The Lais of Marie de France

by Marie de France

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Guigemar (geeg-MAHR), a handsome Breton knight unequaled in valor but indifferent to love. During a hunting party, he is injured when an arrow rebounds from his prey, a strange white doe with a stag’s horns. The deer predicts that Guigemar will be healed only when he has suffered for love; this prediction comes true when the knight, transported by a ghost ship, falls in love with a married lady. Even after the lady’s escape from a jealous old husband, Guigemar is obliged to do battle with the baron Meriaduc, who had given her shelter and who planned to keep her for himself.


Lanval (lahn-VAHL), a knight from Brittany in the service of King Arthur of England. Lanval is overlooked when lavish gifts are bestowed by the king. Saddened, as well as alienated from the other knights, who are jealous of his physical beauty and chivalric prowess, he is magically visited by a beautiful and wealthy maiden. With the enchanted damsel as his secret invisible lover, Lanval is able to live in luxury. Accused of homosexuality by Arthur’s queen, whose advances he had spurned, Lanval is saved from the Round Table’s harsh judgment when the maiden herself appears in King Arthur’s court and bears her lover off on horseback to the idyllic island of Avalon.

Le Fresne

Le Fresne (leh FREHZ-neh), whose name means “the ash tree,” the twin sister of La Codre and legitimate daughter of a rich Breton knight. Abandoned at birth by her mother and left in an ash tree at the door of an abbey, Le Fresne is reared by the abbess. She becomes the mistress of the noble Gurun, who cherishes her and takes her to live with him. Faithful and loving, Le Fresne continues to serve Gurun, even assisting in preparations for his marriage to another woman. Her virtue is rewarded when the mother of the bride recognizes her abandoned twin child in Le Fresne and repents of her deception. Upon annulment of the marriage of her newly found sister, Le Fresne weds her beloved Gurun.


Milun (mee-LO[N]), a highly esteemed knight from South Wales, the lover of a noble damsel by whom he has an illegitimate son. To save the honor of his beloved, Milun agrees to send his infant son to be reared in secrecy by the mother’s sister in northern England. Although another nobleman is chosen as a husband for the girl, Milun is able to communicate with her for twenty years by means of a messenger swan. Learning that a young Welsh knight has established a reputation on the Continent that rivals his own, Milun hastens to challenge the young upstart. During the joust, Milun is unhorsed. Recognizing a signet ring on his opponent’s finger, Milun is reunited with his son. They return together to Wales. Finding his beloved a widow, Milun is united in marriage with his lady by their son.


Eliduc (eh-lee-DEWK ), a worthy knight of Brittany, slandered by his peers and exiled by the king. Promising fidelity to his wife, Eliduc leaves for England in search of mercenary work. Engaged in the service of a powerful nobleman, Eliduc distinguishes himself as a clever military leader and attracts the romantic attention of the man’s daughter. Eliduc responds to her love and soon cannot bear to be separated from her. Returning to his native land, Eliduc loses his newly beloved on board ship; she dies of grief after learning that Eliduc is married. Leaving her body in a small chapel near his castle, the mourning Eliduc shows...

(This entire section contains 1243 words.)

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no joy in reunion with his wife, preferring to spend time in the chapel lamenting his deceased lover. When his wife discovers the truth and through the magical power of a red flower revives her rival, Eliduc builds a convent and allows his wife to take the veil. After many years of wedded bliss, Eliduc builds a monastery, places his second wife in the convent, and devotes himself to God.


Equitan (eh-kee-TAHEN), a king of Brittany, respected by his people. He begins a foolish love affair with his loyal seneschal’s wife, who soon wishes to do away with her husband so that she can become queen. Equitan acquiesces to her scheme, but both he and his mistress fall victim to their own murderous plot.


Bisclavret (bihs-klah-VRAY), a Breton baron who secretly becomes a werewolf three days each week. (His name means “werewolf” in the Breton language.) Coaxed by his wife into revealing the secret of his whereabouts, Bisclavret is left permanently in the werewolf stage when she and her lover, a neighbor, confiscate his human clothing. Though in a savage state, Bisclavret befriends the king during the course of a royal hunting party in the area. Bisclavret takes advantage of his position as the king’s pet beast to avenge himself, attacking the neighbor at a festival and later biting off his wife’s nose. He is restored to his human state when the wife confesses all to the king and returns the stolen clothing.


Yonec (yoh-NEHK), the illegitimate son of Muldumarec and a beautiful lady married to a rich but very old Breton nobleman. Muldumarec, who flew into his beloved’s room in the form of a bird, impaled himself on iron spikes placed on the lady’s window by the suspicious husband. Before expiring, he predicted that his death would one day be avenged by his as yet unborn son. Shortly after he is dubbed a knight, Yonec, wielding his father’s sword, fulfills the prophecy.


Tristan (tree-STAHN), the estranged nephew of King Marc of Cornwall and lover of Marc’s wife (Queen Iseult, unnamed by the author), exiled by the jealous uncle to his native Wales. Tristan enjoys a brief amorous encounter with his beloved when she responds to a prearranged signal from him.

La Codre

La Codre (kohdr), the twin sister of Le Fresne. She is married to Gurun but is replaced as his wife by his mistress, La Codre’s newly discovered sister, Le Fresne. She is later married to a rich nobleman.


Gurun, (gew-RO[N]), a nobleman from the city of Dol in Brittany. He is the lover, then husband, of Le Fresne.


Muldumarec (mewl-dew-MAH-rehk), the father of Yonec. The victim of a jealous husband, he was impaled on iron spikes when, transformed into a bird, he flew into the room of his beloved. His death was avenged when his son Yonec slew the murderer.

King Marc

King Marc, a Cornish king, the husband of Queen Iseult and uncle of the queen’s lover, Tristan. Angered by the infidelity of his queen and nephew, both of whom he genuinely loves, he banishes Tristan from Cornwall. The two will later be reconciled.


Guildeluec (geel-deh-LEWEHK), Eliduc’s wife. When her husband returns from exile with the body of his dead mistress, Guildeluec resuscitates her, lovingly relinquishes her own position as wife, and establishes a religious order.


Guilliadun (geel-yah-DO[N]), the English mistress of Eliduc, ignorant of the fact that he is married. She learns the truth from a sailor aboard the ship taking her to Eliduc’s homeland and dies from the trauma and grief. Resuscitated by a miraculous red flower placed in her mouth by Eliduc’s wife, she becomes Eliduc’s second wife, as the first withdraws to a convent. After years of almsgiving, she becomes a nun.




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