The Lais of Marie de France

Important Things to Learn form Feudal Society and Medieval Literature

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

Feudal and Medieval Society: What Can We Learn from Literature?

What was Important or Considered Virtuous by Medieval Aristocrats?

It would appear that – based on what can be inferred from The Book of Contemplation, The Song of Roland, Beowulf, and The Lais of Marie de France – medieval aristocrats, while often appearing childish and valuing of less-than-noble virtues, also appreciated their fair share of honorable virtues as well. It must be assumed, then, that these aristocrats are comprised of more than meets the eye.

This is most obvious in The Book of Contemplation and Beowulf. In these works, we see acts of massive courage and bravery by aristocrats. Namely, the fearless slaying of Grendel and his mother by Beowulf in defense of a people he does not even call his own. “…I meant to perform the uttermost what your people wanted or perish in the process…”says Beowulf of his quest to rescue the Danes. Of course, we also see feats of generosity and modesty demonstrated in Beowulf as well: we see Beowulf giving much of his spoils from Hrothgar to his own king with no resent or disrespect. Beowulf is generous not only in this but in the previously discussed act of killing Grendel and his mother for the Danes itself. Modesty comes into play in Beowulf’s constant attributions of his victories less to himself and more to his God: “God’s will prevails…” according to Beowulf himself.

In the Book of Contemplation, we see other high-minded values extolled, for example: intelligence and (as discussed) propriety. Usama appears to place great value (and through this we must assume that his peers did as well) on intelligence. Ironically, this is best demonstrated through his examination of the “wonders of [their] intelligence.” as Usama sarcastically puts it. If intelligence were not so highly valued by medieval aristocrats (Muslim ones, at least), then the Franks’ apparent lack of it likely would not be so highly scrutinized here. Usama also appears to place value on propriety. This can easily be demonstrated in a similar manner by taking a look at Usama’s examination of the Franks’ lack of propriety. On the matter, Usama is very…frank (sorry), saying “The Franks possess nothing in the way of regard for honor or propriety.” and following by relating several stories of Frankish disregard for the safekeeping of their women – at least comparatively so with that of Muslim standards.

Of course, these honorable virtues were not all that the aristocrats of medieval times valued. As one imagines the stereotypical idea of a medieval aristocrat, a schema of less virtuous ideals often comes to mind. It is common to think of these aristocrats as assigning little value to the lives of their inferiors, often acting unfaithfully, and behaving dishonorably, among other things. These inferior values are best seen in The Lais of Marie de France – where we find numerous accounts of unfaithfulness and betrayal (which, as we know thanks to Dante, is the worst of sins) – and in The Song of Roland – where we find similarly innumerable accounts of discrimination and violence.

Starting with The Song of Roland, one merely has to open the book to find an occasion on which an aristocrat embodies the ideal of violence – a corrupt value held high in the minds of medieval aristocrats. The mindless slaying of tens of thousands of Saracens at the battle of Roncesvals can be excused as an act of war, however, the killing of equally as many innocents – in the name of Christianity, of course – during the invasion of Saragossa clearly demonstrates the medieval pension for violence. Conveniently, we can point out the value placed on discrimination by medieval aristocrats in the same two instances. The Song of Roland calls the Saracens “angry and wrathful” as they “flee” simply at the sound of Charles’ horns. This clearly demonstrates the disrespect for religions other than Christianity by medieval aristocrats, specifically those hearing the song of Roland, as such terms were intended for their pleasure (though this would likely have extended to commoners as well). As if that were not enough, such bias is clearly evident in the invasion of Saragossa and the slaying of all those who were unwilling to convert to Christianity.

The Lais of Marie de France show similarly undesirable values, however, maybe not on the same epic scale. Best demonstrated in Marie’s novel are unfaithfulness and betrayal. The best account of unfaithfulness comes in the lai Equitan (unfaithfulness can be found in almost every lai, however, Equitan is simply the most explicit and easiest to define). Betrayal, of course, can likely best be seen in the lai Lanval. This is especially demonstrative of betrayal in medieval aristocratic culture because, despite Lanval’s betrayal of the fairy mistress, she forgives him and he lives happily ever after with no consequence.

What was Considered Evil or Lacking Virtue by Medieval Aristocrats?

Since we have just discussed the things (both noble and ignoble) that were valued by medieval aristocrats, we must also then examine those which they found to be particularly evil or unworthy of their sentiment. Most obvious of these is cowardice, which is demonstrated as a poor and worthless trait. It is most clear in The Song of Roland. The Saracens are constantly portrayed as cowardly and evil (see above). After running from Charles’ horns, they receive nothing but brutal punishment, not only from the Franks but from God himself. In Beowulf, we see not the cowards punished, but the brave rewarded, thus not only placing importance on bravery, but disdain on cowardice. This is particularly obvious when most of Beowulf’s knights desert him in the face of death by dragon, while the sole remaining knight is rewarded with Beowulf’s gratitude and his kingdom.

Another trait which seems to be particularly vile in the eyes of medieval aristocrats is, rather obviously, being of a religion other that that of the author. This tends to be less of an issue in the view of Usama, who, despite having many negative (and rightly so) things to say of the Franks, still seems to hold some level of basic respect for them. This seems to be much the opposite of the sentiment in The Song of Roland, were any and every Muslim Saracen who is unwilling to convert is slaughtered – deemed unworthy even of living.

How were Medieval Aristocrats Expected to Behave?

Clearly, we cannot piece together an entire code of conduct, so to speak, based solely on the works available for the writing of this piece. However, based on these works as well as the conclusions we have come to over the course of the last two sections of this essay, we can piece together a loose set of behavioral rules they might have lived by.

It is evident through each piece in its own right that medieval aristocrats, despite living in much better conditions than their vassals, were expected to be highly courageous. This goes rather well with bravery being one of the traits or values that such aristocrats themselves valued. From the battlefields of the Franks and Saracens in The Song of Roland, to the depths of Grendel’s lake in Beowulf, to the desert battles of The Book of Contemplation and even the aristocratic duels of The Lais of Marie de France, we see aristocrats committing feats of courage (or dying in the process) left and right, so to speak.

Aristocrats were, then, expected also to protect their people. This can clearly be seen in The Song of Roland, Beowulf, and The Book of Contemplation. But what of life at home? The Lais of Marie de France clearly details the subtleties of “courtly love”. That being said, the ‘set of rules’ by which those in said “courtly love” were expected to live by seem to be less a ‘set of rules’ and more a ‘set of suggestions’. One exception seems to be honor, and Marie upholds this. It seems, in Marie’s eyes at least, that an aristocratic man is expected to defend his love. Finally, it seems that a man is expected to have only one love, as seen in many of her lais, including (but not limited to) Le Fresne, Bisclavret, Lanval, and even to an extent, The Unlucky One.

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Bisclavret: Marie de France’s Manipulation and Why We Hate the Wife

November 3, 2020 by Essay Writer

Bisclavret is the only lai of Marie de France’s that deals with a couple falling out of love (Creamer 259). The lycanthropic theme is used by the poet as a test of love and respect for one’s husband, as the baron’s wife doesn’t approve of his lupine nature. The central issue seen throughout is the baron’s wife’s refusal to accept and understand. The wife’s situation and power is slowly degraded from the very beginning in the interrogation scene (he was honest, yet she didn’t respect that), and to the very end when she becomes a vanished criminal. Marie de France builds off this story with an aim in deteriorating the wife and defaming her presence by making her disloyal and not accepting of her husband’s nature. From the way she writes the verses, and the wife’s absence for the majority of the poem, it is clear that Marie de France’s goal is for the reader to dislike the wife. “Marie creates an insidious woman-hating universe in her text.” (Creamer 259).

