The Lais of Marie de France


Marie de France

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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.
Virtue, Vice, and Justice Theme Icon

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 Fresne is kind and generous to the bride instead of jealous. Her selflessness is rewarded when Gurun ultimately marries her instead.

At the same time, Marie de France seems to take it for granted that people misbehave, especially when passion overrules virtue. In “Chaitivel,” an indecisive lady can’t pick just one knight to love, then suffers grievously when three of her four lovers are killed in one day. In “Bisclavret,” consequences are more grotesque: after Bisclavret’s wife betrays and abandons Bisclavret for another lover, Bisclavret (a werewolf) mauls and disfigures her face. Yet even where excess and disloyalty are clearly punished, Marie is notably restrained in her judgments—like when Equitan and the seneschal’s wife, plotting to murder the seneschal in a scalding bath, are instead scalded to death themselves when they’re caught in bed together and panic. Marie bluntly sums up this lai with the remark, “Evil can easily rebound on him who seeks another’s misfortune.” The moral of the story is more of a wry observation than a pronouncement on right versus wrong. Overall, the stories suggest that because love is such an overpowering experience, people realistically commit all sorts of misdeeds in the midst of passion. Still, passion isn’t an excuse: Marie suggests that even when people are in love, they shouldn’t discard virtue, because vicious behavior often does bring painful consequences to those who commit it—and virtue is sometimes rewarded.

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Virtue, Vice, and Justice Quotes in The Lais of Marie de France

Below you will find the important quotes in The Lais of Marie de France related to the theme of Virtue, Vice, and Justice.
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:

Guigemar besieged the town and would not leave until it was captured. His friends and followers increased in number so much that he starved all those inside. He captured and destroyed the castle and killed the lord within. With great joy he took away his beloved. Now his tribulations were over.

Page Number: 54
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:

She brought her the ring and the lady looked at it carefully, easily recognizing it and the brocade. She had no doubt, for she now knew for sure that this was indeed her daughter, and, for all to hear, she said openly: “You are my daughter, fair friend!”

Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:
IV. Bisclavret Quotes

Not long afterwards, as I understand it, the king, who was wise and courtly, went into the forest where Bisclavret had been discovered. Bisclavret accompanied him and on the way home that night the king took lodging in that region. Bisclavret’s wife learnt of this and, dressing herself elegantly, went next day to speak to the king, taking an expensive present for him. When Bisclavret saw her approach, no one could restrain him. He dashed towards her like a madman. Just hear how successfully he took his revenge. He tore the nose right off her face.

Related Characters: Marie de France (speaker), Bisclavret, Bisclavret’s Wife/Ex-Wife
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 71
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

The lady, now assured, uncovered her head and spoke. She answered the knight, saying that she would make him her lover, provided he believed in God, which would make their love possible. […] ‘Lady,’ he said, ‘you are right. I would not on any account want guilt, distrust or suspicion to attach to me. I do believe in the Creator who set us free from the sorrow in which our ancestor Adam put us by biting the bitter apple. He is, will be and always has been life and light to sinners.’

Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 88
Explanation and Analysis:

“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:
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:

“I have behaved badly! […] Here I have deeply loved a girl, Guilliadun, the king’s daughter, and she has loved me. If I must leave her thus, one of us will have to die, or perhaps even both. But nevertheless I must go, for my lord has summoned me in a letter and required me by my oath, and my wife as well. […] If I were to marry my beloved, the Christian religion would not accept it. Things are going badly in all respects.”

Related Characters: Eliduc (speaker), Guilliadun, Guildelüec
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:

Eliduc heard what he said and almost went demented with anger. “Son of a whore,” he said, “wicked and evil traitor, say no more!” […] But he held her in his arms and comforted her as best he could […] She fell face down, quite pale and wan, in a swoon in which she remained, for she did not come round or breathe. He who was taking her away with him truly believed that she was dead.

Related Characters: Eliduc (speaker), Guilliadun
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

With its teeth the weasel picked a flower, bright red in colour, and then quickly returned, placing it in the mouth of its companion, whom the servant had killed, with the result that it quickly recovered. The lady noticed this and shouted to the servant: “Catch it! Throw your stick, good man, do not let it escape!”

Related Characters: Guildelüec (speaker), Guilliadun, Eliduc, Marie de France
Related Symbols: Animals
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:

He often kissed the maiden and she him tenderly, for together they were very happy. When the lady saw how the looked, she spoke to her husband and asked him for permission to leave and to separate from him, for she wanted to be a nun and serve God.

Related Characters: Eliduc, Guilliadun, Guildelüec, Marie de France
Page Number: 125
Explanation and Analysis: