case, to King Richard II:
   O prince, desire to be honourable,
   Cherish thy folk and hate extorcioun.
   Sufre nothing that may be reprievable
   To thyn estat don in thy regioun.
   Shew forth thy swerd of castigacioun,
   Dred God, do law, love trouthe and worthinesse,
   And we thy folk agein to stedfastnesse.
   (Benson 1987, 654)
   Chaucer’s envoi uses the same ababbcc pattern as the rest of the ballade, but serves as a tool to assert the kinds of values that Chaucer sees as necessary to return the world to “steadfastness,” and the final line echoes the refrain but alters it to express hope. Thus, in the hands of a master like Chaucer, or Villon or Christine de Pizan, the ballade could be a very effective vehicle for lyric expression.
   ■ Benson, Larry, et al., eds. The Riverside Chaucer. 3rd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987.
   ■ Laidlaw, James C. “The Cent balades: 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.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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