Chapter

Marie de France: the Courtly Fable

Jill Mann

in From Aesop to Reynard

Published in print November 2009 | ISBN: 9780199217687
Published online February 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191712371 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199217687.003.0003
Marie de France: the Courtly Fable

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The Fables of Marie de France, the oldest fable collection in the vernacular, elevate the fable from its traditional role as a school‐room text to a work of courtly entertainment. Engaging with Hans Robert Jauss's claim that Marie's fables are infused with feudal values, this chapter discusses loyalty, treachery, honour, shame, lordship, and vileinie as naturally embedded features of Marie's fable world, and the degree to which it is committed to notions of social hierarchy and the status quo. However, it goes on to show that the fables also endorse self‐reliance, cunning, and mistrust of others, and so remain true to the traditional experiential, non‐systematic, wisdom of fable. The function of animals in Marie's Lais is contrasted with their role in the Fables, with especial reference to the contrasting notions of counsel (‘cunseil’) in each. The final section considers the ironic relation between the female author and the female deities who govern the animal world in the Fables.

Keywords: France; fables; Lais; Jauss; feudal values; self‐reliance; counsel; female author

Chapter.  24488 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (Early and Medieval)

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