The Lais of Marie de France
The Adulterous Medieval Times Since the beginning of written history, marriage is portrayed as a sacred vow by almost all religions and peoples throughout the Earth while adultery is almost always looked upon as wrong. Marie de France was one of the few female writers in medieval times which made her very influential and well respected. In her book titled “The Lais of Marie de France,” she gives the reader a look into the affairs and adultery that was going on in the medieval courts.
It seems Marie de France does not particularly agree with adultery, but her style of writing leads the reader to see that it is not so bad, depending on the situation. It is almost as if she separates the lais into two distinct groups. The first of which are the stories where Marie tries to make the reader feel compassion and sorry for the lovers like in “Lanval” and “Yonec. ” The other group is where the reader is made to feel anger and displeasure toward the couples like in “Equitan” and “Bisclavret. IN the lai “Yonec,” there is a young woman who has been locked away by her much older husband. By the end of just the first page, the reader is meant to feel this woman’s pain and how hard her life must be to be marries to this horrible man. She really cannot do anything about her terrible situation though since she is married to him which means that she is basically his property. The thing that makes this lai different from the others is that this woman prays to God to have someone come and save her.
God answers her prayers by sending a hawk that turns into a courtly knight that lovers her. These two become adulterous lovers but it seems respectable since it was God, Himself, that sent this woman a new lover. The affair is not just about sex, rather that these two share a spiritual connection and relationship which makes the union even more respectable with the standards of the time. When her husband realizes what is going on he sets a trap and mortally wounds the knight. The lady is very sad until the knight tells her that she is pregnant.
The knight tells the lady that she is to name her son Yonec and that he will avenge their love. As the boy grows up though the rest of the story, he learns the truth about his father. His mother finally reveals the whole truth to Yonec and dies while she is doing so. Yonec then goes and takes his real father’s sword and chops off his stepfather’s head. Even though this lai ends on a somewhat gruesome note, the reader is left with a sense of relief and happiness because the true lovers were finally avenged from the cruel tyrant that tore them apart.
In the lai “Lanval,” King Arthur is shown as a great king who is giving out land and wives to all the knights that serve him, all of them except Lanval who is all but forgotten. Lanval was very distraught by this so he left the castle to clear his mind. He happens upon two very beautiful women who take him back to their maiden. Once Lanval meets this maiden the love affair begins but it is very pure of heart and shown as true love. This makes the reader very happy for the loving couple, but that feeling is false because this is a carnal relationship out of wedlock which is wrong.
The reader then learns that Lanval can tell nobody about her or she will leave him that same instant. This puts the woman into the lord role over Lanval giving him a wife and land as long as he obeys her. :anval soon boasts about his lady and insults Queen Guinevere at the same time. Lanval must stand trial for what he has done and prove to the court that his lady is more beautiful which is impossible since he spoke about her and now she is gone. As the trial is ending his lady comes to his rescue and the ride away to Avalon.
The reader is left with a satisfied feeling even though they are not married. This lai lets the reader put their own morals to suit themselves in each situation. The first two lais were very similar in showing adultery as being a pretty good thing. The next two are totally opposite. “Bisclavret” shows an adulterous relationship in a very negative way. In this lai, there is a happy couple that seem to enjoy each other but end up as enemies. The man is a werewolf but does not immediately share this information with his wife until she keeps bugging him and he feels guilty about not letting her know.
After the wife learns of his secret, she refuses to sleep with him anymore and becomes the lover of another man. She then knows that all she has to do is hide his clothes when he is a werewolf and he will then stay as a werewolf. This is where the reader starts to feel true hatred toward this woman because she planned this betrayal on her husband only after he shared all his secrets with her. This lai is different because it is the woman who is being terrible to her husband. He told her all his secrets and instead of trusting him, she ultimately betrayed his trust.
Bisclavret does get his revenge though. The King takes him in as a pet until he sees his wife and her new lover and bites her nose off. He gets his clothes back so he is human again, and the greatest revenge that Bisclavret gets is that his former wife’s children are all born without noses. The reader never feels any pity toward the woman even though she does get hurt by her husband because she had nothing but malicious intent against Bisclavret through the entire story. The ending is also like a moral to a fable to show that this behavior is not something anyone should ever do.
The lai “equitant” has many similarities to Bisclavret’s story. The king in this story wants to marry his seneschal’s wife which is of course wrong. Nothing seems so bad because the king is letting her think about what she might want to do. Then it turns ugly because the wife and the king then plot to murder her husband. She plans for the king to betray her husband so that he will die in a very hot, scalding bath. The seneschal comes to the room where this is supposed to happen and he finds the king and his wife in each others arms.
The king accidentally jumps into the scalding bath and dies. The seneschal then throws his wife into the burning water as well for the betrayal that she plotted. The seneschal gets the revenge he deserved by being able to kill the main person who plotted against him with his own hands. Again, the reader feels no remorse or mercy towards the king and the seneschal’s wife because they betrayed him. Marie also ends this story with a moral showing that betrayal can easily backfire on the impure people that plot it.
Marie de France presents adultery in a way where the reader can form their own opinions. She definitely does not approve of adultery in and way, shape, or form. The reader is led to feel hope and understanding about the lovers in some of the lais while in others, the reader can only feel hatred and displeasure towards the betrayers of love. The hope and understanding comes to the read during the cruel things that happen to prevent true love from happening. The hatred that the reader develops is when the betrayal and evil deeds are brought into the story.