I. Introduction

A. The twelfth-century renaissance introduced greater wealth and leisure, an educated aristocratic class, erotic literature from troubadors and trouveres of the court tradition; at the same time, concern for morality, conscience, religious sophistication, and casuistry.

French Arthurian romance of the period is specifically different from Arthurian heroic narrative chronicle of Geoffrey, Wace, Layamon: different cultural ideology of twelfth century, brought about by the development of feudalism, chivalry, education, the church, and the concept of idealized love. Even though somewhat contemporary with the writers of Arthurian heroic chronicle narratives, Marie and Chrétien present a very different:

1. world and ideology

2. literary genre

3. plot and structure

4. character depiction

5. ethical concerns and religious interest

However, Arthur remains recognizably Arthur, but now a subsidiary figure; his knights and their ladies become central; they are now people.

B. Let us examine these developments as they are represented in medieval romance and in Marie de France’s Lais. Marie runs through the various permutations and love and love-relationships, also involves most of the chivalric ideology and takes various stances toward it, positive and negative, dutiful and ironic. Love is always accompanied by pain.

Her links to the older Breton/Briton tradition:

1. the traditional form of Breton lai: lyrical short narrative in verse, originally intended to be sung, but developed into a courtly literary genre (see Burgess & Busby, Introduction, pp. 20-25).

2. The Arthurian court serves as the matrix, model (positive or negative), but Arthur is not the protagonist: rather, various individual nobles, knights (even kings), and ladies (even queens) are presented in feudal and love entanglements.

II. Marie’s Lais

A. Lanval

1. Despite the fair surface scene of the introduction, opens with a picture of Arthur’s court that reveals its flaws. Attacked from without by Picts and Scots; attacked by flawed courtesy from within: Arthur’s generosity is flawed, for he and knights are unjust to Lanval. Wealth rather than worth is the dominant motif. Knights are envious and hypocritical.

2. The knight goes off on adventure, quest, and a sexual discovery. He rides out aimlessly and by the end of the afternoon he has won a lady and limitless wealth, with scarcely any effort on his part; but after loss regains favor only with greatest difficulty.

3. As in Culhwch and Olwen, romances and ballads, wife is from the otherworld, magical, a faery. Hero crosses the river, adventure occurs on the other side; Arthur’s court set against the otherworldy one.

4. What does Lanval do with wealth? He acts like King Arthur should.

5. He also goes Arthur one better in terms of his lady, as he unwisely boasts: "You can be sure that one of her servants, even the very poorest girl is worth more than you, my Lady the Queen, in body, face and beauty, wisdom and goodness."And she is, since the Queen tried to seduce Lanval and then lied about it to the King and made false accusations.

6. Finally, his faery queen rescues Lanval, humiliates the Queen. Lanval and she ride off into the sunset. Note the reversal of the knight rescuing the maid motif. She takes him where? to Avalon! where King Arthur will go when he dies. Again Lanval has out-Arthured Arthur.


  1. Chevrefoil

A scene, vignette from Tristan and Isolde tragedy. With jealous, suspicious Mark and his minions, the devoted lovers arrange a meeting amidst societal opposition.

Marie’s use of an emblematic symbol, as in the other lais: the chevrefoil wrapped around, intertwined with hazel tree, emblematizing symbiotic life of lovers. What is the function of WRITING in this tale?

In Chevrefoil, the love is binding and beautiful despite the opposition of king and society and hostile world. But it is an impossible love, for she is "the Queen" (not even personally named).

C. Eliduc.

1. In the synoptic prologue we are told that the story was first called Eliduc, after the male protagonist, but now the name is changed to those of the two women, the wife Guildelüec and the lover Guilliadun, and we learn why as the sophisticated tale unfolds. We discover that Eliduc, though competent warrior and husband, is flawed morally, whereas both women are exemplary.

2. Marie gradually reveals defect in the Eliduc: though attractive, clever, admired leader, he is self-indulgent and finally dishonest.

3. Girl falls in love with him. He conceals that he’s a married man; the subject just doesn’t come up. He remembers promise to marital faithfulness. She presents him ring and belt (significant symbols, cf. Guigemar), which he accepts. Symbol of chess game: she is being taught by a knight from overseas.

4. Recalled by King of Brittany. He wants Guilliadun, but "Christianity would not allow it." Conflict of Christian doctrine and secular love pursuit. Contrast lines 697ff. and 705: lover and good wife.

5. Makes off with girl. Storm causes sailor to accuse Eliduc of unfaithfulness, for which he is thrown overboard. She falls into coma.

6. Eliduc daily visits the chapel with her "tomb" (cf. Romeo and Juliet). Wife catches on, but accepts the situation with charity and composure. The symbolic weasel revives mate with flower; wife Guildeluec revives Guilliadun with selfless and generous love.

    1. Wife surrenders her to him, takes the veil. Wife is not a doormat, but in

control, choosing the life of an abbess in secuirty to life as a rejected spouse. Eliduc, after happy life with Guilliadun, becomes monk and she joins wife in cloister. A medieval solution (cf. Abelard and Eloise).