Betrayal is one of the first themes we encounter with Bisclavret, one that remains the reason for the baron’s misfortune. The wife’s first betrayal derives from simple trickery, she asks him whether he goes dressed or nude (when in werewolf form), also a form of foreshadowing for her ongoing query. The location of his clothing signifies her next betrayal. She now knows of the location. To the husband, the revealing doesn’t appear as dangerous, as it is coming from an honest place. “We readers are to understand that her husband’s revelation of his humiliating secret should have been sufficient” (Creamer 265). In addition to the context of the story, Marie de France’s stylistic choices reveal her disdain for the wife.

In the entire story we can see that the baron is genuine and down to earth, while his wife is manipulative and even commits adultery. The description of the wife is one fifth the length of the werewolf and one third of that of the baron. This demonstrates the sneaky and unfaithful nature of the wife by the narrator (Creamer 264). The description of the wife is only two verses long (in the actual poem). This demonstrates that she isn’t very important in the story, not only that, but that she is negligible. Very slowly she starts becoming more and more disparaged by the narrator. Marie’s way of writing unveils the scenario for us, the way she writes the verses and the style in which she phrases the narrative. “All his love was set on her, and all her love was given again to him. One only grief had this lady”. We know something bad is in the surface, as both wife and baron are introduced as almost perfect for one another, and with her grief we can see what might occurred. This line indicates that things will no longer be as mentioned in the beginning. “Verse 62 ‘he hid nothing from her’ and again in verse 67 ‘he had told her everything’ (in the actual poem) -these two verses are another hint of the narrator abandoning objectivity by choosing the husband over the wife” (Creamer 264).

From the commencement of the story we are aware that the werewolf is harmless. He goes out in the deep woods and does nothing but hunt (for animals, not man) and wander around in solitude. He cannot really hurt anyone. The wife should not have a reason to be wary around him. They have been married for some time and he has yet to frighten her. This makes the wife even more loathsome to the reader, as she knows that he will not harm her, as he has not done so, and when answering her questions he delivers humbling and sincere answers. “He is not a man eater and so is not a danger to his wife, especially when coupled with the baron’s claim that the creature does not venture out from the depths of the forest” (Creamer 265). This, however, doesn’t dictate the baron’s only example of his harmless nature.

When lost in the depths of the woods for almost a year, the baron encounters a pack. The king and his men discover him when hunting in the woods. Very intimidated and afraid by this creature, the king wants him gone. The werewolf pleads for his life and reveals his clever side to the king. The king brings him along to his castle, as the men and himself noticed that the werewolf wasn’t harmful, but rather kind and frank. He shows no sings of violence and even sleeps alongside the kings royal entourage. We can see once more that the baron’s claims in the beginning are sincere. He does nothing but roam the woods and hunt for animals, a practice that even humans, not just werewolves, perform. The king and his men serve as a perfect illustration of how the baron would have been harmless to his wife. “That the men eagerly sleep alongside the werewolf is a tactic job from Marie at the intolerant wife, who categorically refuses to lie with her lycanthropic husband” (Creamer 166). This underscores the gentle nature of the werewolf. It is another way for Marie to abase the wife.

Marie de France creates this woman hating universe, step by step in her stylistic choice of writing. We are allowed to see how she degrades the wife more and more throughout the story. The wife’s final betrayal is committed when she decides to marry another man after her husband leaves, a man whom she does not truly love. After almost a year of being out of the picture, the baron returns to his human form with the help of the king. He meets his wife again, only to confront her about her grand betrayal and ending with a violent note by tearing her nose off as a form of revenge. “Marie suggests that the violence committed in this lay is intellectual in nature: the wife refuses to rationalize or compartmentalize her husband’s condition” (Creamer 266). The last form in which the wife is degraded by Marie de France is when the king banishes her (along with her now husband), due to the corruptness she had caused her now ex-husband. The wife and her new husband end up having a few daughters, which are all born without noses. As Creamer concludes, “Bisclavret ends with forward looking glance at how one woman’s treachery would later impact the lives of several future generations of woman. Like Eve before her, this woman’s lack of obedience dooms her” (266).

Works Cited

Creamer, P. “Woman-Hating in Marie De France’s Bisclavret.” ROMANIC REVIEW 93 (2002): 259-74. Print.

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The Power Within Women: A Reading of “Lanval”

November 3, 2020 by Essay Writer

The story of Lanval is an uncommon one for its time. A helpless, outcast knight meets a beautiful, magical woman. The one term of their love, set down by the unnamed woman, is that Lanval can tell nobody about her. When he breaks that rule and offends Queen Guinevere, he must rely on his lover to save him, and she does. In this poem, the woman is the hero; the woman is in control of Lanval’s fate. Lanval is an example of courtly love, a term used to describe certain values within medieval European literature. With courtly love, the woman is traditionally in control of the affair; however, I believe that the woman’s control goes far beyond this subgenre. The woman’s power, in Lanval, is shown through more than just the plot. After all, the final scene of Marie de France’s Lanval utilizes common poetic conventions, such as word choice and imagery, to explore the power women held during a time when men were often the heroes.

Lanval’s fate is entirely in the magical woman’s control, an arrangement which shows her ultimate power. Lanval asks for her help when he says, “I care little who may kill me, / if she does not take pity on me” (599-600). Without this woman’s compassion, Lanval is doomed. What is even more surprising is the fact that Lanval does not care about his fate if it does not include this woman. This state of mind reverses the common damsel-in-distress theme that was seen in the literature of the time. Not only is the woman in charge of their love affair, but she is ultimately in charge of Lanval’s outcome. Instead of the woman needing Lanval, he needs her. By reversing the traditional roles and giving the woman immense power, Marie de France warns men not to underestimate the amount of power a woman can have; a man’s life might be in a woman’s hands one day.

Moreover, the woman’s initial entrance at King Arthur’s court demonstrates her power over the masses. Multiple lines point to the fact that the crowd is infatuated with her: “[S]uch a beauty had never come” to the palace before, a statement which speaks to the fact that this woman was far more beautiful than Queen Guinevere (602). Indeed, “All the [citizens] honored her / and offered themselves to serve her” (610). This woman’s beauty quite literally commanded the room; it is as though the citizens take their loyalty to King Arthur and shift it towards her, so that her stature overwhelms that of the royalty present. Through this aspect of the narrative, Marie de France is saying that a woman could be as powerful as a ruler, or as any man. What is so important, though, is that this woman is bound to no man. Even King Arthur “who was very well-bred, / got up to meet her” (607-8). The king goes to her instead of vice versa, thus indicating how commanding the magical woman is, since even someone as powerful and well-regarded as King Arthur “cannot detain her” (631). Needless to say, if King Arthur cannot hold this woman back, nor can Lanval. Indeed, she saves Lanval because she loves him, not because she is desperate for his love (615). Another important aspect of the woman’s power is shown when she requests Lanval’s release. Without any objection, King Arthur “grants that it should be so,” the “it” here being Lanval’s freedom (625). King Arthur does not even ask Queen Guinevere, who is in some ways at the root of the dilemma, to restate what has happened. He instantly takes this beautiful woman’s words as the sole truth and releases Lanval into her custody. This is the last that the reader sees of Lanval and the last that the story teller has to say.

In the final scene, turns of word choice are engineered to show the woman’s authority over Lanval. This tactic begins in the final few lines, when Lanval jumps onto the horse “behind her” (640). She is taking the lead in controlling the horse; Lanval is simply following her as he goes “with her” to Avalon (641). Lanval is the accessory in the way this sentence is constructed, again showing the role reversal. The final image we are left with is Lanval being “carried off,” and that is the last we ever hear of Lanval (644). These final lines of the poem depict Lanval as under this woman’s rule; he was saved by her. Marie de France chooses to leave the reader with these words and images, lending them additional emphasis. The final impression that the reader gleans from Lanval is that of a woman with power over her lover, something that was uncommon for the era of Marie de France.

