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Love and Death in Medieval French and Occitan Courtly LiteratureMartyrs to Love$

Simon Gaunt

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780199272075

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199272075.001.0001

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The Deadly Secrets of the Heart: The Chastelaine de Vergy and the Castelain de Couci

The Deadly Secrets of the Heart: The Chastelaine de Vergy and the Castelain de Couci

(p.73) 3 The Deadly Secrets of the Heart: The Chastelaine de Vergy and the Castelain de Couci
Love and Death in Medieval French and Occitan Courtly Literature

Simon Gaunt (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the relation between courtly lyric and romance with reference to the treatment of the motif of dying for love. The main texts under discussion are the vida devoted to Guillem de Cabestanh, the Castelain de Couci, and the Chastelaine de Vergy. Particular attention is paid to the so-called ‘eaten heart’ legend and thereby to the notion of incorporation.

Keywords:   Castelain de Coucy, Chastelaine de Vergy, Guillem de Cabestanh, incorporation, eaten heart

Troubadour lyric is not the only influence on the development of ideas concerning love in courtly romance. Ovid is at least as important and one at least of the earliest recognizably ‘courtly’ texts in Old French—courtly in the sense of concern with a refined model of love—is directly taken from Ovid's Metamorphoses: Piramus et Thysbé. It is striking, however, when the Old French text is set alongside the Latin, that the lovers' speech is shot through with references to death from the outset. This is evident, for instance, in Piramus' lament when their parents first try to keep he and Thisbé apart:

'Hé, las!

Hé Piramus, quel la feras?

En quel guise te contendras?

Haÿ, pere qui m'engendras,

Pour quoi

N'as tu ore pitié de moi?

Se tu ne prens autre conroi,

Ou par enging ou par desroi


Tysbé, bele, que te verrai,


Ou se ce non pour toi morrai.

Saches, se par amours ne t'ai,

Que par force te ravirai.

La mort

Iert mon refuge et mon confort.’

(Piramus 2000: 151–65)

(‘Alas! Oh, unhappy Piramus, what will you do? How will you react? Oh natural father, why do you not now take pity upon me? If you do not change your mind, I will make sure I see you again fair Thisbe, whether this be by devious or excessive means, or if this cannot be I will die for you. And know this: if I cannot have you through love, I will take you by force. Death will be my refuge and comfort.)

These lines are typical of the rhetoric the lovers use to analyse their feelings well before they come to their tragic end, but they have no equivalent in Ovid.1 We might note that Piramus talks of dying for Thisbe and that the poet uses a rhyme pair—mort | confort—used frequently in Old French romance, particularly, as we will see, in Thomas's Tristan. Indeed, since Piramus is still but a child, and not a particularly assertive one at that, rather than taking his claim that ‘par force te ravirai’ as a reference to rape or abduction, which seems unlikely in any case given his character and feelings, one might infer rather that death is taken here as a metaphorical form of ravishment that will lead to the lovers' happy reunion, a reunion they desire and find comforting. Thus, when transposed into Old French in a text such as Piramus, the Ovidian tradition is from the outset coloured with the representation of love as sacrifice and the association of love with death that mark the troubadour lyric (see Toury 1979: 28–9). What distinguishes vernacular ‘courtly love’ from Ovidian love is in fact the association of love and death.

Yet, if the influence of the troubadours on twelfth-century romance is implicit, from the early thirteenth century, writers of a range of romances mark their debt to the lyric tradition more explicitly. One way of doing this was through the use of interpolated lyrics, or integrating extant lyrics or parts of extant lyrics (mainly from the twelfth century) into a narrative either as quotation, direct speech, or as a song that a character supposedly composes to express his or her feelings. Texts that use this technique have come under increasing critical scrutiny over the last twenty years: for instance Jean Renart's Le Roman de la Rose, Le Roman de la Violette, (p.75) Le Castelain de Couci, La Chastelaine de Vergy.2 The juxtaposition of lyric and narrative discourse in texts such as these implicitly invites readers to reflect on the differences between the two. Whereas love lyrics, as already noted, focus on a moment of unsatisfied desire, the narrative framework of romance has to make it clear whether love in fact turns out to be reciprocal, and if so, whether the outcome is a happy one or not. Indeed, the treatment of the love/death configuration may be transformed by narrative movement in that a shared death with the beloved may be envisaged or portrayed, becoming a union in death, not simply an imagined or anticipated solitary death. Narrative may also give the lady the opportunity to speak (even if we should not assume thereby that her voice represents that of a real woman). The value of the lyric's discourse of sacrificial desire may therefore be examined critically in a number of different ways by romances with interpolated lyrics.

This chapter has three sections. The first will elaborate in more detail the differences between lyric and romance discourse, and also on what is at stake theoretically in the juxtaposition of the two. The remaining sections will discuss two key texts which use interpolated lyrics: La Chastelaine de Vergy and Le Castelain de Couci. These texts stand in an interesting relation to each other: both play on the work of the same twelfth-century trouvère, the Castelain de Couci, though to different degrees; and in the later Middle Ages and early modern period, the two texts become confused in that the plot of the latter is rewritten under the title of the former. This confusion of the two quite distinct plots invites consideration of how the two quite distinct types of sacrifice entailed in these narratives may have been perceived as related.3 The shared lyric models deployed by both texts, and the focus they both have on the ethical value of secrecy, will supply the key to this investigation.

Lyric vs. Narrative: Self-Sacrifice vs. Spectacle

The use of interpolated lyrics is not the only way in which thirteenth-century narrative texts draw and comment on the lyric tradition. In French, the hugely influential Roman de la Rose may be read as a meditation on lyric subjectivity, and as noted in the Introduction, the delightful but (p.76) idiosyncratic Occitan romance Flamenca playfully exploits lyric paradigms, while dissecting a specific lyric to redeploy as part of an amorous exchange with a view to exposing the erotic and (im)moral agendas that underpin fin' amor. And of course it is in Occitan—with the vidas and razos—that the tradition of introducing lyric texts with short prose narratives, and of glossing lyrics with prose, is inaugurated. Possibly influenced by Latin traditions such as the prosimetrum and the accessus ad auctores, the vidas and razos were probably composed at or shortly after the turn of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries to introduce Italian readers and listeners to troubadour poetry at a stage in the transmission of these texts when they had become largely unhooked from performance (at least in Italy), and firmly anchored in a written tradition. The use of interpolated lyrics is thus part of a larger textual phenomenon whereby lyric and narrative are set in a dialogic relation, and even though romances with interpolated lyrics sometimes represent lyrics in performance, their being embedded in a longer narrative suggests that they are in this context viewed primarily as written material. We are dealing therefore with a conscious literary dialectic between two related discourses that are nonetheless viewed as not entirely commensurate with each other.

This incommensurability of lyric and narrative courtly discourse has two main components: firstly, the lyric is a first-person discourse, whereas courtly narrative usually entails the discernible presence of a third-person narrator who narrates and sometimes comments upon the amorous exploits of a hero and/or heroine; secondly, lyrics usually make no suggestion of sequential time, whereas narratives obviously rely on the forward movement of time. These differences lead to different treatment of some of the lyric tradition's central metaphors or motifs. I have already noted the possibility of a shared death that is opened up in some narratives, so that sacrificial desire may appear mutual, even though, as we shall see, appearances often turn out to be deceptive. Another major difference lies in the treatment of one of the central concerns of many lyrics: celars/celer (‘concealment’ or ‘secrecy’). A troubadour may confess his love publicly in song, but his claim is that his discretion is absolute and he certainly does not name his lady, other than through a senhal (code name). Narrative, on the other hand, inevitably entails the betrayal of any secret love, and the implication of the readers or listeners in that betrayal, since the substance of the text is the narration of the secret. It is also crucial that this is done in the third person, by a narrator who analyses and comments, and who is not necessarily implicated himself in the love story. Indeed, the temporal arrangement of narrative may lead to fantasmic (p.77) attempts to confront and resolve—or repress—some of the contradictions or paradoxes of the lyric, since in narrative, they cannot always be allowed to remain in permanent suspension, as may be the case in lyric.4

The vidas and razos devoted to the lyrics of the early thirteenth-century Catalan troubadour Guillem de Cabestanh, which are one of the earliest manifestations of the eaten heart story that forms the basis of Le Castelain de Couci, illustrate these points beautifully. For Sylvia Huot (1999: 274–7), this story, which is nearly always narrated with a poet as hero in the Middle Ages, is paradigmatic for the transfer of lyric motifs to narrative. Here is a stanza from the lyric glossed by these texts:

En sovinensa

Tenc la car' e·l dous ris,

Vostra valensa

E·l belh cors blanc e lis;

S'ieu per crezensa

Estes vas Dieu tan fis,

Vius ses falhensa

Intrer' em paradis;

Qu'ayssi·m suy, ses totz cutz,

De cor a vos rendutz

Qu'autra joy no m'adutz:

Qu'una non porta benda

Qu'ieu·n prezes per esmenda

Jazer ni fos sos drutz,

Per las vostras salutz.

