Countries during this period could lie in the imitative behaviour of town-dwellers, a pseudo-aristocracy who revelled in chivalric literature and lifestyle. On the other hand, a contra-indication for this hypothesis is the emergence in the twelfth century of fiction in the vernacular, a phenomenon which implies the intellectual hunger of a new public which differed from the traditional nobility and clergy. Nor can it be claimed that the urban citizenry had no intellectual basis: as early as around 1200, Ghent already had town schools, typically catering for the needs of merchants. And in 1128 the Flemish towns were already so far emancipated that they could play a full part opposite the Count in the political decision-making processes.
Just to the south of Flanders, in Arras, a lively pattern of organised urban literary activity and patronage existed from the year 1200. Arras even had two types of urban literary community: on the one hand an elitist society club, Le Puy, comparable with the later Chambers of Rhetoric, and on the other hand a more popular confrérie for jongleurs, which was comparable with the later critical popular theatre. Some of the impulses for these clubs admittedly came from outside, from courtly circles. These clubs, to which every selfrespecting citizen of Arras belonged, prove that towndwellers of all social levels participated in this rich literary life of Arras. Adam de la Halle and other celebrities were paid both by the elitist and by the popular confrérie. We should not be surprised at this early bourgeois patronage: Arras housed well-to-do merchants and bankers. The fact that Adam de la Halle, for example, brought more shepherds and knights on to his stage than urban citizens in no way implies that he was writing for an aristocratic audience. Literary sociology demonstrates the existence of compensation literature, and here, too, imitative behaviour undoubtedly played a role, with well-to-do citizens aping aristocratic behaviour patterns in order to set themselves apart from the urban hoi-polloi.
In any case, the lighter Arras Chansons from the thirteenth century do often focus on the citizenry, both
Detail of a miniature from the Livre des tournois, ordered by Gruuthuse, a bibliophile from Bruges (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Ms. 7361, fr. 2692. f. 68).
in admiration for economic success stories and in satirical reflections on the immorality of fraudulent businessmen or the sexual promiscuity of Arras' bourgeois females.
It is interesting to note here that the theatre productions and public festivals in Arras were organised by citizens for citizens, but that in the years 1258-1272 these same proud citizens also received noblemen from Artois during their lyrical evenings, and even welcomed the Count of Anjou, the English Prince Edward and Duke Henry iii of Brabant. These occasions thus contributed to the image-building of the proud town. Above all, however, the phenomenon demonstrates that one and the same literary product was consumed by a very diverse public, though admittedly with an equally diverse decoding system. Adam de la Halle's Jeu de Robin et Marion, composed in Arras in around 1276, was written according to one researcher for an aristocratic public, and in the opinion of another researcher for the citizens of Arras. There is a simpler formula: could the work not have been written for a mixed public, for aristocrats, well-to-do patricians and less well-off craftsmen?
If there are no sharp divisions between aristocratic and bourgeois consumers of culture, and if we accept that the irony of a bourgeois story can appeal to courtly readers, and vice versa, then the dominance of the courtly theme and the relative lack of genuinely bourgeois subjects until well into the fourteenth century need no longer be seen as a symptom of a lack of a broad urban public for literature from the twelfth century onwards; this then removes a good deal of our initial paradox.
The Flemish Reynard epic (see The Low Countries 1995-96: 233-239) is a second case in point. We can hardly claim that the target group for this work was in the first place the nobility. The story existed in French before it was translated into Dutch and circulated in the Low Countries; nobles and clerics thus did not really need the Dutch version. This must therefore have been aimed at a new public, alongside and on top of the traditional audience.
Just as we cannot exclude the bourgeoisie as readers of courtly lyric, however, so aristocratic and clerical readers cannot be excluded from the readers of the Dutch version of the Reynard epic, despite the fact that the work is a highly critical parody of courtly life. Urban readers could have great fun with the cynical passage in which the author, with a specific wink towards those citizens, attacks the dog Courtois (= ‘courtier’!) because he speaks French at every opportunity, an explicit allusion to the cultivation of French as the language of culture by the Flemish aristocracy from the twelfth to the fifteenth century. They were, it has to be said, eagerly copied by the bourgeois elite of Ghent and Ypres; thus they too, like the citizens of Arras, had free access to the French chivalric romances and courtly lyric.
There is yet another striking feature here. One might have expected that periods of flourishing culture at the courts of the Low Countries would have diminished