Emma Grover Finch
An interest in early music was one of my main motivations for taking this class, so last week’s guest performers had me very excited. I loved listening to them sing (and even joining in a little!), but I found learning about the context in which medieval music was performed even more fascinating than hearing it. My experience with early music has primarily been practical. I’ve played a good many medieval pieces of various styles over the past few years, but I had never given much thought to the context in which they would have been intended to be performed. With no understanding of medieval musicianship beyond a vague, romanticized idea of itinerant musicians wandering from court to court, I enjoyed learning about the symbolic considerations determining the suitability of various pieces for various settings.
Our readings this week, especially the account of the Feast of the Pheasant, also intrigued me, focusing on the symbolic and spectacular aspects of the feasting experience. I learned that in many ways the actual substance of the food or performance at a medieval feast is secondary in importance to the symbolic aspects of that food or performance. The deep reality of symbolic association which can be said generally to characterize medieval European thought is on display in the feasting experience: the flesh-and-blood hawk is as real (and unreal) as the artifice of the dragon. The political significance of feasting lies not merely in its role as a display of wealth and prestige but in its nature as a performance in which truth and appearance become indistinguishable. The account of the Feast of the Pheasant implies that the panoply of the feast is not merely a backdrop to but in fact a necessary element of the vow sworn by the Duke and his guests. The spectacle as a whole, and particularly the entremets of the Church (of which la Marche expresses approval even when he criticizes the expense of the event overall), serves to make tangible the proposed crusade, to summon it up, in a sense, as an already present reality even before the oath is sworn. The blurring of lines between reality and artifice in the experience of the feast is what allows this oath to be sworn at all; in a sense, its outcome has already, through spectacle, been made real.