(Guillem de Cabestanh 1924: V, 31–45)

(I hold your face and sweet smile, your worth and your comely, smooth and white body in my memory; if, in my faith, I were as true to God, I would surely enter paradise alive and without fail; for thus have I, without hesitation, given myself to you with all my heart, for no other woman can give me joy: for there is no woman who covers her head [i.e. respectable woman] with whom I would rather sleep, or whose lover I would rather be, in exchange for a simple greeting from you.)

The prose texts that gloss this lyric are important for the dissemination of the eaten heart story in vernacular courtly culture because they were the source of the story for Boccaccio, and, almost certainly, for Dante. Guillem falls in love with the wife of his lord, Raimon de Castel Roussillon, who on (p.78) realizing that Guillem loves his wife becomes insanely jealous and locks her up (which is when Guillem is supposed to have composed the lyric being glossed); Raimon kills Guillem, then feeds his wife her lover's heart; she claims never to have eaten anything so delicious, then throws herself from a window to avoid being run through by him; the lovers are then avenged by the King of Aragon, who is appalled when he hears the story.5 What we find in these vidas and razos is that two acts of violence on the part of Raimon de Castel Roussillon—first killing Guillem and extracting his heart, then giving it to his wife to eat—are retrospectively construed as sacrifice on the part of the lovers, offering thereby a text-book example of what Freud called Nachträglichkeit, the process whereby a trauma is realized, symbolized, and thereby possibly ‘dealt with’ only retrospectively. As if to ensure that the point is not missed (both in the diegetic and extradiegetic space constructed by the narrative), a monument to the lovers explaining the story is erected by the king of Aragon outside a church in Perpignan at the end of the narrative. In his lyric, Guillem suffers ‘greu martire’ (22: ‘grievous martyrdom); in the razo his lady dies for or on account of him (§22 ‘per el’). Both are thus treated as martyrs to love, as secular saints. Guillem's metaphorical discourse of sacrifice in his lyric, in which he gives himself to his lady with all his heart, is thereby from the outset clearly erotic, and yet also understood as overdetermined by the religious parallel that precedes his gift of himself. But as a deliberate gloss on this lyric, the eaten heart story serves here—as it often does elsewhere—to literalize this metaphoric discourse of sacrifice so that something that is suspended in a nebulous timelessness in the lyric (‘Qu'ayssi·m suy, ses totz cutz, | De cor a vos rendutz’) is translated into a rigorous temporal and material framework. Thus, in a process that has been termed ‘demetaphorization’ by psychoanalysts interested in fantasies of incorporation, the metaphoric gift of the ‘heart’ is translated into the actual ingestion of the organ, the point being to mask the loss that has occurred (Abraham and Torok 1972: 112). Simultaneously, when a discourse of self-sacrifice is appropriated for a narrative framework, it is thereby translated by a narrator into spectacle, in this instance both for those within the narrative frame who construct and then look upon the monument (p.79) that commemorates the lovers, and then outside the narrative frame for readers of the text, who are invited thereby to contemplate the processes they witness. There are thus three levels on which others pry into the lovers' secret:6 first, the lady's husband realizes Guillem's songs are about his wife;7 second, the secret is revealed to all and sundry within the text;8 finally, it is related to the readers.

The theoretical models of sacrifice used in Chapters 1 and 2 consider sacrifice from the perspective of the first-person subject, or (in the case of Agamben and, in a different way, of Derrida) from the perspective of the being to whom sacrifice is made (even if this being—in Derrida, God, in Agamben, the sovereign—is arguably performatively constituted by being the object of a sacrificial address). However, more anthropologically oriented writers on sacrifice, such as Georges Bataille or René Girard, focus less on the subject's experience of sacrifice than on the spectacle, ritual, and representation of sacrifice as well as on the use and role of such spectacles, rituals and representations in the formation of communities. The difference between lyric and narrative models of sacrifice in some ways corresponds to this theoretical difference.

Thus, for Bataille, sacrifice is primarily a spectacle, or a representation, whereby a community figures the transgression of the law or the interdit relating to death. This primal scene underpins and is supported by an apparently teleological and evolutionary model of the passage from animality to humanity, whereby the latter emerges from the former (Bataille 1957). In sacrifice, Bataille asserts, humanity represents to itself the transgression of the interdit concerning death, this transgression offering the vicarious experience, for those who participate (that is for witnesses to the mise à mort) of a limitless fusion (1957: 92–3). Whereas in Derrida's and Lacan's accounts of sacrifice, the subject sacrifices or gives himself, thereby offering himself fantasmically as object of the Other's desire, in Bataille's account the object, though no less fabricated, is external to the agent of the sacrifice, whom for Bataille is the real subject of sacrifice. The (p.80) operation of sacrifice, the ‘making sacred’ of the object subordinates it to the subject, in some instances by incorporating it. What is effectively sacrificed, then, is its status as object. In this schema, the destruction of the object qua object in sacrifice troubles the boundaries of the subject, affording the experience (or illusion) of fusion, and of intimacy with the object in destruction (Bataille 1999: 58–61).

Inasmuch as it is a spectacle or representation, sacrifice may be seen (although this is not explicit in Bataille) as fundamentally fantasmatic and defensive. Bataille's account of sacrifice seems, in this respect, congruent with the Lacanian version of sacrifice as a fantasy structure through which one seeks to affirm the existence and plenitude of the Other. In so far as the spectacle of sacrifice affords (though not to the victim) a vicarious experience of the sacred, it is a ‘regulatory fiction’. Thus, ‘il s'agit d'introduire, à l'intérieur d'un monde fondé sur la discontinuité, toute la continuité dont ce monde est susceptible’ (1957: 26: ‘the point is to introduce into a world grounded in discontinuity all the continuity to which this world may be susceptible’).

Yet there are clearly differences between Bataille's account of sacrifice, and Lacan's or Derrida's. Bataille's analysis is fixed on the scene of sacrifice as spectacle, maintaining a distinction between the subject of sacrifice (who instigates the sacrifice of an object or another person qua object), that is, the one to whom the ‘benefits of sacrifice … accrue' (Hubert and Mauss 1964: 10), and the victim or object of sacrifice. His account of sacrifice is thus explicitly not an account of self-sacrifice. However, to the extent that sacrifice in Bataille's account is oriented towards fusion with the Other, the position of the Bataillean subject of sacrifice is underpinned by the fantasy of being the instrument, rather than the object, of the Other's jouissance. The subject of sacrifice therefore kills the victim, or is witness to its death, in order to be sure, in the sight of blood and viscera, of the Other's enjoyment.

For Bataille, sacrifice is a fiction or comedy, which invites exploration of the literary representation of the sacrificial fantasy. In L'Erotisme, Bataille digresses from the historical narrative of eroticism thus: ‘Le sacrifice est un roman, c'est un conte, illustré de manière sanglante. Ou plutôt, c'est, à l'état rudimentaire, une représentation théâtrale, un drame réduit à l'épisode final, où la victime animale ou humaine, joue seule, mais joue jusqu'à la mort' (1957: 98: ‘Sacrifice is like a novel, it is a tale, illustrated in a bloody fashion. Or rather, it's a theatrical representation of the most rudimentary sort, a drama reduced to the final act, in which the victim—whether animal or human—acts all alone, but to the death’). Narrative (p.81) and representation thus provide a stage on which the drama of sacrifice is played out, the hero playing the role of the victim. To push this analogy further, the reader then becomes the subject of sacrifice properly speaking, the one to whom ‘the benefit accrues’. The reader, ‘à l'abri du danger' is able to enjoy the sacrifice ‘par procuration’: ‘Il s'agit, l'endurant sans trop d'angoisse, de jouir du sentiment de perdre' (1957: 97: ‘it is a matter of enjoying the feeling of loss, of experiencing this without too much anxiety’). Thus, despite the structural differences between Bataille's anthropological understanding of sacrifice and Lacan's reading of sacrifice as fantasy, they come together on the one hand in that they both believe the victim is accorded heroic status, and on the other in that they see the Other's jouissance as the prime objective of sacrifice.

The Gift of Death and the Ethics of Secrecy: La Chastelaine de Vergy

I should like to introduce my reading of the Chastelaine by elaborating briefly on the aporia Derrida associates with sacrifice and the gift of death that I explored in Chapter 1, in relation to two points arising out of his work that seem particularly pertinent to this text. First, the relationship between responsibility and betrayal; secondly, the importance of the secret, which is allied, I think, to what I call the epistemological impossibility of the gift of death, and therefore of ethical knowledge.

