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Marie de France

A French poetess of the twelfth century. She has this trait in common with the other trouvЁЁres, that she had no biographer; at least no biography of her has come down to us, and it is mostly by inference that scholars have been able to gather the meagre information that we possess about her. In one of her verses, she tells us her name and that of her native country: Marie ai nun, si sui de France (Roquefort, “PoЁ¦sies de Marie de France”, II, p. 401). Her lays are dedicated to a King Henry, and her “Ysopet” to a Count William.

Who were this King Henry, and this Count William? This question, which puzzled scholars for a long time, has been settled only recently by a careful philological study of her works. She was a native of Normandy and lived in the second half of the twelfth century, because she uses the pure Norman dialect of that time, and the two personages alluded to in her works were Henry II of England and his son William, Count of Salisbury. Marie was then a contemporary and, very likely, a habitual guest of the brilliant court of troubadours and Gascon knights who gathered in the castles of Anjou and Guyenne around Henry II and Queen Eleanor; a contemporary, too, of ChrЁ¦tien de Troyes, who, about that time, was writing the adventures of Yvain, Erec and Lancelot for the court of Champagne. Marie’s contributions to French literature consist of lays, the “Ysopet”, and a romance published by Roquefort under the title, “Legend of the Purgatory of Saint Patrick”.

The lays, which number fifteen, belong to the Breton Cycle, or more accurately, to what might be termed the “love group” of that cycle. They are little poems in octosyllabic verses, in which are told the brave deeds of Breton knights for the sake of their lady-love. These little tales of love and knightly adventure show on the part of the writer a sensibility which is very rare among trouvЁЁres.

The style is simple and graceful, the narrative clear and concise. The “Ysopet” is a collection of 103 fables translated into French from the English translation of Henry Beauclerc. In the “Purgatory of Saint Patrick” the author tells us of the adventures of an Irish knight who, in atonement for his sins, descends into a cavern where he witnesses the torments of the sinners and the happiness of the just. BEDIER, Les lais de Marie de France in Revue des Deux Mondes (Paris, 15 Oct., 1891); Histoire littЁ¦raire de la France, XXX (Paris, 1888); PARIS in Romania (Paris, 1872, 1907); ROQUEFORT, PoЁ¦sies de Marie de France (Paris, 1820); WARNKE, Marie de France und die Anonymen lais (Coburg, 1892).