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Ann Rosalind Jones

“Taking Out the Women:

Louise Labé’s Folie in Robert Greene’s translation” 

Ann Rosalind Jones, Smith College


          How does an Englishman mapping out a literary career in London rework a text written thirty years earlier by a Frenchwoman in Lyon, and why would he revise his source text in the ways he does? In 1584, William Posonby published a pair of prose texts by Robert Greene, "Master of Arte, in Cambridge":  the first was a long euphuistic romance, The Carde of Fancie wherein the folly of those carpet knights is decyphered, which, guyding their course by the compasse of Cupid . . . dash their ships against most daungerous rocks, Wherein also is described in the person of Gwydonius, a cruel combat between nature and necessitie. The second text, not mentioned on the title page, is the much shorter Debate between Follie and Love. Greene's Debate was less a translation than a revision of Louise Labé's Débat de Folie et d'Amour, set at the beginning of a collection produced in Lyon in 1555 by the humanist publisher Jean de Tournes: Les Evvres de Louize Labé, Lionnoize. The Englishman's reworking of the Frenchwoman's dialogue is illuminatingly free-handed, but it is also symptomatic of the cultural and gender ideologies informing the allegorical characters an English reader might have understood as Mistress Folly and Master Love.


          I will focus on three differences between the French and the English dialogue: Greene's abridgement of speeches by feminine figures, including "Follie," Venus and Minerva; his recreation of Love as a more manly figure than Labé's Amour; and, principally, the interplay between his political perspective and euphuistic language, in contrast to Labe's fantastic allegory as the ground for her colloquial, comic style. The most productive way to interpret the imprecision of Greene's translation is not that he was linguistically inept (though he does skip some tricky passages); rather, he was reorienting Labé's coterie wit toward an audience of men who shared his rhetorical training and social competitiveness. The contrasts arise from parallel situations: both writers courted a local literary sphere in a distinctly gendered language inflected by the field of action in which they composed a debate.




Ann Rosalind Jones, Esther Cloudman Dunn Professor of Comparative Literature and director of the Comparative Literature Program at Smith College, is the author of The Currency of Eros: Women's Love Lyric in Europe, 1540-1640; editor and translator, with Margaret Rosenthal, of The Poems and Selected Letters of Veronica Franco; and, with Peter Stallybrass, author of Renaissance Clothing and the Materials of Memory. With Margaret Rosenthal, she recently completed an illustrated translation of Cesare Vecellio's Habiti antichi et moderni di diverse parti del mondo (Venice, 1590): The Clothing of the Renaissance World (Europe, Asia Africa and America).

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