Plenary I: Theorizing Early
Modern Masculinity and Maleness
Thursday, November 9
3:45 - 5:45 pm
Workshop 3. An Early Gender Debate in England
and France: Cross-Cultural Masculinity, Femininity, and Rhetorical
Organizers: Anne Coldiron (English,
Comparative Literature); Anne Lake Prescott (English)
Abstract: This workshop considers
French and English versions of a complex, early gender debate in
their respective contexts. The versions in question are: Guillaume
Alexis, Le Débat de l'homme et de la femme (composed 1461;
printed in at least seven French editions between 1490 and 1530),
and the anonymous Interlocucyon with an argument betwyxt man and
woman & whiche of them could proue to be most excellent (Wynkyn
de Worde, c.1525). The bare content of the two versions may seem
similar, but we'll consider how the cross-cultural contexts inflect
the poems differently on each side of the Channel. The two versions
are framed quite distinctively, and the male and female speakers
use different tactics in each version to reproach and to defend.
Our workshop connects with two of the conference
plenary topics, violence and masculinity (here, rhetorical violence)
and the construction of masculinity (here, in direct dialogue with
the feminine). The workshop is necessarily and strongly comparative,
since it treats French and English versions of the poem in terms
of two national traditions of gender debate poetry. It is also interdisciplinary,
since it concentrates on the social, technological, and rhetorical
contexts that shape the versions' differences.
Part 1 [view
Woodcuts and a sample mise-en-page from Interlocucyon....
London: Wynkyn de Worde, 1525. (STC 14109).
Part 2 [view
Alexis, Guillaume. "Le Débat de
l'homme et de la femme." Oeuvres complètes. Eds. É.
Picot and A. Piaget (SATF). Paris: Firmin Didot, 1896. I. 133-155.
Part 3 [view
Woodcuts and paratextual information on the
French versions from A. Tchemerzine, Bibliographie d'éditions
originales et rares... Paris: M. Plée, 1927-34. I. 74-78.
Description: This workshop invites participants
to read French and English versions of this early poem in which
a male and a female speaker debate the nature and relative excellences
of men and women. In both versions, each speaker uses familiar content
to launch rhetorical attacks against the other. However, the rhetoric
and form of these debates, their paratexts, and their social contexts
all differ in French and English versions. It is not clear who "wins"
in either case (if that is even the point at all). In the French
version, the woman is rhetorically more adept, but the English woman
also speaks a vivid last-word section of about fifty lines, effectively-at
least by its placement in the poem-silencing the male speaker. The
poems appear in national settings that were not identical where
gender relations and gender debating are concerned. Workshop participants
might wish to discuss the different topographies of misogyny on
the two sides of the Channel. The paratexts, too, set out different
framing expectations for the two poems, and the French and English
woodcuts vary meaningfully among editions. The state of gender relations
and discourses in the two nations, their different literary conventions
for debate poetry, and the printers' respective paratextual interventions:
these create contexts that seem to alter the meaning and value of
the mutually-constructed masculine and feminine in the debate itself.
Participants are invited to reflect on how gender discourses may
be differently embedded not only in a given culture's sociological
contexts but in linguistic, rhetorical, and technological contexts
Issues/Questions: Since these poems predate
the English pamphlets of the 1540s debating women, but since they
also (in French, at least) stand in the line of Christine de Pizan's
querelle des femmes, we might want to consider their respective
placement in literary-historical polysystems: their novelties (how
new are these arguments, really?); their respective influence, if
any, on subsequent gender discourses. Depending on participants'
interests, we might also discuss the history of gender debating
in general; the relative differences between earlier and later debates
in both national literatures; the uses of form in poetic debates;
the effects of the tendency of later gender debating to take place
in prose rather than in poetry; the problem of paratexts; the long
tradition, since the Roman de la Rose at least, of authorial disclaimers
and evasions where gender discourses are concerned; how masculinity
and femininity are (always?) constructed in terms of each other;
what the escalation of violence in those mutually reliant constructions
may mean. (This is by no means a closed list of issues.)
Format: Workshop participants will begin
our session by creating a collective inventory of the specific differences
we've found noteworthy in our individual readings of the poems.
Once we've brought together and clarified our group's sense of these
textual and cross-cultural differences, we'll explore their meaning,
value, significances, contexts. Co-facilitators may conclude with
5-10 minutes summarizing the discussion and framing further questions
that the poems and discussion have raised. The workshop, in other
words, will be an open discussion shaped by the participants.
Altmann, Barbara K. The love debate poems of Christine
de Pizan. Gainesville : University Press of Florida, c1998.
Bawcutt, Priscilla. "An Early Scottish Debate-Poem
on Women." Scottish Literary Journal 23.2 (Nov 1996): 35-42.
Berriot-Salvadore, Évelyne. Les Femmes
dans la société française de la Renaissance.
Genève: Droz, 1990.
Bornstein, Diane, ed. and intro. The Feminist
Controversy of the Renaissance: Guillaume Alexis, An Argument betwyxt
Man and Woman (1525); Sir Thomas Elyot, The Defence of Good Women
(1545); Henricus Cornelius Agrippa, Female Pre-Eminence (1670).
Delmar, NY: Scholars' Facsimiles and Reprints, 1980. (see introduction
Bossy, Michel-André. "Woman's Plain
Talk in Le Débat de l'omme et de la femme by Guillaume Alexis."
Fifteenth-Century Studies 16 (1990): 23-41.
Henderson, Katherine, and Barbara McManus. Half
Humankind. Urbana: U of Illinois Press, 1985.
Lazard, Madeleine. Les Avenues de Fémynie.
Paris: Fayard, 2001.
Reed, Thomas L. Middle English debate poetry and
the aesthetics of irresolution. Columbia: University of Missouri
Smith, Warren S., editor. Satiric advice on women
and marriage : from Plautus to Chaucer. Ann Arbor: University of
Michigan Press, c2005..
Travitsky, Betty S., and Anne Lake Prescott, eds.
Female and Male Voices in Early Modern England. NY: Columbia UP,
2000; especially pp. ix-xvi.
Woodbridge, Linda. Women and the English Renaissance.
Urbana: U of Illinois Press, 1984.