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True Adventures, Allegories, and Audience

For this journal, you need to respond, citing textual moments from all three authors’ texts, effectively and clearly to the prompt:

Each poem attempts to teach its audience by engaging that audience.  What strategies does each author use?  How does each author teach her/his audience to anticipate the lesson available?  How does each author, working in a different genre of poetry (Marie’s “true adventures,” Langland’s allegory, and the Gawain poet’s combination of the two), create that impact?

As with all journals, I’m not interested in what I wrote in the lectures; I literally know that stuff.  I’m interested in how you engage with those texts you read / watched and how you think about them.

PROLOGUE TO THE LAIS
Marie de France, translated Judith P. Shoaf ©1992

Whoever1 gets knowledge from God, science, and a talent for speech, eloquence,
Shouldn’t shut up or hide away;
No, that person should gladly display.

When everyone hears about some great good Then it flourishes as it should;
When folks praise it at full power,
Then the good deed’s in full flower.

Among the ancients it was the tradition (On this point we can quote Priscian2)

When they wrote their books in the olden day What they had to say they’d obscurely say.
They knew that some day others would come And need to know what they’d written down; Those future readers would gloss the letter,
Add their own meaning to make the book better. Those old philosophers, wise and good,

Among themselves they understood Mankind, in the future tense, Would develop a subtler sense Without trespassing to explore What’s in the words, and no more.

Whoever wants to be safe from vice Should study and learn (heed this advice) And undertake some difficult labor; Then trouble is a distant neighbor–
From great sorrows one can escape. Thus my idea began to take shape:
I’d find some good story or song

Ki Deus ad doné escïence
E de parler bon’ eloquence
Ne s’en deit taisir ne celer,
Ainz se deit volunters mustrer. Quant uns granz biens est mult oïz, Dunc a primes est il fluriz,
E quant loëz est de plusurs,
Dunc ad espandues ses flurs.

1 “That person should display him or herself.” Marie writes as if it’s a man she’s discussing, but the pronouns can also refer to a woman (Marie herself).

2 A famous Byzantine grammarian. He didn’t say this, though.

To translate from Latin into our tongue; But was the prize worth the fight?
So many others had already tried it.3 Then I thought of the lais I’d heard;4

I had no doubt, I was assured
They’d been composed for memory’s sake About real adventures–no mistake:
They heard the tale, composed the song,
Sent it forth. They didn’t get it wrong.
I’ve heard so many lais, I would regret
Letting them go, letting people forget.
So I rhymed them and wrote them down aright. Often my candle burned late at night.

In your honor, noble king,5

3 Marie may have been thinking of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which for the Middle Ages was a wonderful collection of classical stories which could be isolated as reading exercises in Latin or translated into the vernacular. Three of these stories at least were in circulation in French in Marie’s time: Pyramus et Tisbé, Philomela, and the Lai de Narcisse. The fact that the Narcisse was perceived as a lai reinforces the idea that Marie was looking for material of this type in other languages.

4 The “lais Marie has heard” belong to a completely oral genre of which we seem to have only indirect evidence. The process Marie describes runs as follows: an event (adventure) gave rise to gossip and stories, from which a poet composed a lyric set to music (lai) in the Breton language; the lai was then sung by Breton minstrels from generation to generation, making the details and truth of

the original adventure easier to remember correctly. Marie’s undertaking is to preserve in written, rhymed narrative these lyrics and also the surviving versions of the stories they represent. Marie ends every single lai with a note about its composition, in most cases mentioning that “the Bretons” or “the old ones” or just “they” composed the lai to remember the story.

Two of Marie’s lais describe the composition of the oral lais by participants in the stories they represent. In Chevrefoil, Tristan commemorates a written text (his name and perhaps other codes inscribed on a stick) and a spoken conversation by composing a song for the harp. In Chaitivel, a young woman whose lovers have all died or been castrated resolves on a commemorative composition which is begun and finished by her (apparently) but “carried abroad” by other singers who vary in the name they want to give it. In both stories, it seems clear that Marie draws on other sources besides this single lyric composition for her own lai. It has been suggested by Dolores Frese that the lyric lai on which Yonec is based has in fact survived in Middle English; the tone and imagery of the Corpus Christi Carol are close to those of Marie’s lai, but Marie would have drawn on plenty of other oral material to fill in the names and events to which the lyric refers.

5 The “noble king” to whom Marie dedicates her lais is probably Henry II Plantagenet (1133-1189), famous as a king of England though he had realms in what is now France; it may however be his son “Young King Henry” who was crowned in 1170 and died in 1183. Both kings were patrons of Anglo-Norman poets.

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Whose might and courtesy make the world ring– All joys flow from you or run to you,
Whose heart is the root of every virtue–
For you these lais I undertook,

To bring them together, rhymed, in this book. In my heart I always meant
To offer you this, my present.
Great joy to my heart you bring

If you accept my offering–
I’ll be glad forever and a day!
Please don’t think that I say
This from conceit–pride’s not my sin. Just listen now, and I’ll begin.

LANVAL

Marie de France, translated Judith P. Shoaf ©1991, 2005

The adventure of another lay, Just as it happened, I’ll relay:
It tells of a very nice nobleman, And it’s called Lanval in Breton.

King Arthur was staying at Carduel– That King of valiant and courtly estate– His borders there he guarded well Against the Pict, against the Scot, Who’d cross into Logres to devastate The countryside often, and a lot.

He held court there at Pentecost,1
The summer feast we call Whitsun, Giving gifts of impressive cost
To every count and each baron
And all knights of the Round Table. Never elsewhere so many, such able Knights assembled! Women and land He shared out with generous hand

To all but one who’d served. Lanval He forgot: no man helped his recall.

For being brave and generous,
For his beauty and his prowess,
He was envied by all the court; Those who claimed to hold him dear, If Fortune had brought him up short, Would not have shed a kindly tear. A king’s son, he’d a noble lineage, But now, far from his heritage,

He’d joined the household of the King. He’d spent all the money he could bring

1 Here Marie assumes that her audience is familiar with the story and habits of King Arthur as described by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his History of the Kings of Britain. (written around 1138). Geoffrey laid out the main lines of the legend for the Middle Ages, emphasizing Arthur as a king who ruled over a unified Britain, and who held great feasts, notably his “Pentecost court” at Carelon after subduing Norway, Aquitaine, and Gaul. Marie is more modest in depicting him as defending his own borders. Loegres (Geoffrey’s Loegria) is the name for Arthur’s British kingdom.

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Already. The King gave him no more– He gave just what Lanval asked for. Now Lanval knows not what to do; He’s very thoughtful, very sad.

