(12th and 13th centuries)
   In the early 12th century, a group of courtly poets emerged in the south of France (the area known as Provence) composing love songs in Old Occitan. The basic concept of their poetry was the idea of fin’amors: a cultured, sophisticated form of love that aimed for the exploration of emotions, courtly behavior, and the playful interaction of men and women within an erotic context (often called, in modern times, COURTLY LOVE). The troubadours often allude to their sexual desires, but they seldom imply any sexual fulfillment because their poetry was predicated on the notion of unrequited love inspired by fear, hope, longing, and desire. There are many theories regarding the origin of troubadour poetry, but no conclusive evidence has ever answered this complex question. No antecedents are known to us, unless we consider early medieval Latin poetry by Baudri of Bourgueil and Marbode of Rennes, for instance, as a decisive source of influence. Another possibility might have been the Mozarabic poets in Spain, who also composed so-called KHARJAS, vernacular strophes in Romance dialect (Hispano-Arabic) that conclude their love songs in classical Arabic. Scholars have also pointed to the renewed and intensive interest in the Virgin Mary from the early 12th century on, whom the troubadours might have had in mind when they sang songs of adulation of their beloved ladies. Moreover, in 12th-century Provence many courts were nearly deserted because a large percentage of noblemen had joined the crusades to the Holy Land and often never returned from the wars. It could have been that the large number of ladies left behind invited the remaining aristocratic poets to embark on a new cult of courtly love to fill the void. Possibly the crusaders were inspired by Arabic love poetry that they had heard of in Palestine and began to create their own songs after their return home. But it is equally possible that troubadour poetry emerged indigenously because, due to improved climatic, economic, and hence financial conditions, the higher aristocracy was being transformed into a leisure class with a taste for a new type of sophisticated erotic entertainment.
   Etymologically the troubadour is a male poet who composes a song (trobar) or finds a melody. We also know of a small group of female poets, the trobairitz, who joined their male counterparts in the game of creating courtly love poetry.Whereas courtly love was first practiced in the south, by the late 12th century this cultural development had reached central and northern France, where the poets were called trouvères. The ideals of courtly love were concurrently and subsequently explored by the Middle High German MINNESÄNGer and, by the early 13th century, by south Italian and Sicilian poets.
   The first known troubadour was GUILLAUME IX, duke of Aquitaine and count of Poitiers (1071–1127), who already demonstrated an amazing versatility in his poetry, composing both a song of fin’amors, about striving for unrequited love, and a downright bawdy love song, then a nonsense poem, and a religious song dealing with the departure from this world.MARCABRU, who belongs to the following generation, created the prototype of the PASTOURELLE, in which a male wooer tries to seduce—though unsuccessfully—a shepherdess who knows how to confound the man rhetorically. Marcabru also introduced a variety of different love scenes, perhaps even the topic of conjugal love. Some of the best-known 12th-century troubadours were Jaufre RUDEL, PEIRE D’ALVERNHE, RAIMBAUT D’ORANGE, BERNART DE VENTADORN, BERTRAN DE BORN, GIRAUT DE BORNELH, ARNAUT DANIEL, FOLQUET DE MARSEILLE, RAIMBAUT DE VAQUEIRAS, Peire VIDAL, and Peire CARDENAL. Many troubadours introduced their poems with images of nature, either winter or summer, depending on the theme of the song, whether the lover feels happy or sad, such as in the case of CERCAMON’s “Qant la douch’aura s’amarcis” (“When the sweet breeze turns bitter”) or Jaufré Rudel’s “Lanquan li jorn son lonc en mai” (“When the days are long in May”).
   In the middle of the 12th century, Peire d’Alvernhe and Raimbaut d’Orange idealized the concept of TROBAR CLUS (closed composition, or arcane poetry) versus TROBAR LEU (easy composition, or light poetry). By the end of the 12th century, the Catalan Raimon Vidal wrote a treatise explaining the nature of troubadour poetry, the Règles de trobar (Rules of composition). In the 12th century, many of the traditional troubadours were so admired that other poets created more or less fictional biographical VIDAS (lives) and RAZOS (reasons), which were appended to the text collections and stated the poet’s birth date and social rank, and described the type of poetry he wrote. While the earliest troubadour poems prove to be highly refreshing and innovative, the vast number of subsequent compositions by the 13th century tend to be very formalistic, rhetorically styled, repetitive, and obviously intended for public performance for courtly audiences.
   During the first 140 years these courtly love poems were mostly handed down orally; the first manuscript with troubadour poetry dates from as late as 1254. The vast popularity of troubadour poetry is testified by 95 manuscripts still extant from the late Middle Ages. Only four of these manuscripts contain musical notation, and the melodies are copied down only nonmensurally, ignoring the rhythm and duration of each individual note. The entire tradition of troubadour poetry was anchored in an oral culture, and its preservation in manuscripts was only the result of a preservation effort by later generations. The earliest troubadours called their poems simply cansos, or vers (songs). Later poets differentiated between CANSOS, dealing with the ideal of fin’amors, and SIRVENTES, satires of personal, political, and moral shortcomings. Subcategories of troubadour poetry were the pastourelle; the ALBA—a dawn song in which man and woman, after they have spent a night together, are awakened in the morning and have to separate; the Crusade song—the lover has to go on a Crusade and laments the need to leave his mistress behind; the planh—funeral lament; and the TENSO—a DEBATE POEM in which man and woman explore the meaning of love or argue against each other about the significance of courtly love. Troubadour poetry comprises 2,542 compositions by about 450 poets; about 250 of these songs are accompanied by music.
   ■ Akehurst, F. R. P., and Judith M. Davis, eds. A Handbook of the Troubadours. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.
   ■ Gaunt, Simon, and Sarah Kay, eds. The Troubadours: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
   ■ Goldin, Frederick, ed. and trans. Lyrics of the Troubadours and Trouvères: An Anthology and a History. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1973.
   ■ Hill, Raymond Thompson, and Thomas Goddard Bergin, eds.Anthology of the Provençal Troubadours. 2nd ed.Revised by T. G. Bergin with Susan Olson et al.New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1973.
   ■ Jensen, Frede, ed. and trans. Troubadour Lyrics: A Bilingual Anthology. New York: Peter Lang, 1998.
   ■ von der Werf, Hendrik. The Chansons of the Troubadours and Trouvères: A Study of the Melodies and Their Relation to the Poems. Utrecht, Netherlands: Oosthoek, 1972.
   ■ Wilhelm, James J., trans. Lyrics of the Middle Ages: An Anthology. New York and London: Garland, 1990.
   Albrecht Classen

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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