The Lais of Marie de France


Marie de France

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The Lais of Marie de France Themes

Themes and Colors
Love and Suffering Theme Icon
Virtue, Vice, and Justice Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Class Status Theme Icon
Magic and Storytelling Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Lais of Marie de France, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Love and Suffering

In the Lais of Marie de France, a collection of 12 short tales from the 11th century, the idea of courtly love is everywhere. Courtly love is a medieval literary motif in which a knight undertakes chivalrous quests in pursuit of a noble lady whom he loves from afar. But in Marie de France’s stories, love isn’t always particularly romantic—it’s a source of profound joy, but it also brings about peril and misery…

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Virtue, Vice, and Justice

The Lais don’t always offer clear-cut moral lessons. To an extent, they emphasize chivalry, a code of virtuous conduct for knights, and Christian behavior more broadly. The knight Lanval is an exemplar of chivalry: he stays devoted to his fairy lady despite jealous accusations from Arthur’s queen, and he wins acquittal at trial and a happy ending. And in “Le Fresne,” when Le Fresne’s lover Gurun chooses a nobler lady to marry, Le…

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Gender Roles and Class Status

Marie de France generally flatters her noble audience’s sense of social superiority while subtly critiquing the conventions of her time (the 12th or 13th century). In particular, Marie largely adheres to the gender expectations of the day while highlighting struggles faced by women in particular. For example, courtly men in the Lais tend to be insecure and suspicious: both the young lady in “Guigemar” and the Lady of Caerwent in “Yonec” are imprisoned in castles…

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Magic and Storytelling

In the Lais, supernatural elements (like talking animals and fairy lovers) are sprinkled throughout the stories in no obvious pattern. When love is involved, such phenomena are simply expected. Often, magic is mainly a narrative element that serves to entertain the audience while moving a story along. For instance, the knight Guigemar, who’s been unable to find love elsewhere, is conveyed in a magical ship to the city where his future beloved lives…

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