Throughout the Lais of Marie de France there are several themes presented as central to the various stories. Some of these themes are present in all of the lais. One such example is that of courtly love and it’s implications. Courtly love being one of the more prominent themes in all of medieval literature, it is fittingly manifested in all of the lais as well. Another theme present in two of the lais is isolation. The theme of isolation plays a large role in the stories of Guigemar and Lanval. In each of these lais we see isolation as a factor in determining the fates of the central figures. Within each lai isolation is represented on several different occasions, each time having a direct impact on the outcome. These instances of isolation may be seen at times to be similar in nature and consequence, and different at other times. By sifting through both works these instances may be extrapolated and analyzed.
In general, isolation seems to be harmful to both of the heroes. One very good example of this is toward the beginning of Guigemar’s tale. “They gathered in pursuit of a large stag and the hounds were released. The hunters ran in front and the young man lingered behind.” (p.44) It is only when Guigemar is alone that he sees the mysterious doe with the antlers of a stag and a fawn. This creature also serves as a signpost telling us that Guigemar has crossed over from this world into the realm of Fairy and magic. It is this encounter with the animal that wounds Guigemar with an injury only love can heal. Directly after this we see another, more ironic example of isolation. Because he has been wounded Guigemar wants the aid of his friends. “My friend, ride quickly and bring my companions back, for I should like to speak to them.” (P.45) By ordering his servant to go and fetch help Guigemar found himself alone again. “The young man rode off and Guigemar remained behind, lamenting his suffering. He bound his wound firmly and tightly with his shirt, then mounted his horse and departed.” (p.45) Here we also see an example of foreshadowing. Guigemar uses his shirt to bind his wound, while later in the story the woman who is to cure him of his wound will untie a knot in another shirt of his, thus proving herself to be his true love. It is this love wound that overcomes Guigemar and forces him away. He is unable to remain and wait for his companions. He feels...
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... rides through the town and into court, proving his innocence for him. Upon his release leaves court with his love. “He went with her to Avalon, so the Bretons tell us, to a very beautiful island.” (p.81) Needless to say, the two of them went alone.
There are certain similarities between these two lais with respect to the theme of isolation. For instance, Guigemar must go off alone to the other, magical world to find his love so that he may eventually return and restore order to his life. On the other hand, Lanval, upon finding his love and eventually restoring order to his own life, leaves with her to the other, magical world of Avalon. It is there that they remain together on an island alone. Throughout the two lais isolation proved to be able to manifest itself in slightly different ways, primarily physical removal as opposed to psychological alienation. Although indeed a bit different in the exactness of their nature, both are undoubtedly linked in their ability to facilitate wondrous happenings in a world where isolation breeds magical events powerful enough to dramatically alter lives.
France, Marie. The Lais of Marie de France (Penguin Classics). Penguin Classics, 1999.
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