My lords, I don’t astonish you:
A man alone, with no counsel–or bad– A stranger in a strange land
Is sad, when no help’s at hand.
This knight–by now you know the one– Who’d served the King with many a deed, One day got on his noble steed
And went riding, just for fun.
Alone he rode out of the town,
And came to a meadow–still alone– Dismounted by a flowing brook.
But his horse trembled now and shook, So he took off the tackle and let him go, Rolling free in the broad meadow.
The knight took his own cloak, folded
It into a pillow for his head.
He lay thinking of his sad plight;
He saw nothing to bring delight.
He lay thus, in a kind of daze,
Following the river-bank with his gaze. Then he saw coming two ladies,2
The fairest he’d seen in all his days.
They were both quite richly dressed,
In deep-dyed tunics, of the best
Silk, fastened with tight-tied laces;
And very lovely were their faces.
A bowl was borne by the elder maid, Golden, delicate, finely made
(I tell the truth without fail or foul)
–The younger maiden carried a towel.

2 Lanval’s adventure is similar to adventures of a number of other heroes of lais and romances, in particular the anonymous lais of Desire, Graelant Mor, and Guingamor. The latter two of these begin with an attempt at seducing the hero by his lord’s wife, which occurs later in Lanval: in all of them, he meets and becomes the lover of a mysterious lady, with attendants, in a watery context, and she extracts from him a promise he then breaks. Some of these works were undoubtedly influenced by Marie ’s lai, but her integration of the story into an Arthurian context is unusual. Chretien de Troyes’ story of Yvain, who also meets, marries, and breaks a promise to a lady of a fountain, seems to derive from a similar tale, possibly originally associated with Yvain/Owein in Scots legend. Yvain is among the knight of the Round Table in Lanval.

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These two ladies came straightaway To the place where Lanval lay. Lanval, mannerly, well-bred, Quickly scrambled to his feet;

The ladies spoke, first to greet
Him, then with a message. They said,
“Lord Lanval, the lady we owe duty–
A lady of valor, wisdom, beauty–
It’s for you our lady has sent
Us. Now come along with us, do!
Safely we’ll conduct you through–
Not far–look, you can see her tent!”
The knight went with them, of course;
He forgot all about his horse,
Grazing in the meadow right in front of him. They brought him where a tent rose above him, A lovely, well-placed pavilion.
Semiramis, Queen of Babylon,
When her power was on the rise,
And she was so rich as well as so wise,
Or Octavian, who ruled the whole map, Couldn’t have paid for one tent-flap.
On top was set an eagle, pure gold;
How much it cost, more or less–
Or the cords or the poles to hold
Up the tent walls–I couldn’t guess.
No King under heaven, with all his wealth, Could ever buy any of this for himself.
This tent was the maiden’s bower: New-blown rose, lily-flower,
When in Spring their petals unfurl–
Lovelier than these was this girl.
She lay upon so rich a bed,
You’d pay a castle for the sheet–
In just her slip she was clothèd.
Her body was well-shaped, and sweet.
A rich mantle of white ermine,
Lined with silk, alexandrine,
Was her quilt, but she’d pushed it away,
On account of the heat; she didn’t hide
Her face, neck, breast, her whole side,
All whiter than hawthorn blossom in May.

The knight took a step toward
The maiden; she called him forward;
Near the bed he sat down, near.
“Lanval,” she said, “my friend, my dear,
I left my lands to come where you are;
To find you I have come so far!
Be valiant and courtly in everything,
And no emperor, count or king
Ever had joy or blessings above you;
For, more than any thing, I love you.”
He looks at her; he sees her beauty;
Love pricks him, strikes in him the spark– Now his heart blazes in the dark.
He answers gently, as is his duty,
“Beauty,” he says, “If it please you,
And this great joy should befall
Me, that you grant your love,
I’ll be at your beck and call,
To fulfill whatever needs you
Have, wise or foolish–you are above
Me, my only commandant.
All others for you I abandon.
From you I never want to part:
That hope is strongest in my heart.”
When the girl hears what he has to say,
This man so filled with love for her,
She gives him her love, and what’s more, her Body; now Lanval is on his way! Afterwards, she gives a present:
Anything he may ever want
He’ll get, as far as his needs extend; Generously he may give and spend–
She will find the wherewithal.
Lanval has found a noble hostel:
The more he spends, in buying bold,
The more he’ll have of silver and gold.
“Now I warn you,” she says, “my fair Friend–a warning, an order, a prayer:
Don’t reveal yourself to any man!
I tell you, if you break this ban,
You will have lost me forever!
If this love is known, ever,
Never again of me you’ll catch sight;

As for my body, you lose any right.” Lanval can sincerely say,
What she orders, he’ll obey.
He’s lain down beside her on the bed– Now is Lanval well lodged and fed!3 He postpones rising from her side
Well into the shadows of evening-tide And would have stayed longer, I guess, If his sweet friend had said yes.

“Sweet friend,” she says, “Get up! No more Can you linger here–out the door
You go now. Here I will stay–
But this one thing I have to say:

If ever you want my conversation,
You won’t be able to think of a place
Where a man may have his girl, and no eye chase Them with reproach or accusation,
That I won’t be with you–see if I shan’t–
To do anything you want.
No man but you will see me when
I’m with you, or hear my words then.”
Hearing this, his joy was beyond compare.
He kissed her, and then he arose.
The two maidens who’d brought him there Furnished him with the richest clothes;
All dressed up, to tell the truth,
Heaven looked not down on a handsomer youth. Nor was he foolish, like a peasant:
They gave him water–he didn’t resent
Washing his hands, and drying them well
On the towel. Now they served a meal.
With his darling friend he dined–
Not the sort of thing that’s declined.
Courteously the maidens serve;
He accepts gladly, without reserve.
There was plenty of one special dish
Which satisfied his dearest wish:

3 When Lanval is “well lodged and fed,” and in a “noble hostel” with his lady, Marie’s phrase is “bien hebergez,” that is, housed in an inn. This phrase fits with his condition as a stranger in Arthur’s kingdom, who lives not at his own house but in a hostel or inn. There are plenty of references to his hostel later in the poem.

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Of sweet kisses there was no end,
And between courses he hugged his friend.

When they’d arisen from the last course, The maidens brought him his own horse Properly saddled, equiped with bridle– The service here was never idle.

He mounts the horse, he takes his leave; He rides off towards the city,
Looking back often. Pity
Lanval, who feels great fear and grief! Thinking of his adventure, he goes Along; doubts fill his heart; he knows Not what to believe; dazzled, the youth Can’t believe that it’s the truth.