Derrida's principle example of sacrifice in Donner la Mort is Abraham. Derrida argues that for Abraham's sacrifice of his son to be a sacrifice, he must truly love him. Sacrifice necessarily entails renunciation of the thing one loves most, be it another thing or person, or oneself. Thus, in order to be true to the Other (the singular, supreme, absolute Other), one must betray others. Responsibility, being answerable to the Other, is thus not compatible with responsibility to others. Derrida suggests a distinction here between duty and ethics: ‘le devoir absolu exige qu'on se conduise de façon irresponsable … tout en reconnaissant, confirmant, réaffirmant cela même qu'on sacrifie, à savoir l'ordre de l'éthique et de la responsabilité humaine. En un mot, l'éthique doit être sacrifiée au nom du devoir’ (1992: 67: ‘absolute duty requires one to behave irresponsibly … while simultaneously recognizing, confirming and reaffirming that which one sacrifices, namely ethics and human responsibility. In a word, ethics must be sacrificed in the name of duty’). But this distinction breaks down, for it is duty to the Other that guarantees responsibility to others. Without (p.82) sacrifice there can be no ethics. But sacrifice entails betrayal at some level, which is unethical.

Derrida alludes to the importance of the secret to his model of ethics throughout Donner la Mort. But the problem is portrayed not simply as stemming from public knowledge of a particular ethical or unethical act, of a particular sacrificial act, of a particular gift, but from language itself:

Abraham ne parle pas, il assume cette responsabilité qui consiste à être toujours seul et retranché dans sa propre singularité au moment de sa décision. De même que personne ne peut mourir à ma place, personne ne peut prendre une décision, ce qui s'appelle une décision, à ma place. Or dès qu'on parle, dès qu'on entre dans le milieu du langage, on perd la singularité. On perd donc la possibilité ou le droit de décider. Toute décision devrait ainsi, au fond, rester à la fois solitaire, secrète et silencieuse. (1992: 61)

(Abraham does not speak, he assumes the responsibility that consists in always being alone and confined in one's own singularity at the moment of taking one's decision. Just as no one is able to die in my place, no one can take a so-called decision for me. What is more, as soon as one speaks, as soon as one enters the realm of language, one loses one's singularity. One loses thereby the possibility of speaking or the right to decide. Any decision should thus, in the end, remain at one and the same time solitary, secret and silent.)

Singularité designates not only a crucial element of responsibility—you are only truly responsible if you alone are answerable for what you do—but also the removal of your gesture from any economy of exchange. In the symbolic order of language everything, every gesture, every act is always already part of an economy of exchange; like a coin, it goes into circulation; it loses its singularity, and it thereby has value to others.

In Donner la Mort, Derrida argues for the impossibility of the subject's knowledge of the gift as sacrifice. In the near contemporary Donner le Temps, he pushes the argument in a different, but equally productive direction, by arguing not just that the gift is impossible, but more radically that the gift figures the impossible. Knowledge of a gift qua gift, he argues again, destroys its gift-like qualities: ‘pour qu'il y ait don, il faut que le don n'apparaisse même pas, qu'il ne soit pas perçu comme don … pour qu'il y ait don, il ne faut pas seulement que le donataire ou le donateur ne perçoive pas le don comme tel … il faut aussi qu'il l'oublie à l'instant.’ (1991: 29: ‘for there to be a gift, it is necessary for the gift itself not to be apparent or perceived as a gift … for there to be a gift it is not only necessary that neither the giver nor the receiver of the gift perceive the gift as such … it is also necessary that he forget it instantaneously’). The point again is that for a gift to be a gift, it must be freely given, it must involve (p.83) no element of reciprocal obligation or exchange: ‘pour qu'il y ait don, il faut qu'il n'y ait pas de réciprocité, de retour, d'échange, de contre-don ni de dette’ (1991: 29: ‘for there to be a gift, there must be no reciprocity, no return, no exchange, counter-gift or debt’). Playing on the dual meaning of the word présent in French and in English, Derrida suggests that the true gift must exist in an eternal present; as soon as it becomes inscribed in the temporal dimension of language, it is destroyed as gift since it has entered a structure that is predicated on exchange, because, as Derrida puts it ‘le symbole engage immédiatement dans la restitution’ (1991: 38, ‘a symbol immediately engages reciprocity’). Indeed, one might infer from this that the temporal dimension of narrative entails the destruction of the potentiality of the gift: ‘la temporalité du temps … engage toujours le processus d'une destruction du don’ (1991: 27: ‘the temporality of time … always engages the process whereby the gift is destroyed’). In a specific evocation of psychoanalytic theory and practice, Derrida asserts that forgetting (l'oubli) is in fact the only condition of the gift (1991: 31). This is not to say that the true gift may never exist, but rather that like the Lacanian Real, it resists symbolization absolutely. Thus, within the symbolic order of language, the gift can only be an unrealized potentiality; it is a fiction sustained yet destroyed by its own mechanism, figured by a simulacrum: ‘même si le don n'était jamais qu'un simulacre, il faut encore rendre compte de la possibilité de ce simulacre et du désir qui pousse à ce simulacre’ (1991: 47, ‘even if the gift were never anything other than a simulacrum, it is necessary to give an account of what makes this simulacrum possible and of the desire that drives us to this simulacrum’). It is thus in the end less the impossibility of the gift that concerns Derrida, than the impossibility of its symbolization, and therefore, less the impossibility of an ethical act than the inadequacy of language as a vehicle for ethics, hence the centrality of the idea of silence, of the secret.

To turn to the Chastelaine de Vergy, this brief mid-thirteenth century romance is widely disseminated, adapted and alluded to throughout the later Middle Ages and indeed the early modern period.9 The plot is worthy of a nineteenth-century opera in that it is simultaneously outrageously slight while having maximum potential for emotional intensity. The Chastelaine conducts her love affair with a worthy knight in secret: indeed she has imposed a vow of secrecy upon him. She uses a well-trained little dog (chiennet) to signal to her lover that the coast is clear when he comes (p.84) calling. However, the Duchess of Burgundy falls in love with him and when he rebuffs her she is so angry that she tells her husband he has been making advances to her. The Duke then threatens the knight, his favourite, with exile. The knight protests that he cannot love the Duchess since he loves another, but the Duke will not believe him unless he reveals her identity. The knight therefore is in a dilemma: should he betray his lady by revealing her identity to the Duke (who is also her uncle), or should he stay true to his lady but lose her nonetheless through exile? He chooses to spill the beans to the Duke, little dog and all, at which point the Duke thinks it would be jolly if he came to watch one of their encounters, a suggestion to which the knight readily agrees: both men seem to enjoy this episode. Meanwhile, the Duchess is furious when the Duke fails to exile the knight, and when challenged, he extols the knight's virtue, professing he has secure knowledge that she lied to him. She wheedles the truth out of him, and in complimenting the Chastelaine on her well-trained little dog, the Duchess thereby signals to her that she knows her secret. The Chastelaine dies of grief, wrongly assuming in a quasioperatic final soliloquy that her lover has betrayed their secret because he now loves the Duchess; the knight then kills himself; the Duke then kills the Duchess when it is revealed by a handily placed eavesdropper what has happened.

An obvious point of entry into the text in the light of the theoretical models I am seeking to deploy is the coincidence of responsibility and betrayal in the knight's behaviour. The knight is subject to competing forms of sovereignty: that of his temporal lord and that of his lady. His dilemma is unenviable: if he tells the Duke, his lord, about his love affair, he breaks his promise to his amie; if he does not, the Duke will think he is a traitor and exile him, so he is removed from his amie anyway.10 The narrator comments of the two alternatives: ‘l'un et l'autre tient a mort’ (Chastelaine 1997: line 270, ‘one and the other lead to death’). The knight is subject here to two forms of sovereignty and to two ethical systems that turn out (unsurprisingly) to be incompatible: on the one hand, he remembers his lady and trembles with ‘ire et mautalent’ (‘anger and displeasure’); on the other, he has no wish to be thought a traïtor desloial towards his lord (177–89). The knight's motivation is confused. On the one hand, he breaks his promise of silence in order to stay close to his lady. On the other, maybe he breaks his promise in order to stay true to his lord, in which case he needs to betray/sacrifice something/someone else in (p.85) order to retain his lord's affection, to wit the person he ostensibly loves most in the world. His decision to obey his lord rather than his amie is instructive in relation to the ill-judged hierarchization of ethical systems and to gender. It reveals the extent to which the language of sovereignty deployed in the courtly lyric in relation to the lady, which I examined in Chapter 2, is highly metaphorical. However, although the knight's decision is implicitly criticized, it is not clear things would have turned out any better had he decided to keep his promise to his amie. It is also instructive that he gives up more than he bargains for. This is precisely the kind of ‘forced choice’, ubiquitous in Lacan's thinking, that in fact curtails freedom (see Žižek 1989: 165–9; also Kay 2003: 36–7). In making the wrong decision, the knight ends up losing precisely what he sought to retain and more. But the knight's willing participation in the voyeuristic scene where the Duke gets ‘solace and pleasure’ (371) from eavesdropping on the knight's night of passion and their subsequent hearty bonding around this incident suggest that the knight is more worried by the possibility of betraying his lord than betraying his amie. Significantly, the Duke makes a parallel decision in preferring to believe his friend rather than his wife. Indeed, he is paradoxically joyful when it is revealed she is a liar (425–49). Like the knight, the Duke is ethically muddled. As a result, both fail to realize what they have done until it is too late.

