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Tower Seminar: Song, Desire, and Persuasion in Thirteenth-Century France

February 22, 2023 at 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm

Presenter: Matthew P. Thomson

Chair: Dr Eleanor J. Giraud

Medieval texts simultaneously laud and critique music’s capacity to persuade. This paper first compares such musical persuasion with the similar powers attributed to sexual desire in texts surrounding the thirteenth-century reform of marriage. Such accounts consistently hold positive consequences in tension with moral problems. Music might calm the warlike, while wives might exploit their husband’s sexual desire to persuade him into righteous behaviour. Conversely, the pleasure afforded by music and sex can all too easily overtake human rationality, preventing humans from being guided by moral intentions. I then turn to thirteenth-century French literature, showing that authors including Gerbert de Montreuil and Henri de Valenciennes variously adopt, satirize, and play with these parallels between music, sex, and persuasion to give vivid life to their protagonists.

Matthew P. Thomson is a Government of Ireland Postdoctoral Research Fellow at University College Dublin, having previously received his doctorate from the University of Oxford. His work appears in Plainsong and Medieval Music and the book he co-edited with Elizabeth Eva Leach and Joseph W. Mason, A Medieval Songbook: Trouvère Manuscript C, is out with Boydell and Brewer.

Admission is free and all are welcome.


February 22, 2023
4:00 pm - 5:30 pm


Theatre 2, Irish World Academy