Now home to his hostel he comes,
And finds his men wearing new costumes. That night he holds a jolly feast,
But where it comes from, no-one has the least Idea.

There’s no poor knight in town
Who needs a place to lay his head down, But Lanval invites him to his hostel
And has him served richly and well. Lanval was now the richest donor, Lanval ransomed all the prisoners, Lanval dressed jugglers and jongleurs, Lanval did all men every honor:
To stranger and to citizen
Lanval would gladly have given.
Lanval had great joy and delight: Whether by day or in the night,
He could often see his friend.
Everything is at his command.

It was that year (I think I can say)
After St. John’s or Midsummer’s Day, Some thirty knights–knighthood’s flower– Went out to do some playing
In the orchard near the tower

Where Queen Guinevere4 was staying. Among these knights was Gawain,5 And his cousin, handsome Yvain. Gawain said (valiant, frank and free, The love of every man held he),

“In God’s name, my lords, we sin
Against Lanval, our companion,
So courtly and generous in everything– And his father’s a wealthy king–
He should be here; we’ve done him wrong.” Right away they all turned back;
To his hostel they followed the track,
And begged Lanval to come along.

At a window, framed in stone,
The Queen leaned out–not alone,
But with three ladies. Lo and behold,
She spotted the knights of the King’s household. She recognized, and stared at, Lanval.
She gave one of her ladies a call.
She wants a group of maidens collected,
For beauty and manners they’re selected,
To stroll and play with the Queen
In the orchard, where the knights were seen. Thirty girls she leads, or more.
Down the steps and out the door.
Here to meet them come the knights,
Greatly gladdened by such sights. Hand-in-hand, their conversations
Are free of low-class intimations.
Lanval goes off all alone,
Far from the others; for his own
Friend he just can’t wait–not much–

4 Guinevere is not named in Marie’s poem. The modern vision of this queen as Lancelot’s mistress, the most refined and spiritual of all adulteresses, dates from Chrétien de Troyes’s Knight of the Cart, written about the same time as Marie was working. Although her character here is extremely unpleasant, this strong woman finds echoes in later Guineveres–for example, in the admirable queen of Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s Tale, who saves the life of a knight convicted of rape by setting him the riddle, “what do women most desire?” (The correct answer is “sovreignity”, a say in their own lives.) This tale of Chaucer’s is also, like Lanval, a story that one might summarize as “morally educational sexual encounter with a fairy lady.”

5 Gawain, King Arthur’s nephew, is the paragon of knighthood in many romances, particularly those of Chretien de Troyes. As has been noted, Chretien also wrote a romance about Yvain.

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For her kiss, her embrace, her touch. Little he cares about others’ delight When he can’t enjoy his own!
The Queen saw him go off alone,
And she headed straight for that knight. She sat near him, she called him over, She spoke as her heart would move her: “Lanval, I really do respect you,

I really care, I really love,
And you can have all my love.
Tell me what you want! I expect you Must be happy at what I say.
I’m offering to go all the way.”6
“Lady,” he said, “Let me go!
I never thought to love you so!
I’ve served the King for many a day;
His faith in me I won’t betray.
Not for you, your love, or anything Would I ever act against my King!”
The Queen’s heart filled with anger; Furious, she spoke a slander:
“Lanval,” she said, “I think they’re right. You don’t care much for such delight; People have told me again and again
That women offer you no pleasure–
With a few well-schooled young men You prefer to pass your leisure.
Peasant coward, faithless sinner,
My lord the King is hardly the winner
In letting your sort hang around;
He’s losing God’s own grace, I’ve found!”

Lanval is anguished by these lies; Quickly the accused replies.
He says a thing, in that angry moment,

6 “Going all the way,” (and also “love-affair,” and simply “love”) are translations of Marie’s word druerie. This seems to be Marie’s term for a love relationship in which the woman has power over the man, but it also usually implies a physical relationship. The word occurs also in Equitan, to refer to the “courtly” but criminally overintellectualized affair between the king and his sensechal’s wife; in Lanval it applies both to Guinevere’s passion and to Lanval’s imaginative relationship with his lover. In general, the word translated throughout the poem as “lover,” “darling,” “dear friend,” etc.–the word the lovers use to refer to each other and the court uses to refer to the lady–is always “ami/amie,” simply “friend,” in the original.

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Of which he’ll many times repent.
“My lady: That job–don’t doubt it,
I wouldn’t know how to go about it. But I do love–I alone love
A lady who’d win the prize
Over all women I’ve known of.
And I’ll tell you this, without disguise, Just because you need to know:
Her serving maids, a poor or low
One, even, the poorest in her train,
Is better than you are, Lady Queen:
In beauty of body and of face,
In goodness and in well-bred grace.” Away now went the Queen,
Up to her room, all crying.
Pain and anger drove her wild–
She’d been insulted and reviled.
Sick with it, she took to her bed.
Never would she get up, she said, Unless the King her complaint oversaw, And gave her justice according to law.

The King had just come home from the wood; His day’s hunting had been good.
He went into the Queen’s chamber.
She cried out, loud, when first she

Saw him, fell at his feet, begged mercy, Accused Lanval–he had shamed her! He’d asked her for a love-affair,
She’d said no, with this result:

He’d offered her an ugly insult.
He boasted of a friend so fair,
So full of pride, breeding, honor,
That the chambermaid who waited on her– The lowliest, poorest of the poor–
Compared to the Queen, was worth far more. The King was angry, to the core.

His oath against Lanval he swore: In court he’d prove he was no liar, Or else he’d hang, or die by fire. The King left the Queen’s bedroom, Called three of his barons to him, Sent them to bring in Lanval.

Now sorrow and evil befall
Him: coming home to his inn,
He sees right away the trouble he’s in.
His darling friend now is lost;
He told their love; this is the cost.
In his room alone he languished,
Sadly thoughtful, madly anguished;
Time after time he called her name,
But his dear friend never came.
He breathes out sighs and complaints, Sometimes he even faints.
A hundred times he begs mercy of her–
Won’t she speak to her dear lover?
He curses his tongue, the heart he couldn’t hide– It’s a wonder he doesn’t commit suicide.
All his crying and begging and braying, Self-hatred, self-abuse, humble praying,
All bring no mercy from his dear,
Not even just the chance to see her.
Alas, will he ever find content?

