Two ladies in debate, mid 15th century manuscript, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, f.fr. 25420, fol. 5.

Debate and Game Culture: Poetic Engagement in Europe (1300-1550)

Professor Emma Cayley

As part of a larger long-term project on Debate and Game Culture: Poetic Engagement in Europe (1300-1550), I am working to prepare two critical editions of late medieval French debate poetry. The first, supported by a Leverhulme Research Fellowship, and a British Academy Small Grant, is a critical edition and English translation of eight late medieval amatory debates: four stage debates between men and four between women. It is entitled Sleepless Knights and Wanton Women, and is forthcoming with Arizona Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies (MRTS). I am also working on an accompanying monograph. The second edition is a collaborative project with Dr. Olivier Delsaux, a Belgian FNRS researcher based at UcL in Louvain-la-Neuve, and will be aimed at a French audience, with facing translation in modern French. This second edition presents all the texts collected in Paris, BnF, Rothschild 2798, including the previously unpublished fifteenth-century love debate, attributed to Aymon de Montfaucon, ‘Le Debat d’entre le gris et le noir’. Olivier will be spending a term in Exeter in October 2012 as a visiting scholar.

My immediate research focuses on the manuscript and early printed transmission of these poetic debate texts. I have been commissioned to write a book on debate for the New Perspectives on Medieval Literature: Authors and Traditions series at the University of Florida Press, forthcoming. The larger interdisciplinary collaborative project on Debate and Game Culture: Poetic Engagement in Europe (1300-1550) gathers colleagues from the UK as well as from the States; Canada; France; Switzerland; Finland; and Belgium. This project aims to investigate the reasons behind the widespread popularity of the debating genre in France, and indeed throughout Europe in the later Middle Ages, to trace its development from earlier avatars, and to rehabilitate many of the texts written in the genre.

These international collaborations on debate and manuscript culture have already led to two edited books: Chartier in Europe, with Ashby Kinch of the University of Montana, US, in the Gallica series at Boydell and Brewer, 2008. Chartier in Europe collects eleven essays from international Chartier experts. The essays explore the widespread contemporary European transmission and translation of the prose and debate poetry of this major figure in late medieval French literature and politics. The second of these grew from the Early Book Society conference held in Exeter in July 2009 and is co-edited with Prof Susan Powell of the University of Salford, Manuscripts and Printed Books in Europe 1350-1550: Packaging, Presentation and Consumption (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2012).

Impact related activities

I am also currently working on a related project in collaboration with a creative economy partner, Antenna International, to create a smart device App. Our App will introduce school age pupils and other audiences to the fascinating world of medieval manuscripts. An initial stage will create a prototype based around Exeter Cathedral’s famous Exeter Book (c. 970) which contains the world’s largest collection of Anglo-Saxon (Old English) poetry, and features the Exeter Riddles: a collection of ninety-six literary enigmas. A later version will include other South West medieval manuscripts, including the Syon Abbey manuscripts currently held in the University of Exeter’s Special Collections department.