Marie de France’s Lanval


I. Biography:

1. Origin not known, probably a French aristocratic woman living in the Norman court set up in England.

2. Writing twelve so-called “Breton lays”: short narrative verses sung originally by minstrels from either French Brittany or the Celtic parts of England.

3. Also writing some Fables, which was claimed to be translation of an English version, which in turn had come from a Latin translation of the Greek originals by the legendary Aesop—suggesting how Classical culture was transmitted in the Middle Ages.
4. With Chrétien de Troyes, one of the initiators of the chivalric (courtly) romance.

II. The Textual Background of Lanval:

1. The theme of fairy bride married to a mortal: a widely circulated theme in medieval literature; cf. “Wife of Bath’s Tale” in The Canterbury Tales.

2. Chivalric Romance: description of love affair as a means of analyzing an individual’s relationship with his/her society, exploring male and female desire.

3. Lanval written in eight-syllable couplet, a standard form of French narrative verse.

III. Discussion of the Text:

1. The Conventional Virtues of Courtly Lover: lines 120~123 (obeying the lady’s commands); pp. 132~33 (refusal to comply with a lady’s demand for love as a serious offense); lns. 292~96 (insults in terms of beauty, not virtue); lns. 598~600.

2. The whole legal case evolved around the existence and beauty of Lanval’s lover: lns. 313~18; lns. 321~22; 361~62; 438~40.

3. Courtly love in conflict with loyalty: lns 263~68; 408.

4. Emphasis on secrecy: lns 141~47; 160~61; 329~30.

5. Parallel between Lanval’s two love affairs: turning around the axis of transgressiveness, women’s initiatives, their powerful positions Lanval The fairy: Lanval Guinevere.

6. Relatively free in sexual enjoyment: lns 127~28; 245; 474~75.

7. Wealth as an important aspect of female desirability: p. 129.

8. Beauty as another aspect of female desirability: p. 137 (502~03); lns. 530~31.

IV. Interesting Points in the Plot:

1. Women as more active and powerful than men.

2. The queen not punished at the end for intention of adultery, but humiliated for her inferiority in beauty.

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