Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Speaking faces

To Troilus right wonder wel with alle
Gan for to like hire meuynge and hire chere,
Which somdel deignous was, for she let falle
Hire look a lite a-side in swich manere
Ascaunces, "what, may I nat stonden here?"
And after that hir lokynge gan she lighte,
That neuere thoughte hym seen so good a syghte.

I am currently writing a paper for a very cool-sounding conference in Berlin in a couple of weeks. It's called "Performing the Poetics of Passion – Chaucer’s “Troilus & Criseyde” and Shakespeare’s “Troilus & Cressida” (just look at the list of papers below and see what an incredible treat is in store for me).

I'm worrying away at this stanza from book I, trying to think about the performative elements of Criseyde's expression, which she "let falle" ... "a lite a-side", as if to say "what, can't I stand here?" I love the defensivess of this facial expression. Boccaccio's is more direct, "E non ci si può stare" (None can stand here). His Criseida holds out her mantle to make space for herself: Chaucer's has only to cast a downward glance and she finds room for herself.  Chaucer's Criseyde's sideways look is followed by the lightening of her glance, as if she is relieved somehow to have silently spoken her anxiety on what may be her first public appearance after being welcomed by Hector.

According to OED and MED, this Ascaunces, "as if to say", while obscure in origin, is quite separate from modern "askance" (obliquely, or with disapprobation). However, influenced by the "let falle hire look a lite a-side", I find it hard not to see both senses in Chaucer's use here.

My question to all you rhetoric buffs out there is whether there is a name for this figure by which Chaucer and Boccaccio describe their heroines' faces as speaking. I guess it's a form of prosopopeia or enargia, but even this wonderful website, Silva Rhetoricae doesn't give any specific examples.

And what other medieval examples are there? There's the Book of the Duchess, of course ("By God, my wratthe is all foryive"), and even Troilus's appeal, equally ascaunces, to the heavens, "loo, is this naught wisely spoken?"

I must say it is lovely to be working so closely on a little bit of text. It's particularly lovely to think of other ways of reading faces than through physical features, which some of us find excruciatingly difficult. We have just started a five-week sequence on the Troilus in my honours class today, and I took them through some of the problems here. 

Here's the list of papers: what an amazing couple of days it will be:

Thursday, May 13
15.30 – 16.30 Welcome Coffee and Registration
16.30        Welcome Address
17.00    Paul Strohm ‘As for to looke upon an old romaunce’: Looking and Overlooking in Chaucer’s and Shakespeare’s Troy
18.00        Conference Dinner

Friday, May 14
9.30 – 11.00    Wolfram Keller Passionate Authorial Performances: From Chaucer’s Criseyde to    Shakespeare’s Cressida
                         Andreas Mahler Potent Raisings: Performing Passion in Chaucer and Shakespeare
11.00 – 11.30    Coffee Break
11.30 – 13.00    David Wallace, Changing Emotions in Troilus: the Crucial Year
                          Kathrin Bethke, Value Feelings: The Economy and Axiology of the Passions in Troilus and Cressida
13.00 – 14.30    Lunch
14.30 – 16.00     Robert Meyer-Lee Criseyde’s Precursor: Dido, Emotion and the Literary in the House of Fame
                          Hester Lees-Jeffries ‘What’s Hecuba to him?’ Absent Women and the Space of Lamentation in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida

Saturday, May 15
9.30 – 11.00    James Simpson ‘The formless ruin of oblivion’: Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida and Literary Defacement
                         Stephanie Trigg Public and Private Emotion in Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde
11.00 – 11.30    Coffee Break
11.30 – 13.00 Kai Wiegandt ‘Expectation whirls me round’: Hope, Fear and Time in Troilus and Cressida
                       Richard Wilson ‘Like an Olympian wrestling’: The Pause in Troilus and Cressida
13.00 – 14.30    Lunch
14.30 – 15.15    Ute Berns Love and Desire Delineating Selves in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida
15.15 – 16.00    John Drakakis ‘No matter from the heart’: Passion, Value and Contingency in Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida and Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde

7 comments:

Emily said...

This isn't quite the same thing, but perhaps it's of interest. In De catechizandis rudibus, chp. 2.3, Augustine points out the difference between the language we use to describe emotion and the emotion that is visible on our faces. Here's Christopher's text and translation:

"Aliter enim Latine ira dicitur, aliter Graece, aliter atque aliter aliarum diversitate linguarum: non autem Latinus aut Graecus est vultus irati. Non itaque omnes gentes intelligunt, cum quisque dicit: iratus sum, sed Latini tantum; at si affectus excandescentis animi exeat in faciem vultumque faciat, omnes sentiunt qui intuentur iratum.
(For anger is designated by one word in Latin, by another in Greek, and by others again in the various other tongues; but the expression on the face of an angry man is neither Latin nor Greek. Thus it is that not all nations understand when a man says: Iratus sum, but Latins only; but if the feeling present in his mind as it kindles to white heat comes out upon his features and gives him a certain look, all who see him understand that he is angry.)"

I wish I could claim to know Augustine well enough to have come up with this out of the blue, but it was among the passages I used to set up a discussion of language and textual community. Of course, I also wish that I could claim to know Troilus and Criseyde well enough to have recognized your passage, but I tend to work on things either earlier or later than Chaucer.

Stephanie Trigg said...

Lovely! There's something endearing about Augustine's trans-national humanism, here, no? thanks for this, Emily: I suspect it will find its way into the paper.

Emily said...

Yes, and I'm also intrigued by the faint whiff of the Pentecost. Elsewhere, he notes that humans need language (especially written language) to allow us to "cast across" thoughts from one person to another, yet here, where human languages have in fact generated the distance that seems to impede communication, we find that there's another sort of language that transcends that. But, as you say, without having to rely on a miraculous intervention, as in the Pentecost.

Eileen Joy said...

Jealous! [re: conference]

alison said...

Enjoy Berlin! All 3 of us are going in July, for 3 weeks. I have never been, and would love suggestions, so if there's anywhere that you would recommend from your trip, please let me know!

Alison

Johann Gregory said...

Hello Stephanie.
I just found your blog by chance.

I'll be attending the conference (my supervisor is Richard Wilson) so I look forward to meeting you there. I'm writing my PhD on Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida at the moment so I couldn't not be there really!

Stephanie Trigg said...

Alas, my time in Berlin is tiny, but I've given myself an afternoon and a morning there before the conference begins, so I'll try to do a little sight-seeting.

Johann, looking forward to meeting you...