Date of Award

May 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Member

Andy Lemons

Committee Member

Brian McGrath

Committee Member

Elizabeth Rivlin


While readers such as M. L. Stapleton and K. Sarah-Jane Murray have devoted time to the courtly and Ovidian play in Marie de France’s Guigemar and Laüstic, less attention has been paid to that within Chaitivel, Lanva and Yonec. In this essay, I argue that Marie slyly mocks the subgenre within which she operates: she both participates in and pushes against the constraints of fin’amors, or courtly love. In her twelfth-century version of Ovidian one-upmanship, Marie pulls tales from Celtic and classical sources, redresses them with the accoutrements of courtly love, and inserts her own wry narrative voice through the means of direct authorial commentary. She gives a final Marian twist to her “assembling” of the lais by making her female characters not merely, as courtly tradition would hold, the distant objects of male desire, but decisive, knowing, and, ultimately, realistic woman. In the process, her courtly tales, probing as they do such fraught topics as Norman colonization and forced marriage, might have created discomfort for some members of her audience.

Both in her Prologue and in her lais, Marie reveals herself as simultaneously playful and as a figure of authority, never allowing us to take her tales entirely at face value. In this essay, I first highlight a few relevant moments from the Prologue and discuss Andreas Capellanus’ De Arte honeste amandi before reading Chaitivel with reference to its absurd send-up of courtly components. Next, I examine Lanval as a comical revision of Celtic themes whose only happy ending lies in the exiting of the courtly “game,” and finally read Yonec as including uncomfortable elements that disrupt its apparently courtly plot.



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