Nicolette : action transvestite, or, who and what is the heroine of Aucassin et Nicolette?
Academia.edu: MEDATS Conference paper, Autumn (2013)
The opening lines of the story of Aucassin and Nicolette suggest that it is a typical courtly romance, but as the story unfolds, we discover that it is not so simple. The ambiguity rests primarily in the person of Nicolette. Although she has a French name, she is a Saracen, bought as a slave, baptised and raised as god-daughter by the Viscount of Beaucaire. She is viewed with great suspicion by the parents of her love Aucassin, and his father threatens her with death if she is not removed from the situation. Subsequently imprisoned, Nicolette does not wait for Aucassin to rescue her, but climbs down from her tower prison and goes in search of him. When he disappoints her, she leaves of her own accord, escaping into the forest, where she sets in motion her plan to be reunited with Aucassin. Her subsequent adventures and choices see her identity and gender shift as required to fit the situation in which she finds herself, and in the end she and Aucassin, their fathers having died and themselves having respectively been discovered as Saracen princess and elevated to the rank of Count, marry.
In this paper, I have used the Old French-Modern French Aucassin et Nicolette, edited and translated by Jean Dufournet (GF Flammarion, 1984), and the English translation by Francis William Bourdillon (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co, 1908), which is available on Project Gutenberg. The original manuscript (MS.FR.2168) is held at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, and is a compilation of medieval texts including works by Marie de France, and the anonymous chantefable of Aucassin and Nicolette, the sole surviving example of its genre. It is estimated that it dates from either the last quarter of the 12th century or the first part of the 13th century. You may ask yourselves, what is an action transvestite?