“Gloser La Lettre”: Identity and Power in the Poetry of Marie De France
Readings of Marie de France’s literary works have long recognized the centrality of the issues raised by the exercise of power at the heart of much of her oeuvre. Her Fables is noteworthy for the importance it gives to feudal values and has been read as a form of Minor of Princes, 1 while the Lais give numerous examples of abuse of power by authority figures in general and kings in particular, from the overprotective father of the young princess in “Deus Amanz” to murderous King Equitan. Marie’s use of the conventions of the fable and lai to address contemporary problems of cultural identity has been less rigorously addressed. Nonetheless, I argue that Marie de France was acutely aware of the temptation to misrepresent people and facts to suit the whim or interests of the holder of power, thus undermining the personal and social integrity of all involved, and that her chosen poetic forms enabled her to comment acutely, if obliquely, on the obvious and inescapable plaiting together of ideas of identity and entitlement in the actions of the mighty.
KeywordsHuman Form Modern Reader Animal Form Medieval Literature Poetic Form
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- 1.See Hans Robert Jauss, Untersuchungen zur Mittelalterlichen Tierdichtung (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1959), pp. 24–55Google Scholar
- and, more recently, Karen K. Jambeck, “The Fables of Marie de France: A Mirror of Princes,” in In Quest of Marie de France A Twelfth-Century Poet, ed. Chantal A. Maré chal (Lewiston, Queenston, Lampeter: Edwin Meilen Press, 1992), pp. 59–95.Google Scholar
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