“Gloser La Lettre”: Identity and Power in the Poetry of Marie De France

  • Françoise Le Saux
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


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.


Human Form Modern Reader Animal Form Medieval Literature Poetic Form 
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  1. 1.
    See Hans Robert Jauss, Untersuchungen zur Mittelalterlichen Tierdichtung (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1959), pp. 24–55Google Scholar
  2. 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
  3. 10.
    See Kirby F. Smith, “An Historical Study of the Werewolf in Literature,” PMLA 9 (1894): 1–42Google Scholar
  4. also M. Faure, “Le Bisclavret de Marie de France: une histoire suspecte de loup-garou,” Revue des langues romanes 83.2 (1978): 344–56.Google Scholar
  5. 11.
    Kathryn I. Holten, “Metamorphosis and Language in the Lay of Bisclavret”, 193–211, in Maré chal, Quest, p. 204. This view is also shared by Milena Mikha’ üova, Le Pré sent de Marie (Paris, New York, Amsterdam: Diderot, 1996), pp. 178–98.Google Scholar
  6. 17.
    See Laurence Harf-Lancner, “La métamorphose illusoire: des théories chrétiennes de la métamorphose aux images médiévales du loup-garou,” Annales: economie, société, civilizations 40 (1985): 208–226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Ruth Kennedy and Simon Meecham-Jones 2006

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  • Françoise Le Saux

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