(fl. ca. 1150–late 13th century)
   Once the rich TROUBADOUR poetry had developed in Provence in the south of France during the first half of the 12th century, formulated in the langue d’oc (the Provençal language), Old French poets in central and northern France also adopted the ideals and values associated with COURTLY LOVE, expressing themselves in the langue d’oïl or French vernacular.CHRÉTIEN DE TROYES, famous for his introduction of the Arthurian material in French literature, also composed the earliest trouvère poetry as early as 1160.
   One crucial moment of cross-fertilization between the cultures of the south and north might have been the marriage of ELEANOR OF AQUITAINE with the Capetian king Louis VII of France in 1137. Her great interest in Occitan poetry—her grandfather had been the first troubadour poet GUILLAUME IX—carried over to her court in Paris, where she assumed the role of patron for many artists and writers. The social background of the trouvère poets was highly diverse, some being clergy, others nobles, clerks, bourgeois, and JONGLEURS. They composed mostly love poetry fairly similar to that created in Provence. Some of the best known trouvère poets were Chrétien de Troyes, Huon d’Oisi, CONON DE BÉTHUNE, GACE BRULÉ, BBLONDEL DE NESLE, le CHÂTELAIN DE COUCI, THIBAUT DE CHAMPAGNE, Colin MUSET, Gautier d’Epinal, Renaut de Beaujeu, Gautier de Dargies, Richart de Semilli, Guiot de Provins, and RUTEBEUF, but still the majority of trouvère poetry has come down to us anonymously. Their themes were not particularly innovative; instead they dealt with a wide range of conflicts in love, mostly unrequited, but in contrast to the troubadour poetry, the French poets pursued less esoteric and metaphysical ideals and reflected upon concrete, socially identifiable situations.An unusual phenomenon proves to be the 13th-century school of poets, or poetic guild (puy), in Arras (Puy d’Arras), a town of 20,000 inhabitants. Here newfound wealth, based on trade and commerce, sparked the emergence of some 200 poets who composed courtly love poetry, although they intended it for a bourgeois audience. In clear contrast to troubadour poetry, however, a large number of trouvère poems were copied down in manuscripts along with their melodies (about 1,500 out of more than 2,500 songs).As in the case of the Occitan lyric poetry,we do not know what sources the trouvères used, except for some general remarks included in their own texts. One of their favorite themes was to raise an issue regarding the fundamental meaning of love, expressed in a jeu parti, or DEBATE POEM, that concludes with an appeal to a judge. Generally the trouvères explored the complex topic of love from a personal perspective, creating chansons d’amour, or grand chants courtois. In the TENSO (another type of debate poem) two persons exchange their opinions about the meaning and relevance of their poetry. Nevertheless the topic of unrequited, rejected, and unfulfilled love dominated the entire corpus of trouvère poetry, in which the singers mostly reflect upon their own feelings.Whereas the troubadour poets tended to imply their sexual desires more or less openly, their northern counterparts were rarely that explicit and limited their desires to lofty ideals of love. Some trouvère poets, such as Thibaut IV, count of Champagne and king of Navarre (1201–53), openly displayed their great delight in animal images and in references to classical mythology and to medieval literary figures, including Roland and Oliver, TRISTAN, and Merlin. Most trouvère poems begin with an introductory stanza reflecting on nature or the desire to sing a song. The concluding stanza is also clearly marked, often followed by a partial stanza (envoi) in which the poet “sends” the song to the beloved or to someone in the audience. In a surprisingly large number of cases the poets adopt female voices who discuss issues of love (CHANSON DE TOILE). They also enjoyed political and other types of satire (sotte chanson), and often intended their songs for dances (ballette, rondet, rotrouenge, estampie, motet). Poets such as Rutebeuf (ca. 1230–ca. 1285) and ADAM DE LAHALLE (fl. 1277–88) introduced moral and ethical issues in their works. By the 14th century, trouvère poetry experienced a considerable revival through composers such as Guillaume de MACHAUT (ca. 1295–1377) and Eustache DESCHAMPS (1346–ca. 1407) who developed new musical forms, such as the RONDEAU, the BALLADE, and the chanson. Nevertheless by the 15th century, courtly love poetry became increasingly idealizing and artificial, perhaps best represented by CHARLES D’ORLÉANS’s (1394–1465) compositions, dominated by melancholy.
   ■ Akehurst, F. R. P., and Judith M. Davis, eds. A Handbook of the Troubadours. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.
   ■ Goldin, Frederick, ed. and trans. Lyrics of the Troubadours and Trouvères: An Anthology and a History. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1973.
   ■ Holmes, Urban T. A History of Old French Literature from the Origins to 1300. New York: Crofts, 1948.
   ■ Rosenberg, Samuel N., and Hans Tischler, eds. Chanter m’estuet: Songs of the Trouvères. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981.
   ■ 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.
   Albrecht Classen

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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