The men whom the King sent
Arrive, the message they relay:
He must come to court without delay.
The King commands, no-one refuses him. The Queen herself accuses him.
Lanval, in pain, does as they say–
They’d have killed him if he had his way. Mute, he stands before the King;
In his sorrow, he can’t say a thing,
But his sorrow is obvious.
The King speaks, angry, malicious: “Vassal, against me is your crime!
You acted like a peasant this time.
You debase me, shame, demean
Me, by slandering my Queen!
Madness, foolishness to boast
A lover nobler than we’ve ever seen, Whose chambermaid would seem the most Fair and worthy, beside the Queen!”

Lanval begins his own defense:7
Against his lord’s honor he’s made no offense; He refutes, word for word,
The demand for love the Queen says she heard. But as for what he said afterwards,
He admits the truth of those words,
How he boasted of love and his lover–
It grieves him now; he’s lost her forever.
For this crime, yes, pay he must
Whatever the court deems is just.
The King’s anger still was strong;
He called a council of all his knights,
To tell him to act within his rights,
For he didn’t want to be called wrong.
The men came to give advice,
Whether they thought it nasty or nice.
Into the council they all went,
And came up with this judgement:
Until his trial Lanval would go free,
If he gave hostages as guarantee
To his lord that he’d come back when
The court could convene on this case again.
For the trial, more lords would arrive in a hurry; Today, only the King’s household was the jury. The knights went back to the King
And explained to him their finding.
The King demanded the hostages;
Lanval’s alone, lost, without access
To parents or friends who might avail;
Gawain gave himself up as bail,
And all his companions then came forward, too. The King said, “I give him to you,
But whatever fiefs and lands
You hold from me, are now in my hands.” Whatever they had, they pledged it all.
Now back to his hostel went Lanval,
And with him all the knights came.
They were ready to scold and blame

7 It should be clear from the action that the legal power of sworn testimony was very great; Lanval could clear himself of the Queen’s charges simply by denying them under oath, though he did not dare deny the truth about his beloved.

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Lanval for being still so sad.
They cursed such a love as mad.
Every day at his house they’d meet, Checking on him, just to find
If he’d drunk water, if he’d still eat; They feared Lanval might lose his mind.

On the day set for the trial,
The barons have travelled many a mile
To be there; the Queen’s there, and the King, And now Lanval’s hostages bring
Him in. They’re so sorry for him.
A hundred knights or more, I guess,
Would have done anything for him
So he could walk free away from this case, So wrongful are the accusations!
The King asks a verdict of his barons,
Based on the charge and defense plea.
Now it’s all up to the lords’ jury.
They have gone to find their verdict
But they wonder, a little panicked
About this noble foreign knight
Who finds himself in such a plight.
More than one is ready to bring
Him in “guilty,” to please the King.
Hear the Count of Cornwall speak:
“Never let us be so wrong, so weak! Whoever weeps or laughs, it’s all one– Justice, always, must be done.
The King has spoken against his vassal,
The man I hear you call Lanval;
The King has made the allegation.
A felony’s the accusation:
His crime is that he had a tiff
With the Queen, boasting of a fair love.
The King is the only plaintiff.
Now by any law I’m aware of,
And by my faith as a lord in this isle,
Lanval should not even be on trial–
Except that honor in everything
Is owed by all men to their king.
We will make him swear an oath,
And the King will pardon him for us.

And, if he can prove the truth, And his lady appears before us So that it is clearly seen
It was no lie that upset the Queen, Then Lanval is vindicated:

No malice there is indicated.
But if he can’t prove his defense
Then we must pronounce this sentence: He loses his right to serve the King, And the King will send him packing.” They sent word to the accused knight And told him how he must defend Himself: he must make his dear friend Come into court, to prove he’s right. He can’t do it, is Lanval’s answer;
He will never get any help from her. Back to the judges the messengers go, But will they get get help there? No. The King is pushing on the jury–
The Queen’s the one who’s in a hurry.

As they got ready to pass sentence,
Two maidens rode into their presence,
On two lovely ambling palfreys.
Very attractive they were, these ladies:
Silken garments, scarlet, thin,
Were all they wore over naked skin.
Everyone enjoyed these sights.
Gawain, and with him three knights,
Went to tell Lanval, and show
Him the lovely maidens two.
Gladdened, he begs Lanval to declare
Which of these is his friend so fair.
Lanval told them he doesn’t know
Who they are, whence they come, where they go. The pair meanwhile passed by, riding
On horseback still; in the same tone,
They dismounted before the high throne
Where sat the lord Arthur, the King.
Their beauty was a great delight,
And their speech was most polite:
“Make ready several rooms, O King,
Hang all the walls with silk covering,

So that my lady may come in;
She wishes to make your home her inn.” Gladly he granted this request;
Two knights he called, to show them the best Rooms above; they led them away.
Just then they had no more to say.

The King calls his barons, and now he Demands the verdict and penalty.
They’ve angered him, he lets them know, By their delays–they’re just too slow. “Lord, we lost our judgement of the law,” They said, “because of the maidens we saw. We’ve not looked into a decision, then, And now we’ll just have to begin again.” Thoughtful, they got back together,

But then they heard some noise and bother. They went and saw what caused the to-do: Prettily equipped maidens, two,
Dressed in silk with a fresh finish,

And riding on two fine mules, Spanish. They saw them riding down the road. The knights were filled with greatest joy; They told each other this must bode Well for Lanval, that brave fine boy. Now Yvain went, and with him all

His companions, to find Lanval.
“My Lord,” he said, “Now rejoice!
For the love of God, find your voice! Two young ladies are coming here,
Very refined, so very fair.
Truly this is your friend, your dear!” Lanval was quick to declare
He recognized neither of them;
He didn’t know them, didn’t love them. The ladies rode at a steady pace,
And dismounted before the King’s dais. Most of the courtiers praised them for Their bodies, their faces, their color. Either of these girls was worth more Than the Queen was now, or ever before. The older was polite and good;
Sweetly she made herself understood:

“Let us be given the rooms, O King,
Set aside for our lady’s lodging:
She comes to you with something to say.” The King has them led away
Up to the rooms to join the others.
About the mules, neither bothers.8

When he’s got rid of the maidens,
The King sends for his barons:
They must pass sentence right away; Too long they’ve stretched this trial-day. The Queen’s anger won’t abate,

When she’s made to wait and wait.

They’d have passed sentence then and there, When there came wandering a horse laden, Ambling through town, with a maiden; Never in this world was maid so fair.

