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Marie de France's "Guigemar" from The Lais (Glynn Burgess and Keith Busby translation):

Vocabulary Anglo-Norman; Breton, Breton lai, chivalry, couplet, courtly love, cult of chivalry, mal mariée, medieval romance, Norman Invasion, octosyllabic, senex amanz.

Introduction: What historical event/invasion happened that removed the seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms from political power in England? Who led this invasion? Why is there little surviving Anglo-Saxon/English literature after 1066 until about 1300? (i.e., what language are people writing in during that time in England?)

What are some of the expected behaviors of knights in medieval literature? Who created the doctrine of courtly love and who popularized it? What are some of the conventions of courtly love?

What little do we know about Marie de France's background? What are some of the common conjectures about her identity? From what sources did Marie de France borrow her stories? What is the genre of "Guigemar"?

In Norman-French literature, a wound in the thigh is usually a euphemism for what other location?

Character Identifications: Guigemar, the White Hart, Venus, the lady in the chapel, Meriaduc

Lecture: What are some ways medieval knights are similar to and different from Anglo-Saxon warriors?
Who are the Normans?
Who are the Bretons?
What does the color white usually indicate about animals in Celtic mythology?

Read-along Questions:

  • What is the young knight Guigemar like in terms of his talents and abilities?
  • The narrator says nature had done "Guigemar a grievous wrong." In what way has it wronged him?
  • While hunting a stag in the forest, Guigemar encounters a strange creature. What is its appearance like?
  • In terms of the creature's gender, what features make it seem to be male? What features make it seem to be female?
  • When Guigemar shoots it, what happens to Guigemar?
  • What curse or prophecy does the wounded animal make about Guigemar's future?
  • When Guigemar wanders off wounded, what does he encounter in the harbour?
  • Describe the decorations and furnishings of the boat and its bed. What do you make of this furnishings? (Does it suggest a theme or symbol of some sort?)
  • Where does this mysterious boat carry Guigemar as he sleeps?
  • In "the ancient city, the capital of its realm," who is the ruler? What is he like?
  • How does this ruler treat his wife? Where does he keep her enclosed?
  • What paintings decorate the walls of the lady's chapel? In particular, what deity does it depict, and what is that deity doing? (What's the symbolism here?)
  • The allusion to book of Ovid refers to Ovid's Ars Amatoria [The Att of Loving.] Take a moment to look up information about this work online. Why do you suppose Venus treats this book the way she does, given its contents?
  • What servant is responsible for guarding the key to the gate to where the lady is enclosed? What is he like in appearance and age? What part of his body has he lost? Why do you suppose the ruler picked this servant for being the gatekeeper? What is the Freudian symbolism of keys and locks?
  • Who nurses Guigemar back to health? Why does she keep him hidden rather than seeking outside medical help?
  • With whom does Guigemar fall in love?
  • What do the two lovers do with each other's clothes (tailpiece of his shirt and her belt under her gown) to ensure each other's loyalty?
  • What does the husband of the lady do when he catches Guigemar?
  • Why is Guigemar so depressed once he is safely back in his native land, where others welcome him in joy?
  • The lady locked in the chapel remains there, mourning Guigemar for over two years. Weirdly though, when she goes to the door, what is now missing from it?
  • How does the lady manage to cross the sea to escape her husband? (Where have we seen this before?)
  • Where does she end up after corssing the sea?
  • Who or what is Meriaduc?
  • How does the lady react to Meriaduc's protestations of love?
  • When Meriaduc learns of the lady's magical chastity belt that none can unbuckle, what does he reveal to her that makes her faint in shock?
  • Guigemar offers to do what for Meriaduc if Meriaduc will allow him to take his lady and depart in peace? How doe sMeriaduc respond?
  • How does Guigemar successfully win the lady back? What does he do to the town and to the castle and to those inside the castle? What does he do to Meriaduc?
  • Considering what Guigemar does to win the lady, do you think she was worth it? Why or why not? What price do we put on romantic love? Does Guigemar do the right thing given the consequences?
  • Marie ends the tale by noting how "the melody is pleasing to the ear." Is that an appropriate or inappriate ending considerin the events in the previous paragraph in our translation? Why?

Sample Passages for Identification--Be able to identify what work these quotations come from, what the author is (if known), what character (if any) is speaking, and briefly comment upon the quotations significance or importance in the work:

A. But nature had done him such a grievous wrong that he never displayed the slightest interest in love. There was no lady or maiden on earth, however noble or beautiful, who would not ahve been happyt o accept him as her over, if he had sought her love. Women frequently made advances to him, but he was indifferent to them. He showed no visible interest in love and was thus considered a lost cause by stranger and friend alike.

B. In the heart of a large bush he saw a hind with its fawn; the beast was completely white with the antlers of a stag on its head.... [The knight] stretched his bow, fired his arrow, and struck the animal in the forehead. Immediately the hind fell to the ground, but the arrow rebounded, hitting [the knight] in the thigh and right through into the horse's flesh. . . . The animal, wounded and in great pain, lamented in these words: "Alas! I am mortally wounded! Vassal, you who have wounded me, let this be your fate. May you never find a cure, nor may any herb, root, doctor or potion ever heal the wound you have in your thigh until you are cured bya a woman who will suffer for your love more pain and anguish than any other woman has ever known."

. . . The Lord had constructed within the enclosure a chamber of incomparable beauty, at the entrance of which stood a chapel. The walls of the chamber were covered in paintings in which Venus, the goddess of love, was skifully depicted together with the nature and obligations of love; how it should be observed with loyalty and good service. In the painting Venus was shown as casting into a blazing fire the book in which Ovid teaches the art of controlling love and as excommunicating all those who read this book or adopted its teachings. In this room, the lady was imprisoned.

D. The lady recognized the truth of his words and granted him her love without delay. He kissed her and henceforth was at peace, [his wound in the thigh healed]. They lay together and talked, kissing, and embracing. May the final act, which others are accustomed to enjoy, give them pleasure.

E. He gave it [his shirt] to her, made his pledge, and she tied the knot in such a way that no woman could undo it, without the help of scissors or a knife. She gave him back the shirt and he took it on the understanding that she would make a similar pledge to him, by means of a belt she would gird about her bare flesh and draw tightly around her loins. He encouraged her to love any man who could open the buckle without tearing or severing it.

F. They reached the castle and attacked it, but it was strong and they could not take it. [The knight] besieged the town and would not leave until it was captured. His friends and followers increased in number so much that he starved allthose inside. He captured and destroyed the castle and killed the lord within. With great joy he took away his beloved.




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