The Lais of Marie de France

The Lais of Marie De France and The Fabliaux: Addressing Marriage and Gender Roles

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

From the time of The Lais of Marie de France to The Fabliaux, a change is seen in the views on women and men and their roles in marriage, love, and physical interactions between the sexes. The altered ideas of courtly love in the Lais allow for women to be shown as strong, benevolent, and unselfish people who are willing or forced to sacrifice everything for those they love. In the exaggerated realism of The Fabliaux however, women are seen as selfish, evil, and in need of punishment if they do not obey their husbands. This critical change in the roles between men and women may be due to the shift from ideals of courtly love and aristocracy to more everyday life depictions of the middle class and negative views of women in the scholarly realm.

With traditional ideas of courtly love, marriage and love were not compatible and love had to be found through extramarital affairs. In the stories of “Milun” and “Eliduc” by Marie de France, she changes the roles between love and marriage and between the husband and the wife. When a young woman falls in love with a noble knight, Milun, she is deeply upset when she has to marry another man. After twenty years, a child, and correspondence through a swan, Milun and his lady are brought back together and are united again in a marriage of “happiness and tenderness” (MdF, 104). In another pro love and marriage story, Eliduc is a successful knight who is married to a loving woman named Guildeluec, but after time spent in another country, he falls in love with a young maiden named Guilliadun. Guildeluec sacrifices her entire marriage for her husband’s happiness and tells him he should be with Guilliadun. There was love in both marriages of Eliduc, though there was a lack of loyalty on his part. Both these stories show women’s sacrifice in marriage, often times for their husband’s happiness, but in the end they reap the benefits. The woman in “Milun” lives happily ever after with the man she truly loved, and Guildeluec enters into a loving marriage with God for the rest of her days.

The marriages in The Fabliaux have a much different view on the sacrifices that women should make in a marriage and the role of the man as the enforcer. “Those of you who have wives who rebel against you…you should punish and admonish foolish ones,” are the opening phrases of The Lady Who Was Castrated (TLWWC, 24). In this story, women are punished for being prideful and taking on the role of a man in the marriage. Pride is a trait that is only acceptable for men to have and must be extracted from the woman, in this story it was by the violent removal of her “testicles.” In both the marriage of the mother and her husband and the daughter and the count, there is little love involved. The mother does not love or respect her husband enough to let his opinion rule, and the husband merely tolerates his wife’s overpowering personality. The count twistedly believes he is showing his new wife love by abusing her into submission and showing her how she should act in a marriage, and she only feels fear towards her new husband. The narrator’s commentary at the end of the story indicates the societal views on women at the time. “Blessed be he, and blessed are those who punish their evil wives. You should love, honor, and greatly cherish the good ones, and consider evil, contrary ones as quarrelsome whores,” (TLWWC, 35). The narrator, and the general public, felt as though it was hard to find a good wife or woman and the majority of other women were horribly evil and in need of punishment.

The shift in views on women can be attributed to societal pressures and restraints. The 13th century marked a time of urbanization in France and the rise and struggle of the middle class. It also marked the abolishment of the 12th century ideas of courtly love in southern France, which therefore lowered the pedestal upon women once stood. The rise of male only universities did not allow for women thinkers to be heard, and allowed for the rebirth of Aristotle’s ideas of women as a defective man. In the 12th century, the trobairitz and Marie de France brightened literature with their ideas about women’s roles and rulers like Eleanor of Aquitaine paved new paths for powerful women (Lecture, Romance of the Rose). The steps made for women in the 12th century were all thrown away in the 13th century with the new views of women. Because there weren’t women writing their stories, negative depictions of women written by men came to light and reinforced ideas of evil women. These more negatively realistic views of women also allowed for more violent actions between men and women, as seen in The Lady Who Was Castrated and in The Wife of Orleans.

