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 Violence

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 PDF]

Woodcuts and a sample mise-en-page from Interlocucyon.... London: Wynkyn de Worde, 1525. (STC 14109).

Part 2 [view PDF]

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 PDF]

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.

Additional Information:

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 across cultures.

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.

Further Reading:

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 especially)

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 Press, c1990.

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.