Small Response Paper, English Paper 1

Table of Contents

Small Response Paper

read Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, The Clerk’s Prologue and the First Part of the Tale.

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What are the differences between Chaucer’s Boccaccio’s and Marie de France’s visions of this myth in modern American society? How? Where?

I put the two book on the files, read them and answer those questions, the paper should around 400 words, one page double space.

Small Response Paper


Geoffrey Chaucer

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Translated into Modern English by Nevill Coghill



INTRODUCTION: Chaucer’s Life – Chaucer’s Works

The Canterbury Tales




Words between the Host and the Miller


The Reeve’s Prologue


The Cook’s Prologue



Introduction to the Man of Law’s Tale

The Man of Law’s Prologue


Epilogue to the Man of Law’s Tale


Words of the Host to the Shipman and the Prioress

The Prioress’s Prologue



Words of the Host to Chaucer


The Host stops Chaucer’s Tale of Sir Topaz


Words of the Host to the Monk


Small Response Paper

(Lucifer, Adam, Samson, Hercules, Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Zenobia, King Peter of Spain, King Peter of Cyprus, Bernabo Visconti of Lombardy, Count Ugolino of Pisa, Nero, Holofernes, King Antiochus the Illustrious, Alexander, Julius Caesar, Croesus)

Words of the Knight and the Host


Words of the Host to the Nun’s Priest



Words of the Host to the Physician and to the Pardoner

The Pardoner’s Prologue



The Wife of Bath’s Prologue

Words between the Summoner and the Friar


The Friar’s Prologue


The Summoner’s Prologue




The Clerk’s Prologue


Chaucer’s Envoy to the Clerk’s Tale

The Merchant’s Prologue


Epilogue to the Merchant’s Tale


The Squire’s Prologue


Words of the Franklin to the Squire and of the Host to the Franklin

The Franklin’s Prologue



The Second Nun’s Prologue


The Canon’s Yeoman’s Prologue



The Manciple’s Prologue



The Parson’s Prologue

THE PARSON’S TALE (in synopsis)

Chaucer’s Retractions



Follow Penguin




Geoffrey Chaucer was born in London, the son of a vintner, in about 1342. He is known to have been a page to the Countess of Ulster in 1357, and Edward III valued him highly enough to pay a part of his ransom in 1360, after he had been captured fighting in France.

It was probably in France that Chaucer’s interest in poetry was first aroused. Certainly he soon began to translate the long allegorical poem of courtly love, the Roman de la Rose. His literary experience was further increased by visits to the Italy of Boccaccio on the King’s business, and he was well-read in several languages and on many topics, such as astronomy, medicine, physics and alchemy.

Chaucer rose in royal employment, and became a knight of the shire for Kent (1385–6) and a Justice of the Peace. A lapse of favour during the temporary absence of his steady patron, John of Gaunt (to whom he was connected by his marriage), gave him time to begin organizing his unfinished Canterbury Tales. Later his fortunes revived, and at his death in 1400 he was buried in Westminster Abbey.

The order of his works is uncertain, but they include The Book of the Duchess, The House of Fame, The Parliament of Fowls, Troilus and Criseyde and a translation of Boethius’ De Consolatione Philosophiae.

Professor Nevill Coghill held many appointments at Oxford University, where he was Merton Professor of English Literature from 1957 to 1966, and later became Emeritus Fellow of Exeter and Merton Colleges. He was born in 1899 and educated at Haileybury and Exeter College, Oxford, and served in the Great War after 1917. He wrote several books on English Literature, and had a keen interest in drama, particularly Shakespearean. For many years he was a strong supporter of the Oxford University Dramatic Society, and produced plays in London and Oxford. The book of the musical play, Canterbury Tales, which ran at the Phoenix Theatre, London, from 1968 to 1973 was co-written by Nevill Coghill in collaboration with Martin Starkie who first conceived the idea and


presented the original production. His translation of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde into modern English is also published in the Penguin Classics. Professor Coghill, who died in November 1980, will perhaps be best remembered for this translation which has become an enduring bestseller.



Richard Freeman Brian Ball

Glynne Wickham Peter Whillans Graham Binns


… I have translated some parts of his works, only that I might perpetuate his memory, or at least refresh it, amongst my countrymen. If I have altered him anywhere for the better, I must at the same time acknowledge, that I could have done nothing without him… .

JOHN DRYDEN on translating Chaucer Preface to the Fables


And such as Chaucer is, shall Dryden be.

ALEXANDER POPE Essay on Criticism





Chaucer’s Life

Geoffrey Chaucer was born about the year 1342; the exact date is not known. His father, John, and his grandfather, Robert, had associations with the wine trade and, more tenuously, with the Court. John was Deputy Butler to the King at Southampton in 1348. Geoffrey Chaucer’s mother is believed to have been Agnes de Copton, niece of an official at the Mint. They lived in London in the parish of St Martin’s-in-the-Vintry, reasonably well-to-do but in a humbler walk of life than that to be adorned so capably by their brilliant son.

It is thought that Chaucer was sent for his early schooling to St Paul’s Almonry. From there he went on to be a page in the household of the Countess of Ulster, later Duchess of Clarence, wife of Lionel the third son of Edward III. The first mention of Geoffrey Chaucer’s existence is in her household accounts for 1357. She had bought him a short cloak, a pair of shoes, and some parti-coloured red and black breeches.

To be a page in a family of such eminence was a coveted position. His duties as a page included making beds, carrying candles, and running errands. He would there have acquired the finest education in good manners, a matter of great importance not only in his career as a courtier but also in his career as a poet. No English poet has so mannerly an approach to his reader.

As a page he would wait on the greatest in the land. One of these was the Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt; throughout his life he was Chaucer’s most faithful patron and protector.


In 1359 Chaucer was sent abroad, a soldier in the egg, on one of those intermittent forays into France that made up so large a part of the Hundred Years’ War. He was taken prisoner near Rheims and ransomed in the following year; the King himself contributed towards his ransom. Well- trained and intelligent pages did not grow on every bush.

It is not known for certain when Chaucer began to write poetry, but it is reasonable to believe that it was on his return from France. The elegance of French poetry and its thrilling doctrines of Amour Courtois* seem to have gone to his impressionable, amorous, and poetical heart. He set to work to translate the gospel of that kind of love and poetry, the Roman de la Rose, a thirteenth-century French poem begun by Guillaume de Lorris and later completed by Jean de Meun.

Meanwhile he was promoted as a courtier. In 1367 he was attending on the King himself and was referred to as Dilectus Valettus noster… our dearly beloved Valet. It was towards that year that Chaucer married. His bride was Philippa de Roet, a lady in attendance on the Queen, and sister to Catherine Swynford, third wife of John of Gaunt.

Chaucer wrote no poems to her, so far as is known. It was not in fashion to write poems to one’s wife. It could even be debated whether love could ever have a place in marriage; the typical situation in which a ‘courtly lover’ found himself was to be plunged in a secret, an illicit, and even an adulterous passion for some seemingly unattainable and pedestalized lady. Before his mistress a lover was prostrate, wounded to death by her beauty, killed by her disdain, obliged to an illimitable constancy, marked out for her dangerous service. A smile from her was in theory a gracious reward for twenty years of painful adoration. All Chaucer’s heroes regard love when it comes upon them as the most beautiful of absolute disasters, an agony as much desired as bemoaned, ever to be pursued, never to be betrayed.

This was not in theory the attitude of a husband to his wife. It was for a husband to command, for a wife to obey. The changes that can be rung on these antitheses are to be seen throughout The Canterbury Tales. If we may judge by the Knight’s Tale and the Franklin’s Tale Chaucer thought that love and marriage were perhaps compatible after all, provided that the lover remained his wife’s ‘servant’ after marriage, in private at least. If we


read the Wife of Bath’s Prologue we shall see that she thought little of wives that did not master their husbands. What solution to these problems was reached by Geoffrey and Philippa Chaucer he never revealed. He only once alludes to her, or seems to do so, when in The House of Fame he compares the timbre of her voice awaking him in the morning to that of an eagle. His maturest work is increasingly ironical about women considered as wives; what the Wife of Bath and the Merchant have to say of them is of this kind. The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and the Merchant’s Tale are perhaps his two most astounding performances. By the time he wrote them Philippa had long been dead. It is in any case by no means certain that these two characters utter Chaucer’s private convictions; they are speaking for themselves. One can only say that Chaucer was a great enough writer to lend them unanswerable thoughts and language, to think and speak on their behalf.

The King soon began to employ his beloved valet on important missions abroad. The details of most of these are not known, but appear to have been of a civilian and commercial nature, dealing with trade relations. We can infer that Chaucer was trustworthy and efficient.

Meanwhile Chaucer was gratifying and extending his passion for books. He was a prodigious reader and had the art of storing what he read in an almost faultless memory. He learnt in time to read widely in Latin, French, Anglo-Norman, and Italian. He made himself a considerable expert in contemporary sciences, especially in astronomy, medicine, psychology, physics, and alchemy. There is, for instance, in The House of Fame a long and amusing account of the nature of sound-waves. The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale (one of the best) shows an intimate but furiously contemptuous knowledge of alchemical practice. In literary and historical fields his favourites seem to have been Vergil, Ovid, Statius, Seneca, and Cicero among the ancients, and the Roman de la Rose with its congeners and the works of Dante, Boccaccio, and Petrarch among the moderns. He knew the Fathers of the Church and quotes freely and frequently from every book in the Bible and Apocrypha.

Two journeys on the King’s business took Chaucer to Italy: the first in 1372 to Genoa, the second in 1378 to Milan. It has always been supposed that these missions were what first brought him in contact with that


Renaissance dawn which so glorified his later poetry. While he never lost or disvalued what he had learnt from French culture, he added some of the depth of Dante and much of the splendour of Boccaccio, from whom came, amongst other things, the stories of Troilus and Criseyde and the Knight’s Tale. Chaucer’s power to tell a story seems to have emerged at this time and to derive from Italy.

Meanwhile he was rising by steady promotions in what we should now call the Civil Service, that is in his offices as a courtier. In 1374 he became Comptroller of customs and subsidies on wools, skins, and hides at the Port of London: in 1382 Comptroller of petty customs, in 1385 Justice of the Peace for the county of Kent, in 1386 Knight of the Shire. He was now in some affluence.

But in December 1386 he was suddenly deprived of all his offices. John of Gaunt had left England on a military expedition to Spain and was replaced as an influence on young King Richard II by the Duke of Gloucester. Gloucester had never been a patron of the poet, and filled his posts with his own supporters. We may be grateful to him for this, because he set Chaucer at leisure thereby. It is almost certain that the poet then began to set in order and compose The Canterbury Tales.

In 1389 John of Gaunt returned and Chaucer was restored to favour and office. He was put in charge of the repair of walls, ditches, sewers, and bridges between Greenwich and Woolwich, and of the fabric of St George’s Chapel at Windsor. The office of Sub-Forester of North Petherton (probably a sinecure) was given him. The daily pitcher of wine allowed him by Edward III in 1374 became, under Richard II, an annual tun. Henry Bolingbroke presented him with a scarlet robe trimmed with fur. Once more he had met with that cheerful good luck which is so happily reflected in his poetry.

He felt himself to be growing old, however; he complained that the faculty of rhyming had deserted him. No one knows when he put his last touch to The Canterbury Tales. He never finished them.

He died on the twenty-fifth of October 1400 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. A fine tomb, erected by an admirer in the fifteenth century, marks his grave and was the first of those that are gathered into


what we now know as the Poets’ Corner. The Father of English Poetry lies in his family vault.*


Chaucer’s Works

The order in which Chaucer’s works were written is not known exactly or for certain. Some have been lost, if we are to believe the lists Chaucer gives of his poems in The Prologue to the Legend of Good Women and the ‘retracciouns’ appended by him to The Parson’s Tale. His main surviving poems are:

Before 1372 part at least of his translation of the Roman de la Rose, The Book of the Duchess (1369/70?) and the ABC of the Virgin. Between 1372 and 1382, The House of Fame, The Parliament of Fowls, and most probably a number of stories – or preliminary versions of stories – that were later included in The Canterbury Tales, the idea for which does not seem to have come to him until about 1386. Among these I incline to place The Second Nun’s Tale, The Clerk of Oxford’s Tale, The Man of Law’s Tale, Chaucer’s Tale of Melibee, and The Knight’s Tale. These seem to indicate that he passed through a phase of poetic piety (The Second Nun’s Tale, The Clerk of Oxford’s Tale, The Man of Law’s Tale, and the Tale of Melibee), qualified by an ever-increasing range of subject-matter, increasingly tinged with irony, and enlivened by passages of that rich naturalistic conversation in rhymed verse which it was one of Chaucer’s peculiar powers to invent.

Between 1380 and 1385 appeared the matchless Troilus and Criseyde and the translation of Boethius, De Consolatione Philosophiae. The latter is the main basis for most of Chaucer’s philosophical speculations, especially those on tragedy and predestination, which underlie its twin Troilus and Criseyde.

This poem, the most poignant love-story in English narrative poetry, is also one of the most amusing. It is his first great masterpiece, yet for all its humour can stand comparison with any tragic love-story in the world. Its psychological understanding is so subtle and its narrative line so skilfully


ordered that it has been called our first novel. It appears to have given some offence to Queen Anne of Bohemia (Richard’s wife) because it seemed to imply that women were more faithless than men in matters of love. Chaucer was bidden to write a retraction and so in the following year (1386) he produced a large instalment of The Legend of the Saints of Cupid (all female), which is also known as The Legend of Good Women. He never finished it. His disciple Lydgate said later that it encumbered his wits to think of so many good women.

From 1386 or 1387 onwards he was at work on The Canterbury Tales. There are some 84 MSS and early printed editions by Caxton, Pynson, Wynkyn de Worde, and Thynne.

These manuscripts show that Chaucer left ten fragments of varying size of this great poem. Modern editors have arranged these in what appears to be the intended sequence, inferred from dates and places mentioned in the ‘end-links’, as the colloquies of the pilgrims between tales are called. For convenience these manuscript fragments are numbered in Groups from A to I; Group B can be subdivided into two, making ten Groups in all.

If we may trust the Prologue, Chaucer intended that each of some thirty pilgrims should tell two tales on the way to Canterbury and two on the way back. He never completed this immense project, and what he wrote was not finally revised even so far as it went. There are also one or two minor inconsistencies which a little revision could have rectified.

In this rendering I have followed the accepted order first worked out by Furnivall (1868) and later confirmed by Skeat (1894). It makes a reasonably continuous and consistent narrative of a pilgrimage that seems to have occupied five days (16 to 20 April) and that led to the outskirts of Canterbury. At that point Chaucer withdrew from his task with an apology for whatever might smack of sin in his work.

The idea of a collection of tales diversified in style to suit their tellers and unified in form by uniting the tellers in a common purpose is Chaucer’s own. Collections of stories were common at the time, but only Chaucer hit on this simple device for securing natural probability, psychological variety, and a wide range of narrative interest.

In all literature there is nothing that touches or resembles the Prologue. It is the concise portrait of an entire nation, high and low, old and young,


male and female, lay and clerical, learned and ignorant, rogue and righteous, land and sea, town and country, but without extremes. Apart from the stunning clarity, touched with nuance, of the characters presented, the most noticeable thing about them is their normality. They are the perennial progeny of men and women. Sharply individual, together they make a party.

The tales these pilgrims tell come from all over Europe, many of them from the works of Chaucer’s near contemporaries. Some come from further afield, from the ancients, from the Orient. They exemplify the whole range of contemporary European imagination, then particularly addicted to stories, especially to stories that had some sharp point and deducible maxim, moral, or idea. Almost every tale ends with a piece of proverbial or other wisdom derived from it and with a general benediction on the company.

One of the few tales believed to be his own invention is that of the Canon’s Yeoman; some have imagined it to be a personal revenge taken by him upon some alchemist who had duped him; be that as it may, it is one of the best of the tales. It was not considered the function of a teller of stories in the fourteenth century to invent the stories he told, but to present and embellish them with all the arts of rhetoric for the purposes of entertainment and instruction. Chaucer’s choice of story ranges from what he could hear – such as tales of low life in oral circulation, like the Miller’s Tale, that are known as fabliaux – to what he had read in Boccaccio or other classic masters or in the lives of saints. To quote Dryden once more, ‘’Tis sufficient to say, according to the proverb, that here is God’s plenty.’

The present version of this master-work is intended for those who feel difficulty in reading the original, yet would like to enjoy as much of that ‘plenty’ as the translator has been able to convey in a more modern idiom.


Exeter College Oxford




[G R O U P A ]






The Vision of History in Early Britain: from Gildas to Geoffrey of Monmouth

The Individual in Twelfth Century Romance



The Conflict of Love and Honor: The medieval Tristan legend in France, Germany, and Italy

(Translator.) Guillaume d’Orange. Four

Twelfth Century Epics

Editor with George Economou.

In Pursuit of Perfection: Courtly Love in Medieval Literature


Woman as Image in Medieval Literature, from the Twelfth Century to Dante


To our students


Qtontent5 INTRODUCTION s, ‘ w i


GUIGEMAR 9 w w 30

EQUITAN ‘ w w 6o

LE FRESNE w w ‘ 73


LANVAL w w w 105

LES DEUS AMANZ w ‘ ‘ 126

YONEC w w w 137

LAUSTIC w w w 155

MILUN w w w 162

CHAITIVEL w w w 181

CHEVREFOIL w w w 1go

ELIDUC w *1 w 196






INTRODUCTION MARIE DE FRANCE was perhaps the greatest woman author of the Middle Ages and certainly the creator of the finest medieval short fiction before Boccaccio and Chaucer. Her best work, the Lais-the collection of short romances and tales translated in this volume-is a major achievement of the first age of French literature and of the “Renaissance of the Twelfth Century,” that remarkable efflorescence of Western European culture that signaled the end of the “Dark Ages” and the beginning of many ideas and institutions basic to modern civilization. One of the twelfth century’s most significant innovations was its rediscovery of love as a literary subject-a subject that it depicted, anatomized, celebrated, and mocked in a series of masterpieces, almost all of which were written in lucid French verse. Among these pioneering love texts, which would soon be adapted and imitated in all the vernaculars of Europe, none better stands the test of time than Marie’s Lais. The combination of variety, virtuosity, and economy of means that characterizes the twelve short stories of fulfilled or frustrated passion -the shortest of which, Chevre f oil, is but 118 lines long, while the longest, Eliduc, requires but 1,184-gives ample and constant evidence of Marie’s mastery of plot, characterization, and diction, while the woman’s point of view she brings to her material further distinguishes the Lais from the longer narratives of love and adventure composed by her male contemporaries, of whom the best known to modern readers is Chretien de Troyes, the creator of Arthurian romance and the first chronicler of the love of Lancelot and Guinevere.

