Troubadours Essay - Critical Essays




Late medieval lyric poets and poet-musicians who flourished in the Provençal region.

The troubadours were poets and poet-musicians who flourished from the late eleventh to the early thirteenth centuries in southern France, northern Italy, and northern Spain. They wrote their lyrics in Oc, a language commonly referred to as Provençal, and their subject matter was primarily courtly love, a stylized set of conventions governing the conduct of romantic relations between ladies of the court and their lovers. Troubadours belonged to every class of medieval society, including the nobility and the church, and they employed numerous verse forms, including the canso, or love poem; the sirventes, or satire; the tenso, or debate; and the planh, or lament. While melody lines are extant for some troubadour lyrics, it is not known how much of this body of works was sung to music. More certain is the profound influence that the troubadours had on European lyric poetry and, less directly, American song.

Scholars have examined the troubadours and their works from a variety of perspectives, including their relation to literature, linguistics, culture, and history. Norman Klassen discovers a high level of complexity in the troubadours' verse. In evaluating the troubadours' legacy, Robert S. Briffault observes that they are responsible for a complete break from the classics of Greece and Rome: “The Provençal song-makers did not … frame anew the form only of poetical expression; they enacted a change which has struck deeper into the European mind, a change in the whole of its emotional and imaginative cast. They did not pour new wine into old bottles, they poured new wine into new bottles. Both form and content were, in their poetry, a new departure, in all respects, foreign from the tradition of Greco-Roman literature.” Anthony Bonner discusses the patronage system under which the troubadours operated. In return for singing their praises, noblemen would reward the troubadours with money, clothes, horses, or land. Bonner suggests that, when a battle did not otherwise occupy his attention, a nobleman recognized the permanence of art in contrast to the “transitoriness of political power” and might choose not “to go down in history as a man whose court was a measly, unlettered, backwoods affair.” William E. Burgwinkle also examines the economics of courtly patronage, focusing on Uc de Saint Circ, an early thirteenth-century troubadour whom he deems the author of the vast majority of the razos (accounts of the composition of works) and a large number of the vidas (biographies) of the troubadours. Margarita Egan provides literary analysis of the texts of the vidas, calling them “a vital link between the didactic tradition of the Middle Ages (commentaries, glosses on classical texts, exemplary lives of saints) and the fictional short stories of the Renaissance.” Numerous feminist studies have been undertaken of the troubadours and the trobairitz, or female troubadours. E. Jane Burns contends that for all the attention typically given to the troubadours' admiration of women, the poets actually viewed them with ambivalence. Burns finds that the troubadours wrote only of their own feelings and not those of the women whom they supposedly loved. Joan M. Ferrante examines the question of whether there is a distinct female rhetoric in the work of the trobairitz and answers, with caution, in the affirmative. Matilda Tomaryn Bruckner, Laurie Shepard, and Sarah White also study the trobairitz—concluding that they number approximately twenty out of more than four hundred total troubadours—and explore their literary, historical, cultural, and linguistic contexts.

Representative Works

Peire d'Alvernha
Peire d'Alvernha: Liriche (poetry) 1955

Conon de Béthune
Les Chansons de Conon de Béthune (poetry) 1921

Bertran de Born
The Poems of the Troubadour Bertran de Born (poetry) 1986

Gace Brulé
The Lyrics and Melodies of Gace Brulé (poetry) 1985

Peire Cardenal
Poésies complètes du troubadour Peire Cardenal (1180-1278) (poetry) 1957

Arnaut Daniel
Arnaut Daniel: Canzoni (poetry) 1981

La Comtesse de Die
La Comtesse de Die: Sa vie, ses ouvres complètes, les fêtes données en son honneur, avec tous les documents (poetry) 1893