The real sacrifice in this text is the Chastelaine's. She dies addressing fine amour in a soliloquy in which she recalls that she gave her love to the knight, but praying God to give her lover honour and to give her death since she forgives him:

‘Ha! fine amors, est il dont droiz

qu'il li a ainsi descouvert

nostre conseil, dont il me pert?

Que a m'amor otroier li dis,

et bien a convenant li mis

que a cele eure me perdroit

que nostre amor descouverroit;

et quant j'ai avant perdu lui,

ne puis vivre aprés tel ennui;

ne ma vie ne me plest point,

ainz pri Dieu que la mort me doint,

et que tout ausin vraiement

comme j'ai amé lëaument

celui qui ce m'a porchacié,

ait de la moie ame pitié;

et a celui qui a son tort


m'a traïe et livree a mort,

doint honor, car je li pardon.

Ne ma morz n'est se douceur non,

ce m'est avis quant de lui vient;

que quant de s'amor me sovient,

par lui morir ne m'est pas poinne.’

(813–34, my emphasis)

(Alas, fine amour, is it thus right that he has revealed our secret when this is my undoing? When I granted him my love and made a pact with him, I told him I would be lost if our love were revealed; and since I have now lost him, I cannot live after such a blow; nor does my life now please me, rather I beseech God to give me death, and that, just as I have loved the one who has driven me to this point, he should have pity on my soul; and that He bestow honour upon the one who has betrayed me and delivered me to my death, for I forgive him. And I think my death is nothing but sweetness to me since it comes from him, and when I remember his love, dying on his account is no hardship for me.)

This passage insists on the ethical centrality of gift giving while leaving it intrinsically unclear what the gift actually is, love or death. Furthermore, given the invocation of God as the giver of death (823), the referent of the pronoun lui in lines 832 and 834 is ambiguous: does the Chastelaine's death come from God or from her lover, and is it no hardship for her to die on God's, or on her lover's, account? The Chastelaine's language here deliberately imbricates the religious and the erotic. She represents herself as a martyr as a result of her having given herself, but to whom exactly does she make her sacrifice, particularly in the light of her prayer for the knight's honour?

Whereas the Chastelaine's death clearly has overtones of sacrifice, the knight kills himself out of remorse, because he wishes to administer justice to himself (897) and not as a martyr to love or his amie.11 Furthermore, the Chastelaine thinks she dies alone and that the reasons for her sacrifice are therefore a secret, but her gift (of death) unwittingly goes into circulation because her speech is overheard. This extends a process of circulation in which she participates without realizing. God gives her death, she gives her life/death to her lover and fine amour, which has previously been spoken about, very insistently, throughout the text as a gift that she had given (octroier/donner) to the knight, but the Duchess wanted him to give it (love) to her (always donner with (p.87) the Duchess).12 However, since from a Derridean perspective reciprocity and mutual obligation signal the destruction of the gift's qualities as gift, the Chastelaine's imposition of secrecy could then be read not as the capricious whim of a courtly dame, but rather as an attempt to ensure the qualities of the gift of her love qua gift.13 Unfortunately, she tragically misses the point: as soon as the gift is received, it is destroyed. She would have needed, to use Derrida's formulation (1992: 60), to love not just en secret (‘in secret’), but au secret (‘secretly’). The secret of her love would have needed to be secret, certainly from the knight, but also perhaps from herself. Knowledge—of any kind—leads to circulation; symbolization of any kind—such as the chiennet—leads to circulation, which leads to loss and destruction.

The text's lesson—we are told it is an esample in the epilogue (954)—would seem to be that shared knowledge is ethically dangerous, always destructive. I have said that the knight's motives are confused, and I have implied that the Chastelaine's position is ethically more tenable. Gender may be an issue here. Her death seems to be spontaneously induced by the pain of her predicament, whereas the knight dies at his own hand. Does the involuntary nature of the women's sacrifice make it ethically better? This is a question to which I will return in Chapter 5.

However, it is also noteworthy that the Chastelaine's sacrifice is grounded in misapprehension or méconnaissance: she thinks the Duchess's knowledge indicates that the knight no longer loves her and is now courting his overlord's wife. My point here is that circulation also leads to distortion, less in the manner of Chinese whispers, but rather in the sense that symbolization rests on an imagined consensus to which no one in fact has access, and which therefore becomes susceptible to multiple misunderstandings. In the Chastelaine, love is spoken about as a gift, but as soon as it is given and received, its integrity is destroyed. This points to a fundamental paradox of courtly literature: its raison d'être is articulating that which is only of value when unspoken and celars—discretion or secrecy—is a primary virtue in troubadour lyric, which of course by definition seeks to expose love even as it conceals its object.14 This is tracked (p.88) in the Chastelaine de Vergy through the insistent use of the words celer and descouvrir, particularly, as has often been noted by critics, in the prologue and epilogue:

Une maniere de gent sont

qui d'estre loiaus samblant font,

et de conseil si bien celer

qu'i se convient en eus f [ie]r;

et quant vient que on s'i decuevre,

tant qu'i sevent l'amor et l'uevre,

si l'espandent par le païs.    (1–7)

(There are some people who pretend to be loyal and to know how to keep a secret so that one feels it is safe to trust them; and when one confides in them, so that they know about one's love and one's deeds, they spread news of this throughout the land.)

Et par cest esample doit l'an

S'amor garder par si grant sen,

qu'an oit touz jours en remanbrance,

que ele descouvrir rien n'avance,

et li celers en touz poinz vaut.    (954–8)

(This example encourages us to guard our love wisely, to remember always that confiding in others serves no purpose, and that keeping a secret is always worthwhile.)

As this suggests, the central ethical problem of courtly literature is secrecy and this is offered at the beginning and end as a moral grid through which to read this text.15 A worthy love should always be kept secret, and any betrayal of this secret is not only destructive, it is unethical. To give one's love is necessarily to reveal (if only to one's ami(e)), and to reveal is to destroy. Fine amour thus posits the possibility of an ethics that is unrealizable from the position it forces the subject to occupy, other than through death, an ethics that in any case is destroyed by our presence as readers, by the making of the ethical subject into a spectacle.

The Chastelaine de Vergy seems to suggest that once knowledge of love is shared, love itself is destroyed. Thus, any transposition of the model of love elaborated in the lyric to a narrative frame, which seeks to recount the (p.89) love in question, to make love a spectacle, is destined to be destructive. That the author of the Chastelaine had this in mind is beyond doubt, since he included in his narrative a stanza from a very well-known trouvère, the Castelain de Couci, which he introduces by explicitly inviting his readers to compare what the knight feels when he fears he will be parted from the Chastelaine, to what the Castelain feels in the lyric when he is parted from his lady:

Si est en tel point autresi

com li chatelains de Couchi,

qui ou cuer n'avoit s'amor non;

et dist en ·I· ver de chançon:

Par Dieu, amors, fort m'est a consiurrer

du samblant que m'i soloit montrer,

du solaz et de la compaignie,

cele qui m'ert ma dame, compaigne et amie;

et quant recort sa simple compaignie,

et les douz moz que seut a moi parler,

comment me puet li cuers en cors durer?

Quant il ne part, certes trop est mauvés.’    (291–302)

(He was in such distress, just like the Castelain de Couci, who had nothing but love in his heart, and who said, in a stanza from one of his songs: ‘By God, Love, it is difficult for me to think about the expression with which she used to greet me, about the comfort and company I had with the one who was my lady, companion, and friend; and when I recall her guileless company, and the sweet words which she used to speak to me, how can my heart stay in my body? If it [my heart] does not leave at once, it is truly wicked.’)

This somewhat elliptic stanza plays on the common motif of the lover's heart staying with the beloved when they are apart. The lover is tortured by the sweet pain of the memory of his lady's company when distant from her. And yet, as is so often the case with courtly lyrics, the stanza is ambivalent. Recort in line 299, most obviously means ‘recall’, but it also has the sense ‘record’, as if the pain were caused as much by the trace of their union that the lover leaves in language as by their separation. It is as if the narrative—in telling the story of the secret love—is responding to something that is as yet but a potentiality in the lyric, but it responds knowingly to a potentiality that is knowingly flagged in the lyric.16

(p.90) This ambivalence further underlines the extent to which articulation of love constitutes an act of betrayal. In the context of the Chastelaine de Vergy, of course, the final act of articulation within the narrative is that of the ostensibly innocent servant girl who happens to overhear the Chastelaine's final soliloquy, but in the light of this text's insistence on the necessity of discretion (celer) and the dangers of revelation or confidence in others (descouvrir), there is perhaps no such thing as the innocent witness. The servant girl loses her innocence as she witnesses the Chastelaine's speech, and in this she figures both the poet (who also passes the story on) and readers, who like her, witness events with a mixture of horror and enjoyment. Without a spectator, there can be no spectacle, but it is as if proximity to the spectacle roots one to the spot, making one into a spectator. The act of witnessing constitutes the betrayal of a secret that leads to death. But we, as readers, are also witnesses and are thereby implicated here. We, as readers, are the subjects of sacrifice according to Bataille's schema.

