Women in Troubadour Song: Of the Comtessa and the Vilana

Women in Troubadour Song: Of the Comtessa and the Vilana

Fredric L. Cheyette & Margaret Switten

Women & Music, Volume 2 (1998)


Two wrx-mow sorm from the Occitan (Old Provencal) repertory, “A chantar m’er de so qu’ieu non volria,” a canso by the Comtessa de Dia (fl late twelfth century), and “L’autrier jost’una sebissa,” a pmtorekz by Marcabru (fl 1127~so), lead us to confront the question: when we listen to a trobairitz song, or to a song by a male troubadour with a prominent female speaker, what “feminine” voices do we hear? These two songs present both similarities and oppositions. The camo by the Comtessa de Dia has a single poetic voice, textually defined as “female” by theme and grammar. It is particularly precious because it is the only trobairitz song for which music has been preserved.

In contrast, the partorela by Marcabru is a dialogue whose inter-locutors are a seigner (thus presumably a knight) and a vilana (that is, a shepherdess). In both songs, there is an encounter, an engagement, direct or indirect, of a woman with a knight. In both songs, the female voice is presented as strong and persuasive. But in the pastorekz, the narrator is male and the woman a character he invents, while the came is presumably composed by a woman. And further: in the partorekz, the female character is a viluna, of peasant stock, while the female author of the canso is a countess, a member of the nobility (although this “difference” is more complex than it at first appears to be.)

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