Date of Award
Dr. Kathleen M. Blumreich
Dr. Benjamin G. Lockerd
Dr. Jo E. Miller
In the Prologue to her Lais, Marie de France hints that her text possesses multiple layers of meaning: “The custom among the ancients…was to speak quite obscurely / in the books they wrote, / so that those who were to come after / and study them / might gloss the letter / and supply its significance from their own wisdom” (9, 11-16). Critics who study the Lais agree that the tales overwhelmingly focus on romantic love, and most of the existing scholarship overlooks the fact that this theme is merely one layer of the text’s significance. To the contrary, this study examines three particular lais and the biblical elements within them in order to clarify Marie’s true aim in her text: to show divine love is superior to flawed human love. Guigemar, Equitan, and Eliduc all present courtly romances that expose the protagonists’ spiritual deficiencies. Guigemar’s liaison with a married woman is characterized by selfishness and lust; and the lai’s biblical motifs, including talking animals, a ship that rescues, and references to Solomon, hint at the existence of a more profound love than that found in physical affection. Equitan, a king, has an affair with his seneschal’s wife and plots the man’s murder, mirroring the biblical account of David and Bathsheba. Whereas David confesses and finds forgiveness, Equitan dies with his sins, allowing Marie to insist that the type of love that saves David from himself—divine love— is the highest type. Eliduc, torn between two women, is the picture of pride and selfcenteredness. In the end, though, the love demonstrated by his soul-like wife moves both him and his lover to a renewed bond with God that transcends romance. In conclusion, Marie’s depiction of courtly love scenarios consistently shows those relationships to be flawed. In fact, all human relationships in the Lais are imperfect. Only with God can people experience a perfect love, one that moves them to charity and selflessness. By employing elements from the biblical text in her Lais, Marie points her readers to this higher love.
Kooienga, Sarah J., "Reaching the Sacred Through the Secular: Biblical Elements and the Superiority of Divine Love in Three of Marie de France’s Lais" (2018). Masters Theses. 895.
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