Ethical Incorporation: Le Castelain de Couci

At eight times the length of La Chastelaine de Vergy, Le Castelain de Couci, composed by one Jakemes in the late thirteenth century, is a far more complex narrative, and it plays on lyric interpolations throughout. In this most elaborate of the medieval versions of the eaten heart story, secrecy is by no means the only important ethical component of love, but the epilogue nonetheless insistently underlines its value:

Atant vos finnerai l'estore

Et le conte des vrais amans

En cui loiautés fu manans.

Estaule furent et secré,

Onni de coer, de volonté.

Et tel doivent iestre et si fait

Tout cil qui sont amant parfait.

(Jakemes 1936: lines 8190–6)

(Thus I will finish for you the story and tale of the true lovers, in whom loyalty was so abundant. They were faithful and capable of secrecy, united in heart and desire. And all those who are perfect lovers should be made and live thus.)


Mais les loiaus et les secrés

K'amours a dou feu embrasés

Qui art tous maus et fait haÿr

Tout cou k'onnours poet amenrir,

Cil ont deduit, joie et solas,

Ne tantost ne recroient pas,

Ains vivent en espoir joli

Tant k'amours lor donne mierchi,

Et sueffrent menu et souvent

Maint diviers assaut aigrement,

L'un de tristour, l'autre d'aaise.    (8221–31)

(But those who are loyal and able to keep their secret, whom love inflames with the fire that burns evil people and makes anything that is contrary to honour hateful, have pleasure, joy, and solace, nor are they recreant, rather they live hopefully and in joy, until love is merciful to them, and they often suffer many different sharp torments, sometimes from sadness, sometimes from pleasure.)

Secré(s) (used here both as an adjective and a noun, first to describe lovers capable of keeping their love a secret, then to designate such lovers themselves), is in both instances associated with loyalty, and therefore laden with ethical value. The inference is that if the lovers had not had their secret wrenched from them, their story might have had a different ending. In this instance, on one level neither lover betrays their secret; rather, it is snatched from them, then exposed for all to contemplate; on another level, however, the very articulation of love, and in the hero's case singing songs about it, could be taken to constitute a betrayal of love. But the theme of the courtly secret in the Castelain is more complex than in the Chastelaine for other reasons too, in that what the lovers know about their own love in the Castelain—and therefore the extent to which they themselves truly ‘know’ their secret—is problematic. Like the Chastelaine and her lover, the Castelain de Couci and the Dame de Fayel are victims of méconnaissance.

In the following analysis, I will explore further the issues raised by my initial presentation of the eaten heart scenario as found in razos and vidas about Guillem de Cabestanh in the first section of this chapter. I will first consider what is at stake in the retrospective construal of violence as sacrifice: as the victim of violence, the lover's sacrifice in the Castelain was not initially intended as such, and his sacrifice was therefore a secret to himself, as much as to others. I will then examine the unconscious nature of sacrificial desire, and show how the resulting impulse to be incorporated by the Other imbricates the sacrificial and the erotic, but also again calls (p.92) into question the extent to which the lovers themselves truly know the secret of their love. This will be followed by closer scrutiny of the nature of the heart, as gift, as object, then as signifier: it is the heart as signifier that will bring us back to the question of lyric poetry in that the heart that is eaten in the Castelain, as in most eaten heart stories, is the heart of a poet.17 I will conclude by examining the triangulated gender politics of the sacrificial scene and by returning once again to the question of sacrifice as spectacle and fantasy.

If the essence of sacrifice is ascesis, or giving something up, then each of the three protagonists in the Castelain enacts a sacrifice. The Castelain gives up his life as does his lady, the Dame de Fayel; her husband gives up his wife as a consequence of his action. In each case, sacrifice involves eating, whether this be being eaten, eating the flesh of another, or orchestrating this sacrificial meal, while sacrificial eating in turn is overlayed (or perhaps underpinned) with eroticism given the protagonists' erotic relations to each other.18 However, it is crucial to the story that the Dame de Fayel does not intend to eat the Castelain's heart, that he in turn does not intend for her to eat his heart. But there can be no doubt that acts that were not conceived as sacrificial are retrospectively construed in sacrificial terms.

Indeed, in feeding his wife the Castelain's heart, the Lord of Fayel creates a parallel with the Eucharist, which in turn suggests retrospectively that he died for her. The religious overtones of this are further heightened by the fact that the Castelain, rather than being killed by his rival, as is usually the case in eaten heart stories, dies while on crusade, but not before arranging to have his embalmed heart sent to the Dame de Fayel, only for it to be intercepted, with disastrous results, by her husband. She laments thus:

‘Ha! com dolereus envoi a

De son coer que il m'envoia!

Bien me moustra qu'il estoit miens,

Li miens devoit bien iestre siens!

Si il est! Bien le mousterai,

Car pour soie amour finnerai’.    (8143–8)

(‘Ah, what a painful gift is his heart, which he sent to me! He indeed showed me that it was mine, and now mine should be his! And indeed it is. I will show him for I will die for his love.’)

(p.93) The lady's sacrifice here emerges as an imitation of a supposed previous sacrifice on her lover's part. The Castelain in fact died as the result of wounds inflicted by an infidel's poison arrow, but the lady's declaration that she will die for (possibly because of) his love, in imitation of him, suggests she prefers to see his death (and her own) as sacrificial.19 Indeed, this gives the lovers' deaths overtones of martyrdom, which is precisely what is made explicit when the narrator tells us that the Dame de Fayel ‘Tant demainne anguisseus martire’ (8154, ‘undergoes such anguished martyrdom’), which in turn echoes and literalizes the Castelain's earlier protestation that ‘Vous ferés de moi vrai martir, | Car jou come fins amans morrai’ (2165–6: ‘you will make a true martyr of me, for I will die like a pure lover’).

The protagonists claim sacrifice as if they understand this makes their love more worthy—indeed more ethical—which is a point to which I will return. But the desire to make love sacrificial is all the more striking when it is considered that neither the lady nor her lover participates knowingly in the sacrificial scene.20 The lady's ostensible lack of agency here is the cue for the modern interpretation of the Castelain as being primarily about transgression: modern critics are almost unanimous that the Dame de Fayel cannot possibly wish to eat her lover's heart, that the Castelain cannot possibly wish actually to be devoured by her, and that the husband, in feeding his wife her lover's heart, is, as one critic puts it, force-feeding her.21 But to read the story as simply about transgression fails to account, as we will see, for the lady's enjoyment of her last supper; such readings also do not consider the role that transgression plays, according to both Bataille and Lacan, in shoring up and defining the limits of the symbolic, and thereby in upholding the law. A thorough-going psychoanalytic reading will produce a different interpretation.

Lacan insists that the most important feature of Oedipus' story for Freud was not that he murdered his father and married his mother, but (p.94) rather that ‘il ne savait pas’ when he did these things (2001a: 124). Indeed, it is axiomatic to Freud's reading and to the role the story has in his theory of the unconscious, that Oedipus unconsciously wants to kill his father, that he wishes to marry his mother, even though ostensibly he does his level best to avoid both. In other words, because desire may reside in the unconscious, we may not know what we want. Or, in certain cases, what we in fact want may be the opposite of what we think we want: thus, Oedipus seeks to escape the oracle's predictions, but the steps he takes to prevent the predictions coming true just serve to draw him closer to his fate. What then draws him to this fate? In psychoanalytic theory, agency (if indeed this term is still meaningful in this context) must be situated here at the level of the unconscious, and the very nature of knowledge of desire becomes thereby problematic.

For some psychoanalytic thinkers, fantasies of incorporation invariably spring from the unconscious (Abraham and Torok 1972: 111–13). In the eaten heart stories, the clearest indication that eating the heart is an unconscious desire is the pleasure the lady invariably takes in the meal. A common feature of these narratives is that the lady declares she has never eaten anything so delicious; as Lacan says in his discussion of the female preying mantis as a model of human sexuality, punning on the French term for the Id, ‘elle aime ça’ (2001 a: 257). In some instances, she ventures this opinion only after her husband has revealed to her what she has eaten, but significantly in the Castelain, the Dame de Fayel is fulsome about the qualities of the dish before she knows what it is:

La dame mout cel mes loa,

Et li sambla bien c'onques mes

Ne menga plus savereus mes.    (8046–8)

(The lady praised the dish extravagantly, indeed she thought that she had never eaten such a tasty dish.)

Indeed, her husband's explanation of what she has eaten is a response to her request to know more about the dish which ‘boine me samble vraiement’ (8054: ‘seems really good to me’). On one level, then, her lover's heart is apparently exactly what she wants to eat. This is surely the inference of her decision to eat nothing further:

‘Par Dieu, sire, ce poise mi;

Et puis qu'il est sifaitement,

Je vous affi ciertainnement

K'a nul jour mes ne mangerai

N'autre morsiel ne metterai


Deseure si gentil viande.

Or est ma vie trop pesande

A porter, je ne voel plus vivre.

Mors, de ma vie me delivre!’

Lors est a ycel mot pasmee.    (8104–13)

(‘By God, my lord, this pains me; and since it is so, I swear to you truly I will never eat again, nor add another morsel to such noble meat. My life is too burdensome now, I no longer wish to live. Death: deliver me from life!’ When she had said this, she fainted.)