Marie de France was clearly a feminist of her time. This flawless woman depicted in Lanval not only commands Lanval, but also the court of King Arthur. Her role in this story goes beyond the plot. This woman just as easily plays the role of the savior as any man could. Marie de France is making a statement by not naming this woman; this woman could be any woman, and any woman could thus hold this amount of power, not just the specific woman in this story. Moreover, Marie de France seamlessly reverses the expected gender roles. In playing this new role, the woman becomes a main character in Lanval, rather than simply an object the man is fighting for. Through her narrative subtleties, Marie de France proves that women have more power than many men think.

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Preserve and Pass It On: Comparing Tombs and Lais in Marie de France’s Laustic and Yonec

August 12, 2019 by Essay Writer

In both Yonec and Laustic, Marie de France describes tombs that house the unfulfilled love of her characters. The tombs function to preserve the physical bodies of a love that could not be fulfilled during the characters’ lives. In both lais, the tombs are overwhelmingly beautiful, ornate, and described in stunning detail, like a piece of art. However, the tombs are finite and conclusive, which makes them an incomplete version of the story that is insufficient in carrying it on in the future. Contrastingly, the lais are a dynamic form that constantly changes with every retelling. The transformational nature of the lay makes it an animate art form, as opposed to the tomb which is a fixed art form. While the tomb preserves the physical remnants of the characters’ love stories, the act of composing these stories into lais preserves the love between these characters forever. While tombs preserve the physical characters, they are finite and therefore cannot actively carry on their story. However, the lay as a form that is constantly changing and animate possesses the power to both preserve the past and continue to carry on the story.

Both the tomb and the lay are pieces of art, even though they are very different. The tombs in both lais are described as beautiful pieces of art. In Laustic the dead nightingale is wrapped “in a piece of samite, embroidered in gold and writing,” (135-136) at first, and then placed in “a small vessel fashioned with no iron or steel in it; it was all pure gold and good stones, very precious and very dear; the cover was very carefully attached” (149-153). In Yonec the tomb is “covered with a cloth of embroidered silk, a band of precious gold running from one side to the other. At the head, the feet, and at the sides burned twenty candles. The chandeliers were pure gold, the censers amethyst, which through the day perfumed that tomb, to its great honor” (499-506). Both tombs are described beautifully and are essentially pieces of art; they are beautifully decorated and adorned with stunning materials like gold and marble. The tomb, then, in and of itself is a piece of art. The lay is also an art form that “put[s] [adventures] into word and rhyme” (Prologue 41). In this way, the tomb and the lay are different. While the tomb is decorated beautifully with pure materials like gold and marble, the lay is simply words composed into a rhyming sequence. It is not primarily visually appealing, but rather auditory and thoughtful. The lay and tomb are also different from one another in terms of finality. The art of the tomb is finite and complete once the construction of it is done, while the lay is always changing and can be revised and transformed infinitely through transposition and retelling. The lais of Marie de France are translations from “from Latin to Romance” and then again from French to English (Prologue 30). These lais are constantly changing and not finite like the tomb, making the lay a more animate and dynamic art form.

The finite tomb and the dynamical lay function differently in preservation as a result of their contrasting natures. The tombs preserve the physical and encapsulate unfulfilled love in both lais. In Yonec when the lady is confronted with her lover’s tomb years after his death, she “faint[s] over the tomb, and in her faint, she die[s]… [then] they [take] the lady with great honour and [place] her in the coffin” (538-548). Even though she could not be with him during her life, the lady is ultimately buried with her lover – a sign of her “great honour” by the people in the city (547). In this way, the tomb will preserve both their physical bodies and the love between them. Similarly, the tomb described in Laustic preserves the body of the nightingale, which is a symbol of the forbidden relationship. The love represented in Laustic is different; it is never described as true love but rather a superficial love where “each took pleasure in the other’s sight since they could have nothing more” (77-78). When the lady realizes she “won’t be able to get up at night or and stand in the window where [she] used to see [her] love” she sends her lover the dead nightingale to relay the message. The knight is “very sad about the adventure but he [is not] mean or hesitant,” and he gives up on their relationship as easily as she does (147-148). Neither sacrifice for one another or even attempt to continue their relationship, and so the tomb created for their love story is simply the dead nightingale in a casket, as opposed to Yonec where the lovers are buried together. The knight “ha[s] the casket sealed and carrie[s] it with him always” as a small token of their relationship (155-156). The casket preserves the dead nightingale as a symbol of their love: a token of their affair and the only remnant of their relationship. Both of these tombs are finite and cannot be changed because of the nature of the tomb. As a result, their stories in this form are fixed and unchanging, and therefore incomplete. In Yonec, the lovers buried together might suggest that the two were married and spent their lives together. In Laustic, a dead nightingale wrapped in a casket does not express the entire story of the lovers. While the tomb preserves the physical remnants of the story, it is an incomplete version of the tales.

The lais suggest that while the tombs preserve the physical bodies, they are incomplete forms of the love story because of their fixed nature. However, the lais as a dynamic and animate form are able to both preserve the love story and continue to carry it on for generations. In Yonec as the lady, her husband, and her son approach the tomb of the knight they ask the people of the city about the knight that lies there. Without the living people of the city there to explain, the tomb is ineffective in communicating the knight’s story. Furthermore, as the knight predicted years ago to the lady, she would hear his story and explain the adventure to their son. After listening to the people of the city, the lady “call[s] aloud to her son” (526) and “reveal[s] for all to hear… the truth” (533-537). The story behind the tomb needed a living component to continue it and carry on. Not only this, but the son proceeds to avenge his father and kill his stepfather to “avenge his mother’s sorrow” (544). The living continuation of the story, the lady, alters the story, as well, because Yonec becomes the lord of the people of the city and changes his bloodline. The tomb, as a finite entity, is incapable of change and therefore insufficient as a means of carrying on the true story. While it may preserve the physical bodies, by its nature it is only a partial representation of the adventure. Similarly, the ending of Laustic suggests that a living component is necessary to pass on the story. As the knight has “the casket sealed” and “place[s] the nightingale inside” he conceals their story by shutting the nightingale in the vessel (154-155). However, “the adventure was told, [as] it could not be concealed for long,” which suggests that the act of living people retelling the story is what allows it to be passed on despite being enclosed in the finite casket (157-158). The lay as a dynamic form undergoing change constantly makes it an animate form, especially when contrasted with the fixed and final nature of a tomb. As a result, the lay is a more effective means of carrying on a story as it can change and remain living in a way. The composition of the lay allows the story to live on and gives the unfulfilled lovers a legacy; their love is able to thrive in the continuous retelling of the story.

In both lais, Marie de France describes beautifully detailed tombs that conserve the physical remnants of two relationships. The tomb in Yonec allows the lovers who could not be together during their lives to at least be buried together and rest together in death. The tomb in Laustic is the only physical remnant of the relationship between the lady and the knight, and is a token and symbol of their love affair. However, the tombs in these lais only serve to encapsulate physical remnants of the relationships and are therefore incomplete versions of the stories. Tombs as a finite and fixed form do not allow for change and transformation, and so they remain inanimate and insufficient accounts of the love affairs. In contrast, the lais are dynamic and animate art forms. They are able to both preserve and carry on the stories of the lovers in their retelling as a living component is necessary to complete and continue the story. While both the lais and the tombs are art forms that preserve, their contrasting natures make the lay a more effective means of continuing and carrying on the stories.

