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Marie de France


Marie de France wrote in a number of styles, many of which she reformed. The lines of her work, which range from 118-1184 lines in length, were written in eight-syllable rhyming couplets. Marie authored over 103 short fables during her life time, complete with a prologue and epilogue. The fables are didactic, intended to instruct in morality, usually using animals as characters, like the fables of Aesop. In fact, of her fables, only sixty-three are believed to be original stories of Marie herself. The rest of her fables are said to be taken from the plot lines of Aesop's fables.

In addition to the laies, Marie wrote the "Ysopet" fables, a retelling of the Legend of the Purgatory of St. Patrick, and, most recently discovered, a saint's life called La Vie seinte Audree or The Life of Saint Audrey. Scholars have dated Marie's works between about 1160 at the earliest, and about 1215 at the latest, though it is most probable that they were written between about 1170 and 1205. The Lais are dedicated to a "noble king," another to a "Count William." It is thought that the king referred to is either Henry II of England or his eldest son, "Henry the Young King," and that the Count William in question is, most likely, either William of Mandeville or William Marshall. Due to these dedications, it is believed that Marie herself held a place in either French or English Court, to be able to socialize which such aristocrats.

Marie de France's works display a satirical sense of humor. Many of her works deal with complicated situations, such as a cuckolded husband, a cheating wife, and a lover, much the same as Chaucer did in The Cantebury Tales, with which her work as often been compared. Thus, her work displays not only a sense of moral purpose, but also an ironic understanding of human nature, as can be seen in the excerpt below.3


The Wife and Her HusbandOnce a man waited stealthily at his own doorway. Peaking in, he saw another man in his bed, taking his pleasure with his wife. "Alas," he said, "what have I seen!" Then the woman replied, "What do you see, sweetheart?" "Another man, and it seems to me he's embracing you on my bed." Angry, the wife said, "I know without a doubt that this is your old madness-you'd like to believe a lie as true." "I saw it," he said, "so I must believe it." "You're mad," she said, "if you believe everything you see is true." She took him by the hand, led him to a tub full of water and made him look into the water. Then she began asking him what he saw in it, and he told her that he saw his own image. "Just so!" she replied: "Although you see a reflection, you're not in the tub with all your clothes on. You mustn't believe your eyes, which often lie." The man said, "I repent! Everyone would do better to take what his wife says as true rather than what he sees with his poor eyes, whose sight often fools him."4


Although her actual name is now unknown, she is referred to as "Marie de France" after a line in one of her published works, which reads, "Marie ai nun, si sui de France." (Translated, this means, "My name is Marie, I am from France.") Therefore, she has become known simply as "Marie de France," as her own last name is unknown. However, this has not stopped people from speculating over time who this author could have been. Some of the most widely accepted candidates for the poet are Marie, the Abbess of Shaftesbury and half-sister to Henry II, King of England; or Marie, who was the Abbess of Reading; or Marie de Boulogne. But, perhaps the most compelling of all is Marie de Meulan, wife of Hugh Talbot, whom many believe to be the author.

Marie de France is the first known female author to write in French. Her English connections are suggested because of the Anglo-Norman spellings in her earliest manuscripts. Marie de France is known as one of the most revolutionary writers of her time, as it was not common practice for women to author any texts at all. Her fables are still studied as an example of what types of literature was being produced during the twelfth century.


  • Lais (Lays)
  • Lanval
  • Laüstic (The Nightingale)
  • Eliduc
  • Bisclaveret (The Werewolf)
  • Chevrefoil (Honeysuckle)
  • Chaitivel (The Unfortunate One)
  • Milun
  • Yonec
  • Les Deux Amanz (The Two Lovers)
  • Le Fresne (The Ash Tree)
  • Equitan
  • Guigemar
  • Fables
  • Ysopets
  • St Patrick's Purgatory (Moral tale L'Espurgatoire Seint Patriz)


  1. ↑ Marie de France, "Les Lais de Marie de France," p. 13, traduits et annotés par Harf-Lancner, L., Livre de Poche, 1990.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Joan M. Ferrante, in Denis Hollier (ed.) A New History of French Literature (Harvard University Press, 1998), 53.
  3. ↑ Marie de France (Author), Glyn S. Burgess (Introduction, Translator), Keith Busby (Editor), The Lais of Marie de France (Penguin Classics), New York, NY: Penguin Classics, 2nd ed., June 1, 1999.
  4. ↑ This was translated from French, into English by Mary Lou Martin, a French and English scholar.


  • Bloch, R Howard. The Anonymous Marie de France. Chicago, IL: University Of Chicago Press, 2006. ISBN 0226059847
  • de France, Marie, Glyn S. Burgess (introduction, translator), and Keith Busby (editor). The Lais of Marie de France (Penguin Classics). New York, NY: Penguin Classics, 1999. ISBN 0140447598
  • de France, Marie and Graham Burgess (eds.). Marie De France: Lais (French Texts Ser.). London, England: Duckworth Publishers, 1996. ISBN 1853994162
  • Hollier, Denis (ed.). A New History of French Literature. Harvard University Press, 1998. ISBN 978-0674615663

External links

All links retrieved August 15, 2018.

  • Marie de France The Literary Encyclopedia
  • Marie de France Biography Base
  • French Mediaeval Romances from the Lays of Marie de France by Marie de France, available for free via Project Gutenberg
  • The Lais of Marie de France translated by Judith P. Shoaf.