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The Lais of Marie De France: With Two Further Lais in the Original Old French (Penguin Classics) Paperback – 25 Mar 1999
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About the Author
Glyn S. Burgess is currently Professor of French and Head of Department at the University of Liverpool. He has translated 'The Song of Roland' for Penguin Classics and he has published widely on 12th-century courtly literature.
Keith Busby is George Lynn Cross Research Professor of French and Director of the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at the University of Oklahoma.
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All of the stories are of love, but a specific historicised love whose codes are courtly and which revel in the suffering of lovers. Young wives with older, jealous husbands take handsome young knights as lovers; beautiful virginal girls get pregnant by their secret lovers, and adultery is venerated rather than condemned. Some of the most interesting stories feature gender inversions where women take up quests to win passive men (modelled on Cupid and Psyche?) and there are overt intertexts with Ovid's poems where the Remedia Amoris gets name-checked, and where Laustic intersects with Ovid's Philomela.
The prose translations are useful but do inevitably disrupt the relationship between form and content: three tales are included in their original Old French and feel different immediately, not least due to the driving rhyming scheme. All the same, this is a helpful introduction to the lais which circulated in both England and France and offer provocative comparisons with the Arthurian romances as well as Chaucer and later Renaissance women writers such as Marguerite de Navarre.
In Southern France there were the Troubadours, singers and poets, often part of the nobility or their entourage. In the North of France you had Chrétien de Troyes and his Arthurian romances and the Lais of Marie de France, to name only two of the most important.
The 'Roman de la Rose' was written in the 13th cent. but is probably the most important masterwork of the French Renaissance.
About the person of Marie de France almost nothing is known for certain.Her 'Lais' - stories about romance or adventure - are based upon
the popular and folkloristic tales that already existed for centuries in Bretagne - a region close to where the Atlantic meets the North-Sea.
These stories were handed down from generation to generation by story tellers.
The Lais of Marie de France excel by diversity. There are love stories - of course - but also vivid descriptions of
tournaments and even a story about a werewolf.
Marie de France proofs that medieval literature can be entertaining.
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