Love, Mercy, and Courtly Discourse: Marguerite de Navarre Reads Alain Chartier

Love, Mercy, and Courtly Discourse: Marguerite de Navarre Reads Alain Chartier

Frelick, Nancy  (University of British Columbia)

Mythes à la cour, mythes pour la four (2010). 325-36


In the Heptaméron, Marguerite de Navarre makes two direct references to Alain Chartier’s Belle Dame sans Mercy. Both references highlight the elaboration of lovesickness and courtly discourse as strategies of seduction. In Marguerite’s text, Chartier is criticized by womanizing devisants, who see his doctrine as spoiling their game, and praised by women, who speak of his teachings as profitable to young ladies. Marguerite’s frame-tale and nouvelles proffer both illustrations of and commentaries on the subversion and gendering of words such as mercy that have been subtly redefined, often in ambiguous or ambivalent ways, to create no-win situations for women, who frequently fall prey to the perilous semantics of courtly discourse.

In this study, we will examine Marguerite’s dialogic relation with Chartier in the frame of her collection of nouvelles, along with some tales that accompany these intertextual references and that appear to be informed by the ongoing Querelle des femmes. We will see that Chartier’s text is used to bolster Marguerite’s critique of courtly love as anti-feminist, and that religious and profane definitions of love, which often appear to be divided along gender lines, complicate the uses of mercy in the Heptaméron. Ultimately, we will suggest that both texts offer keen insights into the discursive dimensions of love and the impact these may have on the construction of the self and of reality.


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