Telling Stories, Naming Names: Heptaméron 43
Laura Doyle Gates
Laura Doyle Gates, « Telling Stories, Naming Names: Heptaméron 43 », Renaissance and Reformation / Renaissance et Réforme, Vol. 32 No. 4 (1996): New Series Vol 20, No 4.
Sixteenth- celebrated work devotes much attention to the specter of boredom that looms large over life at court in the Renaissance. While any ambitious nobleman of the period had to "savoir son Courtisan" (including knowing how to banish boredom with witty speech), Castiglione’s description of the ideal "dame de cour" suggests that women too should adopt a social and esthetic role of "entretenement." Because it places new value on feminine speech (turning wit into a requirement), the Courtisan provides a forward-looking model for aristocratic women, anticipating the moment when skill in "entretenement" will be the pivot of courtly life in France for men and women alike. The imperative to entertain at court supplements women’s traditionally- defined biological and economic destiny: the "dame de cour" is primarily neither mother nor wife since her "principale profession" lies outside the home (Courtisan, p. 238). Certainly, skill in "entretenement" becomes an indispensable quality for the aristocratic women of Marguerite de Navarre’s Heptaméron, when five male and five female characters redeem a potentially boring confinement at Serrance by entertaining each other with stories. Yet, despite Hircan’s confident assertion that “[A]u jeu nous sommes tous esgaulx” (p. 10), telling entertaining stories is an activity that engages each sex differently. In the pages to follow, I want to study how the courtly imperative to entertain works along gender lines, using the example of Heptaméron 43. This tale is one of the most provocative stories in the collection and features a powerful, active and desiring noblewoman called Jambicque. Jambicque enjoys "l’honneur et le plaisir ensemble" (p. 24), sometimes reinforcing, sometimes subverting courtly codes of conduct for women to her own advantage.