Boethian Discipline: Desire and Restraint in Guillaume de Machaut’s Fonteinne amoureuse
In Guillaume de Machaut’s Fonteinne amoureuse, literal and figurative representations of imprisonment intersect in a fluid relation that contributes to the mutual transformation of Boethian philosophy and life history enacted in the text. The interchangeability of the literal and allegorical values associated with imprisonment is reflected in the complaint attributed to Machaut’s noble protagonist, who imagines incarceration as a barrier that divides him from the object of his affection: ‘aler n’i puis, car je suis en gëole, /Ou bon loisir ay d’apenre a l’escole’ [‘I cannot go there, because I am in gaol, where I am disposed to learn as in school’] (823-4).1 Yet the relationship between desire and imprisonment is rapidly transfigured, with the emergence of the familiar literary trope of the prison of love:
C’est ma dame qui tient en sa prison Mon loial cuer; a trop bonne occoison Y devint siens maugré li; c’est raison Qu’il oubeïsse Et qu’il y soit en tele entencion Que mis jamais n’i soit a raënçon Et qu’il y muire ou qu’il ait guerredon Qui le garisse, Qu’amez ou mors sera, eins qu’il en isse. (827-5)
[It is my lady who keeps my faithful he\art in her prison; in too pleasant a time it became hers in spite of itself; it is just that it obey and be of such a persuasion that it will never be ransomed, and will die there or have the reward that will heal it. For it will be loved or dead, sooner than leave.]
In imagining the noble subject’s willing acceptance of restraint, the Fonteinne at once evokes the historical circumstances of the patron for whom Machaut wrote, Jean, duc de Berry (1340-1416), together with a mode of self-discipline that reflects contemporary interpretations of Boethian philosophy in serving the
1 Guillaume de Machaut, Le livre de la Fontaine amoureuse, ed. Jacqueline Cerquiglini-Toulet (Paris: Stock, 1993), cited by line number, with my translations. For a complete English translation, see the bilingual edition The Fountain of Love (La Fonteinne
interests of the state. Under the terms of the treaty of Brétigny, ratified at Calais on 24 October 1360, Jean was pledged to travel to England as one of the hostages offered as surety for the ransom of his father, Jean II, securing the king’s return to France.2 Machaut’s poem invites the reader to identify the aristocratic figure at its heart with Jean de Berry, as it describes the mental suffering of a prince obliged to leave his beloved and travel to a foreign land, in exile with no fixed date of return (for example, 200-205, 2248, 1451, 1471). The Fonteinne anticipates the recognition of this relationship between literature and life, instructing the reader to find or compose (trouver) the names of the author and his subject in deciphering an anagrammatical signature concealed within the text (45-52). Such anagrams both invite and delimit the activity of the reader, since their inherent obscurity and, frequently, the deficiency of the puzzle, demand collusion: the reader must draw upon prior knowledge to generate the solution that authorises the text.3 In recognising Jean de Berry and Guillaume de Machaut as the Fonteinne’s protagonists, readers assent to, and participate in, the re-authorship of these subjects performed within the text.