- Performance, Poetry and Politics on the Queen’s Day: Catherine de Médicis and Pierre de Ronsard at Fontainbleau [sic]
Although this book is a study of a performance that may never have taken place, it is full of useful information on the circumstances surrounding the composition of Ronsard’s Bergerie. This pastoral drama was written to be performed by members of the royal family at Fontainebleau, and the authors put forward a strong case for the likelihood of the event’s having taken place as part of the pre-Lenten entertainments organized by Catherine de Médicis on 13 February 1564, the ‘Queen’s Day’ of the [End Page 337] title. The theatre historian Virginia Scott is responsible for Chapter 1, on the political and religious events leading up to the supposed performance; Chapter 4, on how the Bergerie may have been performed; and Chapter 6, a reconstruction of the performance of a lost adaptation of Ariosto’s Ginevra story in the Orlando furioso also planned for the same day. In Chapter 2 the French and Italian literary historian Sara Sturm-Maddox focuses on the roles of Catherine de Médicis and Ronsard in the area of religious propaganda in the early 1560s; in Chapter 3, on the content of the Bergerie itself, including its educational role with regard to the thirteen-year-old Charles IX; and in Chapter 5, on the connections between the French court and the Este court in Ferrara in relation to the Ginevra play. One of the main strengths of this study is the amount of detail and analysis that has gone into Catherine de Médicis’s Italian connections, on a political as well as a cultural level, and their influence at the French court. This is an aspect of the French literary scene that is at times neglected, which makes the discussion here all the more welcome. The study also refers exhaustively to the secondary sources that relate to the book’s central themes. While the authors tend to be a little dogmatic at times in their interpretation of the Bergerie, there is much sound scholarship in this work, and their Conclusion, on the political message of the play and the notion that one of its principal aims was the ‘performance’ of sovereignty at court as a means of pacifying the warring factions within the French nobility and establishing Charles as an authoritative monarch, is persuasively argued. What is disappointing, however, is the high level of typographical error and mistranslation, which makes the book appear like an un-proofread early draft. For example, on page 54 ‘Et la paix eternelle avecques nous tu fis’ is incorrectly transcribed as ‘Avec la paix eternelle avecques nous tu fis’ — both metrically and syntactically impossible — and then mistranslated as ‘with the eternal peace you made with us’, while ‘Saincts tutelaires’ (tutelary or guardian saints) comes out as ‘titular saints’ on page 7. These and numerous other errors, at times repeated, undermine the book’s overall credibility, while the dual-authored nature of the text often leaves readers to make their own connections between the individual chapters. However, much of the information here will be of interest to students of theatre studies and literature alike.