The Lais of Marie de France

by

Marie de France

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Lais of Marie de France can help.

The Lais of Marie de France: VIII. Laüstic Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Marie notes that the word for Laüstic in French is Rossignol, and in English it’s Nightingale. Once, two renowned knights lived in the region of St Malo. One of the knights has a courtly and elegant wife. The other knight, a man known for his prowess, valor, and generosity, is a bachelor. He desires his neighbor’s wife and keeps offering her his love until she finally accepts. For a long time, the bachelor and the married lady enjoy a secret love affair. They manage this because their houses are so close together; they can stand at their windows and talk to each other, and even toss gifts back and forth. It’s a happy arrangement, except that they can’t get any closer physically, since the lady is closely guarded.
Laüstic comes from the Breton word for nightingale. This is yet another story where a wife is kept under close guard, presumably due to the husband’s jealousy and paranoia. And yet again, the wife finds comfort in a relationship with a much more sympathetic man. This story is a little different from the affairs in “Guigemar” or “Equitan,” in that the couple lives right next door to each other and conduct their affair under the cuckolded husband’s nose, making him a laughingstock. But also unlike those stories, the arrangement makes it impossible for the two to have sex.
Themes
Love and Suffering Theme Icon
However, one summer, when everything is green and blooming, the situation changes. The married lady and the bachelor knight have gotten into the habit of standing at their windows in the middle of the night to enjoy each other’s company. Eventually, though, the lady’s husband gets angry that she leaves their bed so often and asks her what she’s been up to. The lady claims that she loves listening to the nightingale’s sweet song so much that she can’t sleep. The knight laughs disdainfully and makes a plan to trap the nightingale. He has his servants place snares or bird-lime in every tree of the garden.
Though the setting is idyllic, that doesn’t mean that the couple’s situation is promising. Like the nightingale’s song, the beautiful summer foreshadows a dark turn. Quite simply, the fact that the nightingale sings at night symbolizes the lovers’ secret happiness. It’s just a pretext for the married lady’s frequent absences from bed (suggesting that she’s withholding sex from her husband).
Themes
Love and Suffering Theme Icon
Magic and Storytelling Theme Icon
Once the bird is caught, the knight carries it, still alive, into his wife’s chamber and shows it to her, saying that now she can sleep peacefully—it will never disturb her rest again. With that, he breaks the nightingale’s neck and throws it at his wife, spattering her with its blood. The married lady weeps over the dead bird because she knows she can never spend her nights by the window again. So that her beloved will understand what’s happened, she wraps up the bird and sends it to the bachelor knight with a message. Though distressed, the knight promptly encloses the nightingale’s corpse in a little golden casket, which he carries around with him from that day forward.
Clearly, Marie is trying to get her audience to sympathize with the wife, not the husband. His breaking the bird’s neck suggests that he knows what’s really going on and is threatening her if she continues the affair. Like in “Yonec,” a bird is associated both with making an affair possible and violently ending it. Marie may have drawn details of this lay from the story of Philomela in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in which the gods transform Philomela into a nightingale in order to escape a vengeful husband.
Themes
Love and Suffering Theme Icon
Related Quotes