True love exists only in the imagination
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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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 […]