- Firstly, a definition of a "lai" (or "lay/leich" depending on your language preference): Essentially, a lai is a poetic/musical form that was popular in the Medieval period, especially in France and Germany. It is a rhymed poem; certain rhyme schemes were common but overall the structure was in some ways less rigid (or, at least it seems, less rigidly adhered to) than many other poetic forms we might study today, such as a sonnet or a limerick. Marie de France's lais did not utilize the traditional musical setting, and differed in that they told stories, much like fables. (I gleaned this information here)
- Marie de France, from Britannica: She was the earliest known female French poet, which is pretty cool. Not much is known about her, however, though her title "de France" indicates that she was likely a Frenchwoman residing in England.
- Marie de France, from encyclopedia.com: She is believed to have written between the years 1160 and 1210. Her reasons for coming to England remain a mystery, but could have been for marriage or her career (she was extremely well-connected in England's literary world!). She was quite well-educated, and well-respected in the royal courts of England. She was also extremely well-known for her fables, but it was her lais that earned her the respect of her contemporaries, and which are considered her greatest masterpiece. (A side note from my own personal knowledge from what I've learned in my classes: The lais deal with something called "courtly love" (amour courtois, in French!), which was a popular philosophy in her time. Courtly love had several rules, but perhaps the most important - and, I think, the one which most influenced her lais - was that being married was not considered an acceptable reason to forsake true love if it came along. I believe there has been some contention as to whether Marie upholds this idea, but the subject of infidelity is unquestionably one which she hoped to explore in her writing, as ten of her twelve lais include it.)
- Marie de France, from New World Encyclopedia: This source states that she is believed to have been born in Normandy, France, and to have moved to England after her childhood. Additionally, it mentions that some have proposed that Marie may have been the illegitimate half-sister of King Henry II, which is a rumor I have seen mentioned elsewhere as well, and which would seemingly fit well with some other aspects of my research: her move to England and her astoundingly good connections there, her presence in the royal court, and her interest in infidelity as a subject matter. That said, there is not, to my knowledge, any evidence to support this, and so I will file it under numerous other unsupported rumors I have come across as to her life (I have also heard that others believe she was a nun or abbess! Quite the difference, no?). There are only five known manuscripts existing that include her lais, and only one of them includes all twelve. Her lais range from 118-1184 lines long, and they are told in octosyllabic rhyming couplets. She also wrote 103 fables. This source includes a list of famous Marie's from that time who could have possibly been her, including the king's half-sister and multiple abbesses, but, of course, no one knows for sure. So we simply call her Marie de France, after a line she wrote: "Marie ai nun, si sui de France," which translates from Old French to mean, "My name is Marie, I am from France."
|Painting of the main characters in Marie de France's lai, "Chevrefoil"(which translates to "honeysuckle") by Edmund Blair Leighton|