Marie de France, "Lanval"


1)  The courtly setting of the lai always is established in the first episode.  After the place, which usually is a real geographic location, the one of the next things to be told to the audience is the protagonist's family estate (class + status + quality + wealth + history).  Why?  What similar information would determine a modern short story's protagonist's character in a Marxist sense or a psychoanalytic sense?

 2)  The first move in "Lanval" and "Sir Launfal" is the hero's association with great knights in a great court.  This is a special case of the status-by-association strategy of identifying characters by family-estate.  Because it is a gendered-male phenomenon, how would it work were you to reverse the gender-identity and function of all of its terms.  That is, what would a court defined by its ladies be like for a female protagonist?  Think about that when you read a lai about a female protagonist and consider it periodically when Lanval/Lanfal has significant experiences.

 3)  The next move in "Lanval" is King Arthur's failure of generosity, and Lanval's fatal persistence in generosity.  Does this follow establishment of the king's and knight's court identity because it was a necessary test of court identity?  That is, does a good knight/king always give generously to his vassals?  If true, this establishes a fundamental principle for interpreting the tale.  If you can detect exceptions or special cases, you have found a still more important sub-rule. You also have learned something about medieval romance narrators who praise characters as "the best" whatever.  As the Russian saying has it, "doveryai no proveryai" ("trust, but verify"--sometimes mistakenly attributed to Ronald Reagan as an original aphorism).

 4)  Sir Launfal faces a lack of generosity on a specific occasion and from a different source than Lanval.  What does the Middle English poem's version of the facts do to the hero's relationship to courtly generosity's source, and to the queen's role in the plot?  Note that here she is named, as is the faerie queen.  This may be only a process of historical addition of detail.  But it does have an effect upon the readers/hearers' perception of the tale.

5)  "Lanval" turns on the restoration to prosperity and noble estate of an honorable and generous knight by means of the intercession of a faerie who loves him, and has loved him, for a long time.  Her offer of endless wealth and of her own not-too-shabby charms depends upon a bargain, though--he cannot reveal her existence to others.  This could use some analysis.  It's a folk-tale motif, of course, but it's also a plot type that works because it trades on many enduring cultural structures: males' fantasies about their attractiveness and skill; women's beliefs in their transformative powers with even the most unlikely male subjects; the association of wealth with sexual desire, and the exchange of both for social status/power; etc.  Any one of these angles could support a paper's analysis of how this plot plays out.  The prohibition sets up the plot necessity of a violation, as Vladimir Propp's Morphology of the Folk Tale taught us.  Why is  the source of beauty and wealth such a hard secret to keep?  Why isn't someone blabbing it in our ears even now?  Or are we just not listening carefully enough to this plot?

For information on Marie, you might want to look at the International Marie de France Society web siteIt's loaded with relevant scholarly information as well as both French and English translations of her complete works.  Near the bottom of the home page there are introductions to and some article-length "notes" on specific tales, including "Lanval" and "Sir Launfal."