The Lais of Marie de France

by

Marie de France

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Equitan Character Analysis

Equitan is the lord of Nantes and a beloved king of Brittany. Equitan is devoted to chivalry and spends much of his time pursuing pleasure. His trusted seneschal conducts much of the business of the kingdom on his behalf. When Equitan hears about his seneschal’s wife, he falls in love with her from afar, and when they finally meet in person, he finds the lady to be everything he’d hoped—beautiful, wise, and good company. At first, though, Equitan berates himself for falling in love with her, feeling it’s a betrayal of his loyal seneschal. Gradually, however, he rationalizes that it wouldn’t be right for a courtly lady like the seneschal’s wife to lack a lover, and he talks the seneschal’s wife into having an affair with him even though they’re of unequal status. He also goes along with her eventual plot to murder the seneschal so that they can get married. But he’s not the most cautious man, and when the seneschal interrupts the two of them having sex, Equitan panics, jumps into a tub of boiling water, and dies.

Equitan Quotes in The Lais of Marie de France

The The Lais of Marie de France quotes below are all either spoken by Equitan or refer to Equitan. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Love and Suffering Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of The Lais of Marie de France published in 1986.
II. Equitan Quotes

Because you are a powerful king and my husband is your vassal, you would expect, as I see it, to be the lord and master in love as well. Love is not honourable, unless it is based on equality. A poor man, if he is loyal and possesses wisdom and merit, is of greater worth and his love more joyful than that of a prince or king who lacks loyalty. If anyone places his love higher than is appropriate for his own station in life, he must fear all manner of things.

Related Characters: The Seneschal’s Wife (speaker), Equitan, The Seneschal, Marie de France
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

His evil plan rebounded on him, whereas the seneschal was safe and sound. […] Seizing his wife immediately, [the seneschal] tossed her head first into the bath. Thus they died together, the king first, then the woman with him. Anyone willing to listen to reason could profit from this cautionary tale. Evil can easily rebound on him who seeks another’s misfortune.

Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:
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Equitan Character Timeline in The Lais of Marie de France

The timeline below shows where the character Equitan appears in The Lais of Marie de France. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
II. Equitan
Love and Suffering Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Class Status Theme Icon
Marie will now tell the story of Equitan—lord of Nantes, justiciary, and king—as preserved in one of the Breton lays. In the story,... (full context)
Love and Suffering Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Class Status Theme Icon
...is beautiful but will one day bring misfortune on the kingdom. Hearing of her beauty, Equitan often sends the lady gifts, and even though they’ve never met, he develops strong feelings... (full context)
Love and Suffering Theme Icon
Virtue, Vice, and Justice Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Class Status Theme Icon
At this point, Love “let[s] fly […] an arrow” which wounds Equitan deeply. Wisdom and logic are no longer of any effect. He is overcome with grief,... (full context)
Love and Suffering Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Class Status Theme Icon
Equitan lies awake all night and gets up to go hunting in the morning, but he... (full context)
Love and Suffering Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Class Status Theme Icon
The seneschal’s wife thinks that if Equitan “had [his] way” with her, he’d soon abandon her—and even if she loved him in... (full context)
Love and Suffering Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Class Status Theme Icon
Equitan begs the lady not to talk this way. Men who behave that way, he argues,... (full context)
Love and Suffering Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Class Status Theme Icon
...a long time, the couple loves each other faithfully and in secret. Whenever they meet, Equitan tells everyone he is being bled and needs his privacy; nobody dares enter his bedchamber.... (full context)
Love and Suffering Theme Icon
Virtue, Vice, and Justice Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Class Status Theme Icon
Comforted by this, the seneschal’s wife says that if Equitan promises not to abandon her and will give her his aid, she will bring about... (full context)
Love and Suffering Theme Icon
Virtue, Vice, and Justice Theme Icon
Several weeks later, Equitan carries out the plan, arranging to be bled at the seneschal’s castle as a precaution... (full context)