Unfortunately, we know practically nothing about this superb storyteller, except for her name, her extant works (in addition to the Lais, a collection of animal fables and the moral, supernatural tale, St. Patrick’s Purgatory), the approximate period of her literary activities (116o?-1215?), and the fact, derived from her name and comments in her writings, that she was of French birth but wrote at or for the English court, which, as a result of the Norman Conquest, was Frenchspeaking in her days. (See below for further information about Marie’s activities and other works.) From the Lais, however, a comprehensive picture of Marie’s artistic personality and predilections emerges, several facets of which deserve particular attention.


Perhaps the most recognizable “signature” of her work is the symbolic creature or artifact around which a lai is organized for maximum intensity and suggestiveness within the least possible narrative duration. The nightingale in Laiistic, the hazel tree wound about with honeysuckle in Chevrefoil, the hungry swan in Milun-all provide valuable insight into the nature of love in their respective narratives, insight that might otherwise require development through thousands of lines of poetry. Marie carefully places her symbols in the context of character revelation and tersely expressed dramatic irony, which prompts the reader to draw separate conclusions about the worth of the lovers and their love in a given lai. Accordingly, symbols and situations frequently parallel each other in two or more lais, yet the denouements, and the judgments we pass on their justice or injustice, will vary widely from one lai to another. The result of this process of “paired contrasts” is that, as we read on, our experience of each narrative is reinforced and complicated by resonances, often ironic, of its predecessors. What emerges is not a unified moral perspective on passion and its consequences: Marie’s art avoids easy generalizations such as “married love is wrong, adultery right,” or the reverse, but demonstrates instead that character, fortune, and the ability to seize and manipulate opportunities interact in any love relationship. Devotion, loyalty, ingenuity, which transcend marital ties or social norms, provide the grounds for our sympathies with or condemnation of any of Marie’s lovers.

In addition to our involvement with the protagonists of the Lais, we respond constantly to the mastery with which Marie presents them. The deft touches of irony (as in the conclusion of Equitan, where the adulterous king, to avoid discovery, leaps into the vat of boiling water he has prepared in order to destroy his mistress’s husband), or of homely sentiment (e.g., the description of the early-morning discovery of the abandoned infant heroine of Le Fresne by the porter of a monastery), remind us of the artist’s complete control across the entire spectrum of narrative technique. Marie tells us in the Prologue to the Lais that she has undertaken the novel task of translating the body of love tales created by the Bretons, those famous exponents of the art of exotic storytelling. As there are no extant “Breton lais,” we cannot substantiate Marie’s claim or decide to what extent her plots may follow Breton originals. But it is clear from her use of classical Latin and contemporaneous French material that she was a welleducated and highly trained literary craftsman who wished


to be recognized for her skills. She wrote as an expert on love and storytelling for the first large, sophisticated, and elite audience of medieval Europe-an audience that appreciated, as we can, the inventiveness as well as the charm and power of her love tales. In order to appreciate Marie’s achievement fully, the modern reader should know something of the cultural milieu in which she worked.

The twelfth century in Western Europe saw a tremendous expansion of intellectual, social, and artistic activity; it was truly a cultural renaissance, responding to new political structures, social tensions, and economic advances that were only dimly foreshadowed during the early-medieval centuries. The expansion of urban life brought with it the rise of scholastic centers, which were usually attached to the cathedrals of important towns like Chartres and Paris. Training in grammar (or, as we should call it, literary analysis and philology), rhetoric, and dialectic or logic produced a new class of intellectuals who were technically clerics but were often only minimally involved with or controlled by ecclesiastical authority, unlike their early-medieval predecessors, who were almost all monks and deeply committed to a life of religious observance and obedience. Graduates of the twelfth-century schools were equipped for service at the burgeoning courts of France and England, where they formed a civil service and also found an outlet for their literary abilities. The rise of a courtly aristocracy at these same centers of political power gave the school-trained cleres an audience that was also new in medieval civilization. It comprised, in addition to the learned clerics themselves, the greater and lesser aristocracy of chevaliers, who fought for a living but also cultivated arts of nonlethal competition and personal refinement that were unknown to early-medieval warriors; and-most important, in the opinion of many scholarsit also included noblewomen, many of whom were involved in feudal politics and highly educated in religious and secular subjects, even though regular courses of advanced study in the schools were open only to men. (Among the many remarkable women of the twelfth century, besides Marie, special recognition is due to Eleanor of Aquitaine, heiress to a great duchy and successively wife to the kings of France and England; her daughter Marie, Countess of Champagne and patroness of Chretien de Troyes; and Helo►se, mistress and later wife of Peter Abe’lard, well known throughout France for her brilliance, courage, and successful career as an abbess.) The fertile interaction of these groups gave birth to a


vernacular literature in which learned interests, previously expressed exclusively in Latin, and themes of importance to a courtly elite in search of self-defining ideals mingled and cross-pollinated.

One of the themes explored in twelfth-century courtly narrative was the individual’s recognition of a need for selffulfillment and his or her struggle for the freedom to satisfy this need. The tension between the personal quest for perfection and one’s social obligations was a recurring theme of courtly literature, and narrative and lyric poets alike used love as a symbol of the quintessentially private sphere of existence and desire. The nature and problems of love-for it was by no means always viewed as a positive force by Marie and her contemporaries-were explored in lyrics and in long and short narratives. Besides Marie’s Lais, the latter group includes contes, short tales borrowed from the works of Ovid, the classical master of love and self-conscious art, whose influence was everywhere visible in the period. Among authors of longer chivalric romances, Chrhien de Troyes dominates the age, but Beroul and Thomas, authors of versions of the tragic love story of Tristan and Isolt, and Gautier d’Arras also excelled. All explored the problematic interrelationship of love and chivalry from many points of view, with an art that moved easily from quasi-symbolic representation to detached social comedy.

The narratives of the courtly poets were connoisseurs’ literature: fanciful, ingenious tales that simultaneously amused their audience and challenged it to discover deeper meanings beneath the polished language and the idealized adventures. A long chivalric romance of Chretien, for example, comprises a series of puzzles to be solved by aficionados of the genre: Why did the hero or heroine act in a particular, unexpected way at a particular moment? What vice or anti-courtly attitude does a villain represent? Unlike earlier medieval epics, in which heroic values are universally acknowledged even though cowardice or treachery may cause their subversion, twelfthcentury courtly tales and romances usually portray the protagonist’s gradual discovery of real values through love (one thinks of Marie’s Guigemar, for whom love is wounding and healing, a cause of sorrow before it is a cause of joy), or the transformation of a delusory set of external appearances and relationships by the timely revelation of a hero or heroine’s true identity (as is the case in Le Fresne). The line of European narrative fiction that uses the portrayal of love as a means for exploring the interaction of self and society, appearance and reality, descends


continuously from the twelfth-century courtly narrative to the twentieth- century novel. Marie is thus one of the creators-the only woman among them-of a grand tradition that has shaped and defined our literary culture.

We know almost nothing about Marie herself, except that she was originally French and lived in the latter part of the twelfth century. It is not unusual to have virtually no information about medieval authors except what we can glean from their and others’ works. There are none of the public records and reactions we take so for granted with modern writers no copyrights or publication dates, no standard editions, no critical reviews, no authors’ memoirs or letters to establish the date or proper text of a work. More often than not, the best manuscripts we have are much later than the works themselves and have gone through several copyings; if there is more than one manuscript, they usually do not agree in all particulars. All of this means that we have to learn mainly by inference, to establish the text by judicious comparison and selection, and to deduce facts about the author from references in the work, from connections with the works of others (when there are obvious sources or influences), and, though much more rarely, from direct remarks by other writers, as in Gottfried’s literary excursus in the Tristan.

All we know about Marie besides her name is her work: the Lais, the Fables, and St. Patrick’s Purgatory (L’Espurgatoire Saint Patrice).’ Marie names herself at the beginning of the first lai, at the end of the Purgatory, and at the end of the Fables, in the latter case rather assertively:


“De France” means, presumably, that she was born in France, either the Continent as opposed to England or the Ile de France as opposed to Occitaine, probably not that she was of the royal house (as some have assumed).’ Beyond that, she tells us only that she wrote the Lais for a “noble king” and the Fables for a Count William. The king is probably Henry II (ruled 1154-89)’ Count William may be William Longsword (Guillaume Longespee), illegitimate son of Henry II, Count of Salisbury after about 1197, or William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke from 1199, or William of Gloucester, or, most likely of all, William of Mandeville,’ Earl of Essex from 1167 (died 1189).

Marie herself is even more difficult to identify. She may be the illegitimate daughter of Geoffrey of Anjou-and hence a sister of Henry 11- who became abbess of Shaftesbury around 1181 and died C. 1216, or the abbess of Reading, or Marie de Meulan, daughter of Count Waleran de Beaumont.’ It seems unlikely that we shall ever really know who she was. All we can be sure of is that she frequented the court of Henry II and Eleanor, that she was probably a noblewoman (the circle in which she moved, the subjects that concerned her, and the level of her education make it extremely unlikely that she was not of noble birth-a lower-class laywoman would have had little opportunity for education). She was certainly educated, knowing, besides her native French, Latin, from which she translated the Purgatory, and English, from which she translated the Fables. But even her dates are difficult to determine. If we accept the chronological order of Lais, Fables, Purgatory,° we are still left with a wide range of years. The Purgatory was probably written after 1189 because it mentions a Saint Malachi (1. 2074), who was not canonized until 1189; it may have been done as late as 1208-15.’ The Lais have been dated from 1155-70, by analogy with other literary works that seem to have influenced Marie: Wace’s Brut, c. 1155, Piramus et Tisbe, 1155-60, and Eneas, c. i 16o.8 Several critics think that Chretien knew Marie’s Prologue, which she wrote after the Lais, by the time he wrote Erec;9 if this is so, the Lais were probably written by 1170.

We can make such connections with other literary works, but they do not help us with the dating, since we cannot date the analogous works precisely. Eliduc was probably a source for Gautier d’Arras’s We et Galeron, dated 1178-85.10 Denis Piramus mentions Marie’s Lais in his Vie S. Edmund le Rei, saying that they are popular among counts, barons,


knights, and ladies (11.35-48); if Denis wrote between Ii7o and 118o, as his editor, Kjellman, thinks, the Lais must have been written by then. Certainly Marie knew some version of the Tristan legend (she tells part of the story in the Chevrefoil and seems to use episodes in other lais: the procession of lovely ladies, each mistaken in turn for the heroine, in Lanval; the trap of stakes set for the lover in Yonec; the secret shrine of love in the woods in Eliduc); but whether she knew the Tristan poems that we have-Beroul, Thomas, or some earlier version -we cannot tell 11 We can only say that Marie probably wrote the Lais between 116o and I9q.l2

She wrote them all in French, in octosyllabic couplets. For the Lais, she drew on Celtic tales, probably oral, and French sources, in some cases written. She seems to have known Ovid and contemporary versions of other classical material, like Wace’s Brut, the Roman de Thebes, and the Roman d’Eneas, as well as Arthurian tales and the Tristan story. The Fables draw on at least two versions of the Romulus, derived from a Latin version of Aesop; the Roman de Renart material; popular tales; and fabliaux. The Purgatory is a translation of a Latin text, Tractatus de Purgatori sancti Patricii, by the monk Henry of Saltrey.

Marie begins the Fables, as she does the Lais, with a conventional prologue that reveals her sense of moral obligation: those who know letters should give their attention to the books and words of philosophers, who wrote down moral precepts so that others might improve themselves. This didactic purpose is not absent from any of Marie’s material. She has translated the Fables, she tells us in the epilogue, from English into French as Alfred had translated them from Latin into English, and as Aesop did from Greek into Latin (a popular belief). They are short tales with a moral lesson at the end, using, for the most part, animals as the principal actors, in the Aesopic tradition. The lessons are conventional: the dangers of greed and pride, the oppression of the weak by the strong, the superiority of a simple life over a luxurious one lived in servitude or terror-the Lais make many of the same points, but in a far more subtle way. Marie gives several of the Fables a feudal twist with the lessons she draws from them: xxvii, a man cannot have honor if he shames his lord, nor can a lord have honor if he shames his men; xix, those who choose bad lords are foolish, for by subjecting themselves to cruel and evil men they gain nothing but shame; lxii, a prince should not have a covetous or deceptive seneschal in his kingdom unless he wants to make him his lord. Some of these lessons


are of interest in connection with a recurring theme in Marie’s Laisthe journey to another land and a new life: ci, no one should put himself in the hands of one who would harm him: rather, he should go to another land; xxii, if you look for a better land, you never find one where you will be without fear or sorrow; lxxx, those who do ill in their own country and depart leave it to no purpose, because they will do the same wherever they go; it is their hearts they should change rather than their countries. This is, indeed, what several of Marie’s heroes do.13

In Saint Patrick’s Purgatory, the hero makes a spiritual journey to another land, from which he returns a better Christian. This work, which Marie translated from Latin, has a religious as well as a moral purpose: it was intended not only to help others to improve themselves, but also to teach them to fear and serve God. At the same time, although the subject is overtly otherworldly-the pains of purgatory and the joys of the earthly paradise as seen by an Irish knight-one cannot help, once again, making connections with the Lais. The journey through purgatory is described as if it were real, but the narrative is preceded by a comment that suggests it is actually a vision: many souls, we are told, leave their bodies temporarily, have visions or revelations, and then return; they see in the spirit what seems to be corporeal, and they only seem to feel the real pains (11. 163ff.). (One wonders if this is what happens to those characters in the Lais who apparently have strange, otherworldly adventures-e.g., in Guigemar, Lanval, and Yonec, people are transported by magic by the will of those who desire them; it is perhaps only the spirit that goes, and yet the body seems to have the experience.) The Irish knight, after he has repented his sins, approaches purgatory through a deep hole in the earth, following a long, dark passage that finally opens onto a field, where he sees a beautiful house (cf. the tunnel through the hill, then the meadow, and finally the bird-knight’s castle in Yonec). In the house, monks prepare the knight for the journey he is about to undertake, and for the temptations and torments of the devils he will encounter. He passes through them all-and they are described in graphic and grotesque detail-calling continually on God to defend him. Finally he crosses a bridge that leads to a land of light, where a religious procession welcomes him with joy; the Irish knight may expect to return to this place after he dies, and after he has actually experienced the torments he just witnessed. This paradise, where souls go when they are delivered from the pains of purgatory, is on this earth, in the East; here


they will remain until the Last Judgment, when they will go to heaven. It may be the same sort of earthly paradise that Marie has in mind, in the Lais, as the homeland of the fairy in Lanval, or of the bird-knight in Yonec. Her heroes or heroines can experience the joy of such a place only briefly, only as momentary visions, in this life, but that is often enough to sustain them. Lanval alone chooses to relinquish this world and follow his love back to her otherworld; the lady in Yonec makes her way to such a land, but is not permitted to remain.

The Lais are the one work for which Marie does not claim a literary source. They are tales she has heard and put into rhyme: Celtic tales, which were originally transmitted by Breton minstrels, but whether Marie heard them in French or in Celtic is not altogether clear. She does give some of the names in “Bretan” (Risclavret, 1. 3; Lanval, 1. 4; Laustic, 11. 2-4), which suggests that she knows something of the language, but since she also gives the meaning of some names in English, we cannot assume on that basis that her direct source was Celtic. In any case, she makes it clear that she is the first to put these stories into rhyme, that is, into a conven tional literary form, the octosyllabic couplet. She is not the first to render short narratives in verse (the Ovidian tales, Narcissus and Piramus et Tisbe, antedate the Lais), but she may be the first to do it with nonclassical material.

Courtly romances in Marie’s period treat Celtic subjects in narrative poems, but they are much longer than Marie’s Lais. The romances also differ from the Lais in that they are concerned with both love and chivalry, with the proper balance between a knight’s responsibility to his society, his service to others, and the fulfillment of his own desires while Marie’s primary concern is with the personal needs of the knight orand this is unique in this literature-of the lady. In her Lais, the lovers often live in a hostile world-a court that rejects, a marriage that enslaves, social conventions that constrain-and love offers the only opportunity to escape that world; to free the mind, if not the body, from the world’s oppression; to endure the pains. This is not to say that every lai presents a picture of an ideal love; several (Equitan, Bisclavret, Laiistic, Chaitivel) reveal the treachery or selfishness of imperfect love. In fact, as many critics have pointed out, the Lais offer a spectrum of love situations.14 If one goes systematically through the collection, noting the aspect of love that Marie emphasizes in each, one ends with a fairly complete sense of her idea of


love, as well as the strong impression that she conceived of the lais as complementary pieces.15 We cannot be sure that the order we follow is the order Marie intended. It is, however, the order given in manuscript (H), which is the earliest extant manuscript, the only one that contains all twelve Lais, the one and widely accepted as the best available version; but H is mid-thirteenth-century, not contemporary, and therefore may not reflect the author’s plan. Bearing this reservation about the order of the Lais in mind, we can nonetheless note obvious correspondences among them, opposing perspectives and variations on the same theme.

