French Mediaeval Romances: From the Lays of Marie de France, with a retelling of the Lay of the Werewolf [Annotated]
I've finished the "Lays" and have the two stories that were not by Marie de France to read, but thought I would get some impressions down before I finish them.The Lays were originally folk-songs which Marie heard from Breton minstrels, and she frequently praises the music to which they were set, which is obviously lost to us. Her source material is therefore similar to that of the more well-known Chrétien de Troyes,and many of his themes of courtly love and questing are dealt with here, although in a less literary style. This is actually quite charming: there is a sweet naïveté about the Lays that would be lost under a more polished hand.Set mainly in northern France, but with forays into the England and Wales of Kind Arthur, there are a lot of folklore motifs: the fair maiden sequestered in a tower, to be freed by her gallant lover; mistaken identities; the fairy lady whose love will be lost if she is spoken of; noble children abandoned at birth, fostered by peasants, who inevitably return to claim there inheritance, and so on. There are also Arthurian motifs: the Ship of Solomon; the knight wounded in the "thigh"; swords of destiny; beautiful fairy ladies visiting the court. Much that is familiar now to us later readers, but this is one of the earliest tellings that has come down to us.I particularly enjoyed The Lay of the Were-Wolf, which if it did not influence later French tradition, is certainly represented of that country's fascination with this fearful monster. Interesting, then, that the werewolf is a rather sympathetic and noble character.Adultery is probably the most common theme in the Lays and, while Eugene Mason's introduction gave some background as to why this should be so, I still found the attitudes rather confusing. Some of the cuckolded husbands were nasty pieces of work who might possibly be getting their comeuppence, but mainly they did not seem deserving of the contempt heaped upon them. At the same time the lovers would keep their affairs secret to avoid the shame that would be their lot if discovered, so there was clearly some sense of wrongdoing for the original audience. I think there's some cultural divide that I haven't bridged.Overall, enjoyable little vignettes of early medieval courtly life.