Colton, Lisa (2005) The age of innocence: chastity and the chanson de nonne in the Montpellier Codex. In: Medieval and Renaissance Music Conference, 13-16 July 2005, Centre d’Études Supérieures de la Renaissance, University of Tours, France. (Submitted)

The late medieval motet is a complex and intriguing genre, whose sacred roots are often revealed even when its subject
purports to be amorous, and whose many types continue to invite speculation. In this paper, I will study just one theme in
the medieval French motet: the youth, age and sexual experience of women as revealed in the lyrics of pieces in the
Montpellier Codex. The pieces selected for discussion revolve around the sexuality of women, and I will focus on the
subgenre known as the chanson de nonne, songs which purport to express the experiences of women living as nuns in
convents. This category has strong associations with the chanson de femme, songs written from a female subject position.
Though these motets are anonymous, circumstantial evidence suggests that perhaps the majority were in fact the product of
the male, clerical imagination. Rather than examining motets written in the ‘female voice’ to access the true opinions and
experiences of women in the secular and monastic world, this paper argues that it is more appropriate to view them as a
window into the way women and their bodies were considered by men in different contexts. The music, poetry and imagery
in a select number of motets will be analysed, and will demonstrate the close relationship between the treatment of female characters in the chanson de nonne, religious didactic literature and romance literature of the thirteenth century. In this way, the cultural significance of motets will be explored, showing the ways in which women and their bodies were
portrayed and manipulated through this most learned of polyphonic genres.

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