This essay studies a large repertory of French laments (complaintes) written in the voices of women. As a feminine counterpart to masculine love lyric, the complainte arose from an alternative poetics, treating subjects excluded from fin amors, such as death, crime, and war. Essentially, lyric assigned erotic longing to men and mourning to women. The unusual subject matter accommodated by the compliantes, coupled with a set of material and musical forms locating them amid the cultures of cheap print. psalmody, and street song, ultimately embroiled them in the battles of the religious wars. Thus female voices came to trumpet confessional politics in songs that levied lyric, gender, and faith to serve in civil war.
In 1553, the young French poet Anthoine Chasteigner died at the tender age of twenty-three, leaving behind a manuscript of Poesies francoises. His death occasioned Pierre de Ronsard -- that great luminary of the Pleiade -- to pen a monumental elegy in memoriam, a poem that reflects at some length on the meaning of poetry and writing. A central figure summoned forth in the poem is Elegy, which Ronsard personifies as a "larmeuse Deessee," her eyes bringing forth uncontrollable streams of tears as if the very moisture which defined the feminine state had overflown the boundaries of her body in elemental grief. Ronsard directs her to look upon the tearful Pantheon around her:
Voy d'autre part le Jeu et les Muses pleurantes,
Et de despit les trois Graces errantes
Comme folles crier, et Venus sans confort,
Toute pleureuse injurier la Mort. 
Sorrow dissolves the conventional postures of these goddesses, racking their bodies with sobs, contorting their faces with screams, and turning them into crazy women. Noisy, decomposed, they are the antithesis of the feminine perfection they usually project, made ugly from their excessive grief. Whereas lyric normally celebrates the beauty of women, in Ronsard's telling, death corrodes feminine beauty with a flood of tears.
Cupid flies with drooping wings, carrying his empty quiver overturned, his bow broken, and his torch extinguished (lines 13-15), and Venus, the goddess of love, castigates "Mort" for stealing away their sacred poet. Lyric poetry was the prime product of love, its mark and cultural expression, and the poet's death sours the font of love with acrid tears.  Even Ronsard's choice of verse form -- an imitation of the distichs Ovid employed in his elegy on the death of Tibullus -- turns against lyric, flattening the crossed rhymes of a sonnet, ode, or chanson into ponderous couplets suggesting the heavy progress of a funeral train.  Death produces a genre in which the symbols and forms of lyric poetry have gone awry, silencing the male poet, replacing his solitary voice with those of crying women, subverting love with mourning, and dissolving the tight forms of lyric into an open progression of ditichs. 
If death can, in this way, be said to reverse the conventions of Renaissance lyric, then certainly its most striking transposition is one of gender. Laments -- or complaintes, as many were called in France -- were often cast in the voices of women, who elsewhere remained silent objects of male desire. It is this body of female laments that concerns me here, for several reasons. Firstly, although female complaintes were ubiquitous in sixteenth-century France, they are not well-known to scholars. Most are anonymous, which has marginalized them in scholarship tending to prefer the works of known authors. Moreover, they appear only sporadically in written sources, for the complainte arose from an oral culture of song-singing. Yet in their oral forms, these songs abounded, travelling widely and sounding in an array of venues from court to urban theaters, bourgeois homes, and even city streets, transgressing boundaries of class and literacy with a fluency quite unlike that of the lyric being published by authors in the manifestly written form of books. The female complainte was part of a lyric "counterculture" that rubbed shoulders with the classicizing and writerly lyric being authored by poets such as Ronsard and against which the Pleiade poets sometimes defined their work. Secondly, this "counterculture" sustained an imagined community of women that one does not soon find elsewhere, women who speak to each other through song, commiserating and allying themselves with listeners. Mourning had long been a feminized ritual in the West -- a forum for women's voices in ancient Greek, one that persisted in the Renaissance, and one still evident today in many cultures around the world.  The complainte's particular combination of lamentation, female voices, and popular song forms marks out not just a poetics staked against normal love lyric both in gender (female) and in subject (mourning), but one emanating from a culture of song distinguished by a greater polyphony of voices, subjects, and styles. Finally -- and this b ecomes clear as my study moves back and forth between the song texts and the histories they are a part of -- female laments framed a set of values and behaviors for women with social, religious, and even political ramifications. It would be wrong to say that real women always speak in the female complaintes, for they are not necessarily the work of female poets, nor were they necessarily sung by women. But it is indisputable that a large number of women heard these songs and that the many women and men who heard them -- from kings and queens to illiterate folk in the town square -- likewise heard articulated in them succinct prescriptions for female behavior. My interest is not merely in their construction of gender, but more particularly in the way those constructs and the song form itself forged a sense of community and group identity that canny propagandists turned to religious and political ends.
