Marie de France Poetry Analysis

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Despite the volume of critical writing on Marie de France, and despite the limpidity of her own style, there is yet no clear scholarly consensus on how the Lais should be read. The age of the poems is undoubtedly one source of difficulty: Not only do they belong to a vanished cultural and intellectual milieu, but also much external evidence (such as sources and the means of accurate dating) that might have made their interpretation easier has been lost.

Two further difficulties recur in all discussions of the Lais. The first is a question of genre. The genre of the narrative lay is represented in surviving literature by only thirty-odd poems, and these are too diverse to suggest a clear-cut definition. What is more, Marie’s own collection of twelve lays contains pieces that are quite disparate in theme and plot structure. The critic must thus seek unifying elements, and while most would agree that the theme of love runs through all the tales like a connecting thread, few agree on Marie’s understanding of love or on her intention in portraying it.

The second major difficulty, which individual critics fail to acknowledge but which is evident from a review of the literature, is that the theme of love necessarily evokes subjective responses in readers, even when those readers are scrupulously “objective” critics. This is, of course, a danger in all criticism; it is exacerbated in Marie’s case by the dearth of external...

(The entire section is 427 words.)