Marie de France, "Chaitivel"

        Marie’s ironic, teasing style here presents us with a puzzle. The tale has two titles, she says, but she gives it only one. The lady’s title ("Les Quatre Deuls") reflects her understanding of its significance, and the knight’s title ("Le Chaitivel") suggests his. Why would Marie provide both as part of telling the tale, and what does she apparently expect her audience to do with this information?

Study Questions—

1) The tale also includes some interesting first-person comments by Marie on the nature of "merit." Note that she expects anyone of suitable "merit" to love any woman of "beauty, education, and breeding." What does this suggest about love as a social event in her culture? Compare "Guigemar" for a similar idea.

2) Marie’s next comments concern the perils which are in store for a woman who would reject a suitor. Why is rejection of even one suitor so dangerous for her? Is it still this way? She also suggests that there is a right and a wrong way to speak to suitors. Can you put together an etiquette for Marie’s readers from these observations, and how might it compare to our own conventions?

3) The lady’s failure to distinguish a "best" suitor among the four who pursue her, and the knights’ inability to stop competing for her, leads to a collision of agendas which results in tragedy for all. Does the tale’s outcome imply a solution?

4) The bad behavior of the men before and after the tournament is recorded without much comment by Marie until the apparently accidental killing of the three suitors. How would you explain the peculiar combination of formality and lawlessness in the culture she describes? (Hint: the simple answer seems to be that fights at tournaments were not all that uncommon, like fights at hockey games, and both the papacy and the various kings of England and Europe tried to suppress tournaments, but to no avail.)