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Culinary Comedy in Medieval French Literature

by Sarah Gordon

Publication Year: 2007

Long before Rabelaisian tales of gargantuan gluttony regaled early modern audiences, and centuries before pie-in-the-face gags enlivened vaudeville slapstick, medieval French poets employed food as a powerful device of humor and criticism.Food and laughter, essential elements in human existence, can be used to question the meaning of cultural conventions concerning the body and sexuality, religion, class hierarchies, and gender relations. This book unites the cultural and literary study of representations of food and consumption with theoretical approaches to comedy, humor, and parody in late twelfth- through early-fourteenth-century French fictional verse narratives of epic chanson de geste, theater, Arthurian verse romance, fabliau, and the beast epic of the Roman de Renart. From socially inept epic heroes to hungry knights-errant and mischievous fabliau housewives, out of the ordinary food usage embodies humor. Some knights prefer fighting with roast chicken or bread loaves rather than their swords. Specific foods such as sausages, lard, pears, nuts, or chickens provoked laughter by their mere presence in a scene. Culinary comedy serves as both social satire and literary parody, playing with institutional social conduct and alimentary codes. Its power lies in its ability to disrupt and to reinforce the same conventions it ridicules.

Published by: Purdue University Press

title page

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copyright

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Contents

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pp. vii-

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-

I wish to acknowledge the College of HASS, Dean Gary Kiger, and the Women and Gender Research Institute at Utah State University for providing generous research and travel funding in support of this project. I am grateful to my department head, Charlie Huenemann, for his support of my research leave. ...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-13

Long before tales of gargantuan gluttony regaled early modern audiences, and centuries before pie-in-the-face or banana peel gags enlivened vaudeville slapstick, medieval French poets employed food as a powerful device of humor and criticism. Food and humor both have the power to satisfy, to entertain, ...

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Chapter One - Food Fight: Medieval Gastronomy and Literary Convention

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pp. 14-49

Food has always been one of the most essential and revealing elements of material culture because it is necessary for subsistence and survival. Food is also central to daily practices and important rituals, involving necessity, spirituality, and pleasure. 1 Food habits and table manners still serve as a method of transmission ...

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Chapter Two - Uncourtly Table Manners in Arthurian Romance

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pp. 50-96

Excessive eating and inappropriate manners in late twelfth-through mid-thirteenth-century French Arthurian verse romance represent a striking departure from the genre’s most essential conventions.1 In the romance genre, culinary comedy serves a significant function as an incongruous element, an unexpected ...

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Chapter Three - Much Ado about Bacon: The Old French Fabliaux

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pp. 97-139

The funny side of the human body, male and female, is revealed in the Old French fabliaux.1 Often scatological or erotic, these short verse narratives put a comic focus and an ironic twist on prominent human needs, desires, and fears. Fabliau humor, especially culinary fabliau humor, is a multifaceted tool, simultaneously ...

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Chapter Four - Hungry like the Wolf, Sly as a Fox: Le Roman de Renart

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pp. 140-177

A cycle of beast fables, the Roman de Renart is about animal appetites.1 The animals live by the code: eat or be eaten. Through the beasts’ actions human class hierarchies, social institutions, and family structures are represented. As Bergson suggested as part of his definition of comedy, humor is a response to ...

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Conclusion

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pp. 178-182

Food, whether it serves as nourishment or as the object of a quest or ruse, becomes a powerful comic mechanism across the genres explored. Comic culinary discourse has been the focus in this illumination of the function of humor in fictional vernacular narratives. Food consumption is as essential to culture ...

Notes

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pp. 183-196

Bibliography

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pp. 197-210

Index

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pp. 211-219

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About the Author

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pp. 220-

Sarah Gordon, Utah State University, has published articles on medieval literature in journals such as LIT, Medievalia et Humanistica, and Women in French. She also taught at the Sorbonne and Ohio University and was a restaurant critic in Paris.


E-ISBN-13: 9781612491066
E-ISBN-10: 1612491065
Print-ISBN-13: 9781557534309
Print-ISBN-10: 1557534306

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2007

Series Title: Purdue Studies in Romance Literatures
Series Editor Byline: Patricia Hart