Romantic Love in Marie de France’s Poem, Lanval
In her poem "Lanval," Marie de France shares a fantasy with her readers, telling the tale of a mysterious woman who journeys from a distant land to be with Lanval, a dishonored knight of King Arthur's Round Table. Marie's portrayal sets Lanval's mistress apart from the maidens and ladies in waiting at King Arthur's court, as she eclipses even Queen Guenever. Much like an editor of a modern woman's fashion magazine, Marie targets her audience of mostly aristocratic twelfth-century women. She describes a mysterious lady whose retinue, meadow pavilion, clothing, figure, cultured sentiments, deportment, and conduct depict her as a superior being. Lanval's mistress is a model Marie's readers should emulate, a woman who imparts to her readers hints on fashion, grooming, how to please one's lover, and most importantly, how to keep him. She is a woman with whom Marie's readers can identify in their wildest sexual fantasies.
With the love of Lanval's mistress, Marie puts forward to her readers the prospect of love freely given, as part of the fantasy of courtly love that is conditioned on the libidinal needs of women in a society that allocates wives as property. She wraps her female sexual fantasy of Guenever's humiliation around a woman's perception of a male masturbatory fantasy. A handsome, dejected knight withdraws to a forest meadow next to a stream to reflect on his ill fortune. When he wakes from a nap, two lovely maidens take him to a fabulous pavilion where he spends the afternoon making love to the most beautiful woman on earth who loves him "more than anything" (116). Moreover, his generous lover provides him with "a dowry" of inexhaustible means and the opportunity to have her whenever he wishes, knowing he will circumscribe his pleasures to discrete circumstances. Marie's lai reflects twelfth-century feminine tastes.
The supernatural lady's love for Lanval transcends the romantic love of Marie's 12th century, the courtly love of a...