Marie de France, "Eliduc"

        Marie’s shortest lai is followed by her longest, and most complexly plotted. If you know the plot of "Tristan and Isolde," you’ll find similarities between Eliduc’s sad divided love of Guildeluec and Guilliadun and Tristan’s love for Isolde and ambiguous marriage to Isolde of the White Hands. Note that Marie’s naming game here also turns upon which characters are thought to be central, to have the most compelling demand on the audience’s compassion. What does that tell you about how she expects you to read this tale?

Study Questions—

1) Envy and slander once again are produced automatically by Eliduc’s prowess and success, and ruins his relationship with the king. Is this simply reporting the facts, or is Marie’s repeated emphasis of this behavior something she criticizes in her audience?

2) The exiled knight behaves exactly as countless other romance-knights do when seeking fame. He looks for war and takes the weakest side, hoping thereby to establish his fame and win great rewards. However, equally familiar is the presence in his new lord’s court of an unmarried and attractive daughter who falls for him. Marie gives us the most complete character studies yet of their emotional turmoil as they try to decide how to act and how to feel. What do you think of their reasoning and behavior, and how might the previous lais be used as a kind of rule-guide to evaluate it?

3) Eliduc’s inability/refusal to tell the maiden he is married sets up a crisis in the plot which is brought to a head when he returns to bring her with him and the ship is caught in a storm. The sailor’s outburst reveals the truth Eliduc had suppressed and Guilliadun falls into a death-like swoon. How does the sailor interpret that storm and what does that suggest about the relationship between the natural world and our interior emotional and/or moral states?

4) The response of Guildeleuc, Eliduc’s wife, to the discovery of her husband’s mistress seems astounding. What does Marie want us to think about her sympathy for the woman who has replaced her in her husband’s affections, and how do you respond to that?

5) Marie’s audacity seems endless in this tale, especially in the "weasel cure" of Guilliadun’s coma. How might you explain the magic of the cure in terms of the tale’s concerns for loyalty and love’s power to injure or heal?

6) The tale’s conclusion involves a practice which was not at all uncommon in Marie’s day, nor was it unknown in England until the early 1500s when Henry VIII broke with the Pope, taking control of the English church and dismantling the monasteries and nunneries. "Turning to God" was a typical way in which nobles sought spiritual relief and counsel near the ends of their lives, and they had a range of options from buying lodging within the monastery walls and keeping a small staff of servants, to actually taking holy orders of chastity, poverty and obedience and renouncing all their worldly possessions and powers. The move was familiar to readers of some versions of the Arthurian romances in which Guenivere and Lancelot take religious vows after the disastrous battle that kills Arthur and ends the court of the Round Table. How might such a renunciation be motivated, and how might it affect one’s mental state? Why would it seem appropriate to Marie as a conclusion for this tale?