Gossip & the fabrication of reputation
Gossip can make or break a reputation. ‘Did you hear about … He didn’t … I know it’s difficult to believe, but … Promise not to tell anyone I said this …’ Gossip traffics in shared secrets and creates a sense of intimacy between gossipers that makes it both malicious and seductive, and very difficult to resist. Gossip has always been a broker of reputations, particularly in the pre-modern period, where friendships and credit networks were more significant than they are in today’s fragmented, individualistic world, and privacy was hard to find.
In this immersive performance of the soundscape of pre-modern gossip, we explore how reputations were fabricated through street talk and song, with students from the Departments of Music and History recreating songs and slanders through which stories circulated in the streets, and a reputation could be created or destroyed. You hear 12th-century speculation on what Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of the most powerful queens in Western Europe, got up to in Antioch with her uncle through a number of songs that were composed, improvised and circulated throughout Europe. Women’s reputations more generally are under scrutiny in medieval motets. There are 16th-century French songs, which try to mimic the gossip of the country and the streets, along with rumours and insults from London, reconstructed from court cases. The talks accompanying the performances explore how gossip moved through social strata and through oral and written forms, and the impact it had on the reputations it tried to construct.
Simon Gaunt is Professor of French Language and Literature at King’s College London. His research interests include medieval Occitan literature, travel writing, and the definition of language in medieval Romance languages.
Emma Dillon is Professor of Music at King’s College London. Her research focuses on European musical culture from the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries.
Emily Butterworth is a Senior Lecturer in French at King’s College London. Her research focuses on gossip, slander, and other forms of deviant and excessive speech in the early modern period.
Laura Gowing is Professor of Early Modern British History at King’s. Her research focuses on the history of sex, gender, language and the body in the early modern period.
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