The message in the early lais seems fairly clear, but as we read further into the collection, and as they resonate more and more with each other, the moral line becomes more ambiguous, more complicated. The first two lais (Marie does tell us in so many words that she is beginning with Guigemar) offer a fairly straightforward contrast between fulfilling and destructive love. Guigemar is a good knight who lacks only love, which is symbolized by his wound; his lady, trapped in an unhappy marriage with a possessive old man, also lacks love. Guigemar’s love frees and fulfills her, her love cures and fulfills him. Neither chivalry nor marriage can function properly without love (in Milun, Marie will show how chivalry can interfere with love and marriage). Guigemar focuses on the needs of the hero and on the bond between the lovers; there is no relationship, no trust to be broken, between the woman’s husband and the hero, and the husband’s claims on his wife are undercut by his treatment of her. The love is thus virtually without stain (if somewhat limited in comparison to what we see of love in the last lais), as the aid and sanction of supernatural forces suggest. In Equitan, the second lai, there is a bond between the two men (the husband and the lover) that is both personal and public-the husband is the lover’s seneschal and serves him loyally, so the king’s affair with his wife is at once self-indulgence and a betrayal of a public trust. The wife’s moral position is not justified because of any mistreatment; indeed, it is vitiated by her husband’s goodness and her possessiveness and ambition. There is no supernatural intervention; on the contrary, the machinations of the lovers are responsible for all that happens. One concludes that, important as love is in the fulfillment of the individual, it is not to be pursued at all costs. The different natures of these two loves-one necessary and true, and ultimately rewarded; the other self-indulgent and treacherous, and finally punished -are pointed up by the ease with which


the first is acknowledged (a woman with a good sense of her own and her lover’s worth, Guigemar says, need not be begged at length [11. 5’3ff•1), while Equitan has to carry on a lengthy debate, filled with ironies, in order to persuade his lady to love himas if the more words, the less feeling.ts

Guigemar shows how necessary love is, and how real love can endure the proofs of suffering and separation; Equitan shows how a love that arises solely for pleasure, from selfindulgence rather than deep need, can lead to treachery and self-destruction. In the third lai, Le Fresne, a love that begins as simple pleasure and physical indulgence rises, through the woman’s devotion, to self-sacrifice, which ultimately earns its reward. But in Bisclavret, the lai which follows Le Fresne, the woman cannot attain the degree of devotion her situation requires; instead, fearing for her own safety and unmoved by her husband’s suffering, she betrays him and is punished for it. The devotion Fresne shows to her lover, despite his willingness to bow to social pressures and marry another woman, is eventually repaid, not simply by marriage to him, but by reunion with her parents and sister, and a recovery of her identity. Bisclavret’s wife, who faces an equally demanding test, fails to pass it. She betrays her husband’s love and trust, turns to another man, and incurs lasting shame for herself and her descendants. Bisclavret, like Fresne, lives many years in exile from his true self (Bisclavret as a werewolf, Fresne as a foundling) ; both had been rejected by women who failed in their family responsibilities, in the first case, that of a wife to her husband, and in the second, that of a mother to her child; both are protected in their defenseless states: Fresne by the abbess who takes her in, Bisclavret by his king, who rescues and sustains him. Marie has extended the scope of her attention to significant human relations beyond the pair of lovers (the family, and the court). The king in Bisclavret rewards the loyalty of a good vassal, whom he does not recognize but whose gesture of devotion he appreciates, in contrast to the king Equitan, who abused the loyalty of a faithful minister; in both Bisclavret and Equitan, the wronged husband is avenged on his wife and survives, a nice balance to the defeat or destruction of the unsympathetically treated husbands in Guigemar, Yonec, and Milun.

Indeed, Marie attempts to balance her presentations to a remarkable degree. In the first four lair, she seems to be concerned with a sexual balance: a good pair of lovers in Guigemar, a bad pair in Equitan, a woman’s devotion in Le Fresne, a man’s endurance in Bisclavret; a


deficient husband and a poor king in Guigemar and Equitan, a bad mother and treacherous wife in Le Fresne and Bisclavret; a wise and kind abbess in Le Fresne, a sensitive and wise counselor in Bisclavret. There is a similar balance in the next pair of lais: a knight caught in the trap of a society that refuses to recognize his worth (Lanval), a princess imprisoned by the possessive love of a father who will not allow her to marry (Les Deus Amanz); both are rescued by a love that is put to public trial, which turns out well in one case, sadly in the other. In both lais, there is a king hindered in his public duty by personal ties: in Lanval, by subservience to an immoral and vindictive wife, in Les Deus Amanz, by possessive attachment to a child.

Although, by subjecting it to public trials, Marie further extends the public aspect of the love in Lanval and Les Deus Amanz and thus continues the move outwards she made in Le Fresne and Bisclavret by introducing significant relationships outside the pair of lovers, she ultimately rejects the public setting: both Lanval and the girl in Deus Amanz leave their societies in order to follow their loves. Lanval exonerates himself before his court and retains his love because he is able to make a total commitment to that love, which had given him all that the world denied him-wealth, success, and joy-to the extent that he even leaves his world behind to follow it (her) to an unknown world. The girl in Les Deus Amanz is unwilling to leave her father and commit herself completely to her love, and therefore she loses her love. But her lover is also at fault: love inspired him with a feeling of unusual strength, with a belief that he could overcome any obstacle, but it also makes him so impatient and reckless that he refuses the help he needs, his strength fails, and he dies. He makes a total commitment in his effort to win the girl, but he refuses the aid she has provided, whereas Lanval graciously accepts all the fairy offers. Marie seems to be saying that one must not only serve love with total devotion, as in Le Fresne, but also be ready to receive what love gives.

The source of help in Lanval is supernatural, a fairy’s powers; in Les Deus Amanz, it is the human knowledge and skill of the Salerno doctor (another woman). Marie alternates supernatural force with human ingenuity throughout the lais; the supernatural is usually positive or helpful to the lovers (as in Guigemar Lanval [V], Yonec [VIII), while the human is usually treacherous or destructive (as in Equitan [II], Les Deus Amanz


[VIA, and Laustic [VIIII). Always maintaining her sense of balance, Marie reverses the situation in Le Fresne (III) and Bisclavret (IV).

There is another kind of alternation at work in Lanval and Les Deus Amanz-between a love that is taken seriously (Lanval) and a love that has comic or parodistic overtones (Les Deus Amanz). The same is true of the next pair: the love in Yonec is serious and tragic; the love in Laustic is superficial and frustrated. The former, however, is fruitful, while the latter issues only in a dead symbol. In both Laustic and Les Deus Amanz the lovers play at love; in Les Deus Amanz, they fail because they don’t really understand the game, and in Laustic, they only go through the motions without real feeling.

Yonec and Laustic return to the love situation of the first lais in the collection, the triangle: as in Guigemar, there is an unhappy marriage in Yonec, with a lover coming magically from afar; in Laustic, as in Equitan, there is a self-indulgent affair in which the lover is bound by friendship to the husband. In this set of lais, however, the husband is a much more active figure and his action introduces considerable violence into the two stories. The lover in Yonec, who appears in the form of a bird, is killed in a vicious trap laid by the husband, who is himself killed, many years later, by the lover’s son-violence begets violence; in Laustic, the bird, which symbolizes the love is killed viciously by the husband. In Yonec, the lover leaves a trail of blood which his lady follows; in Laustic, the bird’s blood stains the lady’s gown. In both lais, the husband is a hunter, a predator, and the lovers are his victims; and in both, it is the joy felt by the lady that makes her husband aware of her love and arouses his desire to destroy it. Marie is saying that love does not exist in a vacuum, that even a good love is vulnerable to the hostility of the world around it. In Laustic, however, the lady’s joy is superficial, represented by the feigned delight in the nightingale’s song; the love is nothing more than an exchange of gifts and words, and at the first threat of danger, the attack on the bird, both lovers give it up, relegating it to the symbol of the dead bird in an ornate coffin. Theirs is a stillborn love, with no issue, while the love in Yonec, though it ends tragically for the lover, does not die with him; the bird-knight is killed, but his child lives to avenge him. Thus, as in Guigemar, because the need for love is real and the love good, it cannot be completely destroyed by the hostile world. The world around the lovers seems to become more and more of an obstacle or a threat in these lais; but at the same time, the


love, when it is good, lasts and is fruitful.

In Milun, the lai that follows Yonec and Laustic and is thematically linked to them by the motif of a bird (in this case a messenger of love), a child is also born of the love; he grows up not to avenge his father, but to meet him in combat, and to reunite him with his mother. The lais that present negative aspects of love do not extend over a long period of time, indicating perhaps that the situations they describe, of selfindulgent or superficial feeling, are static, while in the other lais the love is active and aids the individual to grow. The time span in the lais which present positive aspects of love seems, in contrast, to increase through the collection: in the first, Guigemar, we see a lover grow from an unfeeling adolescent to a loving adult; in Le Fresne, the heroine grows from a foundling to a loving woman; in Yonec, a child is born and grows up to avenge his father; in Milun, the child grows up to reunite his long- separated parents. Actually, in Milun, the peacefully resolved combat with the father indicates that the father has finally grown up. Chivalry must, as it were, defeat itself before love can function fully.

Milun, and the lai that follows it, Chaitivel, are both concerned with fighting for glory and the relation between chivalry and love, which is normally a romance subject, but not treated here as it would be in a romance. Marie does not seek a balance between chivalry and love, but shows instead how chivalry-when it means only the pursuit of worldly glory-interferes with love, seriously in Milun, humorously in Chaitivel (again that balance). In Milun, all the characters (father, mother, and son) are caught up in the pursuit of glory-glory is what first attracts the girl to the knight, what separates them, and what finally brings the father and the son together when both become rivals for the same reputation. It is only the son’s compassion for his father’s white hair that prevents serious tragedy; human feeling in the issue of the love finally defeats the desire for glory that had for so long stood in its way.

There is, however, another element at work in the lai, which counters the violence of fighting-the written word. When the lovers cannot be together, they correspond for twenty years. We are moving, here, toward a higher level of understanding between lovers, a communication of thought which serves when physical consummation is impossible (cf. Tristan and Isolt in Chevrefoil). That words are meant to replace physical force is underscored


by the arrival of a letter announcing the death of the mother’s husband just as the son prepares to go and kill him. The same opposition between words and arms is presented in Chaitivel: the four lovers attempt to win the lady’s love by fighting, but they try too hard; three of them are killed and the fourth incapacitated. The lady, who glories in their devotion, attempts to comfort the remaining lover with her conversation, and assuages her own grief by composing a poem about it. The whole lai reveals the foolishness of literary conventions of love–indeed, both lais, Milun and Chaitivel, expose the futility of the romantic view of knightly service for love.

In the following lai, the Chevrefoil, unsatisfied love is again the inspiration for a poem, but in this case, the lover transcends his sorrow at the enforced separation by writing a lai that records the joy he experienced when the lovers were together. He transforms love to art in his lai as Marie does in hers. Tristan and Isolt are able to meet for only a brief momentthe rest of their life is bitter pain-but they manage to derive great joy from the words they exchange, which is all they can hope for in this life. In Eliduc, too, though the lovers by mutual consent renounce the world in order to give their lives to God, words remain their one point of contact; they send messages back and forth and offer prayers to God for each other, a higher form, perhaps, of the lai in which Tristan records his love, but not unrelated. In the last four lais of the collection, the word seems to replace supernatural forces and human ingenuity (which alternately dominated the earlier lais) as the symbol or expression of the love Marie is describing. The spirit of the love, freed from physical and worldly concerns, is conveyed by the characters’ words, as it is by Marie’s poetry. Magic symbolized their feelings, words express them. The ability to commit the feelings to words indicates a control, perhaps even a transcendence, of them.

The separation of the lovers in Milun, dictated by the demands of the world, of chivalry and marriage, lasts twenty years: in Chaitivel, the separation, forced by death and physical disability, is final; in Chevrefoil, the separation is caused by social pressures of the woman’s marriage, as in Milun, but further complicated by Tristan’s relation to her husband, and it is lifelong, broken only by brief encounters. The separation in the last lai, Eliduc, is brought about by renunciation. First the wife renounces her husband and her worldly life, and then the lovers renounce their marriage and the world; all three make their sacrifices in favor of a higher love.


Paradoxically, however, their renunciation of the physical union and of the world draws them all closer together in a selfless love. This lai, which centers like so many others on a love triangle, resolves the problem in a unique way, by rearranging the three characters in three successive pairings, ending with the two women living together as sisters in a convent. This lai, which is the longest, also resolves various earlier themes: the knight wronged by his king, as in Lanval, is vindicated and restored; in exile he fights, not for his own glory, but to defend another king from attack; nature, not magic or human ingenuity, offers the means to revive the princess. At the same time, Eliduc presents complicated human situations, which cannot easily be resolved: we are not allowed the simple expedient of a vicious spouse to enable us to sympathize with the lovers; the two women, the devoted wife and the naive girl, both command our sympathy. Even the knight, who is weak, indulgent, and sometimes violent in his pursuit of the new love, cannot simply be condemned-he is wrongly exiled, but serves both his own and his adopted lands well, and falls naturally enough into a relationship that offers him human comfort (something we have been taught to applaud in other lais). As in Chevrefoil, we are forced to acknowledge the demands and pressures of society, of knightly service and marriage, even when they conflict with love. Yet even here Marie does not insist on a total renunciation of human love-how could she when she has been at such pains to teach its values and show its positive effects?-but she does offer other possibilities when physical satisfaction is impossible: art and religious devotion.

In the course of the lais, Marie presents a realistic picture of human love despite, or perhaps partly by means of, the supernatural trappings.17 Love offers joy, but never altogether without pain, and regardless of its strength, it cannot last forever. Note how often death intervenes, particularly in the later lais: Les Deus Amanz, Yonec, Laustic, Chaitivel; in Equitan the lovers also die, albeit deservedly; in Chevrefoil their death is forecast; and in Lanval and Eliduc they move into another life. Throughout the lais, the world-in the shape of jealous husbands, possessive fathers, selfish wives or mothers, ungrateful lords-seems hostile to the lovers. Often it imprisons them: the wives in Guigemar and Yonec in towers; the wife in Laustic in her house; the women n Milun and Chevrefoil in their marriages; the man in Bisclavret in his wolf form; the girl in Eliduc in a deathlike trance; the girl in Les Deus Amanz by the impossible task her father sets her suitors.


The lovers are exiled, outcast, rejected: Guigemar, because of his wound, becomes a stranger in a foreign land; Fresne is rejected first by her mother, who abandons her to strangers, and later by her lover; Bisclavret as a werewolf is shut out of human society; the court ostracized Lanval and he, in turn, rejects it; the lover in Yonec is a stranger from another land, the lady an outsider in his; Milun exiles himself from his love in order to pursue glory; in Chaitivel, death permanently exiles three of the lovers; Tristan lives in permanent exile; Eliduc, banished by his king at the beginning of the lai, exiles himself from the world at the end.

Exile necessitates a journey to another land, sometimes another world, and Marie seems to imply that love is ultimately of another world.18 It may sometimes bring freedom to those who are confined, as it does to the women in Guigemar and in Yonec-they are able to leave their towers without difficulty when they decide to follow their love-but it cannot survive being constrained within a small space, as in Laustic.19 It must have some issue-if not a child, as in Yonec and Milun, then a symbol, such as the flowers in Les Deus Amanz or the enshrined bird in Laustic, which represent loves that, for different reasons, never fully lived; or poetry, whether the vain affirmation of the lady’s triumph in Chaitivel, or the living recollection of real joy in Chevrefoil.

Marie develops her ideas not by direct statement but through symbols, by emphasizing small but significant details’ The genre she chose to write in, the lai, because it is so much shorter than the romance, the other available narrative form for similar subjects, necessitates the focus on details. The first clue she gives us to the meaning of a lai is often its title, about which she makes a considerable fuss, sometimes giving alternatives, as in Chaitivel, where the two names indicate two perspectives: the lady’s (she wants to call it Quatre Dols, the Four Sorrows, to commemorate all her admirers), and the man’s (he insists on Chaitivel, the Unfortunate One, meaning himself). The last lai also has two names; formerly Eliduc, it is now known as Guildeluec and Gualadun: that is, for Marie it is more the story of the two women than of the man. Sometimes a name makes an ironic comment on the story, as in Equitan and perhaps Le Fresne (Equitan lowers himself, improperly, to a position of equality with his seneschal by making love to the latter’s wife and leaving the seneschal to run the kingdom; Fresne, the ash tree, suggests a whole range of nurture and abandonment-see the comments on the lai, P.9o.)21 For some lais, Marie


supplies the title in several languages, as though to point up the universality of the situation (Bisclavret, Laustic, Chevrefoil). In some cases, the name serves as a symbol of the love: Laustic is the nightingale, dead but richly preserved; in Chevrefoil, the honeysuckle evokes the two lives bound together; Yonec is the child born of the love. In Les Deus Amanz, as in Chaitivel, the lovers are not named, but Marie makes much of the names of the places where the story occurs, suggesting that the lovers are, in effect, dominated by the world around them, which eventually overwhelms them. Marie makes it a point to recall the name of each lai, usually at its end. She reminds us, both at the beginning and at the end of most of the lais, that they are stories she has heard and recast: that is, she never lets us forget that she is the intermediary between us and the material. It is not unusual for medieval writers to call attention to themselves and to the authority of their versions (cf. Gottfried in Tristan, Wolfram in Parzival), because for the most part they were dealing with material that existed in other versions, and they were anxious to have their audience appreciate what they had brought to it.

In addition to its title, the symbolic object that is central to the narrative is often an indication of a lai’s meaning. The knot and belt which the lovers exchange in Guigemar represent the deep feeling and constancy of their love, a commitment that will endure for having been so freely given. It is significant that they do not exchange the conventional token of constancy, a ring, for Marie often uses rings ironically: in Equitan, the lovers exchange this standard symbol of loyalty while plotting to betray two loyalties, one to a husband, the other to a vassal; in Le Fresne, the ring the mother bestows on her abandoned child is a reminder of the bond that she denied; in Milun, Chaitivel, and Eliduc, the ring is the first token of love, the first sign of attraction and interest, but,, as it happens, not necessarily of lasting devotion; and in Eliduc, the man’s acceptance of a ring constitutes a denial of his marriage bond. In Yonec, the dying lover gives his lady a ring with the power to make her husband forget what has happened-scarcely a symbol of loyalty, however sympathetic we may be to the love.