This is a sentiment which echoes that voiced by the lady in the Occitan vidas and razos:

E si·l respondet qe l'era estatz si bons e si saboros qe ja mais autres manjars ni autre beures no·il tolrian la sabor de la bocha qe·l cor G[uillem] de Capestaing li avia laisada.    (§15)

(And she replied to him that it had been so good and tasty that no other food or drink would take the taste from her mouth left there by the heart of Guillem de Cabestanh).22

The stress here is placed variously on the apparently ethical qualities of what the lady has eaten (it is noble, excellent and good, its gallantry and courtesy can be tasted), or on just how tasty it is, which may amount to the same thing. Following Derrida's account of the ethics of the gift, one might conjecture here that the lady's sacrificial act derives its value precisely from her lack of conscious knowledge of what she is doing. In all events, the pleasure she takes in her meal is irresistible and physical. And since she has now known total fulfilment, she no longer has any need—or desire—to eat. As Anthony Allen puts it, in his subtle and incisive reading of the Castelain, eating the heart is the ultimate realization of the gift of the self (2001: 37).

One possible reading of the story, then, is that it explores the lady's unconscious desire to devour her lover; his heart therefore indeed effects the Other's jouissance. So what then of the lover? Is his unconscious desire to be eaten?

Whereas in shorter versions of the eaten heart story, the lover is simply killed by the husband, with this and the ensuing gruesome last supper (p.96) forming the main part of the text, in longer versions the murder and macabre meal become the culmination of a longer narrative that has carefully prepared the ground for the manner of the lover's demise, and for what happens to his body subsequently. And indeed the most striking development of the lover's motivation comes in the Castelain de Couci, which also differs from other versions in that here the lover, knowing he is about to die outremer, arranges to have his heart embalmed and sent to his lady.

The point of this ghoulish gift, of course, is that since his heart already belongs to her, he is simply returning what she already owns. Indeed, we have been repeatedly told throughout the lengthy account of the Castelain's affair with the Dame de Fayel that he has given her his heart, that he is willing to die for her and that his heart remains with her wherever he goes, for instance: ‘j'aim assés mieus a morrir | Que mon coer de vous departir’ (579–80: ‘I would rather die than take my heart away from you’). Repeatedly the gruesome outcome of the story is anticipated in the Castelain's conventional rhetoric:

‘Pour riens nulle je ne feïsse

Cose oultre son voel, se je peuisse,

Ains me laissasse desmembrer.

Ay mi! li tres dous ramembrer

Que pour li souvent eü ay

Ont men coer tenu liet et gai.’    (3437–42)

(‘On no account would I do anything against her wishes, if it were in my power, rather I would prefer to be dismembered. Alas! The sweet memories I have often had of her keep my heart happy and gay.’)

These lines are typical of the way the dénouement is anticipated and played upon: as Helen Solterer has so cogently argued, the rhyme pair desmember/ramembrer (to dismember/to remember) underscores the association that will emerge at the end of the text between dismemberment, incorporation, and commemoration (1992: 113–15), while the heart clearly figures both the poet's subjectivity and his love for his lady, the inseparability of which is precisely what the text sets out to establish and celebrate.

Furthermore, as critics have pointed out, the association between dismemberment, incorporation and commemoration works at an intertextual level as well as through the plot (see particularly Solterer 1992; but also Calin 1981). The Castelain is unusual among romances using the interpolated lyric technique in that it only uses the lyrics of one well-known (p.97) poet—the Castelain de Couci—seeking to weave a number of these into a pseudo-biography.23 For example, the best known lyric of the historical Castelain, which laments his departure on crusade because this means he will not see his lady-love, is integrated into the Castelain precisely at the point when the hero of the romance leaves to go on crusade (7347–98). Thus, the corpus of the historical Castelain's lyrics is metaphorically dismembered, incorporated into a different text, which in turn performs an act of commemoration. Furthermore, the incorporated Castelain songs often dwell on the poet's heart, on how its vulnerability puts his life constantly at risk. For instance, in lines 7347–98, one of the Castelain's most famous lyrics and also the one quoted in La Chastelaine de Vergy, ‘A vous, amant’, the poet refers to the/his heart no fewer than four times: ‘S'ainc nus moru per avoir coer dolant’ (7353: ‘If anyone ever died from a suffering heart’), ‘Comment me poet li coers el corps durer | Qu'il ne me part?’ (7369–70: ‘How can my heart survive in my body without leaving it?’), ‘Ne je ne puis de li mon coer oster’ (7377: ‘Nor can I take my heart away from her’), and ‘u que mes coers traie’ (7391: ‘wherever my heart may go’). The lyrics are thereby used to underline the fact that the heart is more integral to the poet's selfhood than his body as a whole; the heart is the very essence of the self, and as such, it is gifted to the lady. Moreover, in this lyric and elsewhere, the Castelain closely associates love and death, and as Gioa Zaganelli has argued (1982: 154–5), if other trouvères claim they will die of pain if rejected by their ladies, the Castelain is clear that he will die of love alone, and that his death in itself is an ethical act. No wonder he was chosen to be hero of this romance.24

The most significant plot variation in relation to other eaten heart stories in the Castelain is, as noted, that the hero arranges for his heart to be embalmed and sent to his lady in a casket. There is perhaps a dual frame of reference here. The embalming and subsequent transmission of the body parts and organs of important people for burial was not uncommon in the Middle Ages, particularly when death occurred away from home or when more than one place might be thought to have a claim on the remains (Binski 1996: 63–9 and 124–6). But if the ghoulish gesture (p.98) of the Castelain might have seemed less outlandish to a medieval reader because of contemporary burial practices, a second frame of reference is the rhetoric of love. The casket the Castelain sends his lady also contains a lock of her hair that she had given him to take on his travels and a letter addressed to her in which he states ‘Vous envoie jou mon coer ore: | C'est vos, s'est drois que vous l'aiiés’ (7668–9: ‘now I send you my heart: it is yours, so it is right that you have it’), as if to ensure that no reader misses the point that lyric topoi are being taken literally (or ‘demetaphorized’) here. The Castelain also says in his letter (which is of course subsequently purloined by his lady's husband) that what he most desires is a total and perfect union with her, indeed, that their souls be joined in heaven ‘en parmenable vie’ (7704: ‘in eternal life’), suggesting their union is spiritual as well as corporeal.

What the Castelain desires then is incorporation, since he wants to become one with his lady, to be fused utterly with her. As Anthony Allen puts it (2001: 37), the cannibalistic act is ‘un déni imaginaire à la séparation’ (‘an imaginary denial of separation’). The Castelain and his lady seem to want the same thing (since his desire is in any case the Other's) and his desire is intensely sacrificial in that it is grounded in total renunciation of the self. His lady's ingestion of his heart embodies their spiritual fusion and as a symbolic act works paradoxically through the body to deny the limits of the body. The act of eating the heart here is then transgressive, but not in the sense that the lovers' are forced to act against their will. Rather, as in Bataille's discussion of the interdit, limits are upheld through transgression, while subjects both disavow and yet invest in transgression. If the desired fusion of two subjects does indeed take place, this is only possible partially—one might even say synecdochally—and this both affirms as well as calls into question the possibility of attaining the object—of continuity with it—through purely physical means.25 The process of ‘demetaphorization’ has thus produced what Abraham and Torok call ‘antimetaphor’, by which they mean not just the taking literally of a metaphor, but the calling into question of the very process of figuration on which the metaphor rested (1972: 117). As Laurence Rickels has argued in relation to Abraham and Torok's work, if the purpose of the (p.99) literalization of metaphor that takes place through fantasies of incorporation is the covering up or denial of a loss, ‘antimetaphor’ draws attention to this process of denial, and to the inevitable fault lines in the fantasmic solution to unbearable loss (1988: 10). Eating the heart is then a transgressive act of consuming an object that figures an impossible, unobtainable ideal through the incorporation of a quite different object (indeed a partial object), and the concomitant dissolution of the body's limits; this act works simultaneously through using the heart as a metaphor and as an antimetaphor, thereby recalling a pivotal element in the lyric's system of figuration and simultaneously dismantling it. The heart, then, is both an object that is eaten and a signifier that is internalized.26 It is this dual function of the heart that I should now like to explore further.

