The Lais of Marie de France

The Power Within Women: A Reading of "Lanval" College

The story of Lanval is an uncommon one for its time. A helpless, outcast knight meets a beautiful, magical woman. The one term of their love, set down by the unnamed woman, is that Lanval can tell nobody about her. When he breaks that rule and offends Queen Guinevere, he must rely on his lover to save him, and she does. In this poem, the woman is the hero; the woman is in control of Lanval’s fate. Lanval is an example of courtly love, a term used to describe certain values within medieval European literature. With courtly love, the woman is traditionally in control of the affair; however, I believe that the woman’s control goes far beyond this subgenre. The woman’s power, in Lanval, is shown through more than just the plot. After all, the final scene of Marie de France’s Lanval utilizes common poetic conventions, such as word choice and imagery, to explore the power women held during a time when men were often the heroes.

Lanval’s fate is entirely in the magical woman’s control, an arrangement which shows her ultimate power. Lanval asks for her help when he says, “I care little who may kill me, / if she does not take pity on me” (599-600). Without this woman’s compassion, Lanval is doomed. What is even more surprising is the...

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