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Feminism, Anti Feminism And Adultery In The Lais Of Marie De France

2112 words - 8 pages

In the middle ages knights in every kingdom were expected to follow basic rules set forth by the code of chivalry. According to this code a knight was supposed to show all of the following characteristics; prowess, justice, loyalty, defense, courage, faith, humility, largesse, nobility and franchise. If a man showed these characteristics he was said to be a good "chevalier," a French word for knight (Burgess 1). Marie De France, one of the more well-known female writers of the medieval period, used the term "chevalier" quite often in her Lais when referring to respected male characters. Unfortunately for women, the code of chivalry also meant that women would be held at a lower status than men and traded between the men of the court. In the article "Chivalry and Prowess in the Lais of Marie de France," Glyn Burgess notes that "most of the characters in Marie's Lais belong to the upper classes, and thus issues of loyalty, service and expertise in battle and hunting predominate" (1). These men adhere to the code of chivalry. Sharon Kinoshita, the author of "Cherchez la Femme: Feminist Criticism and Marie de France's `Lai de Lanval'," takes the opposing position and argues that in Lanval, "the title character's ultimate rejection of chivalric society is an expression of Marie de France's feminism" (1). While some male characters in the Lais of Marie De France do indeed show elements of the chivalric code, Lanval goes against the code and is eventually praised for it. In Equitan and Laustic while some male characters adhere to the code of chivalry, in the same Lais, some men defy it. Kinoshita says Marie shows feminism in Lanval by having the male protagonist go against the code of chivalry. Unlike in Lanval, the characters in other Lais that disobey the code are eventually defeated by those who obey it. Perhaps it is not the code that Marie is supporting, but the bond between a man and wife. Those who break this bond eventually face ill fate. By creating an unfortunate outcome for all characters who commit adultery, despite their adherence to the code or lack thereof, Marie de France shows her support for strong marital faithfulness rather than revealing her feminist or anti-feminist voice.

In 1950, William S. Woods claimed Marie de France's "femininity" was obvious in her Lais. He declared "Marie reveals herself to be a true woman in many of the most interesting passages of the Lais" (qtd. in Kinoshita 1). Kinoshita agrees that many of Marie's Lais can be construed as feminist. She discusses "Lanval, one of the twelve Lais that has been least subject to feminist recuperations" (3). Kinoshita believes Lanval hasn't received as much criticism because perhaps past critics were looking at the wrong character. Rather than looking at the female characters to reveal Marie's feminism, Kinoshita focuses on the male characters and reveals a great deal of feminist connotation. Many of the men in Lanval go against the code of chivalry. ...

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