A gentle white palfrey she rode;
Sweet and soft he carried his load–
His beautiful head and neck pleased
All; under heaven, he’s the fairest beast. Richly adorned were all his trappings: Under heaven, all counts or kings
Could only afford such saddle or reins
By sale or mortgage of their domains.
This was how the maiden dressed up:
Of white linen, her camisole
Was made so that it showed both whole Sides, shining where it laced up.
Her body was slim, long-waisted, tall,
Her neck was whiter than fresh snow-fall. Grey were her eyes, white her face,
Lovely her mouth, nose in the right place, Brown eyebrows, forehead smooth and fair, Bright blond, crisply curling hair–
The radiant light of pure gold thread
Fades by the brightness of her head.
Deep purple-red silk is her cloak,
Which she’s draped in folds all around;

8 Another manuscript adds a couple of lines about the mules being properly stabled. Thanks to Antonio Furtado for correcting my earlier translation of this line.

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On her fist she bears a hawk,
And behind her runs a greyhound.
In the whole town, great men and small,
Old men and babies, one and all
Came running just to watch this show.
When they saw her riding, these folk
Knew her beauty was no joke.
Still she rode on, so very slow.
The judges spot her; on their honor,
She is a marvel, they all say,
Any man who sets eyes on her,
Pleasure warms him straightaway.
Those who love the knight Lanval
Come running to him now to tell
Him about the maiden come to court
Who will free him, please the Lord.
“My lord, a maiden’s come to town,
But she’s neither tawny nor brown,
No–just the most beautiful girl
Of all girls living in the world.”
Lanval hears them; he lifts his eyes;
He knows her well; deeply he sighs.
The blood mounts up into his face.
He speaks with the greatest haste:
“My faith,” he cries, “It is my friend!
I don’t care if my life should end,
Or who kills me, if she has mercy;
I’m healed again, when her I see.”
The lady rides in at the palace door,
Lovelier than any, since or before,
To come there. Up to the King she rides,
And dismounts, so she can be seen from all sides. She drops her cloak upon the floor,
So that they all can see her more.
The King, well-bred and most polite,
Stands up to meet her, as is right.
The others, after they observe her,
Crowd up to honor her and serve her.
Once they’ve all tired out their eyes,
And praised her beauty to the skies,
She began to have her say there,
For she didn’t want to stay there:
“Arthur,” she said, “Now listen to me!

And all your barons whom here I see. O King, I have loved your vassal, This one, here! I mean Lanval.
In your court he’s accused of crime.

I didn’t want him to have a bad time
For what he said; all along,
You know, the Queen was in the wrong; He never asked anything of her;

As for his boasting of his lover,
If the law’s satisfied by what you see, May your barons set him free!”
The King approves in advance
Any judgement the barons make.
They decide–and it doesn’t take Long–Lanval’s made the perfect defense. He is freed by their verdict,
And the maiden makes her exit.
The King can’t keep her there at all
She has enough servants of her own. There was set, outside the hall
A great dark marble mounting-stone,
For an armed knight to climb on his horse, When from the castle he set his course. Lanval had climbed up there to wait. When the maiden came out the gate Lanval made his leap, at full speed,
Up behind her, onto her steed.
With her he’s gone to Avalon9–
Or so say the poets in Breton–
To the fair island far away
She ravished that noble youth;
No-one can say any more with truth,
And I have no more to tell of this lay.

9 Geoffrey of Monmouth was interested in Avalon, which he mentions as an island where Arthur’s sword was forged, and to which he was carried when he was mortally wounded, “to be cured of his wounds.” In a later work, the Life of Merlin, Geoffrey identified Avalon as the home of Morgan le Fay, Arthur’s half sister, a sorceress or fairy. Marie here associates the name with her powerful fairy queen, an antagonist of sort to Arthur’s court and to Guinevere in particular, as Morgan was to be in later Arthurian legend. Whether Marie thought of her fairy lover as Morgan or not, we don’t know.

BISCLAVRET

Marie de France, translated Judith P. Shoaf ©1996

Since I’m making lais, Bisclavret
Is one I don’t want to forget.
In Breton, “Bisclavret”‘s the name; “Garwolf” in Norman means the same. Long ago you heard the tale told–
And it used to happen, in days of old– Quite a few men became garwolves, And set up housekeeping in the woods. A garwolf is a savage beast,

While the fury’s on it, at least:
Eats men, wreaks evil, does no good, Living and roaming in the deep wood. Now I’ll leave this topic set.1
I want to tell you about Bisclavret.

In Brittany there dwelt a lord; Wondrous praise of him I’ve heard: A handsome knight, an able man,
He was, and acted like, a noble man. His lord the King held him dear,
And so did his neighbors far and near.

He’d married a worthy woman, truly; Always she acted so beautifully.

He loved her, she him: they loved each other. But one thing was a bother:
Every week he was lost to her

1In the introduction, Marie juxtaposes, but distinguishes, the historical action recorded by songs (the activities of real werewolves) and the action of making the songs or stories. Compare the beginning of Equitan, which seems to be going to tell us how noble the deeds of the Bretons were, but ends up praising their lais rather than their actions. In introducing Bisclavret, Marie is, again, seriously teasing the reader: what terrible beasts these garwolves were! Cruel, wild man-eaters… who then can blame the wife in the story for not wanting to sleep with her husband? Yet Marie lightly dissociates the garwolf myth from her own tale (“now I will drop this matter, because I want to tell you the story of Bisclavret”). As the story continues, the reader is forced to contrast the wife’s rejection of her husband for his beastliness with the king’s admiration of the same creature for his humanity. The horror the garwolf arouses in the introduction turns out to be irrelevant to this tale, in which the real horror is the woman who betrays the man she has loved.

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For three whole days, she didn’t know where, What became of him, what might befall
Him; his people knew nothing at all.
He came home to his house one day,

So joyous he was, happy and gay;
She began to ask him and inquire:
“My lord,” she said, “my friend, my dear, There’s just one thing I might care
To ask, if only I might dare–
But I’m afraid that you’ll get angry,
And, more than anything, that scares me.” He hugged her when he heard all this, Drew her close and gave her a kiss.
“My lady,” he said, “Ask me now! Anything you want to know,
If I can, I’ll tell you.” “Sir,
By my faith, you work my cure.
My lord, I’m in terror every day,
Those days when you’ve gone away,
My heart is so full of fear,
I’m so afraid I’ll lose you, dear–
If I don’t get some help, some healing,
I will die soon of what I’m feeling!
Where do you go? Now you must say What life you live, where do you stay? You are in love–that’s it, I know–
And you do wrong if this is so!”
“My lady,” he said, “Please, God above! I’ll suffer great harm if I tell you:
I’ll drive you off, right out of love,
And lose my own self if I do.”

