Christine de Pizan Critical Essays


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

The most striking characteristics of Christine de Pizan’s work are her breadth of knowledge and her active engagement of the social and political issues of her day. While these attributes would be considered typical rather than extraordinary in a modern writer, they are indeed intriguing in a woman living at the turn of the fifteenth century. Clearly, credit for the wealth of knowledge seen in her works must be given to the exceptional education which she received. Nevertheless, an analysis of the artist must include recognition of the artistic sensitivity and the reverence for life which she brought to her career. Because of the broadness of her vision, she transcended the traditional courtly style of poetry in which she was trained and began to include significant personal, political, and moral issues in her poems. Her works weave innovation into traditional background by passing from idealized medieval expression to realistic humanist concerns that are closer in spirit to the Renaissance.

Cent Ballades

Christine’s first published works in verse reveal her conformity to the literary standards of the era. The aesthetic canon governing late medieval poetry did not accept expressions of individual joy or sorrow but instead required these emotions to be placed in a universal framework. Christine’s early works demonstrate not only her respect for the existing literary system but also her mastery of it. In her ballads, lays, and rondeaux, there is a harmonious relationship between form and meaning. An example of the traditional mold can be seen in Cent Ballades (one hundred ballads). In ballad 59, following the social code of the era, the poet advises young lovers to be noble, peaceful, and gracious. Written in decasyllabic lines, the ballad follows the prescribed form in stanzaic composition, regular rhyme, and refrain. The tone is appropriately elevated by the use of virtuous, abstract vocabulary, and verbs in the imperative and subjunctive moods. This ballad is typical of Christine’s courtly love poems, which in their grace and elegance meet and even surpass the criteria of the times.

At the beginning of her career, Christine was dependent upon the approval of her patrons, and it was important to please them by adhering to acceptable forms and also to amuse them with clever versatility and occasional flattery. She accomplished this by writing a group of rondeaux, very brief poems in lines of two to four syllables in equally short stanzas. These poems...

(The entire section is 1022 words.)