In order to be offered as a gift—also to be desired by the lady and then ingested—the heart must first be transformed into an object. From a Lacanian perspective, this is on the one hand because for the lover's desire to be fulfilled his heart must become the object of the Other's desire; and on the other because as objet a, the heart is not simply the object of desire, but also that which figures the lack that is elicited by and elicits desire.27 Thus, the lady cannot totally incorporate her lover, and the ingestion of his heart only serves to underline the lack of his real presence (or, more radically, the lack in his real presence) and the imaginary nature of the union that is achieved.28 But if offering his heart to his lady clearly stages a self-sacrifice on the lover's part, significantly by the time she comes to eat (p.100) it, he is already dead. Thus, her ingestion of the heart is a supplement to her lover's death—one might say a superfluous confirmation of its value—just as for Bataille a sacrificial meal is secondary to the mise à mort. It is also striking, then, that the heart is treated as an object in Bataille's sense of the term in that it is subjected to culture: it is embalmed, placed in a specially made coffer, finally cooked. In other words, the heart the lady eats, though originally a mere organ from her lover's body, has been transformed into a fabricated and symbolic object. As such it can be sacrificed—in Bataille's sacrificial scheme—precisely because its fabricated nature marks it as an object rather than a subject. It is then the dissolution of this distinction that is effected by sacrifice. And, to move back to a Lacanian perspective, as a signifier (of the lover's love, his subjectivity and the lack his heart embodies) the heart is also a fabricated object in that it partakes of culture rather than nature, or more accurately, the symbolic rather than the Real, or more accurately still perhaps, the treatment of the heart—both by characters within the narrative and by the narrative material itself—resolutely fails to see the Real in the heart, so transfixed is it by the symbolic, one might even say the spectacle of the symbolic, that is the symbolic texture, meaning and value of the heart, or for that matter the Castelain's lyrics, as signifying something that exceeds their literal parameters. The narrative holds out both the Castelain's heart and his lyrics for us to contemplate their significance.

In making his heart, and therefore himself, into an object to be sacrificed, the lover's act would seem to be ethical. From a Derridean perspective, he gives up that which is uniquely his own; from a Lacanian perspective, he stays true to his own/the Other's desire, giving the Other what she really wants.29 The heart tastes good because it represents the Good from within the sacrificial structure. The gender of the protagonists here is crucial both in the medieval cultural context and in the modern psychoanalytic framework: the feminine Other devours the male subject and, if this is construed as erotic, the menacing undertones of the monstrous feminine Other are nonetheless apparent.30 There appear to be no (p.101) analogous examples of men eating their female partners—whether consciously or unconsciously. So sacrifice, and the desire to be incorporated that seems to accompany it in this articulation of the sacrificial structure, is construed primarily as a masculine preserve which subordinates a man to a woman, thereby inverting usual gender relations. But the woman's desire in this scenario is always potentially a projection of masculine fantasmic structures and it is hard not to see all the men involved in the story—including the authors/narrators—as manipulative. Indeed, as Roberta Krueger has argued, in the most significant feminist analysis of the eaten heart material, the Castelain de Couci works the gender dynamics of this sacrificial structure through to a narratological level by framing the story with a female addressee whom the poet, Jakemes, hopes to seduce with his story (1993: 182–215). Just as the Dame de Fayel will fulfil her lover's desire by eating his heart, so the fictional female reader will fulfil Jakemes' desire by devouring and enjoying the text:

Or doinst Amours par sa bonté

Que celle le recoive en gré

Que mes coers aimme tant et prise

Que pour li ai ceste oevre emprise!’    (51–4)

(Now may Love, through its goodness, grant that the woman whom my heart loves and cherishes so should receive this work kindly, since I have undertaken it for her.)

If this fictional female reader then finds this ‘tawdry’ story (as Krueger puts it) tasty, she will by implication be guilty of a transgressive incorporation that is analogous to the Dame de Fayel's (Krueger 1993: 215). But in both cases, the woman's ‘reception’ of her admirer's offering, the satisfaction of her tasteless desire, has the result of fulfilling his.

The gender dynamics of the eaten heart story might seem culturally aberrant, were it not for the dominant and ubiquitous model provided by the Eucharist. And like the Eucharist, the eaten heart derives its power from being at one and the same time simply part of a man's body and so very much more. To use a Lacanian formulation, both before and after its extraction from the body and also before and after its ingestion, the heart is ‘in you more than you’ (1990: 293–307). Indeed, as the heart starts out in the lover, while belonging to his lady, and then ends up in the lady while coming from elsewhere, the heart is the exemplary signifier in that the signifying chain in which it is a link is the very substance of intersubjectivity.

If we see the heart as signifier rather than mere body part, a further parallel with the Eucharist emerges: for the lady eats not simply the heart (p.102) of a man she has loved, but also the heart of a poet. Just as the Eucharist allows the incorporation not simply of Christ's body, but also of the Word, so eating her lover's heart allows the lady not simply to incorporate her lover but to incorporate the very medium of desire itself, which is poetry, language, the symbolic order. It is not surprising that she wishes to eat nothing further, for she has, as it were, eaten desire itself.31 Is this what the lady wanted? And if so, is not the husband's desire to destroy the lovers' desire crucially different from the lady's desire to consume her own desire?

The husband's ethics are of course highly questionable: indeed, Doueihi suggestively speculates that the husband's unconscious desire is to eat his rival's heart (1990: 55–6). He seeks to destroy his wife's desire to serve his own ego-ideal, and rather than being the instrument of the lover's jouissance, he in fact becomes the instrument of his castration, which is figured through graphic dismemberment, and the transformation of the lover's sacrifice (enacted on one level precisely to avoid the husband's castrating authority) into spectacle. But the lover's ethics too turn out ultimately to be ‘fake,’ as Žižek might put it (2001: 69), as he also wants to kill the lady's desire to serve his own purposes (though for different reasons: he is saying to her ‘I am your desire. You will devour me and then nothing else!’). This lady, then, is no praying mantis. She is not allowed to become a serial heart eater, but is forced and yet chooses to eat a last supper. It is her desire that everyone wants to kill, and this is significant from a feminist perspective: her sacrifice is not fake in that her actions are less screened by the superfluous and fake aspects of sacrifice than those of the men. It is also more sacred as it is she, after all, who has eaten her lover's body. Of the three protagonists, it is the lady who seems to pass beyond the pleasure principle to jouissance. She is engulfed by her own jouissance rather than sacrificing it for the Other's. It is fitting, therefore, that she falls, literally one might say, into an abyss, and also that, unlike her poetlover whose words continue to echo down the centuries, she falls silent. She relinquishes her place in the symbolic. Her lover is incapable of this: he remains grounded in the symbolic, his lyrics echoing down the ages, effectively castrated as well as devoured.

The specific incorporation of lyric by narrative in the texts I have examined in this chapter means their deployment of sacrificial desire operates (p.103) on a different level from that of the lyrics I examined in Chapters 1 and 2. Offering the lovers' sacrifice as spectacle means that whereas in the lyric tradition a fiction of secrecy is maintained, in these narrative texts the betrayal of a secret by a third party—the narrator—to the reader is overtly their mainspring. In his reading of the Castelain, Anthony Allen has termed this process ‘the loss of lyric sovereignty’ (2001: 39). The ‘benefits of sacrifice’ accrue here less to the poet (though he does have the benefit of being heard down the ages) than to the reader, who rather than having to sacrifice anything himself,32 merely has to watch others doing so, or perhaps to imitate these others, but with more symbolic, attenuated forms of sacrifice. He may, for instance, feel it suffices to send his beloved poems (or flowers) rather than cut his heart out for her. The incorporation he seeks is more symbolic than real, and that which the romances ‘demetaphorize’ viscerally from the lyric tradition on which they draw is thereby reassuringly ‘remetaphorized’ through the reading process. The reader may identify with the victims of sacrifice, but does so secure in the knowledge that the risks of sacrifice are safely confined to the space of spectacle and fiction. But the reader's sense of the value of love here depends on the death of the lovers and on the betrayal of their secret, a betrayal in which he participates. If the two texts on which I have focused in this chapter offer different models of knowledge in relation to love (one confining itself to knowledge of external manifestations of love, the other being more interested in knowledge of the unconscious), both suggest knowledge of love may lead to death.33 It is perhaps for this reason their quite distinct plots converge in transmission.


The material on the Chastelaine de Vergy was the basis of seminar papers given at the University of Cambridge in 1999 and King's College London in 2001. The material on the Castelain de Couci was the basis of short papers given at the International Congress of the Association Internationale d'Etudes Occitanes in Messina in 2002 and at the French Graduate Conference in Cambridge the same year; a longer version was given at the British Branch conference of the International Courtly Literature Society in Durham in 2003. I should like to thanks those present for their questions and observations. Some sections of the material on the Castelain have been previously published in Gaunt (2004b). Patrick ffrench and Sarah Kay offered invaluable comments on various drafts.

(1) The closest we find to this kind of rhetoric in Ovid is ‘quique a me morte revelli | heu sola poteras, poteris nec morte revelli’ (‘Whom death alone had power to part from me, not even death shall have power to part from me’); see Ovid (1921: iv. 152–3). However, these lines, spoken by Thisbe, come when she thinks Piramus is dead.

(2) For an overview of the technique, with sections on all these romances, see Boulton (1993).

(3) For an account of post-medieval versions of the Castelain de Couci and the tendency for the heroine to become ‘Gabrielle de Vergy’, see di Maio (1996: 41–73). On the relation between the two texts in the later Middle Ages, see also Babbi (1991: 16–17).

(4) For a deservedly influential account of narrative as an imaginary ‘solution’ to problematic contradictions, see Jameson (1981: 79); this is in fact close to Lacan's view of narrative, see Žižek (1997: 10–11).