In three successive lais, birds offer a symbolic comment on a love relationship: in Yonec, the lover appears in the form of a hawk; in Laustic, a live nightingale stands for the lover (in the lady’s excuse to her husband), the dead bird, a lifeless object in a rich shrine, stands for the love; in


Milun, a starving swan is the messenger of love, carrying letters between the lovers for twenty years. In both Yonec and M, ilun, the bird symbol gives way to a child, who, in Yonec, is all that remains of the union; while in Milun the child becomes the agent that reunites the lovers. The love in Laustic lacked the substancenot the opportunity, for in Marie will creates opportunity-to bear fruit, so its lifeless symbol is fittingly worshiped as though it had value.

The honeysuckle, which winds itself around the hazel so that neither can exist alone, just as Tristan and Isolt are bound together by their love, is the dominant symbol of Chevrefoil; one wonders what connection there is between the hazel of the metaphor in Chevrefoil and the names of the twins, Ash and Hazel, in Le Fresne. Marie does not mention the love potion which plays such an important part in other versions of the Tristan story, but she does use a potion in Les Deus Amanz, not to arouse love or passion but to strengthen the love that already exists, and to enable it both to meet the challenges it faces and to bear fruit; since it is never drunk by the hero, the only fruit it produces are the flowers that grow where it spilled. It is tempting to see this potion as a comment on the Tristan story, perhaps even as an anti-potion.

A final important symbol is the hunt, an activity at once opposed to and emblematic of the love quest. Guigemar’s hunting results in a self-inflicted wound that only a womanhis future mistress-can cure; Equitan avoids his public responsibility by hunting in the forest and violates feudal loyalty by “hunting” his seneschal’s wife. Bisclavret has a pivotal hunting scene with the hero as the prey, while in Yonec the husband sets a trap for the bird- knight by announcing his plans to go hunting, and then leaving spikes in the window to catch the lover. The medieval nobility’s passion for hunting combined with the Ovidian connotations of the love hunt and the predatory aspect of selfish passion make the hunt a particularly effective symbol in the lais. The hunter may play the role of the jealous, possessive husband, with the hero, in the form of an animal, but a predatory one, as the prey.

Since we lack precise or complete information about Marie’s dependence on and transformation of earlier narrative material, especially Celtic, we cannot accurately judge the extent of her influence on the creators of subsequent lais (i.e., short narratives about love and sometimes adventure, whether or not they are called lais by their authors). There are, however,


many This and romances whose direct debts to Marie have been widely accepted 22 Nine of the lais are more or less closely translated into Old Norse in a thirteenth-century manuscript now in the library of the University of Uppsala, Sweden. In Middle English, there is a truncated translation of Le Fresne, and three versions of Lanval, two from the fourteenth century and, the best known, Thomas Chestre’s Launfal Miles, from the fifteenth. The story of Laustic is retold in the late twelfthcentury English poem The Owl and the Nightingale, in Alexander of Neckham’s thirteenth-century De naturis rerum and in the fourteenth-century Roman de Renart Ic contrcfait, which also contains a story apparently influenced by Bisclavret. We also see Bisclavret’s influence in the thirteenth-century lai of Melion.

The anonymous thirteenth-century lais of Tyolet, Tydorcl, and Guingamor, attributed to Marie by early editors, all show Marie’s influence, with Guingamor owing debts to Guigemar and Lanval. Lanval was especially popular; beside the Middle English versions already mentioned, its influence appears within longer poems in Middle High German and Italian. Other long narratives inspired by Marie’s lais include Gautier d’Arras’ Ille et Galeron, almost certainly based on Eliduc,23 Hue de Roteland’s Ipomedon (c. 1185), where brothers who are unknown to each other meet in chivalric combat and discover their kinship thanks to a ring given to one of them by their mother (cf. Milun) and Jean Renart’s Galeran de Bretagne (c. 1230), based on Le Fresne. Several elements of the plot of Partenopeu de Blois (ii8o-ii9o’)-the white deer, the pilotless ship that takes the hero to his future mistress, their discovery after a period of secret love-recall Guigemar, but both versions may have a common source, now lost.

The greatest Middle English “Breton lai,” Sir Orfeo, is, according to its most recent editor, A. J. Bliss, a fourteenthcentury translation of a lost French original; Bliss also argues for a common authorship of Orfeo and the Middle English translation of Le Fresne (Lay le Freyne) 24 Geoffrey Chaucer appears to have known Sir Orfeo and used its prologue for his version of a Breton lai, the Franklin’s Tale 25 Chaucer’s interest in the problems created for a faithful wife by her husband’s departure from home in quest of chivalric honor recalls the situation of Milun, but there exists no evidence to support a suggestion that he knew, directly or in translation, Marie’s lais.


The influence of Marie’s lais was by no means negligible in later medieval generations. A more recent debt to Marie may be noted in closing: John Fowles’ collection of tales, The Ebony Tower (1974), is in part based on Eliduc; in a “personal note,” the author pays tribute to Marie, speaks about her life and her art, and appends a translation of Eliduc into prose 28

The twelve lais are found in one mid-thirteenth-century manuscript (H), British Museum, Harley 978, in the order followed in this translation. Nine of the lais, in a different order, are preserved in a late-thirteenth-century manuscript (S), Bibliotheque nationale, nouv. acq. fr. 1104. Fragments or single lais appear in three other thirteenth- and fourteenthcentury manuscripts: (P), Bibl. nat. fr. 2168; (C), British Museum Cott. Vesp. B XIV; (Q), Bibl. nat. fr. 24432. The Warnke edition (1900) follows (H) with additions from (S) and (P); Ewert (1947) and Rychner (1966) follow (H), and Rychner includes a few passages from (S). We have followed Ewert’s text (H) in this translation, checked against Rychner.

Marie’s language is quite simple, and therefore difficult to render in good literary English. There are few complex sentences and little use of the passive voice. Marie wrote in octosyllabic couplets, a form which cannot be reproduced in English without a distorting, singsong effect. We have, therefore, chosen the standard English expedient of free verse, giving the translation line by line (except for a few unavoidable transpositions) in order to catch something, however little, of the poetic quality of the original. Marie rarely names the characters in her tales and often refers to them by pronouns; where this creates confusion, we have substituted a noun or, when possible, a name. She often shifts from one scene to another with no indication other than “but” or “then”; the reader must be alert to such changes.

The translation remains close to the text, allowing for idiomatic differences between Middle French and modern English (e.g., soz ciel may be translated “on earth,” rather than “beneath heaven”). Where Marie seems to give a word particular importance by repeating it, we repeat it in the translation. On the other hand, the stylistic device of paired synonyms, not uncommon in twelfth-century French poetry, we have respected only where it does not distort English usage. But words like aventure, which can mean “adventure,” “chance,” or “happening,” are translated differently


according to the context. Chambre is rendered as “chamber” or “room” depending on whether the reference seems to be formal or intimate. Curteis is usually translated as “courteous,” although it carries the sense of “courtly.” Where the verb tenses shift between past and present, as is common in medieval French texts, we have retained in accordance with English narrative usage a single tense throughout a passage. The titles of the lais are given in French with the English translation in parentheses, unless the title is a proper name.

We are especially indebted to Lawton P. G. Peckham for his generous and careful reading of the translations and his most helpful suggestions; any errors that may have crept in are the responsibility of the translators. We extend thanks as well to John Thaxton of E.P. Dutton for his interest in this translation, his suggestions for improving it, and his labors to bring it to early publication.

1. For the most reliable up-to-date information about Marie and her works, see E. J. Mickel, Jr., Marie de France (New York: Twayne, 1974).

2. E. Winkler identified her with Marie de Champagne, daughter of Louis VII and Eleanor, but this is not generally accepted. (For full reference, see bibliography.)

3. E. Levi argues for his son, Henri au Court Mantel, crowned in 1171, died 1183, but this identification has had little support from other scholars.

4. Strong arguments are made for William of Mandeville by Ahlstrom and Painter, which are accepted by Mickel, Brugger, and Rychner, e.g., that the clerks of the exchequer often referred to him simply as Count William, as Marie does in her dedication of the fables, while other nobles were named by their counties. Recently Antoinette Knapton suggested William of Warren, in a paper delivered at the Courtly Literature Society meeting, San Francisco, Dec. 27, 1975.

5. Fox, Ewert, and Wind, support the abbess of Shaftesbury; Levi opts for the abbess of Reading, Holmes and Whichard for Marie de Meulan, and Knapton for Marie de Boulogne, younger daughter of King Stephen of England, abbess of Ramsey, later married to Matieu of Flanders.


6. Both Ewert and Rychner, recent editors of the Lair, accept this order.

7. See Mickel, p. 17, on the later date.

8. Ewert and Illingworth date them 1155-70, Rychner, 1160-70.

9. Ewert, Illingworth and Rychner, in particular.

10. Fourrier dates file c. 1178; Mickel gives it a terminus post quern of 1185.

it. Beroul’s poem may have been written in some form as early as 1165, but references in the extant version put it as late as 1191. If one dates Thomas 116o-65, Marie may have known his poem, as Hocpffner, Levi and Wind think; Martineau-Genieys thinks Thomas wrote after Marie and drew on her work.

12. Mickel notes that Lanval is mentioned in Guillaume de Dole, written c. I20o, and that Dol was no longer an archbishopric, as it is referred to in Fresne, after 119q, so the lai must have been written by then.

13. Mickel points to a number of similarities between the fables and the lair, in narrative methods, in the attitude towards reality, in feudal morality, P. 37.

14. See Spitzer, Mickel (“A Reconsideration”), and Damon, the latter for a psychological analysis of the lais.

15. See Frey.

16. For a similar phenomenon in Chrctien de Troyes, see W. T. H. Jackson, “Problems of Communication in the Romances of Chrctien de Troyes,” Medieval Literature and Folklore .Studies: rays in honor of F. L. Utley, ed. J. Mandel and B. A. Rosenberg (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1970), PP. 39-50.

17. See M. H. Ferguson, for an interesting study of Marie’s use of folklore motifs and her twisting of the conventional story patterns in order to present the realistic view.


18. See H. S. Robertson, “Love and the Other World.” Mickel notes that the courtly elite enclosed themselves in a world forbidden to the profane on the spiritual level, not unlike the other-world in Celtic myth, Marie de France, p. 64.

See Cotrell.

20. See Stevens.

21. See Mickel, “Marie de France’s Use of Irony.”

22. Much of this material on her influence is taken from Ewert’s introduction and notes to his edition.

23. See P. Nykrog, “Two Creators of Narrative Form in Twelfth Century France: Gautier d’Arras-Chretien de Troyes,” Speculum 48 (1973), 258-76, for a discussion of Gautier’s use of Marie’s lai.

24. Sir Orfeo, ed. A. J. Bliss (Oxford University Press, 1954), pp. xxxif., xliv-xlvii.

25. See L. H. Loomis, “Chaucer and the Breton Lays of the Auchinleck MS,” Studies in Philology, ;8 (1941), 18-29.

26. John Fowles, The Ebony Tower (New York: New American Lib., repr. 1975), PP. 107-133.



Y. in this reading we have followed Mickel’s suggestion, to ignore the emendation of trespassereit and take the (H) reading trerpasserunt (“The Unity and Significance of Marie’s Prologue”). The other way, these lines would mean “the more time went by, the more difficult the sense became,


and the more care they must take to find what might be overlooked.”

2. The order of the next four lines has been shifted; in the French ll. 37- 38 precede II. 35-36.

3. Ditie can be a moral saying or a song. It may refer to the surplus, the glossed meaning, what Robertson calls the doctrinal content, or to the fact that the lair were sung, cf. Guigemar, II. 885-86.



4 uigemar

t. The French en sun tens could also be rendered, in her day”: Rychner opts for this sense, seeing in it an implied contrast between Marie as a modern writer and the ancient writers and sages referred to in the Prologue to the whole collection.




2. As practiced by the medieval aristocracy, the hunt proceeded according to precise, complicated rules that governed the actions of each participant.

3. “Breastbone”: so Rychner glosses esclot; Ewert reads, “front hoof.”




q. Rychner notes that this term referred during the Middle Ages to a certain type of inlaid work. There is, however, also a widely diffused medieval legend about a marvelous ship made by Solomon that intrudes into some versions of the story of the Grail, and moreover the description of the bed contains reminiscences of the biblical Song of Solomon (see Ewert’s note).



5. The book in question is Ovid’s Remedia amoris (Remedies for Love), a companion volume to the Roman poet’s equally tongue-in-check Arr amatoria. E. J. Mickel notes the irony of this mural, presumably commissioned by the husband to encourage his wife to love him, but, as Marie describes it, predictive of the coming relationship between Guigemar and the young wife.


6. The French text is ambiguous as to whether the girl is the niece of the husband or the wife.






7. Reading doucors with MS (P), instead of Ewert’s dolur from (H).
















8. The deft was a formal gesture, renouncing feudal bonds of alliance or dependency and making it possible for one knight to attack another (or a vassal his former lord) without incurring charges of treason.



IF WE JUDGE from its twenty-six-line prologue-in which Marie defends her art, and the continued practice of it, against the attacks of envious detractors-it seems that Marie intended Guigemar to stand at the head of her collection of lais. (Such an opening apologia was in fact an often-used convention of twelfth-century courtly narrative.) In Guigemar, Marie employs and synthesizes fairy-tale-like material (presumably of Celtic


origin), contemporaneous love conventions, and situations basic to chivalric romances and fabliaux (short, cynical, frequently obscene tales), in order to represent metaphorically the process of growing up, and the central role desire plays in that process. The length of Guigemar (it is the second longest of the lais) allows Marie to trace the stages that bring her hero from a reflexive scorn for love, through the painful discovery of his sexuality and its powers to wound and heal, to the crisis of forming a love relationship. When the protagonist’s love is tested by adversity, loyalty emerges as its crucial element, and a final twist of fortune gives the lovers a chance to seize happiness.

The story is placed in a vague Breton past, when Hoel ruled the land.’ Guigemar, the well-beloved son of one of Hoel’s vassals, finishes his apprenticeship to a king and sets out to seek honor (pris) as a mercenary knight.’ His success in war contrasts sharply with his complete indifference to women and love. This rejection of the possibility of a relationship that would offer purely private fulfillment (as opposed to the public rewards of prowess: i.e., honor and fame) and the resultant deepening of self- awareness mark Guigemar as sexually and psychologically immature. In modern terms, he is engaged in the dangerous enterprise of avoiding or repressing the passionate, instinctual side of himself, which is a form of psychic self-mutilation. His refusal to be involved with women also allows Guigemar to avoid locating the source of his happiness outside himself, as would be the case if he loved, and therefore to forestall vulnerability to circumstances beyond his control, or Fortune. He chooses instead to create his own “fortune” by forcing others to submit to his strength in battle.

To dramatize the consequences and the abrupt conclusion of Guigemar’s mode of living, Marie seizes upon the emblem of his penchant for hunting- a symbol, at least as old as the classical myth of Hippolytus, of aggressive self-sufficiency and repressive chastity, because in the hunt the bestial part of nature is confronted and destroyed. Guigemar encounters a white female deer with the antlers of a male, accompanied by a fawn.’ Guigemar unleashes an arrow that wounds the hind and rebounds, severely injuring him in the thigh. This is a symbolic representation of his life to date: the hind is an image of the full sexual existence-the recognition of one’s impulses toward passion as well as toward mastery (hence the creature’s bisexuality)-that Guigemar has attempted to stifle and “kill” in himself, and the twin wounds suggest the deleterious effects of this policy. (Here,


as in Chaitivel, the thigh wound is a euphemism.) Furthermore, the hind’s prophecy that Guigemar will not be healed until he finds a woman, who, in curing him, will share with him a new suffering in love, would appear to represent Guigemar’s concurrent awareness of the tremendous potential his newly perceived sexuality has for harm and health; it is a force that simultaneously gives and assuages misery.’ Finally, the presumed death of the hind implies that Guigemar has ended his phase of asexual self- sufficiency. In short, the hunt of the white hind allows Marie to portray metaphorically a crisis of sexual growth and awareness in Guigemar that we associate today with adolescence.

Guigemar’s realization that his wound requires treatment by an unknown woman signals his alienation from the all-male world of the hunt, with its assumption that man can seek out and control his fate, and his entry into the world of fortune with its surprises and uncertainties. Accordingly, he steals away from his companions and boards a mysterious ship, emblem of the chance (aventure) to which he must now consign himself in hopes of surviving. The land to which the ship brings him is the spatial embodiment of social conventions that deny and repress the love impulse from outside. A jealous old husband holds a beautiful young wife virtually captive in her chambers. Guigemar, seeking his own relief, enters this world and revives the wife by fulfilling the need for love she cannot satisfy in her loveless marriage.

If the situation of the imprisoned wife recalls the plot of many a fabliau, the clearly marked stages by which she and Guigemar recognize and consummate their mutual love show Marie following literary conventions developed in chivalric romances and Ovidian love tales of her day. With a characteristic blend of sentimental involvement and witty detachment, she records Guigemar’s sleepless night and gradual realization of its cause; his agonized wavering between resolve to tell the lady of his desire and resignation to suffer all in silence; the exquisite moment in which the two terrified lovers make their confessions; and the brief debate (recalling the analogous but longer love dialogues of Andreas Capellanus’ pseudo- textbook De arte honeste amandi) during which he convinces her, using delightfully spurious reasoning, that if she intends to be a loyal lover, she should grant him her favors at once-only inconstant women hesitate, to hide their lasciviousness!


The discovery of the lovers after eighteen months of secret pleasure is preceded by Marie’s reference to Fortune’s everturning wheel and by the lady’s own premonition that they are about to be separated. Her fear prompts their exchange of vows of eternal loyalty, sealed and symbolized by the knot that can only be untied by the lover who made it. The change of Fortune’s symbol from the ship to the wheel suggests that the lovers can no longer count on fortune for progress and continuity in their relationship, but must now transcend its hostility by drawing on the resources of the love itself. Similarly, the lady’s realization that the love can no longer be kept secret reflects Marie’s contention that love cannot forever remain static, secure, and untested within a womblike private world. Instead, it must grow by testing itself in the world of chance and hostile values. If love is to survive in such a world, a new virtue, loyalty, must complement and preserve passion. When the furious husband breaks in on the lovers, Guigemar reacts courageously and thus saves his life; the husband puts him hack in the marvelous boat and adventure takes the grieving knight back to his own land, where his friends make much of him, but where he lives in sorrow, as unwilling as before to marry, though for a completely different reason. (The device of using repeated external situations to set off the evolving inner state of the protagonist occurs frequently in romance.)

