The Lais of Marie De France Essay

The Lais of Marie de France

The Lais of Marie de France are short narrative Breton poems composed by the French queen, which are believed to have been written in the late 12th century, between 1155 and 1170. They are a good example of a French courtly epic, as they are both narrative and poetic, displaying the power of language in expressing emotions. This work combines romance and comedy, morality and outward beauty, and structure.


The Structure of the Lais of Marie de France was written a century after the Norman Conquest. The Norman Conquest brought about considerable social, political, and cultural changes, and unprecedented contact with Europe. Anglo-Norman French became the dominant language, forming the basis of administration and law in England. The resulting Middle English language was more closely related to French than Old English was 200 years ago. Marie's lais are thus often dated to the eleventh century.

In Marie de France's lais, most characters lack names, but the author pays close attention to the names. Some lais are named after characters in the narrative. Nearly every lai has an introduction and a closing. In the process, she steers away from the main narrative and devotes lines to discuss the meaning of the names. It is difficult to understand the structure of her lais without understanding Marie's intention.


The lais of Marie de France depict situations where love is instigated and embodied. While the author generally decries love as a sin, she does praise it in certain instances. The dichotomy between romantic love and courtly chivalry is striking. Despite her criticism of courtly love, Marie de France shows the complexities of courtly love and the paradoxes of medieval life.

The Lais, originally composed in Normandy, France, is thought to be the work of several authors. However, Claude Fauchet attributed the work to Marie de France, who lived between 1580 and 1620. In the first part of the story, Guigemar, Marie de France refers to herself in the third person to emphasize her good reputation as a storyteller. The second half of the book features several other characters.


The morality in the lais of Marie de France is often discussed as a reflection of Christian beliefs. While Christian metaphysic is not completely absent, it can be overshadowed by the creative ethos and the god-centered metaphysic. The morality in Marie de France's lais is subjective and does not apply to all adulterous couples equally. It is often dependent on the character of the person reading the lais and the circumstances surrounding the sin.

While the novel contains plenty of moral values, it is also often a work of art. In Marie de France's lais, she boldly portrays herself as a woman, which sets the stage for the reader. Nevertheless, each audience approaches a work of art with their own perceptions, ideologies, and misconceptions. As a result, the audience may take the gender information differently based on the school of thought of each individual reader.

Outward beauty

The "Lais of Marie de France" is a collection of twelve narrative Breton poems, known as lais, which were written in the 12th century. They glorify courtly love and the concept of mutual love. While this literature has little direct historical context, it is thought that Marie's lais served as a model for Breton lais. The lais do not attempt to convey a unified message, but instead emphasize the virtues of courtly love.

The Yonec and Bisclavret are examples of this transformation. Both lais depict women with animal skin and human flesh, suggesting that human identity does not exist within a stable form. These mystical images also suggest that human identity is a fluid process, with human beings possessed of agency and the capacity to challenge rigid social structures. Therefore, it is important to understand that Marie de France's lais are both powerful and inspiring.

Moral ambiguity

The moral ambiguity of Marie's lais lies in their depiction of love and its complexities. She shows us how the moral laws of Christianity are often downplayed depending on the circumstances. She also displays how the conditions of being human, such as courtly behavior and belief in God, can be at odds with the ways that lovers behave. Ultimately, Marie's lais reveal a complicated and conflicted world, and they provide an intriguing analysis of the contradictions of courtly life and love.

The moral ambiguity of Marie's lais is particularly problematic in modern readers, especially in the light of the aforementioned lack of information. However, the structural concerns regarding Marie's lais are likely more troublesome for modern readers than for medieval readers. Since the late 12th century was a time when there was no clear distinction between secular and religious cultures, her lais may be seen as secular. Although Marie does not explicitly condemn the establishment of religion in her lais, she does demonstrate an interest in the possibilities of fiction and alternate realities.


One of the dozen lais of medieval poetry by Marie de France is Eliduc. This poem is one of the longest in the collection and is written in the Anglo-Norman dialect of Old French, in eight-syllable couplets. Marie notes that the correct title should be Guildeluec, which would have made it easier to understand the plot. The tale is also based on two real women, namely Guilliadun and Eliduc.

When he was summoned to the Court, the King received him with great honor. He billeted him in a wealthy town and offered him the finest chamber. Eliduc's speech elicited sympathy from the people and he called upon his war wounds to comfort his guest. Eliduc told his men not to accept gifts for forty days, as the enemy was close by. However, Guilliadun's heart was not so strong, and she refused to let go of him.

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