The Lais of Marie de France

lais of marie de franceThis collection of tales written by a 12th century French woman presents us not only with enchanting stories in the vein of Arthurian legends, but also a glimpse into the controversies over love, marriage, and the role of women during the Middle Ages. These tales (poems in the original, but rendered as prose in this translation) were likely written during the lifetime of Eleanor of Aquitaine –- the strong-willed woman who ended up as Queen of both France and England (at different times) and in many ways shaped the course of European politics for years to come. Not only was Eleanor powerful, she was literate (a rare feat for a woman in those days) and perhaps her boldness gave courage to Marie de France in writing these lais. The stories certainly deal with issues that were highly charged in their day, especially the tension between forced and loveless marriages and condemned but meaningful love. I found the seeming incompatibility of love and marriage in these tales disturbing but sadly indicative of the times.

The characters we meet in these lais are varied and diverse: wives locked in towers by jealous husbands, shamed mothers in illicit affairs, wandering knights, young men dying in pursuit of their beloved –- even werewolves and herbalists who mix love potions. Some are charming, other horrifying –- several merely archaically confusing to our modern sensibilities. But they are all worth reading, both as intriguing stories and as windows into the social issues of the past.

2 thoughts on “The Lais of Marie de France

  1. heather634

    Thanks for this! I’ve only read excerpts from the Lais; now I’m curious to really read the whole thing. I know just what you mean about disturbingly bleak relational lives but fascinating images–a lot of the courtly love literature strikes me that way (as well as a lot of postmodern lit!). How did you find this translation?


    • Beth Strickenburg

      I’d be curious to hear your thoughts once you read them! This translation was assigned in a Medieval Lit class I took, so it happened to be the one on my shelf. 🙂 I’ve read bits of the original poetry in French, but I’d be curious to find an English version that tries to keep the poetry format — this version was translated into prose.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s