Guigemar’s insistence on marrying only the woman who will untie the knot in his shirt makes him famous and sets up the climax of the lai, in which he is reunited with his beloved at the castle of Meriaduc, when each unties the other’s knot. Meriaduc, having taken the lady into custody after she escaped from the tower her husband had imprisoned her in and sailed away in the mysterious boat, has summoned Guigemar specifically to see if he can undo the knotted belt around the lady’s body, and she his. Despite this overwhelming proof that the lovers belong only to each other, Meriaduc refuses to surrender the lady. Guigemar wins her once and for all by an act of prowess (he besieges Meriaduc’s castle) that recalls his warrior life at the beginning of the lai, but Marie recalls his warrior consciousness only to emphasize the difference between his earlier and his later self: the knight who scorned love has become the knight who fights under its banner; his impulse to dominate is now wholly subservient to his desire to possess a woman without whom he remains incomplete.

Marie’s mastery of romance conventions and her convincing, metaphoric anatomy of the stages by which love comes to dominate a life make


Guigemar one of the most satisfying of all medieval short narratives.



i. The meaning and location of Nauns arc subjects of scholarly dispute. Conjectures range from Nantes, in Brittany, to the kingdom of the dwarfs (nains). Equitan’s name may, as Mickel suggests, contain a play on the Latin word for horse (equus), appropriate for a huntsman. Cf. further the endnote to Milan (note 3).


2. There is a play in the text on two meanings of mesure, rendered “moderation” in 1. 17 and “nature” in I. 19.



3. The French text refers to drueric, extramarital passion that would, of course, be kept secret from the husband.




q. The French text has dame and servant.




5. Baths were taken much less frequently in the Middle Ages than now and would normally be planned in advance.




EQUITAN has been criticized by some scholars for its unsympathetic protagonists and for the doggedly didactic tone in which it tells the story of their illicit love and its punishment. That the lai is admonitory cannot be denied. The fabliau-like story of a king who betrays his own seneschal by loving the latter’s wife, and then plots with her the seneschal’s death only to have the plan backfire fatally, allows Marie to draw an unequivocal concluding moral: he who plans evil for another may find the evil falling upon himself. At the beginning of the tale, she had already signaled its exemplary nature by another sententious statement about love: those who love irrationally, and excessively, court danger, for love prevents the lover from acting reasonably in the best of circumstances. Connecting the two framing sententiae, the intervening narrative illustrates with pitiless clarity the inevitable progress from the king’s passion-which he cannot or will not control, though he knows it violates the loyalty he owes a devoted vassal-


to his involvement in the murder plot. When, just before the murder is to take place, the king once again gives in to his passion, and makes love with the seneschal’s wife on her husband’s bed, he seals his own fate: the seneschal bursts into the chamber, and the king, in total confusion, leaps into the bathtub of scalding water intended for the victim. Equitan, that is, becomes the victim of his own plot, as he has been the victim of his own irresistible desire. The tub of boiling water thus becomes a double emblem: of the trickster tricked, and of the immoderate lover fatally burned by his ungoverned passion.

Marie’s artistic intent functions at two levels besides the didactic- exemplary in Equitan. First, the lai functions as a negative version of some of the twelfth-century love conventions sympathetically represented in Guigemar. The situations of the two protagonists are similar: both are hunters; both experience the first sufferings of love during a sleepless night and soliloquize about their pains and fears; the commonplace of love as a wound is applied to both; both woo married women and overcome their objections in dialogues of a casuistical type that were popular in the twelfth century. Finally, after a long, happy period of secret liaisons, each pair of lovers is discovered by the husband.

Within this network of parallels, Marie subverts or inverts in Equitan the attitudes of Guigemar. In the king’s love monologue, he blames destiny for leading him to the wife’s land (cf. Guigemar’s ship), whereas he had deliberately come to the seneschal’s castle, ostensibly on a hunting trip, but actually to meet the woman of whose beauty he had heard so much. (The hunt, in Equitan, leads not to a symbolic encounter, as it does in Guigemar, but to a real one; the king’s “hunt” for sexual gratification reminds us that there was a substantial medieval literature in which love was represented allegorically as a hunt.)’ The theme of loyalty in love, emblematically represented by the knots tied by the protagonists in Guigemar, receives dubious scrutiny in Equitan: the king recognizes at once that he will do wrong in loving the wife of a man to whom he owes the same faith he expects from him, but he beats back this knowledge with cynical arguments that his own sanity and the lady’s courtoisic both require the love affair for their continuity. He even tells himself, with mock earnestness, that he is only going to help the seneschal bear the burden of his beautiful wife-an obvious double entendre.


Later, when the wife parries Equitan’s declaration of love by saying that she would rather love a poor but loyal man than a powerful one who feels his rank entitles him to abandon her whenever he wishes, the king insists that only her loyalty matters to him, not any difference in their fortunes. In fact, in receiving him as her lover, she is joining Equitan in a monumental act of disloyalty to her husband. Later, in the face of his barons’ plea that he marry, the wife forces Equitan to prove his fidelity to her by agreeing to help her kill the seneschal so he can marry her. Thus love-loyalty and vicious disloyalty to the marriage bond are inextricably linked. As a final, negative counterpoint to Guigemar, Marie depicts Equitan, when he is discovered by the seneschal, not as one emboldened by desperate love, but as a panic-stricken criminal who rushes in confusion to his own doom.

A further level of meaning in Equitan comprises an examination of the king’s surrender of various facets of his public and private identities in his dealings with the other characters. Equitan is introduced as king and jostise, or administrator of justice to his people. Yet at once we are told that the king refused to leave his life of hunting and pleasure for any reason but war, and that, in his absence, the loyal seneschal protected the land and justisoit, administered justice. In other words, the seneschal had assumed a good part of the burdens of kingship, a fact that makes Equitan’s offer to assume part of the burden of his wife an ironic completion of an exchange of roles. (The seneschal’s assumption of the king’s identity as judge reveals an excess, as it were, of loyalty, while the king’s assumption of the seneschal’s role of husband reveals a deficiency of loyalty.)

Later, in response to the lady’s doubts about becoming the mistress of a king who could tyrannize over her, Equitan urges her to think of herself as a proud lady, and him a vassal, servant, and petitioner. To assuage his passion, Equitan surrenders his status to the wife, as he has previously surrendered his judicial role to the husband. Once the love affair has begun in earnest, the king enjoys his mistress behind closed doors, while outside the seneschal holds court and hears claimsagain fulfilling the judicial function the king has abdicated to him, while Equitan assumes the role of husband the seneschal has (unknowingly) abdicated to him!

This exchange of identities-the king’s public for the seneschal’s private- continues until the king and the wife make love on the seneschal’s own


bed; Equitan has at this point gone further than ever before toward assuming the seneschal’s identity. But in doing so, he exposes himself to maximum danger. The seneschal barges back into the chamber-not, presumably, because he suspects anything, but because he has been commanded by the king to be with him in private. The king, discovered in his adultery, completes his assimilation of the seneschal’s identity with a final leap into the other’s tub, thus appropriating the seneschal’s death as well. Meanwhile, the seneschal kills the wife-an act of retribution that finalizes his assumption of the king’s public identity as meter-out of justice. (Of course, at his death, the king also for the first time earns his title of jostise by condemning himself to death; but, as opposed to the seneschal’s deliberate act of judgment, his is accidental.) The deepest irony of Equitan is therefore that the king’s escape from the responsibilities of his public identity, already clear when the lai begins, is paralleled, as the lai unfolds, by a similar escape into the private identity of the seneschal, and that, when the process is complete, the king has destroyed himself physically as well as metaphysically.

The tight and multileveled construction of Equitan would seem to belie, at least in part, the contention by some critics that it is an early and inferior work of Marie. In its own fashion, it is a highly accomplished poem.



(The Ash Tree)


i. Marie uses the word aventure here and throughout the lai to refer to unexpected circumstances of the kind that test the endurance and moral worth of human beings, and bring them to happiness if they deserve it.



2. The French text has aventure.








3. The translation follows Rychner’s emendation of l’esgardat to les gardat.



4. Again, the text has arenture.





5. The reading follows MS (S).


6. “Story” renders aventure.


LE FRESNE (The Ash Tree)

VIRTUALLY ALL readers of Marie’s lais agree on the charm and effectiveness of Le Fresne. Its adroit combination of three durable motifs in European folktale and fiction pays tribute to Marie’s craftsmanship as a storyteller, for the interaction among the three elements of the plot is as unforced as it is dramatic. The first motif is the romance of a heroine (or hero) who is abandoned, in infancy, by her noble parents, is found and raised by benevolent foster parents, and who then falls in love, only to be threatened with the loss of her beloved to a rival of higher rank. The protagonist’s true station in life is discovered at the last minute, thanks to the identification of tokens left in her possession when she was abandoned, and the story ends with a double “recovery”-marriage to the beloved and reconciliation with the repentant parents. (A popular version of this plot is embodied in the Greek romance Daphnis and Chloe.) In the second of Marie’s plot motifs, a wicked woman who falsely accuses another of a crime is placed by fortune in the position of appearing to have committed the same crime. To protect herself (or as a punishment) she loses her child, and years later, when she accidentally finds the child again, is impelled to repentance and confession, thereby winning the right to keep her offspring. The final motif of Fresne is the female Job or patient Griselda, as she is called in the later medieval versions of Boccaccio, Petrarch, and Chaucer. A young woman of low rank is chosen by a nobleman as his consort; her devotion is severely tested by the husband or by fortune, but she remains faithful in adversity and her virtue is suitably recognized at the story’s happy ending.

In Le Fresne, the heroine’s growth from helpless infantfoundling to a young woman of great beauty and moral stature provides her circular journey away from and hack to her parents with a strong clement of progress;’ it imparts to the fortuitous events of the conclusion a moral force and, above all, permits a seamless joining of the three plot elements. At the beginning of the story, Fresno’s mother slanderously accuses a neighbor of adultery for bearing twin children (according to the popular belief that two children in one birth point to two fathers) ; when she herself bears twins, she realizes she has brought about her own disgrace. Since she prefers offending God to shaming herself, she prepares to murder one of the


children. She is dissuaded by one of her damsels, who volunteers instead to leave the child at the gate of a monastery (a not uncommon fate for unwanted children in the Middle Ages), where it will receive a good upbringing without bringing grief to its mother.

The selfless offer of the meschine, the girl, which saves Fresne’s life and her mother’s reputation, embodies a mature, deeply moral response to life’s chances and human relation ships: having been nurtured by her mistress, who has loved and cherished her, the girl is now in a position to repay that earlier protection with a reciprocal manifestation of love at the moment when it will do her lady the most good. Her gesture prefigures Fresne’s crucial response of selfless devotion to her lord, Gurun, out of gratitude for his love. Even though Gurun is about to marry Codre and abandon Fresne, Fresne, to dignify it, places her prized possession, the luxurious coverlet in which she was wrapped by her mother, on the nuptial bed of Gurun and Codre. By this gesture, Fresne makes possible her mother’s discovery of her identity and thus brings about the lai’s double denouement: the mother confesses her sin to her husband and receives her lost daughter back into the family, and Fresne, her noble lineage thus revealed, recovers Gurun in marriage.

The symbolic act of covering the bed of her apparently faithless lover is an emblem of Fresne’s self-sacrifice, which, paradoxically, wins her hack her full identity as daughter and as wife. It also stands as testimony to her capacity for love and action based on gratitude-an element of moral growth in her character that imposes linearity on the cycles of fortune in this romance. Finally, the placing of the swaddling robe on the marriage bed is an image of the continuity from generation to generation of the impulse to shelter those closest to us-and, ideally, all our fellow humans-in the protective envelope of love. This impulse to protect and nurture runs through the lai, exemplified not only by Fresne and the meschine, but by the abbess, and even by the old porter of the abbey who discovers the infant Fresne and brings her at once to his own widowed daughter so the infant can he nursed. (The juxtaposition of lost husband and found child suggests the rhythm of this romance world in which love and nurture must operate in order to give moral meaning to the cycle of death and birth.) Even Fresne’s mother, in an earlier time, had nurtured the meschine, and the vassals who force Gurun to abandon Fresne for Codre (unknown to them, Fresne’s sister) are moved by the desire that their lord have children


who will assume his heritage and protect them from harm: i.e., be their feudal foster parents.

All these instances of nurture find their central symbol in the great shade tree that gives Fresne her name. Gurun’s followers interpret Fresne’s name in a negative sense, as a tree that, unlike the hazel (la Codre), bears no fruit; Marie, however, intends us to see the name proleptically: as the ash tree once protected its namesake, and as she has been nurtured by the abbess, so will she, in “protecting” Gurun with her mantle, establish her right to become his wife and the nurturer of his children.` Set in the midst of such a pervasive pattern, Fresne’s mother’s refusal to nurture her daughter at birth appears as a violation of the lai’s fundamental moral principle. Fortunately, in the optimistic world of Le Fresne, it is a breach that can be mended and repented at the right moment.

Marie encloses the main movement and theme of her miniature romance in a world of charming, sentimental details: the tableau of village sounds that tells the meschine she has come to the end of her search for a place to leave her infant charge; her prayer as she deposits the foundling in the tree; and the routine of the porter, interrupted by his discovery of the foundling. Marie’s portrait of Gurun, the young lord who falls in love with Fresne without ever having seen her (cf. Equitan’s similar passion from afar, and the troubadour tradition of distant love, amor de lonh) and later arranges to give large donations to the abbey as an excuse to see her regularly, is also affectionate and sentimental. His love for Fresne is pure and complete, and when he takes her away from the abbey to live with him as his mistress, Marie uses the same words to describe his treatment of her-mut la cheri e mut Tama-that she has used to describe Fresne’s mother’s conduct toward the meschine: et mut [Pot] amee e mut cherie (“and he [she] loved and cherished her much”).

The harmony of plot motifs and (themes) endows Le Fresne with gemlike perfection, as Marie celebrates the triumph of protective love over the obstacles of human weakness, social circumstance, and fortune.




(The Werewolf)





i. Hereafter Bisclavret will be treated as a proper name, and the definite article omitted.








BISCLAVRET (The Werewolf)

IN Bisclavret, Marie turns to the folklore of lycanthropya subject of deep fascination for European culture. Antecedents of Marie’s story include versions in Pliny’s Historia naturalis and Petronius’ Satyricon; her version seems in turn to have influenced episodes in the later medieval Lai de Melion and Roman de Renart le Contrefait. In Marie’s hands, the story of the man compelled by fortune (aventure) to spend part of his existence as a beast of prey in the forest becomes a parable about the forces of bestiality that exist within human nature and how they should (and should not) be confronted, used, or transcended. None of the lais is more deeply concerned with the fragility of social existence, given the battle within men and women between their higher and baser impulses, but Bisclavret is also concerned with the human capacity to manifest nobility even under the most trying conditions, and thus to transcend the animal part of our nature and garner the hardwon benefits of civilization.

Marie plays upon and reverses our expectations in the exposition of Bisclavret, so that, unlike the case in Equitan (for example), the moral point of the story only gradually emerges from its twistings and turnings and is never pressed overtly upon us. The effect of this technique is to establish a parallel between Bisclavret’s aventure-his fall into and then rescue from bestial shape-and the audience’s struggle to free itself from its initial misapprehensions and attain a clear understanding of the significance of the werewolf’s emblematic career.

The lai opens with a word picture of the werewolf, stressing his man- eating brutality. (Ironically, the closest the protagonist will come to such behavior is biting off his disloyal wife’s nose, a gesture of justifiable revenge rather than of uncontrolled savagery.) This evocation of the werewolf as the beast that lurks within a man and breaks out periodically prompts our initial sympathy with the wife’s reaction of fear and loathing when she learns that her husband is such a creature-a reaction that leads her to betray him in her desire to escape.

Yet Marie also makes it clear that the protagonist, in his human phase, is noble, a trusted companion of his lord, and a man beloved of his neighbors. His one failing, aside from the lycanthropy that is beyond his control, is his inability to keep his secret from his wife, although he knows


that his confession, in response to her entreaties, may well cause him to lose her, and his human shape, forever. He loves not wisely but too well; she, on the other hand, does not love, or trust, enough. Faced with the dark side of her husband’s nature, she forgets all his virtues, as enumerated by Marie in the passage cited above, and desperately arranges to free herself by a double betrayal. She accepts the favors of a suitor she has hitherto scorned, and exploits his desire to serve her by instructing him to steal the werewolf’s hidden clothes, thereby preventing his return to his human shape. Her husband thus disposed of, she marries the suitor.

By this point, our original responses to the werewolf and his wife have undergone a transformation to sympathy for the betrayed man-beast and disapproval, if not disgust, for the wife. Marie’s intention has also emerged: the werewolf is an image of human nature, capable of nobility, but also of irrationality and bestiality. His wife sees him only through a self-centered haze of idealizing love; her main worry about his absences is that he is betraying her with another woman, which is another irony, considering her subsequent behavior. His revelation of the full ambiguities of his nature, far from prompting sympathy and aid, sends her reeling, unable to face the truth. Her absolute love turns at once to absolute loathing; she can now see only his bestial side (though it has never harmed her), and, seeking to destroy this knowledge that has contaminated her vision of life, she turns to another man who has wooed her in the ideal manner of stereotypical, troubadourlike courtly love. She takes refuge in this partial vision and, in fact, uses it to put the now blighted husband out of her life and sight forever. The wife’s failure of trust results from her obsession with her husband’s potential for evil; her abandonment of him, with the theft of his clothes, is thus a selffulfilling prophecy, imprisoning him forever (as it seems) within the bestial self she so fears. The wife’s treason and the loss of the werewolf’s clothing are reciprocal metaphors; both embody a loss of that civilizing force in life-symbolized at the surface level by apparel, at a deeper level by the love relationship-which saves humanity from perpetual servitude to its lower, amoral impulses, and allows it to engage in the satisfying social relationships enumerated in Marie’s opening statement about the protagonist.