In The Lady Who Was Castrated violence is used to keep women in line and under the rule of man. The count begins training his new wife into submission by different planned acts of violence, first against the dogs and horse that disobey him, and then against his wife. He brutally beats her to a point where she is bedridden for three months and she fears him greatly after this. He then mutilates the mother and makes her believe that he is removing her “prideful balls” and this act of violence forces her into submission to her husband. This story shows that violence and force must be used to keep peace between men and women and that bad wives are made good when they take a beating. In The Wife of Orleans, violence is shown in a different way and is towards the husband. After the husband finds his wife is having an affair, he follows her in an attempt to catch her in the act. She, however, outsmarts him and has him fooled by her games. She bribes her servants with wine into thinking that he was the scholar who had had the affair with the wife and that he must be beaten. The husband is brutally beaten to a pulp and ends up thinking that it was all a mistake after his servants tell him of what they did to the “scholar” who was after his wife. The husband is duped into believing that he has a faithful and loving wife. This violence towards the husband makes the wife out to be evil and conniving in her deception of her husband. She is not just portrayed as an unfaithful wife, but she is sadistic enough to have her husband beaten almost to death.

The stories of Marie de France, violence plays a very minor role in the interactions between men and women and is not anywhere near as graphic as the violence in The Fabliaux. In “Laüstic” the husband angrily wrings the neck of the nightingale after he believes it has kept his wife awake at night, though she is really at the window with her lover. He then throws the bird at his wife, splattering the blood on her chest as if it were coming from her heart (MdF, 95). The killing of the bird, though violent towards the bird, is an apt way to symbolize the emotional death of the wife without her physically dying. Unlike the manipulative, planned violence in The Lady Who Was Castrated, the husband in “Laüstic” only thinks he is helping his wife get some rest by killing the bird. Also unlike the tales in The Fabliaux, the violence towards the wife did not forever alter her spirit; she and her lover use the dead bird as a symbol to carry on their love for each other instead of letting it kill them.

The interactions between men and women in The Lais of Marie de France and in The Fabliaux indicate social changes in the representation and on the ideas about women. Women and men in the lais often operated on pro love beliefs even through adulterous situations and women were still in an exalted position from ideas of courtly love. Women were treated with respect and their sacrifices in the areas of marriage often made them nobler than their male counterparts. Contrastingly, in The Fabliaux, violence is used to keep peace with evil and conniving women who were only out to cause harm to their husbands. The drastic differences in these works of literature were due to a shift in society’s views of women, the abolition of ideas of courtly love, and the changing economic status between aristocracy and the middle class. These changes created a more negative and what was thought to be realistic view of women and altered the way in which women were treated in society as a whole.

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The Lais of Marie de France and The Lion in the Winter: When Regulated Love Becomes Disaster

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

Desensitized Matrimony: The Disastrous Results of Regulated Love

Tales of gallant knights, conquering realms and wooing fair maidens, have been passed down over generations from their inception in Medieval Europe. However, many of these stories fabricate a fair and virtuous nature of society to ensure a happy ending. Both The Lais of Marie de France, a group of short stories from 1183, and The Lion in Winter, a film from 1968, reflect a more accurate representation of society, especially in their depictions of love and marriage. The lais criticize societal rules which limit the potential of marriage, permitting people to marry only if they are both of noble blood or have a love deemed “right” by social standards. These rules, in most cases, diluted the meaning of a “union of two souls” into a loveless “union of two territories,” or even prevented the union entirely. The Lion in Winter, too, criticizes the property-based marriages and standards decreeing “right” relationships in society. Furthermore, both the lais and the film display characters who have been tormented or made callous by these rules. And yet, The Lais of Marie de France and The Lion in Winter appear dissimilar, as the former directly relays a sentiment about 12th century society, while the latter simply uses the medieval setting to make a statement to a 20th century audience. Despite this, the message of these two pieces is the same. While The Lion in Winter and The Lais of Marie de France are ostensibly different, they both reveal the dehumanizing and demoralizing effects of a society in which love and marriage are regulated and commoditized.

