Friday, September 24, 2010

Paris: English vs. French

Earlier this summer I saw an exhibit in the Musée de l'Armée about the work of Jean Froissart, a medieval historian who wrote extensively about the Hundred Years' War between England and France (a misnomer, since the war actually lasted over 100 years).

Here's the poster for the exhibition. The title translates as "JOHN FROISSART chronicler of the Hundred Years' War." Note the use of red in the title - this follows the medieval practice of rubrication in manuscripts (i.e., using red letters to signal important textual features like titles or section headings). Colors - particularly red and blue - were used in some interesting ways throughout the exhibit as well.

This medieval manuscript shows the King of England (L, dressed in red, with lions) speaking with the King of France (R, dressed in blue, with fleur-de-lis motif). These are traditional heraldic devices/colors associated with the two nations.

The family tree near the start of the exhibit actually uses these heraldic motifs to mark royal family lines (England red, France blue). But look what happens when Henry V of England and French princess Catherine de Valois bear a child: Henry VI is rendered in alternating red and blue. Reminds me of a line in Shakespeare when the English king woos Catherine and suggests that "thou and I" shall bear a "compound...boy, half French, half English" (Henry V, Act 5.2).

The color-coding gets more complicated in the war chronology: events in English history are listed in blue, events in French history are in red, and events in the shared history of the nations are in green.

This little panel describes pieces of armor worn by soldiers during the period. In the center, a nice little riddle about a chain-mail garment (in parallel translation). Not quite sure why they "re-translated" the word "haubergon" in the French but not in the English.

Insofar as English/French relations are concerned, there seems to be a love/hate dynamic throughout the museum as a whole. The displays often stress solidarity between the Allies during World War II (in this context, the English are clearly friends and supporters of the French), but other materials openly mock the English. This satirical poster mocks "les English" on their way to Transvaal (in South Africa). Above, they cry for glory and victory shouting AO YES! Below, they disembark the ships onto the land, seasick and full of "wisky."

P.S. Just noticed in the royal pedigree that "Edouard" is not anglicized to Edward, but Henry is spelled in the English way (in French it would be spelled "Henri"). Weird.

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