- Performance, Poetry and Politics on the Queen's Day: Catherine de Médicis and Pierre de Ronsard at Fontainbleau
The "Queen's Day" in question here is Shrove Sunday, 13 February 1564, when Catherine of Medici, Queen Mother of France, produced two lavish court spectacles at Fontainebleau: a Bergerie composed by Ronsard and published in revised form the following year in his Elégies, Mascarades et Bergerie, and a five-act dramatic adaptation of the Ginevra episode of Ariosto's Orlando furioso (4.51-6.16), of which nothing survives except brief mentions by contemporary witnesses like Castelnau and Brantôme and some incidental texts —two "triumphs" and an epilogue by Ronsard and four anonymous intermèdes preserved by Brantôme. These spectacles were part of a ten-day Carnival extravaganza designed to celebrate the reconciliation of warring factions following the first of the religious wars (1562-63) and to assert the authority of the thirteen-year-old king Charles IX, whose majority had been declared six months earlier by the Parliament of Rouen and was about to be impressed upon the whole kingdom by means of a two-year royal tour of more than a hundred cities of the realm (1564-66).
The authors of this book combine their expertise in theater studies and French and Italian literature to situate the two Queen's Day spectacles in their various historical, political, social, and literary contexts, and to make two separate but related arguments: first, that (contrary to what many scholars have asserted in the past) these works were actually performed as fully staged and costumed spectacles involving action, music, and dance; and second, that the performances were designed to communicate precise political meanings to their courtly actors and audience, and in fact to perform, or enact, the very reconciliation and submission to royal authority they indirectly signified. Much of the background information provided here will be familiar to students of the French Renaissance but will undoubtedly help non-specialist students of performance studies, to whom the book seems primarily addressed. As for the twin arguments of the book, the authors build usefully on earlier scholarship by Victor Graham and McAllister Johnson, Margaret McGowan, and Richard Cooper, to offer a fuller account of a single day in the extraordinarily performative life of the Valois court.
Their arguments are compelling for the Bergerie, for which we have a complete if perhaps modified text. It is indeed entirely plausible that the shepherds of this "mascarade-pastorale" or "eclogue-ballet," as Laumonier called it, were played by the orphaned offspring of the principal combatants of the recently concluded war: Catherine's own twelve-year-old son Henri (future Henri III) as "Orleantin," eight-year-old son François (destined to die some twenty years later, leaving the Valois line without a male heir) as "Angelot," and ten-year-old daughter Marguerite (future wife of Henri IV) as "Margot," plus the ten-year-old son of Antoine de Bourbon (future Henri IV) in the role of "Navarrin," and the [End Page 1272] thirteen-year-old son of François de Guise (future Henri de Guise, pretender to the throne) as "Guisin." Given the identities and interwoven destinies of these actors, the contrived enactment of concord and homage to "Carlin" (Charles IX, the principal spectator of the play) is indeed, as the authors note, heavily laden with both significance and historical irony. The case is far more difficult for "La belle Genièvre," but Virginia Scott makes the most of meager evidence in a credible attempt to reconstruct both the play and the performance, and Sara Sturm Maddox discusses the possible political significance of the Ginevra theme in light of French diplomatic relations with Scotland and England. Much of this is highly speculative, of course, but both arguments are plausible and enlightening.
The book would have benefited from some...