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The Power Within Women: A Reading of “Lanval”

August 2, 2019 by Essay Writer

The story of Lanval is an uncommon one for its time. A helpless, outcast knight meets a beautiful, magical woman. The one term of their love, set down by the unnamed woman, is that Lanval can tell nobody about her. When he breaks that rule and offends Queen Guinevere, he must rely on his lover to save him, and she does. In this poem, the woman is the hero; the woman is in control of Lanval’s fate. Lanval is an example of courtly love, a term used to describe certain values within medieval European literature. With courtly love, the woman is traditionally in control of the affair; however, I believe that the woman’s control goes far beyond this subgenre. The woman’s power, in Lanval, is shown through more than just the plot. After all, the final scene of Marie de France’s Lanval utilizes common poetic conventions, such as word choice and imagery, to explore the power women held during a time when men were often the heroes.

Lanval’s fate is entirely in the magical woman’s control, an arrangement which shows her ultimate power. Lanval asks for her help when he says, “I care little who may kill me, / if she does not take pity on me” (599-600). Without this woman’s compassion, Lanval is doomed. What is even more surprising is the fact that Lanval does not care about his fate if it does not include this woman. This state of mind reverses the common damsel-in-distress theme that was seen in the literature of the time. Not only is the woman in charge of their love affair, but she is ultimately in charge of Lanval’s outcome. Instead of the woman needing Lanval, he needs her. By reversing the traditional roles and giving the woman immense power, Marie de France warns men not to underestimate the amount of power a woman can have; a man’s life might be in a woman’s hands one day.

Moreover, the woman’s initial entrance at King Arthur’s court demonstrates her power over the masses. Multiple lines point to the fact that the crowd is infatuated with her: “[S]uch a beauty had never come” to the palace before, a statement which speaks to the fact that this woman was far more beautiful than Queen Guinevere (602). Indeed, “All the [citizens] honored her / and offered themselves to serve her” (610). This woman’s beauty quite literally commanded the room; it is as though the citizens take their loyalty to King Arthur and shift it towards her, so that her stature overwhelms that of the royalty present. Through this aspect of the narrative, Marie de France is saying that a woman could be as powerful as a ruler, or as any man. What is so important, though, is that this woman is bound to no man. Even King Arthur “who was very well-bred, / got up to meet her” (607-8). The king goes to her instead of vice versa, thus indicating how commanding the magical woman is, since even someone as powerful and well-regarded as King Arthur “cannot detain her” (631). Needless to say, if King Arthur cannot hold this woman back, nor can Lanval. Indeed, she saves Lanval because she loves him, not because she is desperate for his love (615). Another important aspect of the woman’s power is shown when she requests Lanval’s release. Without any objection, King Arthur “grants that it should be so,” the “it” here being Lanval’s freedom (625). King Arthur does not even ask Queen Guinevere, who is in some ways at the root of the dilemma, to restate what has happened. He instantly takes this beautiful woman’s words as the sole truth and releases Lanval into her custody. This is the last that the reader sees of Lanval and the last that the story teller has to say.

In the final scene, turns of word choice are engineered to show the woman’s authority over Lanval. This tactic begins in the final few lines, when Lanval jumps onto the horse “behind her” (640). She is taking the lead in controlling the horse; Lanval is simply following her as he goes “with her” to Avalon (641). Lanval is the accessory in the way this sentence is constructed, again showing the role reversal. The final image we are left with is Lanval being “carried off,” and that is the last we ever hear of Lanval (644). These final lines of the poem depict Lanval as under this woman’s rule; he was saved by her. Marie de France chooses to leave the reader with these words and images, lending them additional emphasis. The final impression that the reader gleans from Lanval is that of a woman with power over her lover, something that was uncommon for the era of Marie de France.

Marie de France was clearly a feminist of her time. This flawless woman depicted in Lanval not only commands Lanval, but also the court of King Arthur. Her role in this story goes beyond the plot. This woman just as easily plays the role of the savior as any man could. Marie de France is making a statement by not naming this woman; this woman could be any woman, and any woman could thus hold this amount of power, not just the specific woman in this story. Moreover, Marie de France seamlessly reverses the expected gender roles. In playing this new role, the woman becomes a main character in Lanval, rather than simply an object the man is fighting for. Through her narrative subtleties, Marie de France proves that women have more power than many men think.

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The Inctricacies of the Court and Lanval’s Desire to Escape