The lady heard how he refused. She was not the least amused. She brought it up again, and often She would flatter him and cozen Him to tell her his adventure– Till, hiding nothing, he told her. “My lady, I turn bisclavret;

I plunge into that great forest. In thick woods I like it best.
I live on what prey I can get.” When he’d told her all the story

She asked, inquired one thing more: he Undressed?2 Or what did he wear?
“My lady,” he said, “I go all bare.”
“Where are your clothes? Tell, for God’s sake.” “My lady, I won’t say this, no;

For if I lost them by this mistake,
From that moment on, I’d know
I’d stay a bisclavret forever;
Nothing could help me, I’d never Change back till I got them again.
That’s why I don’t want it known.”
“My lord,” the lady replied, “It’s true More than all the world I love you.
You should hide nothing from me, nor Ever doubt I’m loyal in any affair.
That would not seem like true friendship. How have I ever sinned? What slip Makes me seem untrustworthy to you? Do what’s right! Now tell me, do!”

She nagged him thus, and thus harassed Him till he just had to tell, at last.
“My lady,” he said, “near that wood, Where I come home, along that road, Standing there is an old chapel,

Which often serves me well.
The stone is there, hollow and wide, Beneath a bush, dug out inside;
I put my clothes there under the bush Until I can come back to the house.”

The lady heard this marvel, this wonder. In terror she blushed all bright red,
Filled with fear by this adventure.
Often and often passed through her head Plans to get right out, escape, for

She didn’t want ever to share his bed.

2 The verb “se despuille” is used (“undressed”); in lines 124, 268, and (as a rhyme word) 275, the noun “despuille” refers to Bisclavret’s clothes (otherwise called “draps,” linen). “Depouille” in modern French is a snake’s sloughed skin, a trophy animal hide, or spoils, booty of war; a dead body is a “depouille mortelle.” While the word always could refer to clothes, it certainly seems the ideal word to suggest clothes as both a unit, like skin itself, and clothes as the precious social identity that allows a man to be recognized as a man.

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A knight in that country there
Who long had loved the lady fair, Begging her so, praying hard,
Giving generously to win her regard (She had never loved him before this, Nor let him think her love was his)– She sent a messenger to bring
Him to her, and told him everything.

“My friend, my dear,” she said, “be glad! You’ve been tormented, driven, sad Wanting what I’ll give you today– No-one will ever say you nay–

I grant you my love and my body, too: Take me, make me your lover, you!”

He thanks her very gratefully.
He takes her pledge made solemnly– She swears an oath on the engagement. Then she told him how her lord went Away, and what he turned into.
The path he’d always taken to
Enter the forest–this she shows;
She sent him to get his clothes.
Thus was Bisclavret betrayed
And by his own wife waylaid.

Having lost him so often, indeed, Everyone generally agreed
That he had finally left for good.
He was looked for, inquiries pursued, But they couldn’t find a trace.

Finally they closed the case.
The lady’s marriage was celebrated To the fellow who’d loved and waited.

So, a whole year, matters rest,
Until the King went hunting one day. He went straight to the forest
Where the bisclavret used to stay. When the hounds were loosed and let Run, they found the bisclavret.
They chased him always that long day,

The huntsmen and the coursing dogs, Till they had him–almost–at bay
And they would have torn him to rags, But then he picked out the King

And ran there for mercy. To beg,
He seizes the King’s stirrup-ring,
And kisses his foot and leg.
The King sees this, and feels great fear; He calls all his companions over.

“My lords,” he says, “come, come here! Behold this marvel, see this wonder. How this beast bows down to me!
Its3 sense is human. It begs for mercy. Drive me those dogs away again,

See that no-one strikes a blow!
This beast understands, feels like a man. Let’s get going! You’re all too slow!
To the beast my peace I’ll grant.
Now, no more today will I hunt.”

With that, the King turns and goes. The bisclavret follows him close; It won’t escape, it stays right near. Losing him is its only fear.

The King leads it back to his castle keep; It pleases him, his delight is deep
For he’s never seen such a creature.
He’s decided it’s a marvel of nature,

And treats it as a great treasure.
He tells his people it’s his pleasure For them to take the best of care Of it; let no-one harm it, or dare
To strike it, for love of the King.
It must be fed well and given drink. They’re all glad to care for and keep It; every day it goes to sleep

3 At first, I use “it” to refer to the werewolf as seen by the king; at the point when the lady’s husband enters the picture, I return to the masculine pronoun. In French, and therefore in Marie ’s text,, there is no neuter pronoun; the King refers to Biscla vret as “la bête” (feminine) and so uses feminine pronouns, while Marie calls him “Le Bisclavret” (masculine) and uses masculine pronouns. Later, the King’s adviser uses the feminine word “beste” but continues to use the masculine pronoun for Bisclavret. So my “it” corresponds to Marie ’s “she.”

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Among the knights, close to the King. Every man thinks it a precious thing, For it’s so gentle, well-bred, polite,
It never would do what isn’t right. Wherever the King might go

It didn’t want to be separated, so It went along with him constantly. That it loved him was easy to see.

Now listen to what happened next.
The King was holding court; he’d asked That all his barons attend him,
Those who owed their land to him,
To help him hold his high feast-day,
And see him served in a royal way.
That very knight came to the feast,
Well equipped and richly dressed,
Who had married Bisclavret’s wife.
He never thought nor reckoned
To find him so close in his life.
He came to the palace; the second
That Bisclavret saw him standing around, He made for him with a single bound, Bit into him and dragged him off.
He would have treated him very rough
If the King hadn’t called him back
And threatened him with a stick.
He tried to bite him twice before night. Many folks were amazed at the sight; For never had he acted this way
To any man he’d seen, until this day.
All those of the household insist
There must be a reason he’s doing this. He’s hurt him, gave him some offense– For he’d be glad to take vengeance.
This time he lets it drop
Until the feast has broken up
And the lords take leave; each baron Returns to his home, one by one.
The knight has left, I happen to know, Among the very first to go,
He whom Bisclavret attacked;

He hates him4–not a surprising fact.

Some time later (not very long,
I think, unless I heard it wrong),
The King went riding in the wood,
That courteous King, so wise and good, That wood where they’d found Bisclavret, And he came along with him. At
Night, time to retire for the day,
In a country lodging he lay.
Bisclavret’s wife knew it; she dressed Herself in her attractive best,
Next day, to go speak to the King–
Sent him a gift, some costly thing.
When Bisclavret saw her entrance,
No man could have held him back;
He ran like mad to the attack–
Listen now to his fine vengeance:
He tore her nose right off her face.
Could anything be worse than this is? Now they surround him in that place, They’re ready to cut him in pieces,
When a wise fellow tells the King,
“My Lord,” he says, “Hear what I say:
It’s with you this beast’s been living
And every one of us here today
Has watched him a long time; beside Him we’ve traveled far and wide.
He’s never before hurt anyone,
Or shown a criminal disposition,
Except to this lady you see here.
By the faith I owe you, it’s clear
He holds some grudge or other
Against her and her lord together.
This is the wife of that knight who
Used to be so dear to you,
Who was lost such a long time ago;
What happened to him, we don’t know.