Marie de France presents the society’s matrimonial rules, which permit marriage only between people of nobility or between those who have upheld the standards of courtly love and chivalry, as destructive to married individuals and those pursuing marriage. In the lais, she shows that, when a marriage equates to a transaction, as a nobleman marries a noblewoman simply to expand his territorial holdings, there will likely be little love or sympathy between husband and wife, derogating the wife and making the husband paranoid about losing his wife (and newfound land), as Marie de France attests when kings unfeelingly lock their beautiful queens away in many of her lais. Additionally, she displays the impediments, which society places on individual happiness and genuine love, when a marriage is prohibited solely because the relationship does not meet social criterion. In “Laüstic,” a “closely guarded… lady” seeks love and affection with her neighbor, outside of her marriage with a knight who had “taken” her seemingly just for her “[courtliness] and [elegance]…” (de France 94). She communicates nightly with the neighbor by her window, concealing the love by telling her husband that she visits the window to hear the nightingale’s song. After growing irritated by this excuse, her husband swears to kill the nightingale with the help of “every single servant in [the] household,” a task which he promptly completes (de France 95). With the nightingale dead, the lady does not have an excuse to visit the window anymore and thus, she must remain unhappily confined in her marriage, deemed socially acceptable because of her noble lineage and her husband’s knighthood. Marie de France’s specific mention of “every single servant” ( de France 95), when referring to the search party for the nightingale, signifies that society, not just her husband, took part in rejecting any chance the lady had at actual love, as she was not only already the property of one man, but also the relationship caused the neighbor (a knight) to betray his fellow knight (in opposition of social law). In addition, the queen, locked away by her paranoid king, in “Chevrefoil” falls in love with Tristram, the king’s nephew, but they cannot expand their love beyond private life, as this would prove Tristram’s disloyalty to the king: an act against the society’s chivalric values. Marie de France expresses the pain caused by society’s prohibition of their love by comparing the two to a “honeysuckle which clings to the hazel branch” by which “the two can survive together: but if anyone should then attempt to separate them, the hazel quickly dies, as does the honeysuckle,” (110). Marie de France echoes this sentiment— that societal rules, governing marriage and love, cause some to be unhappy and others insensitive and possessive— throughout her lais.

The Lion in Winter examines the rules of matrimony, too, displaying the negative effects of commoditized marriage and obstructed love. In the film, the marriage between the king, Henry, and queen, Eleanor, is volatile. The king, after years of ruling and seeing the world as a place to own, has become affectless, treating his sons as simple heirs rather than children, explaining to his mistress (whom he claims to love) that “[he] will use [her] as [he likes]” (The Lion in Winter), and even banishing his queen. Meanwhile, the queen, after living locked in a far away kingdom for years, is in despair, as the man she once loved has devalued their marriage to a means for procuring land and creating heirs. With territory and heirs looming above their heads, the king and queen never find happiness. They communicate, throughout most of the film, through an apparent game of advocating for a certain son as heir to the throne. Eleanor even laments, after Henry uncaringly deceives her to push his choice for heir into the lead, that she has “lost,” (The Lion in Winter). This simple phrase explains bounds about their relationship, indicating that marriage truly is a game to Henry and Eleanor and that their relationship revolves around deception and defeating the other person, rather than love. The territorial possessiveness, which caused this, was created directly by the nature of Henry and Eleanor’s marriage, as it was initially a transactional union. Henry married Eleanor to gain strategic land, a customary reason for noble matrimony. Yet, this reason, the societal custom inevitably led to unhappiness for both, as obsession over territory impedes love between the two. The film shows that rules determining proper love and marriage force individuals to become miserable or compassionless, as their relationships are built not on human affection, but on purchase and abidance to social norms.

Both The Lais of Marie de France and The Lion in Winter expose flaws in marital constructs and the idea of “socially acceptable” love, as both works demonstrate the obstruction that the constructs and societal expectations put on happiness. The lais and film criticize this same idea and also argue the same point— individual happiness will increase if people are permitted to marry out of love, rather than by amount of land or if they have correctly followed the rules. As society continues to place barriers around marriage and deem some types of love “wrong,” these works prove that there is still progress to be had in order to achieve a truly equal and just society.