June 10, 2019 by Essay Writer

The Intricacies of the Court and Lanval’s Desire to Escape In the Anglo- Norman lay Lanval, an eloquent and intricate account of the Arthurian courts, Marie de France develops an array of issues that include the hypocrisies and virtues of the court, the desire for escape, as well sex and gender. In this essay, I will investigate these topics by comparing the Queen, the fairy Princess and Gawain as they are examples of both the contemptible and noble qualities of the court system. I will also investigate the theme of escapism and how Lanval’s status as an ‘outsider’ from the courts causes him to desire to escape his situation of courtly abjection. These investigations will further my understanding of Marie’s views of the court system. Finally, by pursuing the issues of sex and gender, this essay will explore the lay’s fascinating portrayal of the role of women as active agents in the Arthurian courts. This series of investigations will lead to the conclusion that the events and occurrences are completely the imaginings of Lanval himself. His psychological exile results from his estrangement from reality. Marie’s own escapist fantasy; however, has been effectively manipulated to make for presentable courtly entertainment. Marie de France’s portrayals of the injustices and hypocrisies of the court are tactful, ensuring that she will be able to read this lay aloud to the court. For example, Lanval’s unhappiness at the beginning of the poem, while we are informed that he does not receive his due payment from King Arthur after the battles against the Picts and the Scots, is not fully explained. Descriptions of Lanval reveal that he is obviously not on an equal level with the other knights. Marie does not explicate the reasons for these exceptional conditions, however, careful consideration reveals the corruption and irony of Arthur’s round table. While the battles against Picts and Scots are grand endeavors whereby Arthur is able to simultaneously spread Christianity and his rule, this ironic power is viewed ironically due to failures to control his won wife and to fairly reward his knights. These are contradictions in Arthur’s abilities as a leader prompt and they the reader to question the virtue of his rule, as well as the just nature of his court. It also serves to incite greater pity for Lanval. Lanval is described as an outsider. The other knights “were envious of his handsomeness,/ His strength, his courage, his largesse” (Lines 20-21). They pretend to love Lanval, but are secretly jealous of him and would not be devastated if anything bad happened to him. Lanval has no true friend or camaraderie and this isolation causes his estrangement. He is a foreigner and therefore suffers from loneliness. The narrator implores the readers to place themselves in Lanval’s situation and to take pity on his suffering. “My lords, please do not think it rare:/ A foreigner is filled with care/ And sadness in a distant land,/ Finding no help at any hand” (Lines 33-36). Through the use of sympathy, Marie criticizes the prejudice against foreigners that characterizes Arthur’s court. Lanval reacts to the ill treatment by isolating himself, “For pleasure’s sake set on his way./ Outside the town he went to ride/ Alone into the countryside” (Lines39-41). This isolation from the town symbolizes self-removal from the difficult reality, attending all psychological experiences of personal exile. The subsequent occurrences that happen to the hero, including the coming of the fairy princess, may be construed as entirely fictitious. Marie displays great tact in portraying the weighty criticisms of Arthurian corruption and courtly prejudice against foreigners. She presents them in a short span of the text– all within the first fifty lines– and without any explicit explanations, although these criticisms arguably supply the motivations for Lanval’s suffering, psychological estrangement and escapist fantasy. Marie critiques the court system in an even more obvious way through the character of Arthur’s Queen. The Queen is highly corrupt and vile, as depicted by her attempt to seduce Lanval and condemn him for treason. His refusal of her sexual offers constructs a testament to his devotion and loyalty to his fairy mistress and his king. The conversation after his refusal of the queen depicts her narcissistic temperament and her grave misuse of courtly courtesy. The Queen is short, curt and cruel when talking to Lanval, accusing him of many things including that he sleeps with boys. It causes Lanval to become furious with her, the court she controls and, finally, to speak back to her.The criticism of the Queen is incredibly blunt, unlike the criticisms of Arthur’s court. She is heavily criticized, especially when she is compared to the fairy princess. This fictitious princess, read as Lanval’s amorous fantasy, offers companionship and adoration to Lanval and starkly contrasts the political reality of the Queen. While fairy’s love is pure, secretive, rewarding and sensitive, the Queen’s physical demands are sinful. The fairy princess’ beauty exceeds all bounds and she portrays perfect manners as an exemplary figure of courtly behavior. These figures can also be seen to represent binary examples of Lanval’s most and least ideal woman. These two characters can also be compared involves their restriction by the rules of court and society. The fairy princess is not restricted by the conventionalities of female modesty and courtly protocol, as she wears a revealing dress to Lanval’s trial. She is not restricted by the rules of reality either as he is able to take off his mantle and roll it into a pillow. The Queen, on the other hand, is governed completely by the social and legal conventions of the real world. Her only means of punishing Lanval involves an organized trial. The fairy princess’ supreme freedom from reality is portrayed in her brilliant beauty and purity. In essence, it is necessary that she leave the real world because she cannot be tainted by the influences of society. The Queen, in contrast, instantiates the social corruption and hypocrisy of the court. Marie does not suggest that the court is devoid of all virtue. On the contrary, the character of Gawain serves as the ultimate example of the court as sincere and decent. His righteousness bridges the gap between Lanval’s foreignness and the hegemonic unity of the other knights. As a well-respected knight, Gawain helps them to support Lanval during his trial. His character is a valorization of the worldly court; therefore it is less controversial to a courtly audience. Gawain also serves as an outstanding example of a worldly court member, whom Marie’s audience should follow. While the interpretation that Lanval’s fairy princess is fictitious may be debatable, the psychological model of fantasy and wish fulfillment are not. His desperate need for acceptance, and the instant gratification when he meets his mistress seems too great a coincidence for one to dismiss the possibility of her being a fantasy. First, Lanval is upset that he has not been rewarded by King Arthur, the fairy princess professes her love for him and then attends to his every need: “He should get whatever he wanted-/ Money, as fast as he can spend it,/ No matter how much, she will send it” (Lines 132-134). Furthermore, since many other of Marie’s lays contain elements of “magic and mystery” (Norton Anthology, 127), it is not surprising to assume that Lanval represents a version of psychological fantasy and the interaction between the magical and real worlds. Indeed, there are some explicit identifications of the author, Marie de France, with Lanval. Marie was a foreigner from France who lived in present-day England. She experienced the loss of community and identity living in this distant land, since it is commonly believed that she was a nun, she probably had very little tolerance for the injustices of the court. In light of this historical, generic and textual evidence, I believe that the story of Lanval is a modified account of Marie’s personal fantasy of escaping the English court, skillfully manipulated it to make it suitable for the gender and political standards of society. While Marie de France probably dreamed about returning to her French homeland, her lay seem more powerful and interesting because the destination of escape is of another world, therefore one free from all courtly regulations and perfect in every imaginable way. In essence, the other world of Avalon is desirable to all, including the court to which she is reading. This would not necessarily be true had Lanval simply dreamt of going to France. The lay is also modified from Marie’s personal fantasy in that the marginalized protagonist is a man. This gender conversion is necessary for the lay to have been taken seriously in court. The worthiness and valor of his character is the result of his noble status as one of Arthur’s knights, allowing him to venture into the inner dealings of the court system. Lanval as a male gives Marie the license to comment fully on the inner political dealings of the court. Also, it would have been scandalous for a woman’s fantasies to be described in such detail during Marie’s time. A proper reading of Marie’s Lanval, as an outsider, must include investigation into the court as a virtuous system of rule. This allows us to follow the driving factors which cause Lanval to desire escapism so greatly that he develops a fantasy to deal with his suffering. France, Marie De. “Lanval.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York: W W Norton & Company, 1962. 126-140. Moritz, William E. Guingamor, Guigemar, Graelentmor, Lanval and Desire: A Comparative Study of Five Breton Lays. Diss. Univ. of Southern California, 1968. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University Mircrofilms, Inc., 1968.

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Analysis of The Lais of Marie de France

April 4, 2019 by Essay Writer

In Medieval times, women were usually forced to be dependent on a man for her safety, prosperity, and guidance. Yet, in Marie de France’s fictional tales of courtly love, men are in fact victims to women’s charm. Men are unable to live without their lovers, and their desire for love leads these men to be more noble and obedient. Marie de France does not follow conventional rules of courtly love, but she models relationships between men and women after certain characteristics of it. In fact, women in relationships often fall into one of three groups; those unpunished for adultery, those condemned for disloyalty, and “godlike” women flawless in body and spirit. Out of these fictional relationships come distinct symbolism of marriage, social hierarchies, and gender roles. The particular tales of Guigemar, Eliduc, and Lanval all are examples of relationships which exhibit men and women in questionable social roles.

The Lay of Guigemar, a poetic description of lovers separated by distance and circumstance. Guigemar, a noble knight doomed unable to have love, finds a deer in the woods and attempts to kill it. Upon the arrow rebounding and wounding Guigemar, he is told by the deer that he is cursed, and he will never heal his wound until he finds a woman who is worth suffering for. Guigemar finds solace aboard a ship, which sets sail while he is asleep, and propels him towards his future lovers’ kingdom. The Queen of the land he stumbles upon, as well as a maid, find him and offer comfort and a place to nurse his wound. Eventually, Guigemar is not bothered by his wound but is troubled by his love for the Queen. Both the Queen and Guigemar believe that their love for each other in unrequited, so Guigemar hopes to die. Yet, he is invited to join the Queen, where they begin a yearlong affair. To seal their affection for each other, the Queen ties Guigemar’s shirt into a knot only she can untie, and Guigemar wraps a belt around her. When the King finds out about their relationship, he lets Guigemar free, leaving the Queen behind who ponds if suicide is her only option for two years. She finds the boat Guigemar initially arrived on, sets sail to Brittany, but falls prey to Meriaduc’s advances. Meriaduc cannot untie her belt, but Guigemar does, after learning that she is in attendance of his jousting tournament. Guigemar starves the enemy town, kills Meriaduc, and is reunited with the Queen.

Immediate reactions to this poem is of the disregard of the Queen’s marriage. In the beginning of the Lay of Guigemar, Marie de France explains Guigemar’s lack of interest in any women, but only uses the word for “unwed”. She says in the beginning, “There was neither dame nor maiden beneath the sky, however dainty and kind, whom he gave thought our heed, though had he required her love of any damsel, very willingly would she have granted his desire” (P. 3). Marie de France uses a word commonly defined as unwed woman twice to explain Guigemar’s predicament, yet he faces no punishment later for sleeping with a married royal. Marie de France also has little issue in Guigemar’s territorial nature, as he places a chastity belt around his lover, to ensure she “would never grant her love, save to him only.” (P. 29). Marie de France shows little respect for promises made in marriage, because there would be little romantics in Guigemar immediately being executed for his actions. In addition, both of the perpetrators in this affair are left unpunished for their actions. Guigemar knew he had to leave due to the Queen’s dream, and the Queen was always locked in her tower before her lover’s arrival. This story sets a theme for the proceeding tales; all moral, ethical, and social boundaries are broken when love naturally presides over mortals.