(5) For the texts of the vidas and razos relating the eaten heart story with Guillem as hero, see Vidas (1973: 530–55). My résumé is of the version in MS H (537–41). On these texts as source for Boccaccio (Decameron, iv. 9) and Dante (Vita Nuova, iii), see Rossi (1983: 118–22). On different versions of the razo, see Burgwinkle (1997: 183–4); Poe (1984: 86–7), also (2000: 172–3). I have explored other versions of the eaten heart story in Gaunt (2004b).

(6) In ‘Lo dous cossire’, Guillem claims ‘E dezam en parvensa’ (27: ‘I cease to love for appearance's sake’), indicating a concern to protect the lady from others' knowledge of his love for her.

(7) ‘E quant Raimons de Castel Rossillon auzi la canson q'En Guillems avia faita, el entendet e creset qe de sua moillier l'agues faita' (§10: ‘And when Raimon de Castel Roussillon heard the song Sir Guillem had composed, he understood and believed that he had composed it about his wife’).

(8) ‘Aqest mals fo saubutz per tota Cataloina e per totas las terras del rei d'Arangon, e per lo rei Anfos e per totz los baros de las encontradas' (§17: ‘This wicked act was known about throughout Catalonia and in all the King of Aragon's lands, and by the king and all the barons in those lands’).

(9) Precise dating is impossible. Lakits (1966: 11) concludes the text could have been written at any point between 1228 and 1288.

(10) The knight's moral dilemma has been the subject of a good deal of critical writing, see particularly Cooper (1984: esp. 279–80), Guthrie (1999: 161–6), and Hunt (1993).

(11) On this point, see Maraud (1972: 454); the knight for Maraud ‘expie sa faute’. It is of course significant that the knight kills himself by stabbing himself in the heart: see Burgess (1994: 46–7).

(12) The difference between otroier and donner may be significant here to the extent that octroier evokes legal discourse, giving a sense of mutual obligation within a clearly defined code.

(13) Pace Hunt (1993), who argues that the Chastelaine's pact of silence has no real moral weight. Compare Maraud (1972), whose analysis points up the different ways in which these texts respond to the ethical imperative to secrecy in courtly literature, see particularly 456–9; also Guthrie (1999: 161–6).

(14) On this paradox in troubadour lyric, see Bloch (1991: 147) and Huchet (1990: 131); and in the Chastelaine, see particularly Bloch (1990: 192–3 and 1991: 114–23), and de Looze (1985: 45).

(15) Once again pace Hunt (1993), who argues that the prologue's and epilogue's ostensible concern with concealment is deliberately misleading and that the prologue and epilogue contrive to caution readers against simplistic moral judgements. Both Huchet (1990: 142) and Payen (1973a: 209–210) usefully highlight the tension between the prologue and epilogue on the one hand, and the narrative on the other, but see secrecy nonetheless as the key moral issue in the text.

(16) On the lyric/narrative dynamic here see Huchet (1990: 127–55) and Zumthor (1975: 219–316). Zumthor writes (235): ‘l'auteur de la Chastelaine n'a pas pu maintenir la totale fermeture de l'événement que comporte le grand chant courtois. L'événement ne peut pas ne point s'entrouvrir au moins sur une histoire’ (‘the author of the Chastelaine has not been able to maintain the total closure of the event of courtly song. The event cannot not lead at least to a story’). While Huchet (155–6) sees the text as ‘le lieu de confrontation et de mise à l'épreuve des différents discours supportant le système littéraire’ (‘a place in which the different discourses underpinning the literary system are confronted with each other and put to the test’).

(17) The various significations of the heart in medieval love literature are explored in Jager (2000), but inexplicably Jager does not look at the eaten heart material; see also Burgess (1994).

(18) On eroticism and eating, see particularly Lacan (2001a: 237–64).

(19) On this formulation in relation to the heart, see below Ch. 3, 101.

(19) Similarly, the lady in Boccaccio's story presents her death as an imitation of her lover's and casts both in sacrificial terms when she tells her husband ‘se io, non isforzandomi egli, l'avea del mio amor fatto signore e voi in questo oltraggiato, non egli ma io ne doveva la pena portare’ (Boccaccio 1992: iv. 9, § 23: ‘if, in willingly making him the master of my love, I wronged you, it is I rather than he who should have paid the penalty for this’). On Decameron, iv. 9, see particularly Mazzotta (1986: 131–58).

(20) Information from Ricketts (2001). The collocation occurs six times, once in Bernart de Ventadorn (XIX, 48), quoted in Ch. 1, 27.

(20) This is stressed in the Occitan vidas and razos, where it is remarked that the lady eats her lover's heart ‘a non saubuda’ (§ 12: ‘without knowing’).

(21) For the idea of force-feeding, see Doueihi (1997: 22, 26, 32); also (1990: 55–6). For readings that focus on transgression see Vincensini (1991) and Jeay (1998). Vincensini reads the material as a synthesis of ‘la négation de trois tabous culturels fondateurs’ (454–6: adultery, gender, cannibalism) and Jeay as being concerned to normalize violence.

(22) Likewise, the heroine of Boccaccio's tale declares: ‘Ma unque a Dio non piaccia che sopra a cosí nobil vivanda, come è stata quella del cuore d'un cosí valoroso e cosí cortese cavaliere come messer Guiglielmo Guardastango fu, mai altra vivanda vada’ (§ 23: ‘But God forbid that any other vile food should be added to such noble fare as the heart of so worthy and courtly a knight as sir Guiglielmo Guardastango’). See Mazzotta (1986: 154) on the significance of the lady's comment here; also Doueihi (1997: 48).

(23) The best analyses of the role of the lyrics in the Castelain are Huot's (1987: 117–31) and Allen (2001), but see also Boulton (1993: 61–6) and Zink (1982: 229–32); on the Castelain as a pseudo-biography, see Calin (1981: 198–9), though Allen (2001: 28) regards the poet Jakemes less as a biographer than as a glossator.

(24) On the heart, see also 5957, 5976, 5988 in the lyric at 5952–91. It is interesting to note that the Castelain dwells insistently on the heart in many surviving lyrics not incorporated into the romance; on this point see Huot (1987: 124–6) and Toury (2001: 211–13).

(25) This equivocation concerning the illusory possibilities of jouissance that are afforded by the morcèlement of the other's body haunts Lacanian psychoanalysis. See Lacan (1986: 225–81); also (2001b: 338): ‘N'y a-t-il pas une autre conception de l'analyse, qui permette de conclure qu'elle est autre chose que le remembrement d'une partialisation fondamentale imaginaire du sujet?’ (‘Is there not another conception of analysis which would allow one to conclude that it can be something other than the re-membering of a fundamentally imaginary carving up of the subject?’).

(26) Harrison (1988: 26) perceptively notes in relation to the Boccaccio novella that if the husband seeks to reduce the heart to a material object to be consumed, ‘the gesture of extraction invariably falls back into the sphere of the symbolic’.

(27) See e.g. Lacan (1999: 81): ‘C'est pour autant que l'objet a joue quelque part—et d'un départ, d'un seul, du mâle—le rôle de ce qui vient à la place du partenaire manquant, que se constitue ce que nous avons l'usage de voir surgir aussi à la place du réel, à savoir le fantasme’ (‘It is thus that objet a plays somewhere—but with only one point of departure, that of the male—the role of that which comes to fill the place of the missing partner, and thus that what we frequently see erupting in the place of the real—namely fantasy—is constituted’).

(28) On ‘real presence’ see Lacan (2001a: 296–312). For Lacan la présence réelle is the presence of desire—that is the phallus—which in turn, through the signifying chain, always signifies lack. The phallus (Φ), since it purports to be the starting- and end-point of the signifying chain, becomes the signifiant exclu du signifiant (310) and as the degree zero of lack and desire, Φ is the only true symbol. Thus ‘real presence’ is always constituted by ‘une certaine sorte de désir, qui serait de nature à faire rentrer dans le néant d'avant toute création, tout le système signifiant’ (310: ‘a certain kind of desire, which would by its very nature return the entire signifying system to the nothingness that precedes all creation’). ‘Real presence’ thus always entails radical absence. The subject finds this nihilistic desire terrifying yet fascinating. On the phallus as ‘the signifier for which there is no signified’, see Hollywood (2002: 158–9).

(29) For Lacan (1986: 370) ‘la seule chose dont on puisse être coupable, c'est d'avoir cédé sur son désir’ (‘the only thing of which one can be guilty is having given way on one's desire’). See also Žižek (1994: 65–70) and Zupančič (2000: particularly 160) on Lacanian ethics and ‘not giving way on one's desire’.

(30) In Le Transfert (2001a: 62), Lacan's discussion of the praying mantis is anticipated when he asks ‘Pourquoi ne pas concevoir que … c'est du côté de la femme qu'est à la fois le manque … mais aussi, et du même coup, l'activité?’ (‘why not imagine that … woman not only has lack on her side … but also and by the same token activity’). Woman needs (in the male imaginary) to devour man to fill her own lack.