4As so often in the Lais, the antecedents for subject and object pronouns of the same gender can often be distinguished only by using common sense: “He feared him” must be the knight fearing Bisclavret, while “He hated him” is Bisclavret hating the knight.

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Now try this lady with some torture,5 And see if she doesn’t have more to Tell you why the beast hates her!
If she knows, make her say it!

Many strange things we see occur In Brittany, early and late.”

With this advice the King agrees.
On the one hand, the knight they seize; The lady’s taken, on the other,
And seriously made to suffer.
From pain just as much as from fear,
She told him her lord’s whole affair: How she’d betrayed him, she said,
And taken away the clothes that he shed, The adventure he’d told, so she’d know, What he became and where he’d go. Since she’d stolen all his linen,
In his lands he’d not been seen;
But she believed–her mind was set– The beast was indeed Bisclavret.
The King wants the clothes on the spot; Whether the lady wants to or not
She has them brought back out
And given to the Bisclavret.
They set them down in front of his nose,6 But Bisclavret ignores the clothes.
That wise fellow speaks to the King, Who’d given the other advice, too:
“Sire, you’re doing the wrong thing.
He will never make the least
Move to get dressed in front of you
And change from the form of a beast. This is terrible–you don’t know–

5 It’s not clear how the words “en destreit” (“in torture”) and “destresce” (“suffering, pain,” lines 264-65) should be taken; is it a matter of merely arresting the wife and questioning her, or of administering some form of physical torture? In line 264, she is put to “mut grant destresce,” which suggests that there are degrees of unpleasantness in whatever “destresce” is. “They grilled her” might be the closest possible sense….

6 In line 279, “in front of his nose” is my addition to Marie’s “devant lui” (“in front of him”); rhyming “nose” and “clothes” was just too tempting.

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Something he’s far too ashamed to show. Have him taken to your own room,
And his lost clothes brought with him;
A good long time, leave him alone;

Then we’ll see if he becomes a man.”

The King himself took Bisclavret Inside, and closed all the doors tight; He returned when the time was done. He brought along two barons, not one. They entered the chamber, all three. On the king’s royal bed, they see
Lying fast asleep, the knight.
The king ran to hug him tight;
He kissed him a hundred times that day. When he catches his breath, he hands Him back all his fiefs and lands,
And more presents than I will say.

The lady, now, they expell
From that realm, from that time forward. He goes with her, as well,
For whom she betrayed her lord.
She had plenty of children; grown,
They were, all of them, quite well-known, By their looks, their facial assembly: More than one woman of that family Was born without a nose to blow,7
And lived denosed. It’s true! It’s so!

The adventure you have heard
Is true–don’t doubt a single word. Of Bisclavret they made the lay, To remember, forever and a day.

7 Similarly, “born without a nose to blow” is silly, but Marie’s

C’est verite, senz nes sunt nees et si viveient esnasees

is sillier.

Marie de France and Identity

No one knows precisely who Marie de France was; as a pseudonym, it’s the equivalent of
“Maria de Mexico” or something. Of course, most people didn’t have last names at that point,
but, still….

What is known is that she was the author of a variety of texts, among them a translation of
Aesop’s Fables and these Lais. She was fluent in Breton (a Celtic language related to Welsh),
French (a particular dialect referred to by linguists as Old French), English, and Latin. She wrote
in three languages, and she translated and adapted texts in to all these languages. She likely
wrote while living in England, as calling herself “Marie de France” would make no sense while
living in France.

The Prince she refers to in her Prologue is likely King Henry II of England, as the timeline of the
manuscripts, the linguistics, and the references all line up with his reign.

Most importantly, she wrote. By doing so, she does what Sidney claimed poetry did, “move by
delight to engage and teach” an audience. In an age when books were physically expensive –
and I don’t mean “my calculus textbook is $300” expensive; I mean a very, very rich person
might display his or her wealth with a vast library of 20 books expensive – being an author
meant that you had the social position and wherewithal to support yourself, since writing
wouldn’t earn you a living if you didn’t have a patron. Thus, her desire to impress her Prince
was not just a narrative movement; it was a hope for patronage.

While I could fascinate you with a long lecture regarding the poetics of the texts, I’m going to
stick to a few main ideas:

1. Old French, a langue d’oil, is a Romance language; thus, it works very differently than
English did. Her poetry works with two kinds of rhyme – end rhyme and assonance (soft
rhymes where vowels near to each other help create the rhythmic patterns). In French
at this time, as with Romance languages generally, word order had become critical as
case endings were obviated in the integration of Latin and Germanic languages; so
Marie’s grammar, although in another language, is something you would recognize if
you know Spanish or French. If you look at the box of Old French in the PDF of the
Prologue, you will recognize a fair amount of the vocabulary; this Anglo-Norman
subdialect of Old French is a major influence on English in this era.

2. Marie’s “Prologue” sets up the major issues of her Lais. She argues that old texts were
written obscurely on purpose, so that later readers could “gloss” the text – attribute
meanings, interpret language, and infer lessons. While her theory was not necessarily
correct, she’s making an argument for the value of literature. You have all learned how
to pick meaning out of text and to prove your hypothesis with the language of the text
itself – learning to understand imagery, rhythm, rhyme, foreshadowing, themes, etc.
Marie is not the first person who pointed out that is what one does with text, but she is
someone who strategically raises the issue in her Prologue and seems to reject it. Think

about what that does; as with anything raised and dismissed, the raising of the issue
remains. So, she’s saying that interpreting and analyzing her text isn’t what she’s setting
up, effectively asking her reader to consider meaning and analysis as they read the Lais.

