Kathy Krause, University of Missouri Kansas City
This video introduces the writer Marie de France and her collection of "Lais."
Editions and Translations
- On-line English verse translation of the majority of the lais by Professor Judith Shoaf
- An older, prose English translation of all of the lays (by Eugene Mason), but without the excellent notes provided by Professor Shoaf (and the introduction is quite dated!).
- There are numerous scholarly editions of the original Old French, some with facing-page modern French translations. Unfortunately, the majority of those available on-line are both old and not reliable. The one good scholarly edition available on-line is that of Karl Warnke, however the introduction and notes are all in German.
Scholarly edition and translation into modern French (most recent of several available):
Nathalie Koble, Mireille Séguy ed & trans., Lais bretons (XIIe-XIIIe siècles): Marie de France et ses contemporains (Paris: Éditions Honoré Champion, 2018).
There are two excellent English translations (not freely available on-line, but with many inexpensive used copies available via on-line booksellers):
- Gly Burgess and Keith Busby, trans. The Lais of Marie De France With Two Further Lais in the Original Old French (New York: Penguin Books, 2011) (ebook and paperback).
- Robert W. Hanning and Joan M. Ferrante, trans., The Lais of Marie de France, (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1995) (paperback).
Digitized manuscripts of the Lais
The only manuscript with the prologue and all twelve of the (known) lais:
- London, British library, Harley 978 (the Lais start on folio 118 recto):
There are four other manuscripts with one or more lais (two with Marie’s collection of fables, known as the Ysopet (i.e. Aesop)):
- London, British Library, Cotton MS Vespasian B XIV: Lanval, Ysopet (not on-line).
- Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, fr. 2168: 3 lais, Ysopet (B&W).
- Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, naf 1104: 7 lais by Marie, other anonymous lais.
- Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, fr. 24432: Yonec (B&W).
Discussion Questions for specific lais:
1. One way to understand the construction of the lai is to examine the situation of the protagonist, Lanval. What is Lanval’s problem at the beginning of the lai ? in the middle ? at the end?
2. What does the lai tell us about Lanval (e.g. descriptions by the narrator or by other characters)? How does the text show Lanval behaving? Does he behave like his description? (Be able to point to elements in the text to defend your answer.)
3. Analyze the scene where Lanval meets the fée (fairy). Where does it occur? How is the fée described? How does Lanval react? Etc.
4. How is the queen described/presented? (What is she doing at the beginning of the episode? How does she react when she sees him? How does she interact with Lanval?)
5. What are the “stages” of Lanval’s trial? What exactly is he accused of doing? Do you know any (famous) similar stories?
1. How were marriages decided in the Middle Ages (for the wealthy)? Who chose the husband/wife? with what criteria ? What kinds of results might you expect (for either spouse) under such a system?
B. You and the characters
1. How do you react to each of the characters? Is your reaction positive, negative, ambivalent?
2. For each character, make a list of the qualities and actions that explain your reaction.
3. For each character, explain how the narrator characterizes them (what expressions are used in the text). For whom does the narrator have sympathy? In other words, who does the narrator portray positively? negatively? Try to distinguish between a reaction based on your moral system, your ideas about what is right or correct, and how the story actually presents each of the characters.
C. Medieval literature often uses symbols to suggest feelings and ideas (modern literature does too, of course). What symbolic value does each of the objects take on in the lai?
- 1. the wall
- 2. springtime
- 3. the nightingale’s song
- 4. the bloodstain
- 5. the “tiny vessal” (Shoaf) or “coffret” (Mason)
Krause, Kathy. “The Lais of Marie de France,” Middle Ages for Educators, April 10, 2020. Accessed[date]. https://middleagesforeducators.princeton.edu/node/266/