The story of Eliduc is more normative for the time period Marie de France wrote in, exhibiting a male have unfaltering control over two women simultaneously. In this story, a knight named Eliduc was married to his wife Guildeluc, and lived happily serving the King of Brittany, until he is slandered by jealous enemies. The King bans him, and he leaves with ten knights. They promise to be faithful to each other. Eliduc arrives to a new land, where the lord has refused to give away his daughter. Eliduc wins the approval of the lord by defeating the enemies which come to this land, much to the delight of the daughter as well. Initially, Eliduc behaves respectfully due to being married, but finds it increasingly difficult to stay truthful to his wife. He is tested by Guilliadun, the daughter of the lord, to see if her love is accepted. After much torment, Guilliadun expresses her love for Eliduc, to which he denies by saying that he is only in her presence for a year. He leaves after rejecting Guilliadun’s advances multiple times, only to return to sadness once he is reunited with his true wife. Eliduc again returns to Guilliadun, and attempts to bring her back to his home. However, on the voyage back, a great storm emerges, and Eliduc is accused of causing the storm by his affair. Guilliadun faints at the thought of Eliduc being married, and is seemingly dead. Guildeleuc finds Guilliadun’s “dead” body in a chapel, and brings Guilliadun back to life. She allowed Eliduc to marry his new love, on the condition she can be granted a nunnery on the land where Guilliadun was resurrected.

This story portrays high amounts of social hierarchy when examined through close analysis and distant reading. First, when viewing the plot as a whole, there is an overbearing amount of male dominance. The man has a wife, he refuses a potential lovers’ advances, but eventually brings her to his homeland without telling either Guilliadun about Guildeluec, or vice versa. Marie de France presents this story with contrasting and distorted images of loyalty. Eliduc left the King of Brittany upon request, and served both dutifully when called, but could not remain true to his wife. He does not sleep with Guilladun, but he permits himself to be emotionally captivated by her. In this process, he leads on Guilladun, leaving her with two choices; Eliduc bringing her with him, or leaving her to commit suicide. Guilladun is so adamant in her demands as she says, “‘Since you cannot stay,’ said the maiden. ‘Take me with you, wherever you go. If not, my life is so joyless without you, that I would wish to end it with my knife’” (P. 42). Guildeluec shows similar desperation when she says “‘Seest thou,’ she said, ‘this woman, who for beauty shineth as a gem! This lady, in her life, was the lover of my lord. It was for her that all his days were spoiled by grief. By my faith I marvel little at his sorry, since I, who am a woman too, will – for pity’s sake or love- never know joy again, having seen so fair a lady in the dust’” (P. 58). Marie de France offered little mercy to be shown for Eliduc’s proper wife, one to which he promised not to betray. Yet, she is shown as frail and pitying Eliduc’s luck, standing above his lover’s deathbed. Women are viewed as completely submissive to men in this piece, and neither female characters make any choice which is not influenced by Eliduc. Marie de France gives women little power or control in this story, leaving both of the lovers at the mercy of Eliduc.

An excellent example of reversed gender roles is portrayed in Marie de France’s Lay of Sir Lanval. Lanval is described as loyal, handsome knight, yet he is lonely and sad. He decides to explore the forest to rid him of his misfortune, where he stumbles upon a stream. Two beautiful women approach him, who explain that their mistress has been awaiting him. This maiden tells him that she has been in search of deep love, and he would be rewarded for loving the “Fairy Queen” in exchange for his silence. Lanval agrees, and he is promised extravagant wishes. The consequence for disclosing their love to an outside is losing the Fairy Queen forever. Later, at a luncheon of sorts in King Arthur’s garden, Queen Guinevere attempts to persuade Lanval. She confesses her desire for him, and quickly offers herself to him for affection. When he rejects the Queen, she accuses of him of homosexuality, to which he explains that he is in love with another woman whom he cannot betray. Guinevere accuses Lanval of offending her to King Arthur, and he holds a trial to determine Lanval’s innocence. Though Lanval does not tell of his love for the Fairy Queen, he vehemently denies claims made by Guinevere, to which King Arthur does not believe. The jury is split in their decision, which angers the Queen, but Lanval’s love arrives to clear his name. She forgives him for breaking his promise, but acknowledges his attempts to hide her identity during the trial.

This story is very interesting in its depiction of gender roles. In the stories previously mentioned, the women were more bound to their word than the men. For example, in the story of Guigemar, the Queen has a chastity belt tied around her waist, while Guigemar simply has a knot in his shirt. Yet in this story, Lanval face sure execution without the help from an outside witness. Lanval is either at the mercy of King Arthur, which is normative, or the mercy of his lover, which is socially unusual. Descriptions of Lanval’s interactions with the Fairy Queen are very clearly submissive, as explained when Marie de France says “Lanval plighted faith, that right strictly he would observe this commandment.” Marie de France does not explain the Fairy Queen’s wishes as a request, but a commandment. She later describes this vow as a “covenant”, which also is a moderately strict word in place of “pact” or “bond”. Lanval is always at the mercy of others, though he is a knight with “beauty and valor”. He is first bound by his lover, then is threatened by Queen Guinevere, and is almost executed by King Arthur. In previous tales, such as Eliduc, both Kings offered great praise to their knight, and both women found themselves submissive to who Eliduc chose to be with. Even with sure death in his future, Lanval kept to his bond of not revealing his lover’s’ identity. When the maidens arrive to the trial to introduce the Fair Queen, Lanval “answered very simply that never before had he seen these damsels with his eyes, nor known and loved them in his heart” (P. 40). Lanval was not bound to keep the Fairy Queen’s maidens a secret, but Lanval was in such deference to his lover that he would not even acknowledge their existence. Lanval, a male in love, shows extreme submission to his lovers’ wishes, which is in contrast with other tales written by Marie de France.

The Lays of Marie de France are not at all consistent, nor do they carry a single, general theme about love. Each individual story provides different points of view which vary in the amount of control women and men have. In stories like The Lay of Eliduc, men exhibit unfaltering power over their lovers, which almost drive the women to suicide. Yet, stories such as The Lay of Lanval show women with complete control over men’s actions. Marriage, social hierarchies, and gender roles are all completely thrown in the air, as Marie de France attempts to highlight unusual social situations with her tales. Marie de France is successful in exhibiting the different power dynamics between males and females, because she manipulates marriage, social hierarchies, and gender roles to her liking.

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Is ‘True Love’ Imaginary?: An Inspiring Delusion in “Guigemar” and “Yonec”

March 15, 2019 by Essay Writer

Among all other feelings, love proves to be one of the most complex emotions humans experience. Usually, people can pinpoint why they feel a certain way. For example, working people are happy when they get paid, but are often sad when they have to pay taxes. Love, however, is harder to comprehend. Merriman Webster dictionary defines love as “a strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties” (“Love”, Merriman-Webster Dictionary). Unfortunately, this definition does not begin to grasp the true meaning of love because love travels beyond family relationships. However, the definition of love provides one key aspect: Affection. ‘True love’ occurs when this “strong affection” creates a surreal, emotional link between two people. This connection happens randomly and almost instantaneously. Is this idea of “true love” even possible? Some people believe that the phenomenon is far too complex for today’s society and believe the idea is a product of imagination. Within The Lais of Marie de France, the author provides the reader with examples of scenarios where ‘true love’ is found. Ultimately, the tales show how the idea of ‘true love’ is the result of one’s imagination. The two “lais” that best describe ‘true love’ as a figment of imagination are “Guigemar” and “Yonec”. Both stories have characters that create the idea of ‘true love’ in their mind because they are in need of love, but neither case is relatable to real life.

Marie de France describes Guigemar as a handsome, brave knight who could have anylady he pleased. Unfortunately, for the many women that loved and adored Guigemar, he was notinterested in love. The story progresses, stating that when he arrived home after serving a lord ina distant land, Guigemar coordinated a hunting trip. During the hunt, Guigemar spotted amagnificent stag. The knight fired an arrow perfectly at the deer. Guigemar landed the kill shoton the animal, but the arrow deflected and pierced the knight in the thigh. The dying stag cursedGuigemar, saying “may you never get medicine for your wound! / Neither herb nor root, / neitherphysician nor potion, / will cure you / of that wound in your thigh, / until a woman heals you, /one who will suffer out of love for you” (“Guigemar”, 110-115). The brave knight that once hadno purpose for love now has to find his ‘true love’ or suffer from the wound until his death.

