Lais Of Marie De France Essay, Research Paper
Throughout the Lais of Marie de France there are several themes presented as central to the various stories. Some of these themes are present in all of the lais. One such example is that of courtly love and it s implications. Courtly love being one of the more prominent themes in all of medieval literature, it is fittingly manifested in all of the lais as well. Another theme present in two of the lais is isolation. The theme of isolation plays a large role in the stories of Guigemar and Lanval. In each of these lais we see isolation as a factor in determining the fates of the central figures. Within each lai isolation is represented on several different occasions, each time having a direct impact on the outcome. These instances of isolation may be seen at times to be similar in nature and consequence, and different at other times. By sifting through both works these instances may be extrapolated and analyzed.
In general, isolation seems to be harmful to both of the heroes. One very good example of this is toward the beginning of Guigemar s tale. They gathered in pursuit of a large stag and the hounds were released. The hunters ran in front and the young man lingered behind. (p.44) It is only when Guigemar is alone that he sees the mysterious doe with the antlers of a stag and a fawn. This creature also serves as a signpost telling us that Guigemar has crossed over from this world into the realm of Fairy and magic. It is this encounter with the animal that wounds Guigemar with an injury only love can heal. Directly after this we see another, more ironic example of isolation. Because he has been wounded Guigemar wants the aid of his friends. My friend, ride quickly and bring my companions back, for I should like to speak to them. (P.45) By ordering his servant to go and fetch help Guigemar found himself alone again. The young man rode off and Guigemar remained behind, lamenting his suffering. He bound his wound firmly and tightly with his shirt, then mounted his horse and departed. (p.45) Here we also see an example of foreshadowing. Guigemar uses his shirt to bind his wound, while later in the story the woman who is to cure him of his wound will untie a knot in another shirt of his, thus proving herself to be his true love. It is this love wound that overcomes Guigemar and forces him away. He is unable to remain and wait for his companions. He feels uncontrollably drawn to seek out his fate. He was keen to get away, for he did not want any of his followers to come and hinder him, or attempt to detain him. (p.45)
The isolation theme is continued as Guigemar travels alone to a harbor, in which is a ship. The ship is described as being majestic in its beauty, which keeps with the crossing over into the world of magic, signified by the hind responsible for Guigemar s wound. There was no peg or deck-rail which was not made of ebony. No gold on earth was worth more and the sail was made entirely of silk, very beautiful when unfurled. (p.45) Upon boarding the ship Guigemar became aware of the fact that it was empty. He rode forward, dismounted and in great pain climbed aboard expecting to find men in charge. But the ship was deserted and he saw no one. (p.45) Not only does the mysteriousness of the deserted ship keep with the isolation of the other world it also represents isolation itself as another immediate factor. It was the isolation of this magic ship that led Guigemar to his love.
It is interesting to note that isolation is present also in Guigemar s love s situation before he arrives for her. Her jealous husband took the task of guarding her so seriously that he had her imprisoned in her own home. There was only a single point of entry, guarded day and night. The sea enclosed it on the other side, so it was impossible to get in or out, except by boat, should the need arise in the castle. As a secure place for his wife, the lord had constructed within the enclosure a chamber of incomparable beauty, at the entrance of which stood a chapel….In this room the lady was imprisoned. (p.46) The relationship between isolation and magical beauty is continued here as well. The prison is described as being of incomparable beauty and being decorated with poetic images. The walls of the chamber were covered in paintings in which Venus, the goddess of love, was skillfully depicted together with the nature and obligations of love; how it should be served with loyalty and good service. (p.46) The lady was indeed alone, isolated from all except for her servant and the lord, upon his command. No one, man or woman, could have gained access to this spot, or escaped from this walled enclosure. (p.46) Thus far Guigemar s isolation as well as the lady s isolation may be seen as vehicles for their introduction to one another.
