Academic journal article Romance Notes

Infertility and the Marvel-Less in Marie De France's Deus Amanz

Academic journal article Romance Notes

Infertility and the Marvel-Less in Marie De France's Deus Amanz

Article excerpt

MATILDA Tomaryn Bruckner writes that "in the context of the Lais, multiple orbits set stories spinning in relation to one another" (953). Deus Amanz has been grouped with Laustic, Chaitivel, and Eliduc as a lai that "openly portray[s] neither sex nor sexual fertility" (Kelly 242), with Laustic and Yonec as a lai that features Ovidian memorials (Brightenback 5), and with Eliduc and Laustic as a lai that is "inspired by hagiography" (Tudor 50). I offer yet another grouping, to include Deus Amanz with Equitan and Chevrefoil based on the following criteria: scarce reference to the marvelous and the near-simultaneous deaths of the lovers. My argument, which will focus on Deus Amanz, is that these criteria are not independent of each other, but rather there is a connection between the relative scarcity of the marvelous in my grouping of lais and death or infertility. In my analysis of Deus Amanz, I will demonstrate the conflict between fertility and infertility in the lai which first appears as the conflict of male versus female but is more accurately described as a conflict between mortal and the marvelous divine.

Of the twelve lais attributed to Marie de France found in the Harley 978 manuscript, some form of the word merveille, appears in eleven of them. (1) Though in some lais the marvelous appears as many as six times, in Equitan, Deus Amanz, and Chevrefoil it appears only once. Furthermore, all three are tales of perverted love whose participants "mururent en un jur" (Chevrefoil 10). (2) Deus Amanz may seem like the outlier of the group because the lovers in this lai are not adulterous like those in Equitan or Chevrefoil (or a number of other lais), but, like the others, their love is misdirected, aimed only at one another with regard for nothing else. The bond between lord and seneschal is broken in Equitan and Chevrefoil, and the bond between heir and country broken in Deus Amanz. In these lais, imbalanced love leads to death and infertility. In Equitan, the relationship between the king and his seneschal's lady poses serious problems for Equitan's succession, and they are scalded to death in a bath. (3) Chevrefoil centers on the image of the hazel and the honeysuckle which would die without one another while Tristan's affair with the Queen poses the same problems for Mark's succession as for Equitan's. Finally, the lovers in Deus Amanz die together on the top of the mountain, also ending the king of Pistre's line of succession. But more than a love-induced disregard for the social hierarchy, each couple uses the marvelous to accomplish their own ends.

The marvel is a staple of medieval romance and may take the form of animals, objects, and natural features about which there is some supernatural quality. The marvelous possesses power over men's lives, for men can neither explain it nor command it. The werewolf of Marie's Bisclavret, the ship in Guigemar, and the mountain in Deus Amanz are all marvels. Although they defy explanation, each marvel invites characters and readers alike to recognize their nature, their humanity or mortality in the face of inexplicable forces that exercise power over their lives. The marvelous sometimes results in fear, sometimes in worship, but almost always in respect and recognition of something mightier than man. The marvel in Deus Amanz, a mountain, even points towards the heavens and beyond the Earth, indicating the mystery of the divine, yet the characters lose their respect for the supernatural and attempt to use it to accomplish worldly ambition. Where respect for the marvel might have brought the characters life, ignoring its power over them brings them death.

Of the three lais in my grouping, the characters' challenge to the supernatural hierarchy of the marvelous over man is most noticeable in Deus Amanz. In Equitan and Chevrefoil, "merveille" (167) and "esmerveilliez" (21), respectively, are used simply to indicate surprise, but in the lai of the Two Lovers the word "merveille" describes a physical feature of the land. …

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