Gaucelm Faidit
Les Poèmes de Gaucelm Faidit (poetry) 1965

Adam de la Halle
The Chansons of Adam de la Halle (poetry) 1971

Poésies complètes du troubadour Marcabru (poetry) 1971

Raimon de Miraval
Les poésies du troubadour Raimon de Miraval (poetry) 1971

Colin Muset
Les Chansons de Colin Muset (poetry) 1938

Blondel de Nesle
Die Lieder des Blondel de Nesle (poetry) 1904

Raimbaut d'Orange
The Life and Works of the Troubadour Raimbaut d'Orange (poetry) 1952

Jaufré Rudel
The Songs of Jaufré Rudel (poetry) 1978

Raimbaut de Vaqueiras
The Poems of the Troubadour, Raimbaut de Vaqueiras (poetry) 1964

Peire Vidal
Peire Vidal: Poésie. 2 vols. (poetry) 1960

Criticism: Overviews

John Rutherford (essay date 1873)

SOURCE: Rutherford, John. “Troubadour's Love in Theory.” In The Troubadours: Their Loves and Their Lyrics; with Remarks on Their Influence, Social and Literary, pp. 110-45. London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1873.

[In the following essay, Rutherford examines the troubadours' four-stage theory of love and how it was put into practice.]

The theory of love propounded by the Troubadours was full of fantastic conceits, which their contemporaries doubtless considered “sweetly pretty things.” According to this theory, the lover always dwelt at the sign of the Fair Passion, in the Street of Sacrifice, and in the Parish of Sincerity; while his mistress, the daughter of...

(The entire section is 10293 words.)

Robert S. Briffault (essay date 1965)

SOURCE: Briffault, Robert S. Introduction to The Troubadours, edited by Lawrence F. Koons, pp. 3-23. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1965.

[In the following essay, Briffault argues that Provençal troubadour poetry led developing Western literature away from a Greco-Roman course.]

While in the North, the tales and sagas of Celtic paganism were flowering into the romances of chivalry which captured the imagination of the Middle Ages, a literary form equally alien to the classical tradition was unfolding in southern France. The poetry of the troubadours answered the mood of a feudal society newly awakened to a sense of its native uncouthness by contact with...

(The entire section is 13167 words.)

Margarita Egan (essay date 1984)

SOURCE: Egan, Margarita. Introduction to The Vidas of the Troubadours, translated by Margarita Egan, pp. xiii-xxxii. New York: Garland Publishing, 1984.

[In the following excerpt, Egan provides an overview of the lives of the troubadours, including their structure, purpose, and perspective.]

A noble and beautiful lady, a minstrel singing her praise, amorous intrigues and gossip in the castle of the wealthy feudal lords: such are typical elements of the world of the medieval love lyric which even today spark the imagination of writers and poets. Sources of these themes characteristic of troubadour love poetry can be traced to the princely circles of...

(The entire section is 7398 words.)

Norman Klassen (essay date January 1998)

SOURCE: Klassen, Norman. “Self-Reflexiveness and the Category of the Will in Early Troubadour Poetry of Fin' Amors.Forum for Modern Language Studies 34, no. 1 (January 1998): 29-42.

[In the following essay, Klassen examines the complex relationship between the poet's “I” and the lover's “I” in troubadour poetry.]

A number of recent studies have drawn fresh attention to the complexity of twelfth-century troubadour poetry. Linda Paterson's recent comprehensive introduction to Occitan society highlights the linguistic diversity of the region given that name;1 she and others have also explored the subtle variations in troubadour poetry that...

(The entire section is 6661 words.)

Criticism: Politics, Economics, History, And The Troubadours

Anthony Bonner (essay date 1972)

SOURCE: Bonner, Anthony. Introduction to Songs of the Troubadours, edited by Anthony Bonner, pp. 1-30. New York: Schocken Books, 1972.

[In the following excerpt, Bonner discusses the historical background of the troubadours, the various types of poetry they wrote, what is known of their music, and the structure of the patronage system that nourished them.]


To the average English-speaking reader the word “troubadour” conjures up little more than an image of a fellow dressed in a Robin Hood costume singing under his lady's window and accompanying himself with a lute. This was the notion implanted by Sir Walter Scott...

(The entire section is 11350 words.)