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

July 2, 2019 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 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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Empowering Medieval Women: Aspects of Courtly Love in The Lais of Marie de France

May 8, 2019 by Essay Writer

During the Medieval time period, a woman would generally be forced to depend upon a man for her livelihood. However, in the fictional world of courtly love, a 12th century philosophical phenomenon believed by some to have originated as a form of goddess worship, a man is unable to survive without his beloved. As a result of this, her love causes him to aspire to complete noble deeds, and he becomes obedient and subservient to her in hopes of winning her affection. In The Lais of Marie de France, specifically “Chevrefoil,” “Laustic,” “Lanval,” and “Yonec,” the author by no means follows all of the rules of courtly love, yet she does model the relations between the man and his beloved after the aforementioned aspects of it. She bestows beauty, intelligence, and wisdom upon her heroines, giving them power over those men who love them. While Marie de France often constrains women to the oppressive realities of the Middle Ages, she allows her characters to unknowingly rebel against the societal norms of the time period through using the courtly love relationship as a way of empowering women.In his essay, “Women in Love,” Glyn S. Burgess states that “the cruel way in which [the husbands] treat [their wives] calls forth from Marie an outburst which she reserves for those who deny young women the chance to place their affections where they wish” (102). In the Middle Ages the majority of marriages were arranged. Given that the society at that point in time was largely patriarchal, men were often the ones given the privilege of choosing a spouse. Many times women were forced to marry men that they barely knew – men that they did not love. Through allowing the women in her lais to escape from their husbands and be with men whom they possess power over, Marie de France elevates women up onto pedestals. She glorifies their characteristics and allows them to be worshiped by men – those whom they traditionally must honor and obey.Within such a relationship, the time that a man spends separated from his beloved leads to nothing but heartache. Yet, according to Marie de France, it is not so for the woman. In “Chevrefoil,” Tristram becomes “distressed and downcast” when his uncle sends him away from his kingdom, and it is because of this separation from his beloved that he is said to have risked “death and destruction” (de France 109). However, the queen does not openly experience the same degree of emotion, making her appear to be the stronger individual; she is the one with the upper hand in the relationship, and thus the one with more power.A woman not only fails to express her sorrow during times of separation, but she also fails to verbally express her love and need for her beloved. This too gives her more power, leaving the man vulnerable and feeling as though he must fulfill her every desire in order to win her love. Throughout “Chevrefoil” the queen never proclaims her love for Tristram. Instead, the only time her love for him is declared is when Tristram himself declares it: “Sweet love, so it is with us: without me you cannot survive, nor I without you” (de France 110). One must then wonder if the queen actually loves him, or if she is just using the power she holds over him to get what she wants. After all, it is clear from the same declaration of love that Tristram is unable to survive without her. Thus, he would certainly stop at nothing to keep the queen at his side, for his livelihood depends on it.While the details differ a bit in “Laustic,” the idea remains the same. The woman does not actually proclaim her love for the knight, yet the narrator tells us that “she love[s] him above all things” (de France 94). However, the reasons given for her love trivialize it immensely. It is said that she loves the knight “for the good she [has] heard about him and because he live[s] close by” (de France 94). Chances are slim that one could truly love another for these reasons, and thus it suggests that the woman uses the knight’s love for her own desires – for example, the gifts that he throws to her window. The fact that one of the things she has heard about him is that he “spend[s] freely and giv[es] generously whatever he [has],” only further proves this point (de France 94). Burgess suggests that the relationship is merely a means of providing the lady with “a period of happiness spiked with risk” (109). The seemingly loving gesture of “smuggl[ing] the dead nightingale out of her house and into the hands of her beloved” can be seen as simply a way of “win[ning] a small victory over her [oppressive] husband” (Burgess 110). No matter what the true motive is, through misleading the knight and taking advantage of his love for her the woman gains power over him, allowing her to use him as she pleases.The same holds true in “Yonec,” yet the woman uses the man for things other than small gifts. After being locked in a tower for years, “the lady [is] in great distress” (de France 86). Burgess describes the man she was given to as “intensely jealous . . . The fact that he had himself ‘called’ lord suggests that he was intent on usurping power and influence.” At this point, the lady is yearning for a man, and thus when one appears in her chambers and professes his undying love for her, she is quick to take advantage of the situation. The power that the woman holds over the man is so strong that when she wishes his presence, he is “with [her] within the hour” (de France 88). This power causes the man to go to great lengths in order to please his beloved. For example, he does not simply profess his faith in the Lord, but he goes to the trouble of assuming his wife’s appearance so that he will have the chance to receive the body of Christ and “recite all of [his] credo for [her]” (de France 88). In addition to this, the man goes as far as risking his life so that he may love the woman. He knows all along that “for love of [his lady]” he will lose his life, yet he loves her just the same (de France 90). The woman has enough power over him that he risks his life on earth for her love. Yet, this comes as no surprise, seeing as, according to Robert R. Edwards and Stephen Spector, she possesses the sole power to escape a tyrannical marriage by wishing a lover “into existence through the power of her imagination” (9). It is she that creates her beloved. In his essay “Love and Power,” R.W. Hanning states that God is not the only creator in the lai, but the lady herself is one as well; she “has undertaken to make her own love story on the pattern of others she has heard, and thereby brings across her close encounter of the bird-kind” (de France 98). The woman possesses such a large amount of power that she is able to wish her beloved into existence and control everything he does.Not only does Marie de France display the philosophy of the courtly love relationship through the words and actions of her characters, but through symbolism as well. In “Chevrefoil,” she uses honeysuckle and a hazel branch as metaphors for Tristram and the Queen:The two of them resembled the honeysuckle which clings to the hazel branch: when it has wound itself round and attached itself to the hazel, the two can survive together: but if anyone should separate them, the hazel quickly dies, as does the honeysuckle. (de France 110)While either one is doomed without the other, it is clear that the hazel branch represents the Queen, for it is the more solid and stable of the two. The honeysuckle, on the other hand, represents Tristram, for he feeds off the Queen’s love as the honeysuckle feeds off the hazel branch.The symbolism in “Laustic,” however, is used to bring across a completely different message. While the women of these lais are empowered by the men who seek their love, they lose all of this power when they look beyond these relationships. This is expected, for one must remember that during the Middle Ages, women generally possessed little power. It is only in the fictional world of courtly love that they are lifted onto pedestals and worshiped by their beloveds. In this lai, the nightingale represents the love between the woman and the knight. Despite her control over the knight, the woman is unable to stop her husband from both symbolically and realistically destroying their love for one another. When he learns of it, her husband takes the nightingale and “[breaks] its neck wickedly with two hands,” despite her asking him to return it to her safely (de France 95). It is clear through this incident that, when faced with a man other than her beloved, the woman possesses no power whatsoever. Her husband refuses to allow her to have something that he believes means the world to her. After all, if he did not believe that she truly loved the knight, he would not have bothered to kill the nightingale.It is clear in “Yonec” as well that a woman does not possess any power outside of the boundaries of a courtly love relationship. When faced with her husband, the woman is found to be completely helpless. As in “Laustic,” the husband exercises his power over his wife through destroying the one thing that brings her great joy. The bird her lover takes the shape of represents the small amount of freedom that prevents her from wishing to die (de France 86). However, the oppressive actions of her husband do not stop here. Before the woman even meets her beloved, her husband holds her captive in a tower on account of her beauty, allowing only his old sister in the room to “keep [his wife] from going astray” (de France 86). The constraints that Medieval society places on women are seen once again near the end of the lai, when the woman is forced to depend upon her son to avenge her beloved’s untimely death. The fact that the woman has to wait until her son “grow[s] up and become[s] a worthy and valiant knight,” shows that Medieval society places men above women; this leaves women completely powerless outside of the fictional world of courtly love (de France 91).In “Lanval,” however, things prove to be different. In the three lais already discussed, each woman can be assumed to have been part of an arranged marriage. The men they are married to do not allow their wives to place their affections where they please, thus causing Marie to allow the women to rebel and possess power over their beloveds. However, as we see in Lanval, a woman need not be part of an arranged marriage to have the pleasure of being placed in a powerful position with a