The victimization of the man-beast is not, however, the end of the story; more reversals are in store. The werewolf is discovered by the king he served in human form, while the latter is out hunting. When the beast


makes motions of obeisance and begs for mercy, the king, despite initial fear, recognizes human awareness (sen de hume) in the creature, and saves him from the hunting dogs. In this scene, the narrative, which till now has presented the human condition as the beast that lurks within man (and woman, for the wife’s fear and disloyalty are equally “bestial”), asks us to look anew at that condition and discover the man that lurks within the beast, to wit, the potential for graceful ingenuity in adversity manifested by the werewolf, and for mercy in the face of fear manifested by the king (though not the wife). The werewolf answers the king’s compassion with further civilized behavior: he becomes the king’s inseparable companion and acts nobly to all the courtiers, who recognize his love for the king who has saved him (another implied comment on the wife).

Only when the werewolf encounters his wife’s new husband, and then the wife herself, does he behave “bestially,” by attacking them. But a perceptive courtier (yet another foil to the imperceptive wife) realizes there must be a reason for this departure from the creature’s normal behavior; by putting the savagery into perspective, the court recognizes that the werewolf can make moral distinctions between good and bad, friend and foe. This moral awareness allows him to channel his capacity for violence into the appropriate, civilized punishment of evil. By this demonstration of his powers of discrimination, the werewolf wins the chance to recover his human form: the king, following his councillor’s advice, forces a confession from the wife, and forces her to produce her hus band’s clothes as well. As the wife’s betrayal was metaphorically linked to the husband’s loss of his clothing and thus his human shape, so now does his recovery of them follow on, and express metaphorically, his reintegration back into a human community founded on the perception, compassion, and love shown to him by the king and his court.

Before his final metamorphosis, the werewolf demonstrates a final civilized virtue, shame: he refuses to don his clothes in public. This reticence, which the councillor sympathetically understands but which probably strikes us as amusing, if not absurd, has a double significance. First, the cultivation of shame-the unwillingness to fall below a certain level of behavior in the presence of one’s peers-is a mark of human social awareness, of sensitivity to others. Second, the werewolf’s reluctance to let others see him changing his form reverses his foolish willingness to reveal this shape-shifting to his wife at the beginning of the lai. He has, in effect,


learned his lesson about the need for privacy, and thus fully deserves to return to full humanity and social integration.

Thus the king, by his trust in the man-in-beast, wins back a noble vassal; his human treatment of the werewolf is another self-fulfilling prophecy, while the wife sees her prophetic fear of the beast-in-man come true in becoming the victim of the werewolf’s only bestial deed (the loss of her nose). In Bisclavret, Marie argues that human beings are defined not only by their inherent potential for good or evil but also by their fellow humans’ responses of trust or fear to that potential. Thus love is lauded as a socializing force in the lai, and its betrayal condemned as the ultimate antisocial act.



i. Logres is England.

2. In medieval poetry, only two seasons are usually recognized, summer and winter. The feast of Pentecost is frequently the starting point of an Arthurian adventure.

3. Equal in number as well as in worth: cf. Ewert, “There was no equal number of such knights in all the world” (p. 173).


















4. Ewert gives Yweins; Warnke, Walwains. Gawain seems more likely, since he is the one most concerned with Lanval throughout and since he always moves with his companions, as in this case.


5. The following two lines are added in (S) to explain this remark: “There were enough men to care for them / and put them into the stables.”

6. Warnke and Rychner give ieiinot; Ewert, atendeit, “waited,” which is not quite as callously selfish.


7. (S) adds the following attractive if doubtful lines: “A noble youth led her / carrying an ivory horn. / They came through the street, very beautiful. / Such great beauty was not seen / in Venus, who was a queen, / or in Dido, or in Lavinia.”





IN THIS lat, Marie presents a contrast between the world which love enables lovers to create for themselves and the world of ordinary human society, where they must otherwise live. The world of love is complete in itself; secular society, even in its noblest form, the Arthurian court, is shown to be severely limited. The hero is mistreated at Arthur’s court, despite his valuable service to the king and his generous spending of his fortune. The king forgets him when he distributes wives and lands, and other knights envy him. A stranger in Arthur’s land, Lanval is further isolated by the neglect of the court, which forces him to turn inward. He goes off alone and finds or imagines a love that gives him all that he lacked in the world and more.

Like the bird-knight who comes to the imprisoned lady in Yonec, Lanval’s love comes to him because he needs her and whenever he needs her, but she remains invisible to everyone else, as though she were the creation of his fantasy. Indeed, even when she does appear to the court at the end of the lai, she is the climax of a wonderful and otherworldly procession of beauty and wealth. Her rich clothes and trappings, the hawk and the hunting dog, suggest an allegorical figure, a personification of


Love, and all who see her perceive her as their ideal beauty. She offers Lanval enormous wealth, enabling him to help others, but he is concerned only with her love. Her beauty is never described without reference to her fabulous wealth; Arthur’s world is impressed with both, Lanval only with her.

Ironically, love gives him the means to win attention at court, but it also destroys his interest in such attention. Henceforth he chooses to keep himself apart from others so that he can think about his love, and the others must seek him out. Lanval’s desire to be alone provides another contrast with the Arthurian world, where fellowship was valued, a point Marie underlines rather humorously by having Gawain take two or three companions wherever he goes. But now, when Lanval would be happier by himself, he is not left alone. Love seems also to make him more attractive to others and even the queen begins to make advances to him. This puts the hero in a difficult predicament: he must reject the queen out of loyalty to his love, but his rejection offends her and she insults him. Her insults provoke him to boast about his love and in so doing he betrays his vow of secrecy and thus forfeits the love.

As in so many of Marie’s lais (cf. Yonec, Laustic), once the love is known to others it is lost, as though it can only exist as the private possession of the lovers and is somehow demeaned when brought into contact with the outside world. But in contrast to Yonec and Laustic, Marie permits the love to triumph in this lai. The lady returns to rescue Lanval despite his betrayal of their secret, because his love for her has not wavered. His only concern when he is accused is that he has lost her-his disgrace at court does not trouble him at all. Her mercy, despite his fault, is in sharp contrast to the king’s attempt to condemn Lanval for an act he did not commit.

The superficiality, perhaps even falseness, of the court’s values, which was apparent in the mistreatment of Lanval at the beginning, is revealed particularly in the accusation and trial of the hero. The queen, offended by his rejection, first accuses him of homosexuality, a conclusion the court has leapt to because he takes no interest in women there, When that is answered by Lanval’s boast about the superior beauty of his love and of the least of her servants over the queen’s, the queen takes revenge, like Potiphar’s wife, and accuses Lanval of trying to make love to her. The


contrast between the pettiness, the vulgarity, and the immorality of the queen and the perfection of the woman Lanval loves is obvious. The queen’s charge causes the king to accuse Lanval, publicly, of wronging him, although Lanval had protested his loyalty to Arthur as the first reason for not acceding to the queen’s wishes. This leads to the formality of a trial, which further reveals the inadequacy of the court. The king and the barons are all careful to observe the proper procedure, but the king is also anxious to have a verdict against Lanval in order to satisfy the queen, and some of the barons, although they all seem to be aware of Lanval’s innocence, are ready to condemn him just to please the king. Ultimately, the legal system works only because the lady appears, making herself visible to all, and forcing them to see the truth physically. If she had not come, injustice would have prevailed again as it did at the beginning of the story.

The lady’s appearance at the court comes after a suspenseful buildup: the arrival of a series of girls, each lovelier than the last, a motif that is probably borrowed from the Tristan stories. It serves both to increase our sense of the lady’s beauty and to suggest the way the mind works, beginning with the perception of conventional visible beauty and rising to the concept of ideal beauty. The lady’s approach is a slow and stately public progress, in contrast once again to Arthur’s anxious attempts to hasten the deliberations of justice. The girls who preceded the lady had all insisted on special preparations, as if Arthur’s court were not fit to entertain their mistress, and indeed when she does come she refuses to stay, despite the preparations and the evident desire of all there to serve her. The love she represents cannot be contained in such a world. The hero, who has known the advantages of one and the limitations of the other, makes a total commitment to love: he leaps on her horse as she leaves (from a mounting stone that is used by the heavier men of the court, a sly reminder perhaps of the lightweight nature of most of Arthur’s world) and follows her to Avalun, a land that is not of this world.


Ieg ;Deu.5 Zfman~

(The Two Lovers)


i. The reason for this attitude on the part of the household is made clearer by the following lines added after 24 in MSS (S) and (N):



2. According to many medieval writers, women studied and practiced medicine at Salerno from the eleventh century onward. A gynecological treatise from this period, the Trotula, has frequently (hut not without objection) been attributed to a Salernitan woman doctor. See A. B. Cobban, The Medieval Unirersities (London, 1975), 40, and works cited in Cobban’s notes.



3. We follow Rychner, who reverses 141 and 142 in MS (H).




LES DEUS AMANZ (The Two Lovers)

LES DEUS AMMANZ (The Two Lovers) takes its name from a mountain


near Pitres, in Normandy, known as the Mont des Deux Amants, at the top of which remain, to this day, the ruins of a twelfth-century priory dedicated to “the two lovers.” The lovers thus memorialized were a holy couple, Injuriosus and Scholastica, who, legend had it, had retired to monastic life together. Marie borrowed the mountain and its name and attached to them a fanciful tale of young love thwarted by parental obstacles and by its own immoderate exuberance. Les Deus Amanz is also a tissue of literary borrowings from stories well known to Marie and her audience; by juxtaposing these often disparate materials-or rather, by crowding them upon each other within the lai’s less than 250 lines-Marie creates narrative imbalances and uncomfortably sudden shifts of perspective that undermine the story’s potentially serious impact. Since the lai is also full of anticlimax and other comic manipulations of its characters and situations, there is every reason to believe that Marie undertook to parody her own art, and that of other tellers of noble love stories, in Les Deus Amanz.

The story of the king who cannot bear to part with his only daughter, and so invents a test that any prospective suitor must pass before marrying her, is a domesticated version of the widely diffused romance of Apollonius of Tyre; in the original, the king’s relationship with his daughter is incestuous, and the test, in the form of a riddle, carries with it the death penalty for those who do not solve it. Marie excises both disgust and peril from the story, and thereby trivializes it: the king is a bereaved widower with an understandable, though selfish, desire to retain the consoling presence of his only daughter, and the trial he devises carries with it no penalty for failure save loss of the princess. The ordeal itself is faintly ludicrous: the suitor must carry the princess in his arms to the top of a nearby mountain. Marie proceeds to exploit this situation for comic effect. The young hero of the lai, although he is anxious to win surpassing renown by great deeds, is too weak to carry the princess the required distance, as she candidly admits. The impact of this failure of prowess is considerably dulled by the boy’s being able to persuade the princess to enter into a secret love relationship with him, thanks to his valor(!), his courtesy, and- most ironic of all-his good standing with the king. After having prudently suffered for a while the inconveniences of such a love, the young man proposes the (unheroic) expedient of elopement, which the princess vetoes on the grounds of her unwillingness to hurt her father. Yet she is quite


willing to propose that her lover cheat to pass the ordeal (by means of a strength potion obtained from her aunt in Salerno, a famous medieval center of medical studies), although this ruse proves to hurt her father far more than elopement would have-she dies.

The strength potion is a down-to-earth (and therefore parodistic) version of the love philter or strength-giving magic ring that figures in many medieval romances; a further bathetic touch is the letter of introduction the hero brings with him, on his quest for triumph in love, to Salerno. Meanwhile, as the hour of trial approaches, Marie subverts the heroic enterprise with yet another anticlimactic novelty : the princess undertakes to aid her lover by going on literature’s first crash diet. (In fact, if the potion works as planned, the diet will be as unnecessary as it is incongruous.)

Once the young man sets out up the mountain carrying his beloved, Marie’s literary model changes from romance to epic-from Apollonius to The Song of Roland. Marie signals the change by warning us portentously that the potion won’t work because the hero lacks mesure-the virtue of moderation inevitably absent from the character of great heroes like Achilles or Roland. The climax of the lai comes when the youth, staggering ever more weakly up the mountain, still refuses (for the curious reason that the roar of the crowd of spectators would confuse him if he paused) to drink the potion urged ever more insistently upon him by the princess, who is carrying it for him in a little bottle. The princess’s plea, bevez vostre mescine (“take your medicine”), echoes Oliver’s plea that Roland sound his horn to summon Charles and the Frankish army back to Roncesvalles to save the rearguard; the difference in circumstance defines the distance between heroic intensity and heroic parody. The weight of a fasting princess is neither an expected nor an acceptable instrument of heroic self-confrontation through self-destruction, nor can we suppress the awareness that the princess’s exhortations sound uncomfortably like those of a worried mother dosing a sick and cantankerous child.

Having brought her lovers to the summit of their passion, literally and figuratively, Marie has the hero succumb to exhaustion, and, immediately thereafter, the heroine to grief. This bathetic denouement, in which the young lovers are discovered dead by the grieving father (the ultimate cause of their death) and interred in a single tomb, deliberately recalls Ovid’s


story of Pyramus and Thisbe (Metamorphoses, Bk. 4), which was retold as a courtly fable in Marie’s day. Marie parodies her “source” by a final, comic metamorphosis when the princess discards the potion; though unused in the cause of love, it proves to be excellent plant food, and causes new, efficacious herbs to grow in the region where it is spilled. (In Ovid’s version, Thisbe, before committing suicide over Pyramus’s body, prays that the mulberry tree’s fruit may become dark red to memorialize the double death; her prayer is granted.) The lai ends as it began, in a transparently allusive and euphemistic relationship to literary tradition.

The ostensible message of Les Deus Amanz is that love, by inspiring in lovers transcendent joy and daring-the hero forgets the potion in his joy at his beloved-forces them beyond the limits imposed on them by the exigencies of social and familial relationships, and thus destroys them. More persistently, the lai urges the fragility of the literary tradition of ennobling, tragic love by hedging the love affair about with details and stratagems that curb its flight toward heroism or even pathos. The potion, intended within the story to bridge the gap between the hero’s love aspirations and human limitations, is also a symbol of love’s inability to thrive without recourse to trickery and art. The refusal of the potion is at once the triumph and the death of childhood’s exalted vision-but the acceptance of the potion would spell the end of the illusion from another point of view. In illustrating the limits of the courtly love vision, Marie demonstrates artistic demesure-the use of too many conflicting story models, too tamely retold in too little space-analogous to that of her hero. A3 a result, the story staggers, as it were, under the weight of its borrowings, and falls repeatedly from the heights of intensity into the valley of anticlimax. Nowhere does Marie show her artistic mastery more clearly than in this joke she plays on herself.



i. curteise: courtly.







2. The body of the Lord, the eucharistic host.








3. Rychner, following (P) and (Q), gives en mi, “in the middle of the day”; Ewert, with (H) and (S), gives devant, “before.”








YONEC begins with what appears to be a conventional literary situation, an old and jealous husband keeping his young wife under close guard. The audience expects a plot to deceive the husband and smuggle in a young lover. A young lover does indeed make his way to the wife, but otherwise, in all the details and in the overall tone of the story, the treatment is quite unusual. The lovers do not use their wits to deceive the husband-it is the husband who plots to trap and kill the lover, while the wife uses her imagination to create the kind of love she needs.

The wife is young and lovely, with all the social graces, but these are wasted in the tower in which she is imprisoned; the husband, wanting to keep her charms all to himself, only destroys them. He is too old, a point underlined in the French by the repetition of the word trespas (1. 16) in trespassez (l. 17) : the river of his city once offered a trespas, “passage,” to boats, that is, it has since dried up; and the husband is mult trespassez, “very far along in years,” presumably also dried up. Furthermore, his love is possessive, life-denyinghe married supposedly to have heirs, but the marriage is childless-and ultimately evil. He will not allow his wife even to go to church and she accuses her family of committing a grave sin in marrying her to this man; she suspects that he was baptized in the waters of hell. As if to emphasize the husband’s evil, the lover’s first act when he comes to the lady is to ask for a priest and take the host.

The love, in other words, is not a sin. In fact, it restores the lady’s beauty and joy (joy is the dominant theme in the love scenes, the word joie is constantly repeated), so that even the husband notices the change. That is what drives him to search out and destroy the lover who is the source of it. The husband is a hunter-he is always leaving to go off to the forest-and he sets a particularly vicious trap for his prey, the lover who comes to the lady in the shape of a bird. The bird, a hawk, is at once the only creature who could gain entrance to the tower and a symbol of the lover in lyric poetry. He is also, by nature, a predator, a hunter, but the bird-knight of this story, in another reversal of expectation, is a gentle, tame creature who comes at the lady’s call to bring her love and joy.


The lady, forced inward on herself by the lack of love in her marriage and the absence of family or friends to console her, escapes into her imagination. She thinks of adventures, which she associates with blameless love between knights and ladies; she prays for one to come to her, and the bird appears. As she stares at it, it becomes a handsome man. That is, her will brings him, and her look gives him form. But when the reality of her world intrudes on her fantasy, when the husband discovers the existence of the bird, the dream is shattered, destroyed by his envy. The bird, wounded by the husband’s trap, withdraws forever. But love has given the lady the power to overcome the problems of her life. She is able to leave her prison (she leaps from a window of the tower without injury), follow her dying lover to his land, and then return to her husband, but she is never again to be imprisoned by him.

The lover’s land is a kind of dream world, a city of silver that she reaches by making her way through a long, dark tunnel. When she enters his palace, she goes through room after room of sleeping knights. Her own life is in danger here. as her lover’s was in her husband’s tower; when her dream is taken from her, she loses the desire to live. But her lover tells her that she will have a son and gives her a sword to keep for him, so that he can one day avenge them and their love. It is the child who gives reality to the love; it is through him that the love can endure.

What Marie seems to be saying in this lai, as in several others, is that the world can imprison the body but not the mind, once the mind wills itself free. Love gives the lady the power, by giving her the will, to free herself.



