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Marie de France wrote this wonderful piece of literature in the late 12th century. The author is considered one of the earliest French woman poets but she was probably active in England. This trivia provides an insight as to why she wrote about her hero as someone who is an outsider because Marie de France was naturally an outsider, being a French writer in England.
The genre is lai which is a “poetic and musical form popular among the poets of Northern France; these are long poems with rhymed stanzas of 6 to 16 lines and 4 to 8 syllables (Fajardo-Acosta, 2000, p.1).
However, the lais of Marie de France are twelve verse narratives dedicated to a noble king, probably Henry II (Fajardo-Acost, 2000, p.1). Lanval is well known not only account of the lyrical beauty of this particular piece of literature but also because it talks about love, loyalty and generosity, themes that will be discussed in this study.
Love is a prominent theme in this lai for it speaks about the noble deeds, the triumphs and trials of Lanval. The author paints different images to illustrate different types of love. The love of a knight to his king was the first image that leaps out of the verses from the poet’s pen.
The love of a soldier is seen in the way he fights for king and country. Lanval participates in battles to defeat the “Picts” and the “Scots” (France, 2005, p.1). His love shines through even brighter as the author reveals that he is foreign born and that Lanval is no ordinary knight. He is the son of a king but his father is not the one he currently serves.
The type of love mentioned earlier is between two men, however, this is merely the beginning. Lanval’s love is yet to shine even brighter the moment he laid eyes on his lover. After a moment of depression and a struggle against injustice as the noble night fails to receive his just reward, fate smiles on him as he encounters the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
He falls in love in an instant and this is how the author describes the feeling: “Love pricks him, strikes in him the spark. Now his heart blazes in the dark” (France, 2005, p.4). He drinks his fill of love under her beautiful tent. He does not know how to stop.
Love is like an inferno in his heart and he cannot be happy unless he is with her. Since his lover is some kind of an enchanted being she can appear out of nowhere and be with him but he is not satisfied.
He is in a state of unhappiness when the dark side of human love is presented by the author. The Queen lusts after the hero. It is a love perverted because it only takes away and forces itself, unlike the mutual sharing that Lanval feels whenever he is with his lover.
Lanval’s loyalty shines like the morning sun. He fights for a king that ignores him. He is steadfast when everyone around him has shown nothing but an unreliable heart. When the test came he remains a loyal soldier and he did not rebel but simply said “A stranger in a strange land, is sad, when no helps at hand” (France, 2005, p.2). But the true measure of his loyalty is yet to come.
Seduction is the Queen’s main tool to capture the heart of an unwilling partner. She is powerful and most probably an attractive woman.
The author shows through a clear description of the strategy employed that Lanval could have chosen to be a traitor for the king for he can transgress and no one can discover his dastardly act. Nevertheless, his loyalty breaks through the deception and he tells the seductress, “Would I ever act against my King?” (France, 2005, p.8). His reply only increases her lust for him..
The Queen persisted using all the strategies and the manipulative skills at her disposal. There is tremendous pressure for him to cave in but he did not. Thus, the Queen lets go of her final salvo and she said that Lanval’s manhood is questionable.
It is a trap and it is easy for him to give in knowing that the taunts would end but it his loyalty to his lover that saves him. He says to the seductress one more time “But I do love, I alone love a lady who’d win the prize” (France, 2005 p.9). In anger he clarifies that the compliment is not meant for the Queen.
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Generosity is another major theme of France’s lai, the author manages to present different levels of generosity. The first level of generosity is demonstrated by King Arthur and through this verse one can see how he rewards his loyal soldiers: “Women and land he shared out with generous hand” (France, 2005, p.1).
The image of an open hand is a mark of generosity but the king’s generosity is limited for it simply reciprocates what others have done for him.
The second level of generosity is seen through the actions of Lanval. He gives gifts without a thought of a reciprocal action. Lanval directs his gifts not only to his friends but to total strangers.
The author paints a clear picture as to the extent of Lanvals generosity “Lanval ransomed all the prisoners; Lanval dressed all jugglers and jongleurs” (France, 2005, p.6). These are people of no significance. In other words by giving them money Lanval cannot hope to regain it through favors and other financial means of repayment.
The highest form of generosity however came from Lanval’s lover. The money he uses to shower his friends did not come from his pocket – the unlimited source of income flows from the treasury of his lover. But her generous heart is in full display when she liberates Lanval from the clutches of an evil Queen.
Her generosity is rooted in his deep love for Lanval and it enable her to be bold and say “Arthur, now listen to me!” (France, 2005, p.16). These are words not fit to say to a mighty King of Breton. But it is the highest form of generosity that empowers her, for this time she did not shower Lanval with gifts of gold but the gift of life.
The themes of love, loyalty and generosity are very much evident in this story told in lyrical poetry. Love can be seen in different levels. The same thing can be said about generosity and loyalty. The author succeeds in presenting these themes through the use of rich imagery and beautiful language.
The author did not simply tell a story but she describes it using related images. The themes of love, generosity, and loyalty came to life through the lives of powerful characters like Lanval, the King, the Queen, and of course Lanval’s lover.
Fajardo-Acosta, Fidel. Marie de France. Creighton University, 2000. Web.
France, Marie de. Lanval. Trans. Judith Shoaf. 2005. Web.