In the lai of Guigemar we are presented with isolation as a physical removal from others. Whether it be Guigemar alone in the woods or the lady alone in her prison home, the isolation is always physical and forced, even if it be a force of magic such as the curse of the magical animal on Guigemar which draws him to the magic ship. In the case of Lanval this is often times not the case. With Lanval we often see isolation as a more psychological event. In the story s opening we see Lanval as being isolated from the very court and king he serves. He apportioned wives and lands to all, save to one who had served him: this was Lanval, whom he did not remember, and for whom no one put in a good word. (p.73) Immediately we see isolation as alienation. There is no forced removal from an environment, but rather a removal from the hearts and minds of the other members of the court, most importantly that of the king s. It should be noted though that physical isolation is touched upon briefly when it is mentioned that Lanval was born of another lord in another land. He was the son of a king of noble birth, but far from his inheritance… (p.73)
Even though the alienation experienced by Lanval is not a physical removal from his peers, it is indeed forced. Because the other knights are jealous of him they actively ignore him. Because of his valour, generosity, beauty and prowess, many were envious of him. (p.73) Lanval was made to feel distraught by this isolated environment within which he found himself. Ironically, in an attempt to take his ease he rode out of the town alone. He left the town and came alone to a meadow, dismounting by a stream; but there his horse trembled violently, so he loosened its saddlegirth and left it, allowing it to enter the meadow to roll over on its back. (p.73) It is amidst this isolation that events begin to occur to him, remembering of course that it was an earlier isolation that brought this instance. It is here that Lanval meets two beautiful women that lead away even farther to meet his love.
Lanval s love was one of great beauty, described as the most exotic in the land. Inside the tent was the maiden who surpassed in beauty the lilly and the new rose when it appears in summer. (p.74) Within the isolation of the extravagant tent the maiden was lying in, it was revealed to him that he must never reveal the secret of their love to anyone. The consequence for this was their never being able to see each other again. Beloved , she said, I admonish, order, and beg you not to reveal this secret to anyone! I shall tell you the long and the short of it: you would lose me forever if this love were to become known. You would never be able to see me or possess me. (p.75) An interesting situation develops because of the nature of his relationship with the maiden. As long as Lanval keeps the love a secret from all persons he will always be furnished with great wealth and clothing. So it is the isolation of the relationship from others that allows him to become close to others for the first time. This is because he is now able to bring any and all people into his home that need shelter and offer them the greatest hospitality, as well as perform other gracious deeds. That night he offered lavish hospitality but no one knew how this came to be. There was no knight in the town in sore need of shelter whom he did not summon and serve richly and well. Lanval gave costly gifts, Lanval freed prisoners, Lanval clothed the jongleurs, Lanval performed many honerable acts. There was no one, stranger or friend, to whom he would not have given gifts. (p.75) The other knights also took notice of Lanval s generosity and welcomed him into their arms. Gawain, the noble and the worthy, who endeared himself to all, said: In god s name, lords, we treat our companion Lanval ill, for he is so generous and courtly, and his father is a rich king, yet we have not brought him with us. (p.75)
When Lanval goes to the garden in the company of the other knights, upon their request, we see a continuation of the theme of psychological isolation. Lanval retreats to an isolated corner of the garden to be by himself. Upon doing so he is approached by another woman while alone. Lanval withdrew to one side, far from the others, for he was impatient to hold his beloved, to kiss, embrace and touch her. He cared little for other people s joy when he could not have his own pleasure. When the queen saw the knight alone, she approached him straightaway. (p.76) It again is isolation as a necessary ingredient to a plot mixed perfectly.
Lanval, unable to keep the secret of his love, is forced to defend himself in court against the accusations of the queen. Although unable to prove his own innocence, it is his love that ultimately does this. The maiden rides through the town and into court, proving his innocence for him. Upon his release leaves court with his love. He went with her to Avalon, so the Bretons tell us, to a very beautiful island. (p.81) Needless to say, the two of them went alone.
There are certain similarities between these two lais with respect to the theme of isolation. For instance, Guigemar must go off alone to the other, magical world to find his love so that he may eventually return and restore order to his life. On the other hand, Lanval, upon finding his love and eventually restoring order to his own life, leaves with her to the other, magical world of Avalon. It is there that they remain together on an island alone. Throughout the two lais isolation proved to be able to manifest itself in slightly different ways, primarily physical removal as opposed to psychological alienation. Although indeed a bit different in the exactness of their nature, both are undoubtedly linked in their ability to facilitate wondrous happenings in a world where isolation breeds magical events powerful enough to dramatically alter lives.
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