3. Setting her stories elsewhere and elsewhen allows her to both entertain her royal
audience and to critique that same audience without being specifically critical of that
audience in the particular.

a. In “Bisclavret,” the setting is Bretagne; the issue of loyalty is key. The lines of
loyalty run from the wife to the husband and vice versa. They mimic the lines of
loyalty between a vassal and a king. Loyalty is critical to a successful social order
in a feudal society, as power flows theoretically from the top down, but it has to
be mirrored from the vassal upwards in order for things to function rightly.
Think about it: if you can’t trust someone, it doesn’t matter how sincere either
of you are. Now add distance, physically and economically, to the mix. In an age
when courtiers would be at the palace and their families would be back at the
chateau, being able to rely on your spouse would have been crucial. When the
knight confesses that he becomes a bisclavret / garwulf, he does so because he
loves and trusts his wife, and she has argued that he’s not showing that to her by
hiding what is going on with him three days each week. She uses issues of
loyalty to demand reciprocity, but she rewards that reciprocity with betrayal on
both a personal level – she has a knight courting her – and a societal level. After
all, stealing his humanity from him gives her control of his estate and her person,
something that was not possible for a woman in that era. However, that
disloyalty to her husband undermines the social order on a larger scale. Her
personal decision removes a vassal loyal to the king, effectively becoming
treasonous. Thus, when the betrayal is revealed, she and her new husband are
both punished for that betrayal by losing everything their trickery had gained
them, and she and her descendants are marked forever, echoing Cain’s
punishment.

b. In “Lanval,” the issue of loyalty is much more explicitly examined, as the failure
of leadership is central to the story. Lanval, a foreign knight who serves King
Arthur, is forgotten when the king is rewarding his knights, and he consequently
has no source of income, no reputation for bravery, honor, chivalry, etc, and no
hope for his future as a knight. At this nadir of his career, he goes off to mope,
and that’s when he finds himself the object of a woman’s desire. As his loyalty
to King Arthur has been betrayed, he gives it to the woman who fulfills all the
needs of her loyal vassal – economic, emotional, and physical. All she demands
in return is the same loyalty she shows. It’s when he’s forced to betray her
demand for silence regarding their relationship that he loses everything.

i. However, the loyalty works both ways. It’s King Arthur who fails in his
obligation to one of his posse commitatus, his loyal knights. If leadership
is based on a mutually beneficial relationship, it is up to the leader to
display the characteristics desired by the followers. Arthur, failing, shows
that there is a problem with the kingdom.

ii. That the queen is not loyal to her king, as seen in her pursuit of Lanval, is
another sign that something is wrong in the Kingdom of Kaerleon. Sexual
loyalty of the spouse of the king was not just a personal issue; it was an
issue of succession. After all, before DNA testing, you always knew who
the mother was, but the father? And since the king’s heir was his first-
born legitimate son, being sure of the queen’s loyalty was an issue not
just personal, but an issue of treason. That Arthur did not inspire loyalty
in his wife shows the underlying flaw in the system of kingship in a feudal
society. If it’s rotten at the top, what hope is there for the regular(-ish)
folks?

c. Ultimately, if Marie’s audience is her Prince, Henry II of England, can you see
how this is a commentary on leadership? You learn by seeing when things go
wrong, not when they go right (think about learning something like riding a bike
– you learn how to stay on by falling off). If Marie is invested in the success of
the kingdom in which she lives, and if she has the proverbial ear of the king (or
hopes to have it), teaching a lesson about leadership and the consequences of its
failure become potentially highly valuable not just for the king but for the
courtiers who would read this entertaining set of Lais. Remember Sidney –
poetry moves to delight and thus engage an audience. Do you think Marie used
her platform effectively?

Piers Plowman

The author of this poem, William Langland, was born the year Dante died. Langland is considered one of the first major poets in a dialect of what we refer to as Middle English. This is the language that grew out of the influence of Norman French and became the language of not just the underclass, but the upper classes and government after the declaration of Philip II of France.

During the lifetimes of Langland, the anonymous author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Chaucer, the Hundred Years’ War raged between England and France. The Reformation was not quite beginning on the Continent, but it was getting close. Parliament was in English. The War of the Roses was ongoing in England. The Black Death raged across Europe, including England. The strictly feudal society began to be disrupted due to the economic and philosophical impacts of all of these things.

Basically, all the changes that were ongoing created an atmosphere where a variety of long-standing societal structures began to be called in to question. Langland’s poetry engaged with questions of authority and authenticity. This poem, in particular, raised questions regarding corruption and the difference between seeming and being something (a common theme). As you’ve read the Prologue, you’ve been exposed to his Types – his archetypal characters who all literally and figuratively embody the various roles in Society. You should have noted that everyone is problematic except for Piers and his brother, the Parson. What you need to ask yourself is what, in the years just prior to The Reformation, is Langland doing with this allegory? What questions is he raising that he has to deal with through the rest of his poem? What does he set his audience up to contemplate? What are the issues of social structures, economics, and religion that he considers worth not just commenting upon but critically examining? What do all these things have in common?

Really – you’ll need to work that out for yourself. It is how you learn to analyze text – looking at what’s really there and then taking a mental step back and looking at it for patterns and relationships (metacognition is key to analysis).

Regarding the poem’s language and structure, you’ll notice that the rhymes are very different from the Old English poetry. While Langland uses alliteration, he also uses assonance verse and end rhyme. This combination of strategies is typical of what’s referred to as The Alliterative Revival in English poetry. Effectively, this movement is a response to the devolving relationship between England and France. English poets looked back to pre-1066 English poetry and adapted its strategies to their own writing. It, of course, isn’t exactly the same, as the language has changed significantly. But it is an attempt at creating “Englishness” in poems.

You will also notice that Will, the narrator (not William Langland the poet), sets this whole thing up as a Dream Vision. This is a trope of literature that you ran in to with the Dream of the Rood. Here, it’s used for a different strategic purpose. Remember that context matters. If you live in an authoritarian society and are critiquing things you see in it that are problematic, you have to be able to distance yourself from culpability. With something like a Dream Vision, the poem you are relating is not yours, per se. It’s the vision sent from God on High to you. It’s what good poetry does. Remember Sidney’s claim that poets were both poien (makers) and vates (seers). This means that true poetry isn’t just something the poet imagines – it’s what the poet sees and then relates / creates in the poem itself.

So Langland’s Field of Fair Folk may be a Dream, but it’s a True Dream (per Macrobius) – a message of prophecy from God, related to the poet, who then crafts the poem to move his readers to learn the message by engaging them through delight to want to learn. The Folk, the commentary on them, the valuation of social structures embodied in them, and the values that they lack are all meant to be understood by any reader. But Langland cannot risk being someone who angers Authority. So it’s a Dream. Blame God if you want….

I did make this one short so that you can be working on your research essays. Remember that I will look at any draft version – but only one time per student. I literally don’t dictate how you organize your essay; I grade the work product you submit based on the criteria stated in the prompt regarding mechanics and content. Please do not imagine that I’m joking about any of that.

If you have questions, you should be emailing me via your HCC email or messaging me through Eagle Online.

Next, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Give yourself plenty of time to read it. Try the Middle English, at least for the first verse. Read it aloud to yourself. Poetry is meant to be heard.

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