man. The woman in this lai is an unmarried fairy. However, her beauty gives her complete control over the man she wants. According to Burgess “the fairy has the power to impose of Lanval the taboo of secrecy and possesses the omniscience to know the circumstances in which he is forced to break the taboo” (104-105). She is an intelligent woman who has a clear idea of what she wants and knows how to go about getting it. Her beauty mesmerizes Lanval, and immediately after she professes her love for him, “love’s spark prick[s] him so that his heart [is] set alight” (de France 74). Lanval is instantly attracted to the fairy, and it is not hard to see why. Not only is she beautiful and intelligent, but there are many other appealing aspects to her as well. In Burgess’s opinion:She is inordinately rich and capable of offering Lanval limitless pocket-money and immediate sexual gratification . . . In short, she represents a fearsome combination of beauty, wealth, power and knowledge.” (104-105)It is because of these characteristics that the fairy has complete control over her beloved. When Lanval first meets her, he is in such awe of her beauty and love for him that he confesses to her that there is nothing he would not do to please her. He states:Fair lady, if it were to please you to grant me the joy of wanting to love me, you could ask nothing that I would not do as best I could, be it foolish or wise. I shall do as you bid and abandon all others for you.” (de France 74)However, the fairy does not hold power over anyone else in the society in which Lanval lives. After the queen unsuccessfully attempts to seduce Lanval, he is forced to reveal his love for the fairy. Because of this broken vow of secrecy, he “loses his ability to ‘see’ his lady in person and now suffers greatly, in that he has lost something he once had” (Mickel 110). When Lanval states that the beauty of his beloved exceeds that of the queen, he is forced to appear in court. To avoid punishment or death, he and his beloved must leave Lanval’s world for Avalon, the “very beautiful island” which the fairy is from (de France 81). The story may have a happy ending, and Lanval and his beloved may be able to love each other without enduring constant suffering, but “it is only ‘out of this world'” that this is possible (Mickel 110). The fairy does not possess any power over the court or the rest of society, and thus cannot find happiness within Lanval’s world.The power that Marie de France bestows upon the women in her lais comes from many different places. Glyn S. Burgess states that Marie de France’s ladies possess “outstanding characteristics,” similar to the courtly lady, who “possesses a thorough understanding of the needs of the court . . . can cope with a delicate or tricky situation, [and] demonstrates responsibility and subtlety in handling others” (114-115). Eleven of the female lovers in her lais are specifically described as beautiful, while eight of them are termed as sage. The women in “Lanval” and “Laustic” are described as curteise, a word which, according to Burgess, “has a strong cerebral element” (115). The fairy in Lanval is not only said to have a body that is “well formed and handsome,” but she is also described with the word cointise (de France 74). Burgess states that this word covers a wide range of meanings, including wisdom, sagacity, knowledge, skill, elegance, and refinement (115). And while the women of Marie’s lais always go after what they want, they do not do so in a rude or unbecoming manner. This can be seen by the fact that she uses the word franche to describe a few of her heroines. Franche “expresses nobility of outlook,” and can be interpreted as “a blend of politeness and sensitivity” (Burgess 115). Marie de France has once described her view of an ideal woman, and when one compares the adjectives she used to do so with those adjectives she uses to describe her heroines, they are often found to be identical (Burgess 115). In addition to possessing outstanding characteristics, Marie de France’s heroines are often of noble birth. Since in her mind “there is never any thought of presenting a relationship between a member of the nobility and a partner of markedly disparate social background,” the lovers of her heroines are also often of noble birth (Burgess 129). Not only are they able to exercise power over men, but they are able to exercise power over some of the best men that society has to offer. These men are often handsome, strong, and capable of doing nearly anything and everything for their women. It is because of the beauty, wisdom, and intelligence of the women in Marie de France’s lais that they are able to completely control such men.Works CitedBurgess, Glyn S. The Lais of Marie de France: Text and Context. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1987.de France, Marie. The Lais of Marie de France. London: The Penguin Group, 1986.Edwards, Robert R. and Spector, Stephen. “Introduction.” The Olde Dance. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1991.Hanning, R.W. “Love and Power in the Twelfth Century, with Special Reference to Chretien de Troyes and Marie de France.” The Olde Dance. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1991.Mickel Jr., Emanuel J. Marie de France. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1974.

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