LA DEPLORATION DE VENUS
Let us begin with the most famous female lament of its rime, Mellin de Saint-Gelais's "Laissez la verde couleur," a poem that recounts Venus's mourning at the death of Adonis. "Laissez la verde couleur" is arguably Saint-Gelais's most successful poem, for it was printed numerous times and set to music by several composers associated with the French court. It even became notable enough as a song that contemporary poetry collections published new texts modeled on it under the rubric "chanson nouvelle sur le chant Laissez la verde couleur." Thomas Sebillet cited it twice as a model of French verse in his Art poetique francoyse (1548), and Joachim Du Bellay denounced it in his La deffence et illustration de la langue francoyse (1549), furthering its notoriety among contemporary poets and connoisseurs.  The fact that "Laissez la verde couleur" became embroiled in poetic battles sets it apart from anonymous complaintes of the sort that serious poets paid little mind, but the courtly pedigree of Saint-Gelais's la ment did not prevent it from becoming popular in the sphere of anonymous poetry and song inhabited by the complainte.
The song's extraordinary appeal rests in part on its sharp rendering of two essential oppositions -- male/female and love/death. Saint-Gelais binds these pairs together with a riveting portrayal of Venus kneeling by Adonis's side, a scene that places their bodies side by side at center stage. In the opening stanza, Venus is told to leave her green vestments aside (green being the color of life) and to adorn her beauty with "new sadness," setting up a code of contrasting colors used to depict Adonis, who lies on the grass like a white rose torn from its stem (lines 37-40), and Venus, who touches his wound with her beautiful white hand as his blood stains the green grass red:
Autant de sang qu'il espand
Dessus l'herbe couloree
Autant de larmes respand
La povre Amante esploree.
Le sang rougist mainte fleur
Qui blanche estoit autour nee,
Et mainte est de large pleur
En couleur blanche tournee. 
Saint Gelais elaborates the theme of love and death by contrasting the hot and dry -- or fiery -- physiology of Adonis with the cold and moist properties of Venus, calling attention to the constitutions of men and women described in humoral medicine.  Women were believed particularly susceptible to grievous humors, but expelled them more easily with tears and moist secretions. Thus a woman's sweet-smelling sweat exuded libidinous desire, menses arose from her cold temperature (which prevented her from burning up excess blood as men do), and tears remedied her natural propensity for grief.  In the passage cited above, Saint-Gelais contrasts Adonis's masculine force (hot, reddening blood) with Venus's beauty (cold, bleaching tears) through conventions linking her beauty to water, as in the portrayal of her nude at her toilette in the Galerie Francis I at Fontainebleau and depictions of her watery birth. This juxtaposition of male blood and female tears is drawn out across lines 53-56, in which Saint-Gelai s recalls Ovid's tale that the blood of Adonis gave birth to roses. But these roses are flushed with his vital blood only temporarily, for Venus's tears wash the color from them, leaving them white and exhausted like Adonis's corpse.
The bath of tears, cutting sighs, and cries described by Saint-Gelais give substance to Venus's body in ways consistent with the usual objectification of the mistress in Petrarchan poetry, even though his description renders the statuesque beauties of a mistress's mouth, breasts, and other bodily parts regularly extolled in verse with unusual animation. Her palpable presence in the poem makes the text's dissection of Adonis all the more striking, particularly given how rarely love lyric objectified the male body. The vivid depiction of the wound in Adonis's thigh, the expense of blood, and his pale corpse reorients our gaze unexpectedly toward the male beloved and the unstoppable spill of hot, moist blood from his wound.
Only Venus remains to speak -- a situation not unlike that staged in Ronsard's elegy -- and her cries overwhelm the poem. Renaissance poets regularly troped poetic production as "singing," a convention evident in Horace's Carmina and elsewhere, in which love usually explains the need to write or "sing." In "Laissez la verde couleur," excessive grief elicits Venus's "complaincte mortelle" (line 11), which fills the valleys (and seventy-two lines) with unchecked lamentation. In the branches above her, forest birds assemble to sing of Nature's sadness. A tortured Echo responds from afar, and even the two white swans which pull the goddess's chariot sing "a pitiful song" as they finally spirit her away. Though framed by third-person narration, Venus claims the bulk of the poem with lamentation in the first person, a turn that not only attributes authorship to her but one that replaces the masculine desire initiating lyric production with feminine mourning. In this way, "Laissez la verde couleur" strikes a poetics of feminine grief that seems to encompass all that is possible in a love poem and negate it at the same time. The representation of song in the poem also establishes an occasion and tone for female speech that enhances Venus's beauty. Contained by the regular verse and rhymes of Saint-Gelais's poetry, her "complaincte mortelle" becomes an object of admiration, her voice a force of bittersweet persuasion, her tears the jewels of goddesses. She and her complainte are icons of feminine beauty.
