Kathryn Dickason (USC) and Henry Drummond (KU Leuven) will present on their work in progress about medieval dance iconography and the Galician-Portuguese Cantigas de Santa María respectively. Michelle Oing (Stanford Humanities Center) and Marisa Galvez (French and Italian, Stanford) will act as respondents to the talk. There will be ample room for discussion with the audience.
Kathryn Dickason: “Peasant Dance,” from Medieval Dance: Treasures from the Morgan and Beyond
Most artistic representations of medieval peasant dance form a stark contrast with those of medieval aristocrats. Noble dancers are elongated, graceful, and beautiful, whereas peasant dancers are often stocky, clumsy, and unattractive. The reason for these kinds of representations can be partly explained by the social status of laborers in medieval society. Traditionally, as Georges Duby has shown, medieval society was supposed to be divided into three estates: bellatores (those who fought, i.e., the knights), oratores (those who prayed, i.e., the clergy), and laboratores (those who worked, i.e., the peasants). Although the peasants were by far the most numerous and comprised over eighty percent of the overall European population, they were at the bottom of the social ladder. It is no surprise, therefore, that the classist thrust of most medieval dance imagery portrays peasants as aesthetically inferior to nobles and clergy. However, as this presentation reveals, the figure of the dancing peasant was just as complex and ambivalent as medieval dance itself. In the Morgan Library and Museum’s collection (New York), peasant dancers are recipients of divine revelation. These dancers may also embody the humility of Christ. Elsewhere, images of peasant dance recall tropes in medieval lyric and poetry that both idealize and ridicule manual laborers. Relying almost exclusively on Morgan manuscripts in conjunction with medieval lyric, this presentation surveys the varied meanings of peasant dance iconography.
Henry Drummond: Aspects of Rhetoric and Ritual Play in Alfonsine Courtly Song
The Cantigas de Santa María are a large body of devotional song, written at the court of Alfonso X of Castile in the late thirteenth century. While much has been written on their production as miracle and praise songs, less has been considered about their consumption. How might a medieval audience perform or listen to a miracle Cantiga? How might an audience make sense of a Cantiga’s cyclical structure—one conditioned by sequences of refrains and strophes—when it works alongside a miracle narrative that unfolds through time chronologically, and hence operates in a linear manner? Finally, how might the Cantigas compare to the wider body of devotional literature, and how do they operate as political texts?
These questions form the focus of my paper. In the discussion that follows, I will argue that the repetition inherent in a Cantiga’s musical-poetic form is a device designed to guide its audience. Such a structure acts as a tool to aid listeners in the processing of a miracle Cantiga’s narrative (Fidalgo Francisco, 1993–4), much like a rhetorical device might offer a tool to organize arguments coherently within a text (through the canon of dispositio). I will show how listening to or reading a Cantiga miracle sets up expectations for an audience, which can be either fulfilled or thwarted. The absorption that this process of listening demands—with its complex sets of rules and protocols—can be said to engender a state of play (Huizinga, 1949 ; Carruthers, 2013). In this paper I analyze one specific Cantiga, and I show how its repetitive musical-poetic structure captures the minds of its audience so that they are better able to understand its moral and political messages. Performers and listeners learn to follow the structural and narrative rules of the song, through which they obtain understanding and fulfilment of the Cantiga’s text.
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