(The Nightingale)






L A U S T I C (The Nightingale)

LsCSTic offers us an unusual variation on the idea of art as the preserver or embodier of love. In this lai, the dead bird in the jeweled casket is the symbol of a love that had little substance to begin with. The love has no apparent reason for beginning or continuing, except for the amusement of the two lovers. The lady accepts the man’s love as much because he is her nextdoor neighbor as because he has a good reputation. Their physical proximity makes it easy for them to talk and even to toss gifts back and forth, despite the husband’s close guarding of his wife. At the same time, the lovers are confined by the very walls that bring them together.’ The lady can look out from her room into another life, but she is not able to enter it. Since, in other lais, the will to go is enough (Guigemar, Yonec, Lanval), we must assume that her love lacks force. It ends symbolically


confined in an even smaller space, the casket.

The love that is carried on over or through a wall separating two houses is, of course, reminiscent of the Pyramis and Thisbe story, but Marie has changed the innocent affection of two children to a self-indulgent flirtation between two adults, the man a friend of the woman’s husband. The lovers indulge themselves like children: the lady gets up so often in the middle of the night to speak with her lover that her husband becomes suspicious. Marie seems to feel little sympathy for this love-for the man it means the betrayal of a friend; for the woman, the deceiving of a husband. The phrase “he also loved his neighbor’s wife” (1. 23) suggests a moral criticism as well.

Disapproval of the lovers does not mean that we are to take the husband’s part. His reaction to his wife’s story about the nightingale is so cruel, so gratuitously vicious, that even though his victim is a bird and not the lover (in contrast to Yonec),2 we are shocked. Marie tells us that one who loves understands the songs of the bird, so when the husband kills the bird, we infer how impossible it is for him to understand love. His actions are so exaggerated in view of the aim-traps are made and set in every tree in order to capture one small bird, the bird is murdered in front of the wife and the bloody body tossed on her breast-that we can only be horrified and disgusted. And yet the effect on his wife is much slighter than we might have expected: only a little blood stains her shift; she weeps and curses but she accepts the situation very quickly. No plots are devised, no new ways to communicate are sought. Both lovers give up quite easily.

This is a very different ending from the analogous story about the poet Guilhem de Cabestaing as it is told in his vida; there the lover is killed in an ambush by the lady’s husband, who feeds the lover’s heart to his wife. When he tells her what it was, she vows never to eat any other food and throws herself from the balcony.’ Although this version is later than Marie’s, there are similar folktales which Marie might well have known. In any case, the difference in her version shows that she is not concerned here with a tragic tale of passion but with a short-lived, self-indulgent affair. At the end of her lai, all that remains of the love is the bird that lies with his neck broken in a splendid coffin of gold and jewels, an artifact which, like the love, displays all its wealth on the surface. Because it is a self- indulgent love, it cannot bear fruit. The bird symbol cannot be replaced by


or live on in a son, as in Yonec and Milun; it can only die.

Since the nightingale is also a symbol of the poet, the singer of love songs, Marie may be saying that art, too, preserves dead events in an elaborate setting. This rather negative view of her art, not unusual in medieval literature, is unusual for Marie, but we will find it again in Chaitivel. Presumably, if the subject of the art, in this case the love, has no substance, the art that re-creates it can be only an empty shell.



i. The French term, trorez, could also be rendered “composed,” if Marie is referring to a musical setting.




2. Once again, Marie uses the key term aventure.


3. Lines r 13-1 14 are omitted by Rychner and Warnke from their editions.

4. The text uses the term sudees, meaning paid military service. Cf. the endnote to Guigemar, note 2.

5. French: atenture.










6. During much of the Middle Ages, the times of year when the Church permitted warfare and tournaments were strictly limited, by the concept of the “truce of God.” Lent, the period of penance before Easter, was one such time of truce. (The Church’s ban was not always observed.)







MILUN is one of Marie’s more precisely localized lais. The hero and heroine come from South Wales;’ the child of their love match is sent to be raised by an aunt in Northumbria; Milunand later his son-goes to Brittany by way of Southampton, seeking pris, the honor that comes from the successful exercise of prowess in chivalric combat. Within this circumstantial setting, Marie develops a story of chivalry, love, and a family divided and reconciled. Milun resembles Yonec in many particulars, but its characters and situations are treated in a strikingly different fashion.

One of the peculiarities of Milun is its central concern with


communication. The relationship between Milun and his mistress is sustained for twenty years by means of a swan that flies back and forth with a message hidden beneath its feathers. The other important means of communication is the gold ring that Milun sends to his mistress (when she first seeks his love) as a sign that he will come to her whenever she wishes. The ring functions as a symbol of the fulfilled relationship; it is used to set up meetings that lead to the girl’s pregnancy, and when her son is born and sent north, it goes with him, to he given him (along with a letter revealing his parents’ identity) when he comes of age. Eventually, the ring will reveal the son to his father during the tournament where they meet and fight each other.

The climactic encounter between son and father has clear implications for the view of chivalry and love advanced by the lai. Milun and his son are the best knights of their respective generations; neither is ever unhorsed in combat until the younger so humbles the father in the joust just mentioned. The “law” of chivalry, with its relentless quest to gain and maintain pris, forces each new generation into combat with the one before. In its pure form, such chivalry takes no heed of other forms of relationship that might modify or cancel its sole criterion of categorization: winners and losers. Though Milun admires the young “knight without equal” when he observes him at a tournament, his pleasure is mingled with resentment that the other is threatening his preeminence among knights; accordingly, he must challenge him, and so the son comes to defeat his father-a moment of potential pathos and outrage recalling the ousting, in Greek mythology, of the ruler of the gods by the hero of the next generation of Olympians (Uranus by Cronos, Cronos by Zeus). The armored knight sees in other knights only foes; the battle between Milun and his son shows how total commitment to prowess and pris blinds one to crucial differences of individual identity in others, while obscuring one’s own identity as well?

When he sees his rival’s white hair, Milun’s son-who is, we have been told, of noble character-regrets his deed of violence and holds out to the fallen knight the reins of his horse. By this anticompetitive gesture of compassion, the son reveals the ring and his identity to his father. Discovery of kinship halts a rivalry that would never have taken place had not the two men put the quest of honor above all else in their lives. Marie indicates this dubious set of priorities by telling us that the son, upon learning who his father is, sets out, not to find his parents, but to win fame


greater than his father’s, i.e., to compete with the preceding generation (as will literally happen when he meets Milun) instead of being united to it by ties of love. When Milun, on the other hand, hears of this (unrecognized) knight’s prowess in Brittany, he grieves that there is now a better knight than he, and sets out to challenge him, after which he will seek his missing son. (The son mentions his intent to seek his parents only in telling Milun his life history after their joust.) Only the ring prevents patricidal tragedy and brings about the reunion the two knights have delayed in seeking. Love, with its legacy from one generation to the next (symbolized by the ring), neutralizes the dangerous legacy of chivalric pris.

Until this climactic moment, love is not a strong enough force in the lai to counter either Milun’s prowess impulse or his mistress’ social bondage. The lovers meet in secret, and make no attempt to marry or run away when their son is conceived; they never defy the social forces threatening or hindering their love. Instead, they send their son away, further sundering the love unit. Then, in a gesture that both symbolizes their separation and contrasts Milun’s boldness in chivalry with his furtiveness in love, he leaves his mistress and seeks pris once again.’ While Milun is away, his mistress is forced into a loveless and dangerous marriage-dangerous because her husband may discover she is not a virgin. Milun returns to find even greater obstacles than before to seeing and communicating with his beloved, and solves them ingeniously by using the swan as a messenger. During their twenty-year (!) dependence on the swan, they also meet several times, despite the close surveillance over the wife.’ This seems small reward for their love; in fact, the starved swan, bringing messages to and from the love-starved pair, becomes a symbol of their undernourished relationship that survives on words alone because of Milun’s passivity.

Only at the end of the lai does the son, after his reunion with Milun, suggest an active response to the forces that have splintered the love unit: he will do what his father has not donekill the husband and arrange his parents’ marriage. His resolution and vigor imply Marie’s criticism of Milun’s dilatoriness in his own cause. The message that the two knights receive on their way to South Wales-the husband is dead; Milun should return at once-serves Marie not simply as a device to avoid unpleasant bloodshed and a reliance on the same denouement as Yonec’s, but as a way of suggesting that as soon as love begins to control prowess, directing its energies to bind together rather than to separate the love unit, the


apparently insuperable social obstacles to love’s fulfillment simply disappear.

Milun, then, is an anti-Yonec (as Equitan is an antiGuigemar), in which the father-lover remains alive and the husband dies conveniently instead of being killed by a vengeful stepson. Neither lai, of course, expresses Marie’s last word on the subject; each responds to an imaginative view about the power and fruitfulness of love in a world dominated by other value systems-in Milun, especially chivalry-that exert centrifugal force on the love relationship.



(The Unfortunate One)

i. reuse,’, “refuse,” in Warnke’s text; titer, “kill,” according to both Ewert and Rychner.


z. The courting may be as futile as the attempt to take a worthless object from a fool, but the fool will fight while the lady may accept; meanwhile, presumably, the courting itself can give some pleasure. The passage has never been satisfactorily explained.

3. Pus li a pur s’amur aoeir: the first five words suggest simple love


inspiration, “for her and her love,” but the last word aveir makes it clear that it is for tangible reward, possession of the lady.


q. For purposes of the tournament, the knights were apparently divided into inner and outer armies. Cf. Wolfram’s Parzival.



5. The “others” are the outside, or enemy, knights.





C H A I T I V E L (The Unfortunate One)

IN CHAITIVEL, Marie writes a lai about a lady who writes a lai about her four lovers, who would have done better to write poetry themselves, instead of fighting, to impress their lady. The lai is really about the kind of love found in courtly lyrics: devotion to the ideal and apparently inaccessible lady who is loved by all the worthy men who know her, but particularly by the poet who writes poetry to praise her and at the same time to relieve and describe his own suffering. Marie takes the cliches of lyric poetry to their extremes, and makes fun of the tradition. The lai has two names, Le Chaitivel (The Unfortunate One) and Les Quatre Dols (The Four Sorrows), not in two languages, as in Chevrefoil and Laustic, but from two different perspectives, as in Eliduc, his and hers. Chaitivel is the name given to it by the one surviving lover, to describe his distress. Quatre Dols is the lady’s name for it, to commemorate her achievement in having won the love of four such men.

The story shows up the futility and perhaps the hypocrisy of the men’s love service: three of the four lovers die in a tourney, showing off before the lady and taking excessive risks in order to impress her, and the fourth is badly wounded, probably castrated, and therefore unable to possess her even if she were willing. Tourneys are meant for display: men should not be killed in them; and it is clear in the poem that the knights responsible for the deaths did not intend them, that it was the recklessness of the lovers that brought them about. Thus, for all the talk of their great deeds, their deaths serve no purpose. And, ironically, the one who is left alive might as well be dead for all the satisfaction he gets from the lady. Of course, he does have her daily attention and conversation, which is what courtly lovers pretend to want, but which, in fact, is not enough.

The focus of attention in the lai, however, is on the lady, and this in itself is a comment on the lyric tradition, in which the lady is the excuse for the poetry and the apparent subject of it, but in reality has little existence within it. Here Marie’s emphasis on the object of all their devotion helps to


show up the foolishness of such devotion. The lady is most concerned with her prestige as the inspiration for their love. When they are alive she is concerned with which one would be best for her love (l. 52), which is doing best in the fighting (1. Ito), and, when they are dead, which she should grieve for most (l. 157) She was unwilling to choose one of them because that would have meant giving up the other three, so she kept them all, but without letting them know about one another, deceiving them all into thinking they were her favorite. She keeps mourning the loss of the three, remembering that the fourth is still alive only as an afterthought (see lines 197-9), and thinking of him still as one of them (1. 203: “I shall make a lai about the four of you” `bus quatre”)-hardly flattering or comforting to him. Indeed one wonders if she would have been happier had he also died. She is certainly concerned with the dead, giving them sumptuous funerals and burials, but that is because they enable her to make the most of her own emotions: she composes the lai in order to record her love and her grief, not their suffering or death: “Because I loved you so, I want my grief to be remembered” (11. 201-2). This is another clever twist of the conventional lyric situation, in which the man pretends to write about the lady he loves, but in fact writes about his own emotions, his joy and suffering, his hopes and frustrations.

The lai ends with the love situation unresolved, as it usually is in the lyric. Marie repeats four times in the last three lines that there is “no more” to it. We are left to assume that the surviving lover continues to worship the lady without fulfillment, and she to glory in her conquest.



(The Honeysuckle)



i. There are several possible explanations of this line: that Tristan had sent a message to her before she arrived in the forest, which seems least likely since it is not otherwise mentioned; that his name on the wood told her everything because of the understanding that existed between them; that the message was written on the wood in runic inscriptions which only the specially trained could read (see M. Cagnon, “Chievrefoil and the Ogamic Tradition,” Romania 9t [197o], 238-55)•



C H E V R E F O I L (The Honeysuckle)

CHEVREFOIL presents one moment of the famous love story of Tristan and Isolt-a meeting in the woods, a moment that has little importance in longer versions of the story. Marie repeats a motif from an earlier episode of the Tristan legend, the name written on a piece of wood as a secret signal between the lovers, but transposes it from the intrigue of a rendezvous in the early period of their affair to a reunion after a long and painful separation. Marie alludes to a number of details in the story that her audience would recognize: the king’s anger over the affair, the envious barons, and the loyal servant Brenguein, all of which evoke the world that was hostile to the love. She makes no reference to the potion, either because it is too obvious to mention or, more likely, because she is emphasizing a different aspect of their love: not the fatal passion that binds their lives together, like the honeysuckle and the hazel tree that cannot live when separated, but the perfect understanding and joy they share when they are together, and which sustain them when they are apart.

In a sense, Marie has substituted the natural image of the honeysuckle for that of the magic love potion to explain the binding nature of the love, the mutual dependence which draws them together despite all the obstacles the world sets in their way; but what she emphasizes in the lai is the joy of the moment of reunion, the one happy moment in lives that are not only filled with sorrow but destined to end tragically. Although Marie allows the lovers to look forward to a formal reconciliation with the king-to live


on that hope-we know it will never occur because she has told us that they will die on the same day. But she chooses to show us what she considers the essence of a love that is the subject of one of the most popular romances of the Middle Ages: the understanding and sensitivity that sets the two lovers apart from others and enables Tristan to leave a sign that only Isolt will see and comprehend; and the deep affection that makes a snatched moment of conversation a joyful scene of love. That essence is the “truth” Marie assures us she is telling at the beginning and the end of the lai, which is the same whether the story is told in English, and called Goteslef, or in French, and called Chevrefoil. It is what Tristan captures in the lai he composes for himself to remember that meeting, and it is what Marie preserves in the lai she composes for us.

Finally, perhaps, it is only art that can capture such perfect love and joy in life, which, in earlier lais, seemed to issue from the imagination of the lover when it existed, and in the last lai, Eliduc, will be real and permanent only in the love of God. If Marie means that such love as she describes in Chevrefoil is only possible in the mind of the lover, that may explain why, in a lai that makes much of mutual feeling and that draws on a tradition in which Isolt is a major force in the story, Marie does not even name the heroine; she simply calls her “the queen,” the title which, because it reminds us of her position and responsibility, also tells us how impossible their love must be in the world.



i. soudees quere literally means to hire himself out to fight for a lord in return for pay and maintenance. I am translating soudees as “service” throughout the lai, and soudeur as “soldier.”


2. The spelling of the name in the alternate title differs from the name of the character as it is otherwise given in the lai (Guilliadun).











3. The expression Guilliadun uses throughout this passage is par amur amer, “to love with love,” presumably with passion, desire, not just as a vassal would his lord’s (laughter.






q. Chess is often an allegory of the love game. Note that Guilliadun is learning to play from a stranger.




5. This is the lord who had exiled him at the beginning of the story.










6. Her distress from the sea, ma( . . . en mer, probably involves a pun on amer to love, as in Chr6tien’s Cliges and Gottfried’s Tristan, the latter presumably from Thomas.



7. About ninety miles.


8. 1 have reversed the order of these two lines.





9. 1 use the masculine and feminine pronouns here where it is important to show the relationship of the weasels, not before where it might have led to confusion with the humans in the scene. It is difficult not to make a connection between the episode of the weasels and the main plot, though one hesitates to carry it too far. The lover who grieves for his dead mate seems to represent Eliduc, but the “flower” he finds to bring her back to life is his wife’s charity.







ELtnuc, by far the longest of Marie’s lais, is a more complex story than it may appear. It brings together the various human emotions of selfless affection, loyalty, romantic love, desire, selfindulgence; the bonds between a man and his wife, a man and his love, and a man and his lord. The only love that can resolve the conflicts between the others is the love of God, and that is the solution offered in this, the last lai. The story tells of a man caught between two women, his wife and his new love, and two lords, the old one who exiles him but to whom he always feels bound, and the new one, who takes him in. Such a conflict of loyalties often occurs in medieval romance (see Tristan, Horn, We et Galeron, Li Biaus Desconneus), where it usually indicates a problem in the man-uncertainty about himself or about his love, an inability to commit himself entirely or to deny himself anything, an internal conflict externalized. Eliduc is related to at least two of these romances: it probably influenced the author of Me and was itself influenced by Tristan (most likely the version by Thomas). The differences between Marie’s treatment and the other two tell us a number of things about Marie’s intentions.

In 111e et Galeron the hero leaves his first wife because he thinks he is not worthy of her and he cannot believe in her love. He becomes involved


with the second woman when he defends her land, but then he encounters his wife again in circumstances that permit no doubts of her love for him. He would rather return to her, but he is now committed to the other woman, and he spends most of the remaining story torn between the two until his wife becomes a nun, leaving him free to marry the other woman and discharge his obligation to her. One is left with the distinct feeling that the first woman is his real love, but that he cannot hold her because of his own failure to trust her love. The author of iiic, Gautier d’Arras, retains the basic story line of the Eliduc plot, but changes the hero’s preference and keeps us more sympathetic to the hero. In Eliduc, the hero prefers the new love but the audience sees how superior his wife is, and must feel not only that he has made the wrong decision but that he does not, in fact, deserve his wife.

