Marie De France

Marie De France








Who is Marie de France? This is a question that many scalars have been asking. With doing so they have come up with several assumptions. These assumptions would give her many different perspectives. For instance, it is said that she may be an abbess at a convent, a sister to Henry II, a daughter of: Geoffery of Anjou, William Manderill Earl of Sussex, or Walera de Beaumopnt. Another places her simply as an illegitimate daughter of a royal father (not necessarily the king). Through this all she is associated with the court of Eleanor of Aquitane. It is still unknown of Marie de France is even her true name, or if Marie was both female and one person. 

     Marie writes between 1160 c.e. and 1215 c.e , though the year of her last piece is slightly controversial some believe it was 1190 c.e.. She was also the first female writer of France much of what is known is from her writing. A reason for her name being so well known would have to be attributed to her placing it within her work. She states within her first Lai "Listen my lords to what Marie tells you" and within the epilogue to her fables  " Marie is my name/ I am from France".

A few other tid bits about the poet Marie would have to be that she spent some of her life in Briton (as shown through her adaptations of many British tales). Marie writes in French Vernacular. Through comparison with Ovid a conception of love can be seen as very similar. Marie received the authority as an author by reviving the classical figures. That is that in studying both Ovid's demonstrations of love in his work and Marie’s you can see the demonstration of perusing and enchanting a lover.





Marie's work can be broken up into three different categories: Lai's, Fables, and Spiritual journeys.





A Lai is a narrative song or tale that recounts an adventure. Marie de France's Lais were translated into Old Noris, Middle English, Middle High German, Italian, and Latin. These stories brought Marie de France in to the 21st century. For Marie de France her lais are written in octosyllabic couplets. Her Lais have a "Celtic motif" and host a woman as the main character. These women are the ones who launch the story and resolve the conflict in the end. Each of Marie de France's Lai's are a criticism to the Feudal, Medieval Court. This is done through the characters (both men and women) suffering in love. These stories cause the reader to create an interpretation of both the meaning of the story and their own connection to what it is speaking out about.





Cheverfoil or  The Lai of the Honeysuckle


This is Marie de France's shortest lai. This lai goes off of the long known myth of Tristian and Isolt. Within this lai Tristian comes back from banishment only to find out that his love Isolt is going back with her husband when they meet by the honeysuckle and the hazel trees that are joined as one. This lai shows the joy of love through them meeting and the pain of separation through their departure, along with the amplification of grief caused by love.



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The Lai of Sir Launfal

This lay is the only Arthurian lai that Marie de France writes. This is Maire's most copied lai being translated into Old Norse and Middle English. This lai has four manuscripts. In a time when society was not to kind to women Marie de France write a story flipping the gender roles of the man and woman.




     Within this lai Arthur over looks a foreign knight in the distribution of wealth and women. The knight goes to a stream and takes a nap after letting his horse go free. When he was close to napping he is brought to a tent where a fairy queen is waiting. Promising to be her lover and to tell no one she grants him a large amount of wealth. Guenevier notices him at this time and hits on him. Launfal then state that his love and loyalty is to the king. Guienivier is persistant at trying to seduce him and accuses him of being homosexual. With this Launfal breaks his promise by stating " even my lady’s lowliest servant is dressed more finally than you". This enrages the queen and she encourages King Arthur to charge Launfal. The barons at court state that Launfal should bring his lady to the court to prove his claim. Launfal knowing he had broken his promis is downtrodden and doesn’t think he has a way out of the charges. That is until two finally dressed beautiful servant girls come to the castle asking for a place for their lady to stay. This happens once more but the second time the ladies are even more finally dressed. Then the fairy queen comes to the castle and all can see that what Launfal had stated was true. The fair queen whisks Launfal off to Avalon.




     There is so much going on within this lai and many different things that the critics pick apart. Mostly what is noticed is the gender reversal. Unlike so many stories concerning knights and ladies this one has the knight being saved by the woman. It can also be pointed out that the knight, Launfal, renounces his vassal or knight hood in various spots, most notably the point in which he lets his horse go. The horse is a symbol connected to the knight. "The knight rides up on his noble stead." When he lets it go the connection between the man and his "chivalric identity" are lost. Through lying at the side of the stream it can be stated that it is a demonstration of laziness. Yet the largest issue raised within the lai can be the fact that Launfal was looked over in the first place. He is a foreign knight and by being looked over for no noticeable reason brings attention to the king and queens fear of cultural and class differences. Launfal is not charged with seducing the queen but stating that his love is more finally dressed, implying wealth, than the queen.





Marie de France's fables were the pieces that were most famous in her own time. They were meant to be brought to a divers audience, but did most notably appeal to women. These pieces gave Marie de France's work the authority as a teacher and fermenting her female voice as a writer. Each of her one hundred and two fables were translated and altered from previously known works. Forty are attributed to Romulus and 62 were collected from other collections. There are citations to Aesop in her work. Of her collection of fables under the umbrella of other Arabic tales can be found. Marie de France is the first person to translate and adapt these tales.





Spiritual Journeys


Of all Marie's work her spiritual journeys are her leas original. Her most well known spiritual journey entitled Purgatory is a strait translation from its original text. Marie did not alter or change a thing other than the Latin to French.







Chance, Jane. The Literary Subversions of Medieval Women. New York: PALGRAVE MACMILLAN, 2007.


      Dinshaw, Carolyn, and David Wallace, eds. The Cambridge Companion To Medieval Women's Writing.      Cambridge: The P Syndicate Of The University Of Cambridge, 2003.




Finke, Laurie A., and Martin B. Shichtman. "Magical Mistress Tour: Patronage, Intellectual Property, and the Dissemination of Wealth in the Lais of Marie de France." Signs. 25.2 (2000): 479-503.



Mason, Eugene, trans. French Medieval Romances From The Lays of Marie de France. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co, 1924.


Mickel, Emanuel J., Jr. "A Reconsideration of the Lais of Marie de France." Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies. 46.1 (1971): 39-65.  



Wilson, Katharina M., ed. Medieval Women Writers. Athens: University of Georgia P, 1984.


  Women In The Middle Ages An Encyclopedia. Vol. 2. New York: Greenwood P, 2004.600-605