LAMENTS AND UNWRITTEN MUSICAL TRADITIONS
Saint-Gelais filled his lament with musical imagery and a song-within-a-song intent upon fulfilling its mimetic promises in performance. He was a lutenist, poet, and singer, one of a dying breed of songsters adept at composing and singing poesie pour musique. Yet no musical compositions bear his name, and he never consolidated his poetic oeuvre, which survives in a scattering of courtly manuscripts and pirate prints. As we shall see, his mode of "publishing" his poetry rested sooner on singing than it did on writing down music or printing lyrics. Given that his greatest successes were songs titled "complainte" or "deploration," his work corroborates the conjunction I wish to elaborate between lamentation and oral repertories of song. And because the material evidence -- musical scores, printed texts, manuscripts, biographical and anecdotal information -- witnessing the circulation of "Laissez la verde couleur" is far more extensive than that for any other contemporary complainte, an initial survey of this evi dence can establish the broad reach of this relatively ephemeral genre. For the complainte seems always to have floated about in the unwritten musical repertory, and, during Saint-Gelais's career, its texts settled into print among the anonymous lyrics printed in pamphlets, little poetry collections, and even on broadsides. By tracing the reception of "Laissez la verde couleur" through its written musical settings and concordances in poetry collections, it is possible to ascertain the musical and poetic practices that shaped the complainte in late sixteenth-century France, to establish the cultural contexts of the genre, and to come closer to understanding who wrote complaintes and who heard them. From there, we can return to their poetry with a stronger sense of the modes through which their female voices reached listeners.
Saint-Gelais epitomized the skills most desired by French lyric poets at mid-century, for his ability to write poetry and sing it to the lute made him appear as a latter-day Orpheus. Trained in Italy, he began with law studies in Bologna and Padua but soon abandoned jurisprudence in favor of song, emulating the improvisors Serafino dall' Aquilano and Il Chariteo. Returning to France, he took up the position of maitre d'hotel to Francis I sometime around 1518 and served the Valois until his death in 1558.  Admirers touted his prowess as a poet and musician in one, maintaining that he was a "panepistemon" versed in universal science. "Of such as he you won't find thirteen in a baker's dozen" one curiously exclaimed.  As a poet, Saint-Gelais tended toward the straight-forward declamation and regular poetic forms that were hallmarks of poesie pour musique. From what we can discern of his music-making, he preferred balanced melodies and light accompaniments that would not mar the audibility of his verse. M usical settings of his poetry by contemporary composers suggest that he often used music that was already about, singing his poems to the bass patterns, dances, and popular tunes that were the lutenist's stock-in-trade.  Traces of these musical materials survive in polyphonic settings of his poems, such as those setting "Laissez la verde couleur," which harmonize melodies that may well bear some resemblance to Saint-Gelais's own melodic blueprint for the song.
As shown in example 1, the lament was set for four voices by Pierre Certon, and Jacques Arcadelt (see examples 1.a and 1.b).  It was also included in a monophonic chansonnier compiled by Jean Chardavoine (example 1.c), and a melody for it was penned into a poetry collection by an anonymous writer sometime after 1586 (example 1.d). Arrangements of it for four voices and for guitar (both based on Certon's setting) were made by the music publisher Adrian Le Roy, who placed it first in his prints, no doubt hoping to cash in on its great appeal. 
Most of the surviving sources relate to the melody written down by Certon, though the late version penned by our Anonymous bears some similarity to Arcadelt's melody as well. Certon and Arcadelt both knew Saint-Gelais and stood an excellent chance of having heard him perform the song. Certon was master of the children at Sainte-Chapelle du Palais and, as a royal musician, he doubtless knew Saint-Gelais well (he set eleven of Saint-Gelais's poems to music). Likewise, Arcadelt's employer, Charles, the Cardinal of Lorraine, regularly included Saint-Gelais in his musical and literary salon. Charles seems to have had a penchant for lute songs, a taste that may have inspired Arcadelt's settings of seventeen poems by Saint-Gelais, all as four-voice songs using tuneful melodies reminiscent of those Saint-Gelais might himself have employed when singing them. Indeed, Arcadelt's "Laissez la verde couleur" sets the first six stanzas of the poem in what is essentially a set of composed-out harmonic and melodic elaboration s on a single tune, a precious record of the kind of improvisations Saint-Gelais might have entertained as he repeated the melody over and over for the forty stanzas of the song. 
It is tempting to speculate upon which melody for "Laissez la verde couleur" was closest to Saint-Gelais's own. But by far the more interesting questions, it seems to me, are raised by the version of the tune that was penned into a little poetry collection printed in 1586, almost thirty years after the poet's death. The owner of the print, Le recueil de chansons nouvelles, wanted to sing a new song that had been written to the tune of "Laissez la verde couleur," which by then went by the alias "Le chant du bel Adonis." But memory failing him or her, our singer or a friend or teacher wrote the tune in the book at the bottom of the page as a reminder of how it went. This version is not a transcription from one of the five earlier printed sources, but a conflation and reduction of their essence resulting, I believe, from oral transmission.
Whoever wrote down this version of the melody seems to recall features that we find in both Arcadelt's and Certon's versions. The opening of Arcadelt's setting may have stuck in that person's mind: the rhythm matches, as does the choice of G with a flat as the mode, although Arcadelt's extraordinary beginning on A -- which is counterintuitive and hard to remember -- has been replaced with a plebeian beginning on G. Or maybe our anonymous remembered rise of the melody we see in Certon's setting, recalling its ascent through a minor third but not its beginning on the third scale degree of a piece in F. In any case, the manuscript tune slips away from Arcadelt's version and resorts to the melodic contours of Certon's, rising in the first phrase and dropping a …