We see this even more clearly in Marie’s treatment of the Tristan material. She reverses the Tristan situation in order to show that Eliduc has made the wrong choice. We know, from the previous lai, Chevrefoil, that Marie thinks of the TristanIsolt love as a nearly perfect communion, so we can assume that she applauds Tristan’s loyalty to his first love, the queen. Marie borrows much of the plot line from Tristan: the hero’s exile from his lord, his journey to find adventure and serve other lords (Eliduc’s journey, like his loves, is the reverse of Tristan’s, moving from Brittany to England), winning the love of the daughter of the lord he serves, their exchange of gifts, his tacit encouragement of her affection by not actively discouraging it, and his secret return to his love (the first Isolt). Eliduc’s daily visits to the body of his love in a chapel in the woods recall Tristan’s visits to the statue of Isolt in the Hall of Statues, located in a cave in the woods; the chapel which had housed a religious man, a hermit, may also recall the visits to the hermit during the forest exile in Beroul’s Tristan, but with a significant difference: the hermit recalled Tristan and Isolt to their duty and tried to persuade them to renounce their sin. The main difference between Tristan and Eliduc is that Tristan, despite his marriage to the second Isolt, which is never consummated, remains loyal to the queen. His affections never swerve from the woman who deserves his loyalty. Even his dalliance with the other woman is occasioned by his love for the queen-he tries unsuccessfully to make himself forget his love by concentrating on another woman, and he pays for that attempt with his death. Here, too, the contrast is significant: Tristan’s wife betrays him out


of jealousy, while Eliduc’s wife spies in order to help her husband; she restores her rival to life and removes herself in order to make way for her. Marie’s emphasis is on the selflessness and generosity of real love. It may be to call attention to the significant differences between the two stories that Marie tells us that the name of the lai was changed from Eliduc, the hero’s name, to Guildeluec and Gualadun, the names of two women.

Comparison with related stories indicates that Marie does not approve of her hero’s actions, but there are similar indications within the story. The first thing we learn about Eliduc is calculated to win our sympathy; he is exiled by his lord through the envy and slander of other barons, punished like Lanval for something he did not do. And yet his behavior through the rest of the lai suggests that he is capable of the kind of action for which he is punished, without perhaps even recognizing himself that what he does is wrong. Marie slowly reveals the defects of her hero. His first military exploit is an ambush in which he takes the unarmed enemy unawares, an effective maneuver, but scarcely heroic. When the princess, who is impressed with his exploits, summons him, he hesitates at first to go in to her, but then stays a long time with her. After he has met her, he regrets the long time he has been in that land without knowing her-that is, he resents what he has missed-and only then does he remember that he had promised to be faithful to his wife. Later, when he has received gifts from the princess, he begins to feel himself ill used because he had made that promise. He continues to encourage the girl’s affection for him, doing everything short of sleeping with her: “he couldn’t keep himself / from loving the girl … from seeing and addressing, / kissing and embracing her” (1. 468 ff.) and the gifts he receives from the girl, the ring and belt, are highly suggestive and certainly signify to her a promise of that kind of love. He refrains only from the final act and thinks that by doing so he remains faithful to his wife and to his new lord, the girl’s father. He observes the letter but not the spirit of his vow. The same is true of his loyalty to her father: he will not abduct the girl during his specified term of service, but once that term is over, he feels free to carry her off, even though he cannot hope to marry her. But he does not hesitate to bind himself to her by a set of pledges which must conflict at least in spirit with his marriage vows. Forced by the demands of his first lord to return home, he actually lies to his wife in order to leave her again, telling her the lord he served in the land of his exile still needs him. And finally, when he


brings the girl back home with him, endangering the lives of all who accompany him-his sinful act occasions the storm at sea-he murders the sailor who speaks the truth.’ Thus he betrays the trust of both the women who love him, and there is even some question about his relations with his two lords. He remains loyal to the first lord, despite the unfair treatment, but betrays the second lord by stealing his daughter, although this lord had always treated him well. Perhaps, in some way, his behavior to the second justifies the way the first behaved toward him. Eliduc’s loyalty, like his love, is misplaced.

In contrast to the hero’s actions, the women never fail in their devotion. The young girl loves purely; she is unable to accept a life of sin and remains unconscious’ until she is revived by the wife and given the means to regularize her position. The wife behaves with perfect loyalty, generosity, and charity. She is never jealous or vindictive. Hers is an ideal love, which turns finally to God, as it must, since no human object can properly deserve it. And her example leads even the others eventually to turn to God. They end their lives sharing a religious vocation, communicating by letter and praying for each other, rather like Abelard and Helo►se, perhaps the only pos sible solution in life (death resolves Tristan’s conflict) to the problems of secular love.



BIBLIOGRAPHY THE FOLLOWING list of editions and secondary materials is far from complete. (Fuller bibliographies can be found in Ewert’s edition and in Mickel’s book-length study, the latter with annotations.) We include here those works we have found particularly useful, as well as some that are generally considered important for the study of the Lais.


Marie de France, Lais. Ed. A. Ewert. Oxford, 1947, repr. 1965.

Les lais de Marie de France. Ed. J. Rychner. Paris, 1969.

Die Lass der Marie de France. Ed. K. Warnke. Halle, 1925•

Die Fablen der Marie de France. Ed. K. Warnke. Halle, 1898.

Marie de France, Fables (selected). Eds. A. Ewert and R. C. Johnston. Oxford, 1942.

Das Buch vom Espurgatoire S. Patrice der Marie de France and seine Quelle. Ed. K. Warnke. Halle, 1938.

Marie de France, L’Espurgatoire Saint Patriz. Ed. T. A. Jenkins. Chicago, 1903.


A. Ahlstrom. Marie de France et les lais narratifs. Goteborg, 1925•

H. Baader. Die Lais. Zur Geschichte einer Gattung der altfranzosischen Kurzerzahlungen. Frankfurt, 1966.

R. Baum. Recherches sur les oeuvres attribuees a Marie de France.


Heidelberg, 1968.

J. Bedier. “Les laic de Marie de France.” Revue des deux mondes 107 (1891), 835-63-

G. Brereton. “A 13th Century List of French Lays and Other Narrative Poems.” Modern Language Review 45 (1950), 40-45•

K. Brightenback. “Remarks on the `Prologue’ to Marie de France’s Lais.” Romance Philology 30 (1976), 168-77-

R. Bromwich. “A Note on the Breton Lays.” Medium Aevum 26 (1957), 36-38.

E. Brugger. “Eigennamen in den Lais der Marie de France.” Zeitschrift fur franxosische Sprache and Literatur 49 (1927), 201-52,381-484-

C. Bullock-Davies. “The Love Messenger in ‘Milun.’ ” Nottingham Medieval Studies 16 (1972), 20-27-

R. Cargo. “Marie de France’s `Le Laiistic’ and Ovid’s Metamorphoses.” Comparative Literature 18 (1966), 162-66.

R. D. Cottrell. ” ‘Le lai du Laiistic’: From Physicality to Spirituality.” Philological Quarterly 47 (1968), 499-505.

S. F. Damon. “Marie de France, Psychologist of Courtly Love.” PMLA 44 (1929), 968-96.

M. Delbouille. “Le nom et le personage d’Equitan.” Le Moyen Age 69 (1963), 315-23-

M. H. Ferguson. “Folklore in the Lais of Marie de France.” Romanic Review 57 (1966), 3-24-

B. E. Fitz. “The Prologue to the Lais of Marie de France and the Parable of the Talents and Monetary Metaphor.” Modern Language Notes 90 (1975), 558-64-

P. N. Flum. “Additional Thoughts on Marie de France.” Romance Notes 3


(1961), 53-56.

L. Foulet. “Marie de France et les lais bretons.” Zeitschri f t f iir romanische Philologie 29 (1905), 19-56, 293-322.

J. C. Fox. “Marie de France.” English Historical Review 25 (1910), 303-6.

“Mary Abbess of Shaftesbury.” English Historical Review 26 (1911), 317- 26.

E. A. Francis. “Marie de France et son temps.” Romania 72 (1951), 78-99•

“The Trial in ‘Lanval,’ ” in Studies . . . Presented to M. K. Pope. Manchester, 1939, 115-24•

“A Commentary on Chevrefoil,” in Medieval Miscellany Presented to Eugene Vinaver. Manchester, 1965, 136-45-

J. Frappier. “Remarques sur la structure du Iai, essai de definition et de classement,” in La litterature narrative d’ imagination. Paris, 1961, 23-39-

J. A. Frey. “Linguistic and Psychological Couplings in the Lays of Marie de France.” Studies in Philology 61 (1964), 3-18-

R. B. Green. “The Fusion of Magic and Realism in Two Lays of Marie de France.” Neophilologus 59 (1975), 324–36.

F. Hodgson. “Alienation and the Otherworld in Lanval, Yonec, and Guigcmar.” Comitatus 5 (1974), 19-31.

E. Hoepffner. “Pour la chronologie des Lais de Marie de France.” Romania 59 (1933), 351-70; 60 (1934), 36-66.

“La tradition manuscrite des lais de Marie de France.” Neophilologus 12 (1927), 1-10, 85-96.

“Marie de France et les lais anonymes.” Studi Medievali 4 (1931), I-31.

. Les Lais de Marie de France. Paris, 1935•

“Le geographic et l’histoire dans les lais de Marie de France.” Romania 56


(1930), 1-32-

U. T. Holmes. “New Thoughts on Marie de France.” Studies in Philology 29 (1932), I-10.

R. N. Illingworth. “La chronologie les Lais de Marie de France.” Romania 87 (1966), 433-75-

A. Knapton. “A la recherche de Marie de France.” Paper read to the Courtly Literature Society seminar, Modern Language Association meeting, San Francisco, December 1975-

La Poesie enluminee de Marie de France.” Romance Philology 30 (1976), 177-87-

M. Lazar. Amour courtois et “fin’amours” dans la litterature du XiJe siecle. Paris, 1964.

E. Levi. “II Re Giovane e Maria di Francia.” Archivum Romanicum 5 (1921), 448-71.

“Maria di Francia e le abbazie d’Inghilterra.” Archivum Romanicum 5 (1921), 472-93-

“Sulla cronologia delle opere di Maria di Francia.” Nuovi Studi Medievali 1 (1923), 40-72.

C. Martineau-Genieys. “Du ‘Chievrefoil,’ encore et toujours.” Le Moyen Age 78 (1972), 91-114.

E. J. Mickel. “A Reconsideration of the Lais of Marie de France.” Speculum 46 0970, 39-65-

“Marie de France’s Use of Irony as a Stylistic and Narrative Device.” Studies in Philology 71 (1974), 265-90.

The Unity and Significance of Marie’s Prologue.” Romania 95 (1974), 83- 91•

– Marie de France. New York, 1974-


S. Painter. “To Whom were Dedicated the Fables of Marie de France?” Modern Language Notes 48 (1933), 367-69.

D. W. Robertson. “Marie de France, Lais, Prologue 13-15.” Modern Language Notes 64 (1949), 336-38.

“Love Conventions in Marie’s Equitan.” Romanic Review 44 (1953), 241- 45•

H. S. Robertson. “Love and the Other World in Marie de France’s ‘Eliduc,'” in Essays in Honor of Louis Francis Solano. Chapel Hill, 1969, 167-76.

F. Sch6rr. “Komposition and Symbolik in den Lais der Marie de France.” Zeitschrift fur romanische Philologie 50 (1930), 556-82.

C. Segre, “Per l’edizione critica dci lai di Maria di Francia.” Culture Neolatina 19 (1959), 215-37.

L. Spitzer. “Marie de France, Dichterin von Problem-Marchen.” Zeitschrift fur romanische Philologie 50 (1930), 29-67-

“The Prologue to the Lais of Marie de France and Medieval Poetics.” Modern Philology 41 (1943), 96–102.

J. Stevens. “The granz biens of Marie de France,” in Patterns of Love and Courtesy, ed. J. Lawlor. Evanston, I’966, 1-25.

K. Warnke. “Ober die Zeit der Marie de France.” Zeitschrift f fir romanische Philologie 4 (1880), 223-48-

J. Wathelet-Willem. “Equitan clans l’oeuvre de Marie de France.” Le Moyen Age 69 ( 1963), 325-45-

R. D. Whichard. “A Note on the Identity of Marie de France,” in Romance Studies in Honor of W. M. Dey. Chapel Hill, 1950, 177-81-

B. Wind. “L’ideologie courtoise dans les lais de Marie de France,” in Melanges … Delbouille, Vol. 2. Gembloux, 1964, 741-48.


E. Winkler. Marie de France. Vienna, 1918.

W. Woods. “Marie de France’s `Laiistic.”‘ Romance Notes 12 (1970), 203- 7-

For a more thorough bibliography see:

Glyn S. Burgess. Marie de France: An Analytical Bibliography. London, 1977.

i. Marie borrowed Hocl from Wace’s Roman de Brut, a contemporary French adaptation of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s fanciful Historia regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain).

2. On the existence of a large floating population of young soldiers of fortune in Marie’s day, see G. Duhy, “Au Xlle siccle: les ‘jeunes’ dans la societe aristocratique,” Annalec t9 (1964), 835-R46.

Cf. Chrcticn de Troves’ Erec and the anonymous Partonopeu de Blois for other twelfth-century uses of marvelous animals to activate a chivalric narrative.

4. The image of Logic’s medicine-tipped arrow that wounds and heals simultaneously is a commonplace of medieval love literature. Cf. Marie’s comment on love’s wound. t. 483 f.

i. Mickel, in his essay on irony (see bibliography), explores the implications of the hunting metaphor for this lai.

t. The interaction of circular and linear elements is a mark of the sophisticated romance plot. The element of movement away from and back to stasis (represented by a stable situation involving family ties, a well-defined social rank, or the like) reflects a perception of the cyclicality of human experience, often represented iconographically in the Middle Ages by the revolving wheel of fortune. The protagonist’s endurance of this circular movement can coexist with an irreversible process of physical or moral growth, so that while he may seem merely to return to his starting point by the end of the romance, he has in fact become a very diticrent person in the process, and therefore sees his old situation through new eyes, as it were.


2. On the significance of Fresne’s name, see R. W. Nanning, “Uses of Names in Medieval Literature,” Names t6 (1968), 337-338, and the article by Mickel on Marie’s irony, cited in the bibliography.

t. R. D. Cottrell suggests that Marie concentrates on the area of drama by progressively delimiting the geographical confines. “As the spatial dimension of the story contracts, the lovers’ frustration increases” (“‘Le Lai du Laustic’: From Physicality to Spirituality,” Philological Quarterly 47 (1968), 502.

2. J. Rihard points out that the lover is a shadowy figure until the end of the lai, that he is almost a figment of the imagination like the bird-knight in Yonec, but he does not materialize (“Le lai du Laostic: Structure et signification,” Le .lfoyen Age 76 1 1970 1, 269).

3. Boccaccio tells the same story in the Decameron, IV, 9. It is also told in the twelfth-century poem The Owl and the Nightingale; the owl tells how the husband catches his nightingale and draws and quarters it (II. 1049-62) and later the nightingale tells how the husband was punished (Il. 1075-111o). There are other versions in which the death of the nightingale leads the lover to kill the husband and marry the lady.

i. It has been argued that the lovers’ use of a swan is a realistic touch since swans breed in certain parts of South wales.

2. The limitations of a life dedicated to prowess are similarly explored in twelfth-century chivalric romances by Chretien de Troyes and Hue de Roteland, among others.

3. The emphasis on Milun’s inseparability from his horse in battle at the beginning of the lai is perhaps intended as a contrast to the easy separability of Milun from his mistress; the parallel would derive force from the literary convention of referring to sexual relations under the metaphor of horse riding, as in a troubadour lyric of Guillaume IX, and possibly the protagonist’s name in Equitan.

4. Marie may be thinking in these lines of the separated lovers Pyramus and Thisbe, whose story, borrowed from Ovid, Marie parodies in the conclusion of Les Deus Amanz.


i. H. S. Robertson suggests that Eliduc tries to operate in a sphere of total unreality, trying to preserve his love in isolation. The sailor’s accusation is a brutal intrusion of reality, revealing the extent of Eliduc’s trespass into the other world. (“Love and the Other World in Marie de France’s ‘Eliduc,’ ” in Essays in Honor of Louis Francis Solano, eds. R. J. Cormier and U. T. Holmes, 174.)



  • prologue
  • GUIGEMAR 9 w w
  • EQUITAN ‘ w w 6o
  • LE FRESNE w w ‘
  • LANVAL w w w
  • LES DEUS AMANZ w ‘ ‘
  • YONEC w w w
  • LAUSTIC w w w
  • MILUN w w w
  • CHAITIVEL w w w
  • CHEVREFOIL w w w 1go
  • ELIDUC w *1 w
  • The story is placed in a vague Breton past, when Hoel ruled the land.’
  • Guigemar, the well-beloved son of one of Hoel’s vassals, finishes his apprenticeship to a king and
  • To dramatize the consequences and the abrupt conclusion of Guigemar’s mode of living, Marie seizes u
  • Guigemar unleashes an arrow that wounds the hind and rebounds, severely injuring him in the thigh.
  • Within this network of parallels, Marie subverts or inverts in Equitan the attitudes of Guigemar. In
  • In Le Fresne, the heroine’s growth from helpless infantfoundling to a young woman of great beauty an
  • All these instances of nurture find their central symbol in the great shade tree that gives Fresne h
  • the very walls that bring them together.’
  • Disapproval of the lovers does not mean that we are to take the husband’s part. His reaction to his
  • it was, she vows never to eat any other food and throws herself from the balcony.’
  • MILUN is one of Marie’s more precisely localized lais. The hero and heroine come from South Wales;’
  • generations; neither is ever unhorsed in combat until the younger so humbles the father in the joust
  • Until this climactic moment, love is not a strong enough force in the lai to counter either Milun’s
  • While Milun is away, his mistress is forced into a loveless and dangerous marriage-dangerous becau
  • “he couldn’t keep himself / from loving the girl … from seeing and addressing, / kissing and embra


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