Although Guigemar is injured, the knight continues to move until he finds an abandonship in a cove. When Guigemar investigates the boat, he finds a bed and falls asleep. The knightwakes up several moments later to the ship steering itself. Guigemar, however, does not react tothis phenomenon and goes back to sleep. To summarize the rest of the tale, the boat travels to aland where Guigemar finds ‘true love’ in the king’s wife. Unfortunately, the two are notsupposed to love each other, but since the couple is willing to risk anything and suffer for oneanother, Guigemar is healed and ‘true love’ conquers the barriers between their love. Is this ‘truelove’ real? The story does not follow a realistic plot with the magnificent stag that can talk or theself-steering ship that leads the main character right to his ‘true love’. Possibly, the scenarios thatwere presented were created from the imagination of Guigemar after the trauma of getting shotwith an arrow in the thigh. Although “Guigemar” makes a tremendous story about maturity andthe power of love, Marie de France does not allow the reader to create a realistic scenario of ‘truelove’.

“Yonec” also describes a situation of ‘true love’ that is “too good to be true”. An old,wealthy king married a beautiful young lady but was jealous of anyone who would lay eyes onher. The king was afraid to lose her. The king decided to lock his wife in a tower and have hiselderly sister keep watch of her. The solitude in the tower made the young lady depressed untothe point of her losing her good looks and the young lady praying for death to come quickly. Oneday she cursed the old man for locking her up, her parents for giving her away to some old guy,and the fates that she will never have a knight come rescue her, like a fairytale. “When she’dfinished her lament, / she saw through a narrow window, / the shadow of a great bird … When ithad been there awhile, / and she’d stared hard at it, / it became a handsome and noble knight”(“Yonec”, 105-115). At that moment, a hawk flew into her room from the window andtransformed into a handsome knight. The knight explains how he could not come to the younglady until she wished for him. From the reader’s perspective, the young lady did not find ‘truelove’. Rather, true love, in the form of a hawk, found the young lady. This ‘true love’ story,although charming, cannot be related to real life because the idea of transformation (from bird tohuman) is implausible. Additionally, several years of solitude can drive a person insane and forcetheir imagination to run wild. It is possible that the knight was just an image of the young lady’simagination in order to make herself happy.

“Guigemar” and “Yonec” are two ‘true love’ stories found in The Lais of Marie deFrance. These two tales serve as a testament to the idea of ‘true love’ because ‘true love’ ispresented in an unrealistic setting. Guigemar had several extraordinary events, such as talking tothe stag and sailing on a self-steering ship, that led the knight to his ‘true love’. The young ladywished for her ‘true love’ and a knight flew through the window transformed as a hawk. The‘true love’ in both of these tales came at a time when both the main characters were in a need for love, whether it was to heal a wound or to instill happiness. Although Marie de France does notpresent the idea of finding ‘true love’ as a plausible event in real life, that was not her purpose.The author wanted to show that love is a powerful tool that should not be taken for granted. Lovecan heal and bring happiness, but it can also create despair and death if this emotion is abused.Although the idea of ‘true love’ can only be created in one’s imagination, the power of love livesthroughout the world today.

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The Lais of Marie de France in Reference to the Patriarchy

February 22, 2019 by Essay Writer

I consider myself a recovering patriarchal woman. By patriarchal woman I mean, of course, a woman, who has internalized the norms and values of patriarchy, which can be defined, in short, as any culture that privileges men by promoting traditional gender roles. Traditional gender roles cast men as rational, strong, protective, decisive; they cast women as emotional (irrational), weak, nurturing, and submissive. (Lois Tyson, Critical Theory Today, 81, emphasis original)

For my argument, I have chosen to discuss the role of patriarchy in The Lais of Marie de France. Being a medieval text, it is predominantly patriarchal, with gender roles established not only through examples of what a man or a woman should do, but what their divergence from those roles can lead to. Marie de France, however, does not always embrace conventions, which is important to consider because she is a female writer within the patriarchal context.

Firstly, the ways in which the author reinforces gender roles should be discussed. To start more generally, Marie gives seven of her twelve lais names of their male protagonists, as the central character was traditionally expected to be male. Furthermore, lais like “Guigemar” and “Milun” not only demonstrate the qualities that were considered typical for male protagonists but their contribution to their status: Guigemar’s identity is defined by his martial abilities, since not only could ‘no one…find his equal as a knight’ (pg. 44) but his travel to foreign land is aimed at ‘search of renown’ (pg 43) through ‘war and strife’, thus establishing the importance of gaining glory through conflict; Milun, too, is ‘an exceedingly fine knight’ (pg. 97) who is ‘noble and bold, courtly and fierce’ and ‘loved for his prowess.’ Similarly, there are lais, where typical feminine qualities are celebrated. In fact, as Wood points out, ‘by spotlighting them in the narrative, it glorifies the station and roles of women in the household.’ (pg. 1)[1] Women were associated with domesticity and thus, a lot of female characters feel in control when in their household. The treacherous wife in “Equitan” chooses to execute her husband with a method that has nothing to do with weapons or fighting but a hot bath tub that would usually offer domestic comfort to a man. In “La Fresne”, Fresne takes care of the bedclothes for the newly married and regains her status by exposing the expensive brocade she had received from her mother at birth. Another aspect of domesticity, motherhood, the nurturing side of a woman, is celebrated, too: for example, in “Milun”, there is a particular emphasis on the fact that a proper care of the child is taken as ‘they fed the child, put it…to sleep and bathed it” as well as taking “a wet nurse with them’ (pg.98).

When reinforcement of gender roles is being argued, however, there is also a place for some negative stereotypes about women. An important pattern that is maintained in at least nine of the lais is adultery that is always committed by a woman, not a man. While in some cases, like in “Equitan”, “Bisclavret” and “Lanval” it is condemned and in others like “Guigemar”, “Yonec” and “Milun” it is celebrated, it is always a married woman’s initiative to have a lover, not a married man’s, with an exception, perhaps, of La Fresne. Furthermore, in lais like “Equitan”, “Bisclavret”, and “Lanval” the archetype of a conniving, treacherous woman is presented. These women are clever but they do not use their intellect benevolently; rather, they deceive others into believing the “truth” convenient to them. In “Bisclavret”, for example, a wife can go as far as begging for an answer in ‘the name of God’ (pg.69), stating that she loves her husband ‘more than the whole world’ and yet still betraying him when he gives away his most precious secret. It may be a reference to the Old Testament subject of Samson and Delilah where a woman of great beauty deceives a man, only to use his weakness against him in order to dehumanise, emasculate him. Many feminist critics would argue that ‘it is not unreasonable for the lady [in Bisclavret] to…fear…and decide never again to lie with a man who regularly morphs into such a fearsome creature’ (Kinoshita & McCraken, pg. 69)[2]. The male characters in the text, however, not only accept Bisclavret’s harsh action of biting ‘the nose right off [his wife’s] face’ but also subject her to torture. It is only in Marie’s own commentary that it is suggested that Bisclavret acted like a “madman” and therefore, did not use human reasoning.

The same facts can be used as an argument against set patriarchal thinking because women use the concepts pitched against them in their favour. Marie, as a writer of her time, ‘display[s] her belief in a woman’s role and the beauty, skill, strength, and intelligence it requires.’ (Wood pg.1)[3] In numerous lais, it is women who get to resolve problems with their wit that men cannot resolve with physical force. In “Lanval”, the eponymous character despite possessing virtues like ‘valour’ and ‘prowess’ needs his ‘beloved…to defend and protect him’ by speaking in front of the court, which she does and succeeds at liberating him. In “Guigemar”, it is the lady that comes up with the ‘pledge’ in a form of a knot in her beloved shirt and a chastity belt, which helps her reunite with Guigemar. Another important instance when women are shown to be autonomous is when they commit adultery: Marie does not portray their husbands as sympathetic and that seems to justify those women. In fact, most of these husbands are depicted as ‘jealous’, ‘rich old men’, who have subjected their wives to lengthy periods of imprisonment and found themselves cheated for mistreating them: it is thus a ‘rebellion [that is] simultaneously a rebirth and an affirmation of [a woman]’ (Guthrie, pg. 45)[4]. Since most women of the time were subjected to an arranged marriage, Marie does not condemn them for cuckolding their husbands; instead, she condemns women who have chosen a lover with their heart and cheated on him nevertheless. Thus, in lais where women have found true love and remained loyal to it such as “Guigemar”, “Yonec”, “Milun”, not only are they not ostracised but either reunited with their lovers or avenged.

