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Culinary Comedy in Medieval French Literature

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  • Posted October 25, 2008

    Fun Intellectual Stimulation

    Note: Not enough translations from French to English. <BR/><BR/>Sarah Gordon has combined her love of literature and food by exploring the relationship between medieval French literature and culinary traditions. Gordon argues that ¿medieval French poets employed food as a powerful device of humor and criticism¿ (1). Gordon supports her argument through primary texts of medieval French literature, common occurrences within that literature, and three theories that explain human laughter. <BR/>The three theories that Gordon utilizes to illustrate her text choices are the Incongruity Theory, the Superior Theory, and the Relief Theory or Release and Restraint Theory. The Incongruity Theory suggests that something might be funny because it is inappropriate or unexpected. The Superior Theory suggests that laughter is caused by ridicule or mockery. The Relief Theory suggests that ¿laughter is a release of pent up emotional and physical tensions¿ (8). Gordon does not only utilize one theory for individual situations, she at times combines them when the situation warrants.<BR/> To begin, in chapter one ¿Food Fight: Medieval Gastronomy and Literary Convention¿, Gordon explains the importance of gastronomy within French culture to the reader, explaining that food is ¿one of the most essential and revealing element of material culture because it is necessary for subsistence and survival¿. [and also] that gastronomy rules the entirety of life because it has to do with all areas of life¿ (14). Due to the necessity and scarcity of food, Gordon says that ¿overeating and undereating could be cause for laughter¿ and instances such as these are ironic and humorous (16). Gordon explains the expectations of society including table manners and hospitality rules. The knowledge of medieval rules regarding food adds the element of irony and humor to text including gastronomic situations. <BR/> Chapters two through four find the culinary comedy in three different modes of literature. Gordon¿s second chapter, entitled ¿Uncourtly Table Manners in Arthurian Romance¿ shows the departure of Arthurian values from the Arthurian knights. The knights face real life situations where they have to choose between stealing food and dying. Gordon explains that this is humorous because it goes against the Arthurian ideals and societal conventions. Chapter three, ¿Much Adu about Bacon: The Old French Fabliaux¿ explains the situational irony and within the life of the everyman. Fabliaux are intended to be funny and usually take place in a kitchen or during a meal and often result in the theft of food. Chapter four, ¿Hungry like the Wolf, Sly as a Fox: Le Roman de Renart¿ includes medieval French fables centered on Renart, a fox that is always searching for food. Renart is a trickster who ¿enjoys deceiving, putting on airs, creating false pretenses, and pretending. His ruses are often associated with a game, in which the object is food¿ (174). While Arthurian romance usually invokes visions of courtly knight, fabliaux of raunchy comedy, and fables of tales that teach morals, according to Gordon, all three invoke laughter based on gastronomic situations. <BR/>Within Gordon¿s four chapters, she successfully proves her argument of the power of food to provoke laughter within medieval French literature. Her argument reaches across the English Channel to medieval English literature which also utilize

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