The Lais of Marie de France


Marie de France

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Lay/Lai Term Analysis

Lays, or lais in Breton, are short, rhyming tales that were popular in medieval English and French literature, especially in courtly settings. Lays circulated by oral recitation and performance between France (especially the region of Brittany) and Britain. Lays often included romantic and supernatural elements and an emphasis on chivalry, or the knightly code of conduct. For the work known today as The Lais of Marie de France, Marie de France collected a dozen Breton lais and wrote them down as narrative poems, translating them into Anglo-Norman.

Lay/Lai Quotes in The Lais of Marie de France

The The Lais of Marie de France quotes below are all either spoken by Lay/Lai or refer to Lay/Lai. For each quote, you can also see the other terms 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.
I. Guigemar Quotes

Whoever has good material for a story is grieved if the tale is not well told. Hear, my lords, the words of Marie, who, when she has the opportunity, does not squander her talents. Those who gain a good reputation should be commended, but when there exists in a country a man or woman of great renown, people who are envious of their abilities frequently speak insultingly of them in order to damage this reputation. […] But just because spiteful tittle-tattlers attempt to find fault with me I do not intend to give up. […]

I shall relate briefly to you stories which I know to be true and from which the Bretons have composed their lays.

Related Characters: Marie de France (speaker)
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:
II. Equitan Quotes

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:
III. Le Fresne Quotes

I have been my own judge: I spoke ill of all women. Did I not say that it has never been the case and we had never seen it happen that a woman has had two children unless she has known two men? Now I have twins and it seems that I am paying the price. Whoever slanders and lies about others does not know what retribution awaits him. […] To ward off shame, I shall have to murder one of the children: I would rather make amends with God than shame and dishonour myself.

Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:
V. Lanval Quotes

Arthur, the worthy and courtly king, was at Carlisle on account of the Scots and the Picts who were ravaging the country, penetrating into the land of Logres and frequently laying it waste.

The king was there during the summer, at Pentecost, and he gave many rich gifts to counts and barons and to those of the Round Table: there was no such company in the whole world. 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.

Related Characters: King Arthur, Lanval, Marie de France
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:
VI. Les Deus Amanz Quotes

The king led his daughter into the meadow towards the Seine, where a great crowd gathered. She wore nothing but her shift, and the young man took her in his arms. The little phial containing the potion (he well knew that she had no wish to let him down) was given to her to carry, but I fear it will be of little avail to him, because he knew no moderation.

Page Number: 84
Explanation and Analysis:
VII. Yonec Quotes

“Fair son, you have heard how God has brought us here! It is your father who lies here, whom this old man unjustly killed. Now I commend and hand over to you his sword, for I have kept it long enough.” For all to hear, she revealed to him that this was his father and he his son, how he used to come to her and how her husband had betrayed him. She told him the truth, fell into a faint on the tomb, and, while unconscious, died. She never spoke again, but when her son saw she was dead, he struck off his stepfather’s head, and thus with his father’s sword avenged his mother’s grief.

Related Characters: The Lady of Caerwent (speaker), Muldumarec , The Lord of Caerwent, Yonec
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:
VIII. Laüstic Quotes

When the lord heard what she said, he gave a spiteful, angry laugh and devised a plan to ensnare the nightingale. […] When they had taken the nightingale, it was handed over, still alive, to the lord […] She asked her husband for the bird, but he killed it out of spite, breaking its neck wickedly with his two hands. He threw the body at the lady, so that the front of her tunic was bespattered with blood[.]

Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:
X. Chaitivel Quotes

It would be less dangerous for a man to court every lady in an entire land than for a lady to remove a single besotted lover from her skirts, for he will immediately attempt to strike back. […] Yet, even if a lady has no wish to listen to their pleas, she should not speak insultingly to her suitors: rather should she honour and cherish them, serve them appropriately and be grateful to them.

Related Characters: Marie de France (speaker), The Indecisive Lady
Page Number: 105
Explanation and Analysis:

“My lady, compose the new lay, but call it The Unhappy One. I shall explain why it should have this title. The others have long since ended their days and used up their span of life. What great anguish they suffered on account of the love they bore for you! But I who have escaped alive, bewildered and forlorn, constantly see the woman I love more than anything on earth, coming and going; she speaks to me morning and evening, yet I cannot experience the joy of a kiss or an embrace or of any pleasure other than conversation. You cause me to suffer a hundred such ills and death would be preferable for me.”

Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:
XII. Eliduc Quotes

With gentle mien, honest expression and very noble demeanour, he spoke with much breeding and thanked the damsel, Guilliadun, who was very beautiful, for having sent for him to come and talk to her. She took him by the hand and they sat down on a bed and spoke of many things. […] Love dispatched its messenger who summoned her to love him. It made her go pale and sigh[.]

Related Characters: Eliduc, Guilliadun, Guildelüec, Marie de France
Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:
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Lay/Lai Term Timeline in The Lais of Marie de France

The timeline below shows where the term Lay/Lai appears in The Lais of Marie de France. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Virtue, Vice, and Justice Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Class Status Theme Icon
Magic and Storytelling Theme Icon
In order to “guard against vice,” Marie decided to undertake a demanding project—to put “lays” she has heard into verse form. She has worked on these poems late into the... (full context)
I. Guigemar
Magic and Storytelling Theme Icon
...stories that she knows to be true and that the Bretons have used to compose lays. She will start with an adventure in long-ago Brittany. (full context)
Love and Suffering Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Class Status Theme Icon
...capturing the castle and killing Meriaduc. Then, he joyfully claims his beloved young lady. The lay of Guigemar, performed on harp and rote, was composed from this tale. (full context)
II. Equitan
Love and Suffering Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Class Status Theme Icon
...the story of Equitan—lord of Nantes, justiciary, and king—as preserved in one of the Breton lays. In the story, Equitan is beloved in Brittany and has a fine reputation. He’s also... (full context)
IV. Bisclavret
Love and Suffering Theme Icon
Magic and Storytelling Theme Icon
Marie now tells the lay Bisclavret, as it’s called in Breton, or Garwaf, as the Normans call it. It used... (full context)
X. Chaitivel
Love and Suffering Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Class Status Theme Icon
...a single day. To commemorate her grief and her love, she decides to compose a lay called The Four Sorrows. The knight objects that the lay should be titled The Unhappy... (full context)
XI. Chevrefoil
Love and Suffering Theme Icon
Magic and Storytelling Theme Icon
Marie has often heard recited the lay called “Chevrefoil,” which concerns Tristram and Queen Iseult and their pure love, which caused them... (full context)
Love and Suffering Theme Icon
Magic and Storytelling Theme Icon Wales to wait for his uncle’s summons. A skilled harpist, Tristram also composes a lay about the joy of seeing his beloved—the English call it Gotelef and the French Chevrefoil. (full context)
XII. Eliduc
Love and Suffering Theme Icon
Virtue, Vice, and Justice Theme Icon
Marie will now tell the story of a very old Breton lay. In Brittany there lived a brave and courtly knight named Eliduc. Eliduc had a wise,... (full context)