In conclusion, while it cannot be denied that the text is imbued with patriarchal thinking that was prevalent for Medieval literature, it is also hard to deny that Marie’s perception of gender roles was not uniform or typical for her time. While some traditionally male and female qualities are present in the lais, there are moments when both men and women act out of character.

Works Cited

France, Marie De, Keith Busby, and Glyn S. Burgess. The Lais of Marie De France. London: Penguin, 2003. Print.

Wood, Valene. “The Humanisation of Women: Feminism in the Lais of Marie de France.” isuu.com, . Accessed 22 November 2016. Online

Guthrie, Jeri S., “Critical analysis of the roles of women in the Lais of Marie de France” Missoula: University of Montana, 1976 .Theses, Dissertations, Professional Papers. faculty.mwsu.edu/foreignlanguages/stuart.mcclintock/mariedefrance.doc. Online

Kinoshita, Sharon, and Peggy McCracken. Marie De France: A Critical Companion. Suffolk: D.S. Brewer, 2012. Print. [1] The Humanisation of Women: Feminism in the Lais of Marie de France [2] Marie de France: A Critical Companion [3] The Humanisation of Women: Feminism in the Lais of Marie de France [4] Critical Analysis of the Roles of Women in the Lais of Marie de France

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True love exists only in the imagination

January 14, 2019 by Essay Writer

The Lais of Marie de France give outstanding examples why true love cannot exist in the real world. “Lanval” and “Yonec” both focus on the theme of true love existing only in the imagination because it has no foundations in the human world. True love requires traits that are contradicting with the social norms, according to the author. Therefore, in “Lanval” imaginary love comes as refuge from being a social outcast, whereas in “Yonec” imaginary love is a way to escape from a very oppressive and destructive relationship. Marie de France aims to show the reader that true love is a way to escape from reality and it cannot exist in real world because it requires secrecy and moderation.

In “Yonec” and “Lanval”, both protagonists suffer from being isolated from society which pushes them to find solace in a world of their own. The story of Lanval begins with explanation at great length of how distant the protagonist is from society. Because he outshines his peers with his chivalrous values most of them “envied him” (De France 105). Although the knight is very talented, loyal, generous and brave, according to the author he is not accepted and he is forgotten even by the king who “distributed wives and lands, to all but one who had served him” (De France 105). All this disappointment and injustice pushes Lanval away from society and takes him on an adventure to find refuge from this ungrateful world. Such refuge, however, can be found only in the realm of imagination. Marie de France points out at the beginning of the lai that Lanval himself comes from another land “[h]e was a son of a king of high degree but he was far from his heritage” (De France 106). Therefore, it comes as no surprise that his love and joy will come from another world as well. The reader finds the same motif in the lai of “Yonec” in which a woman is a hostage of her exceptionally jealous husband who keeps her locked in a tower and deprives her not only of her social life and contact, but also of her beauty and youthfulness. Because the woman cannot find outcome from this tyrannical situation in reality, she seeks relief in the realm of imagination. Marie de France explains with a great attention to detail her “lament” (De France 140) to God, which in the end magically results in an instant granting of her wish. The choice of words by the author is very deliberate in the episode in which the bird becomes a knight. “When it had been there awhile and she had stared hard at it, it became a handsome and noble knight” (De France140). With this deliberate choice of vocabulary, Marie de France aims to clearly point out to the reader that the woman’s love is a product of her imagination. The lady stares at the bird long enough to start hallucinating and enter an imaginary world. The contrast between the cold and isolated tower in which the lady lives, and the splendid kingdom of the knight-bird, is an allegory which aims to show that an extraordinary love like theirs has no place in the ugly world of humans.

In both lais “Lanval” and “Yonec” there is only one condition under which true love can exist – if the protagonists can keep their relationship secret. The Lady of the Lake promises Lanval to give him all that he desires in return for only one thing – keeping their relationship in secrecy. “Love, […] I command and beg you do not let any man know about this” (De France 109). However, with this condition the lady sends their love to certain doom, because a relationship like this cannot exist for long apart from society. In his effort to keep his relationship, the protagonist becomes even more estranged from society, but his contact with it is inevitable and puts his love at risk. The conflict nature of this relationship determines the tragic course of the events. In his effort to stay loyal to his love, Lanval is forced to bring his relationship out of the darkness and make it known to the queen. However, this episode serves only to prove that in reality loyalty is not praised but rather it is punished, and since true love requires loyalty, it has no place in the human world.

The motif of secret love is further developed in the lai of “Yonec”, in which the magical knight-bird requires the same condition from his lady, as the Lady of the Lake requires from Lanval. “[I]f we are betrayed, I won’t be able to escape. I shall die.” (De France 142). In this story the consequences are even worse. A love like this will not be accepted and cannot survive in the human world. Therefore, it will die, unless it is kept in secret. However, the author underlines for a second time that a love which is kept a secret to such an extreme will inevitably be discovered. The lady’s abrupt change in appearance is what gives away her secret. “Because of the great joy she felt, […] her whole appearance changed. But her lord was clever” (De France 143) With these lines Marie de France wants to show the reader that true love has such a tremendous impact on people that is impossible to stay private. The two lais show that true love cannot exist in society because it requires secrecy, which has no place in real world, according to the author. Since humans cannot escape from society and its norms, true love is impossible to exist in the real world.

Both lais discuss the motif of moderation in love. Both relationships are discovered because the lovers do not show moderate behavior. Although it is true that the only reason that Lanval reveals his secret affair is in order to remain loyal to it, he reveals his relationship in a very immoderate way, and has to accept the consequences. When the queen explains to the king about the situation, the author deliberately uses the words “he boasted of a love” (De France 114) in order to emphasize the immoderate nature in which Lanval reveals his secret. The noble knight is taken to court, in which he has to prove the existence of his lover. This, however, does not serve a literal purpose. It is, rather, an allegory for the punishment for a lack of moderation. His lack of moderation may cost him his life and his love if his lover does not appear to prove her existence. The lack of moderation in the world of Marie de France is punished with death. This is a recurring motif which the readers find in the lai of “Yonec” as well. The lovers are discovered because of the lady’s lack of moderation. When her lover gives her directions how to maintain a secret relationship and not be discovered, he strongly emphasizes that she must be moderate in order not to attract her husband’s or servant’s attention, which will result in his inevitable death. Despite his instructions, however, she calls him “night and day, early or late, she had him all to her pleasure” (De France 143). She is punished for that because the lovers are quickly discovered. Again, Marie de France proves to the readers that an extraordinary and beautiful love has a place only in the realm of imagination, and once it is discovered by society it quickly comes to an end.

In the lais “Lanval” and “Yonec”, the author Marie de France aims to prove to the readers that true love cannot exist in society because society does not respect loyalty, privacy and moderation. Both protagonists are isolated from society because their search for true love makes them very different. Being social outcasts, the protagonists find joy in a world of their own in the realms of their imagination. Real love, according to the author, is achievable only if it is kept in secrecy and in moderation. However, this is impossible because every human is an inseparable part of society. Since being a part of society is inevitable and it contradicts with the norms of true love, true love is possible only in the imagination.

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