Catherine Léglu (essay date 1997)

SOURCE: Léglu, Catherine. “Defamation in the Troubadour Sirventes: Legislation and Lyric Poetry.” Medium Aevum 66, no. 1 (1997): 28-41.

[In the following essay, Léglu examines the political implications of certain slanderous troubadour songs.]

One of the features of satirical writing is that it transgresses textual boundaries in order to address issues and concerns understood by performer and audience to be extra-textual. Despite an awareness of the relations between troubadour sirventes and contemporary political and personal disputes, the possibility that these songs might have functioned as lampoons, and been received as slander, has not been...

(The entire section is 6325 words.)

William E. Burgwinkle (essay date 1997)

SOURCE: Burgwinkle, William E. “Economics, Poetry, and Patronage.” In Love for Sale: Materialist Readings of the Troubadour Razo Corpus, pp. 33-74. New York: Garland Publishing, 1997.

[In the following essay, Burgwinkle analyzes some of Uc de Saint Circ's financial relationships with his patrons.]

We must rid ourselves of the ingrained notion that the economy is a field of experience of which human beings have necessarily always been conscious. To use a metaphor, the facts of the economy were originally embedded in situations that were not in themselves of an economic nature, neither the ends nor the means being primarily material. … Neither...

(The entire section is 23872 words.)

Criticism: Troubadours And Women

E. Jane Burns (essay date spring 1985)

SOURCE: Burns, E. Jane. “The Man behind the Lady in Troubadour Lyric.” Romance Notes 25, no. 3 (spring 1985): 254-70.

[In the following essay, Burns explores the irreconcilable roles played by the troubadour lady and the ambivalent poet-lover.]

“La femme est fatalement suggestive; elle vit d'une autre vie que la sienne propre; elle vit spirituellement dans les imaginations qu'elle hante et qu'elle féconde.”

Charles Baudelaire, Les Paradis artificiels, dédicace

In a little-known essay of 1947, Dorothy Sayers speaks wistfully of the exceptional man who never treated the “opposite...

(The entire section is 5863 words.)

Joan M. Ferrante (essay date 1989)

SOURCE: Ferrante, Joan M. “Notes toward the Study of a Female Rhetoric in the Trobairitz.” In The Voice of the Trobairitz: Perspectives on the Women Troubadours, edited by William D. Paden, pp. 63-72. Philadelphia, Penn.: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989.

[In the following essay, Ferrante analyzes differences between troubadour poetry written by women and that written by men.]

Is there a female rhetoric in the poetry of the trobairitz? When I first considered this question, I expected the answer to be no. But when I went over the material I had collected in order to begin to answer the question, I discovered that the answer seemed to be yes, albeit a hesitant...

(The entire section is 5026 words.)

Matilda Tomaryn Bruckner (essay date 1995)

SOURCE: Bruckner, Matilda Tomaryn. Introduction to Songs of the Women Troubadours, edited and translated by Matilda Tomaryn Bruckner, Laurie Shepard, and Sarah White, pp. xi-xlvii. New York: Garland Publishing, 1995.

[In the following essay, Bruckner discusses how the trobairitz altered the prevailing poetic system that was largely shaped by males.]

This collection assembles twenty named women poets and a selection of anonymous domnas, names and voices derived from poems, rubrics, vidas (biographies) and razos (commentaries) recorded in manuscripts of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. If they are only twenty or so among more than four...

(The entire section is 19986 words.)

Further Reading


Akehurst, F. R. P., and Judith M. Davis, eds. A Handbook of the Troubadours. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995, 502 p.

Includes sections on versification, music, the vidas and razos, origins and diffusion, and imagery and vocabulary.

Alfonsi, Sandra Resnick. Masculine Submission in Troubadour Lyric. New York: Peter Lang, 1986, 455 p.

Examines the theme of masculine submission in some one thousand troubadour poems; includes a study of the vocabulary of submission.

Bruckner, Matilda Tomaryn. “Na Castelloza, Trobairitz, and Troubadour Lyric.”...

(The entire section is 622 words.)